Thursday, March 1, 2018

George Hammons

This month's first feature is a particularly important one for me as I got the chance to photograph a fellow photographer.  I've gotten to know George Hammons over the past few years around the Southern California literary scene.  A poet and photographer, George is a keen observer of the human character, as is reflected in his own impacting, powerful work. He isn't at all afraid to be deeply personal, as well as delving into themes that might make others weary such as history, religion, race and violence.  I asked George to give us a brief rundown of who he is and his connection to the city of Pomona.  A poem of his appears below.

"I originally moved to Pomona because of its central location and proximity to L.A., the O.C. and the Inland Empire. Since arriving I have come to appreciate the fact that the city has a tenacious and eclectic vibe, punctuated by its Antique Row and Arts Colony. The city is flush with art galleries, museums, concert venues and restaurants. Every 2nd Saturday of the month is an Arts Walk where you can stroll the Arts Colony and get a taste of why Pomona is a haven to artists. I am particularly fond of the “dA Center for the Arts,” because, for me, it has become a touchstone for poetry. The “dA” hosts several poetry events regularly each month and it also provides daily classes covering a wide range of creative activities."

 George Hammons is a proud graduate of Verbum Dei High, in Watts, CA.  George attended Cal State Fullerton University, and Rancho Santiago College (Santa Ana, CA.) where he studied radio and television communications. He also attended Cal State University San Bernardino, where he earned a certificate of completion, in English, Creative Writing, with emphasis in poetry, while he worked as a staff member for CSUSB’s Public Safety department. 

George has written poetry since he was in elementary school and attributes his fascination with language, especially poetry, to his early admiration for Muhammad Ali, Langston Hughes and Gil Scott-Heron. George writes about family, the African American experience, and love. 

George has had poems published in American Mustard Poetry Review, Cadence Collective, Year Two Anthology, (Sadie Girl press) and the Pacific Review (California State University at San Bernardino).  George’s work can also be seen in his chapbook “Hungry to Bed, Love Poems by George Hammons,” (Arroyo Seco Press 2017), available here.

George is a devoted, amateur photographer and rarely goes anywhere without his camera.

by George Hammons

And this is how we dreamed,
one bare foot in front of the other,
one desperate soul, in front of the other, my hand on
your back, in the darkness, and
us bent at the waist, as if somehow our very bodies
could be bowed into a

And this is how we dreamed,
near naked, our best rags,
stowed in a tattered rucksack,
packed away  safe, for that day when we made it

They said, there’s milk and honey up there,
they said, that they pay you, for your work, up there.
Babies suckle at their mother’s breasts,
never to be torn away, up there.

And this is how we dreamed,

secrets, hidden in our work songs,
we’d sing “Steal away, steal away, steal away to Jesus,
Steal away, steal away home.
I ain’t got long to stay here.
and under our breath, a code that told of the day
and time for our departure.
And this is how we dreamed,   
of going  North.

We learned to follow the signs;
the way the trees bent, or where the moss grew
even our little children understood that to get north,
 you follow the drinking gourd, some call it
the lil’ dipper, home of the North Star; the pole star,
Polaris, which always points North.

And this is how we dreamed,

 they said, that a slave up North,
is freer than a free Negro, in the South;
and we believed it.

They said, that we could learn our ABCs
and readin’, writin’ and rithmatic ,
without fear of being whipped or starved
as punishment,  
and we believed that too.

And so bruised and bright eyed, we climbed and
stumbled through wood and thistle,
 barn yard and swamp; goin’  
North, North always North.

We watched for the secret signs, of the, Underground
Here and there  we met a conductor, who
provided a cool drink of water and a meal,
a warm place to spend  the night
some even lead us, safe passages, through
woods and swamps, some put us on  boats or  trains;
with a prayer of fare-thee- well,
and a hopeful hand
pointing, the way North.

And this is how we dreamed;

not about  a flag or  a country,
not about vengeance or hate,
we dreamed about walking out into the world,
without someone standing behind us with a whip.
We dreamed about speaking up for ourselves, having
our own voices, our own opinions, without fear.

And this is how we dreamed:

But the reality that we found,
is that no matter how far north you run,
you are still, always south of some-place;
perhaps it’s just south of your, own expectations,
perhaps it’s south of  opportunity,

perhaps you feel as if you have fallen into that
“Sunken Place”
and you realize that the farthest north you ever made it
was Charlottesville;
with it’s  tiki-torch toting “good people,”
who came from every corner of this country, talking
about “heritage,” lamenting the removal their
monuments to rape, murder and exploitation .  

Perhaps you’ve fallen, into that place of
gerrymandering, suppressed voting and hate crimes.
Perhaps you have found yourself south of the fact,
that for every Barack Obama, there is a Ben Carson,  
and for every Michelle there is an Omarosa,
for every Colin Kaepernick there is
a Sheriff, David Clarke;

 And so:  
Perhaps now, in 2018, that long journey North was
really, always about those ancestors; who sacrificed
everything. So that we might look south, across the
border, at starry eyed neighbors, braving  coyotes
and deserts,  armed with little more than hope, and
a hand full of, well-worn rosary beads, trudging one
foot in front of the other . praying that someone will
 “I understand your dream”.

Maybe in 2018 our journey north, was really always
about, us learning how to look  across the ocean,
at neighbors running from  bombed out cities, where
they have had to dig their loved ones, gray bodies, out
from under the concrete rubble, of  places they once
called home.
Maybe our horrible journey was always meant
to teach us how to say to them;
“I understand your dream.”

Maybe in 2018, our ancestor’s, desperate, journeys
were really, always about us calling our relatives in
South Carolina, and Ohio and Michigan and asking them
“Are you registered to vote? Do you have a way to
get to the poll?  Do you know where your voting poll
is; are you sure that it hasn’t been moved?”

Because we need for them to know,
that North in  2018 and 2020;  is about the flag
and  is about this country.
We are in a political “Me Too” moment,
and we are saying “Time’s Up!”

And so, yes, this is how we dreamed;

one bare foot in front of the other, near naked,
our best rags, stowed in a tattered rucksack, packed
away, safe for that day when we made it.