Whimsy and wonderings about everyday life

Archive for May, 2011

Margaret Walker – Alabama poet, college professor, and all around amazing woman

Margaret Walker, southern poet
I want my body bathed again by southern suns, my soul
        reclaimed again from southern land. I want to rest
        again in southern fields, in grass and hay and clover
        bloom; to lay my hand again upon the clay baked by a
        southern sun, to touch the rain-soaked earth and smell
        the smell of soil.      Margaret Walker

Have you read the poems of Margaret Walker? If not, you have missed some of the most beautiful, lyrical verse I’ve ever read. Southern born and bred, she writes of the black experience in the South in a moving, honest, unflinching and unmistakably beautiful voice.

She was born in 1915 and died in 1998. I wonder what she would have made of Condoleezza Rice, whose background is similar to hers – or President Obama – and whether she would feel like substantial, if not satisfactory, progress is being made. I suspect not.

As a white southerner who vividly remembers the latter part of desegregation in the late 60s, I would argue that much progress has been made. Racists are out there, of course, but they are marginalized, not empowered. Opportunities are available for all. Sometimes, though, it is difficult to see the value and the promise of those opportunities, particularly if your environment does not encourage, support or expect exploration of new and different options.

Here is her background and six of her poems. Here she is, her own self, reading her well-known poem For My People, in her accent that sounds so much like home to me, she brings tears to my eyes.

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Colorado for Alabama Disaster Relief

A group of Alabama advocates here in Colorado have set up a site for helping the victims of the April 27 storms. On May 14, they’re hosting a crawfish boil at Moe’s Barbecue on Broadway in Denver. On the 15th, there will be live music, barbecue, and a silent auction. What an awesome idea by an inspiring and generous group of people.

If you cannot make the benefits, check out the site to see where donations centers are and who to contact if you want to get involved yourself.  Boulder, Colorado Springs, Summit County are just a few of the places where relief efforts are underway.

Diphthongs and monophthongs are not bathing suits, ya know.

North American English Dialects, Based on Pronunciation Patterns

North American English Dialects, Based on Pronunciation Patterns

Presenting the North American dialect map

Do you like accents? I love them. There is beauty to be found in the musicality of the molasses-slow Southern drawls that surrounded me when I was growing up in southern Alabama. The blustery nasal raucousness of blue collar Boston is uniquely robust and vigorous, at least until you visit the “yats” in New Orleans.  It’s easy to tell when you’re in the presence of someone from New York City. when you hear inventive urban smack talk delivered in the unique accent of Big Apple natives.

So, I am fascinated by this labor of love from Rick Aschmann. He lists eight major dialects and a host of subdialects in this incredibly detailed site. He augments the map with a huge amount of history, speculation and supporting data.

You can print the dialect map, record your voice, learn about classical southern English and the African-American vernacular. (The last was of particular interest to me, since I am originally from the deep South.)

There are sections about “pin” vs “pen,” “cot” and “cut,” “let” and “lot.” He includes links to videos of people like Bill Gates, representing the Seattle accent; the unmistakable West Virginia twang of the wonderfully named author Homer Hickam;  and the instantly recognizable middle class accent and vocal idiosyncrasies of New Yorker Howard Cosell. As a word nerd, history buff and people watcher/listener, I find it all fascinating.

I did not yet find the origin of people who refer to “Washington” but “warsh” their clothes, but if there were ever a place to find that kind of esoteric information, this would be it. He talks about New Orleans and the wide variety of dialects, but I need to read more to see if he discusses the Creole-based dialect indigenous to the some communities in the Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama Gulf Coast.  Another interesting dialect study could be developed on the Vietnamese communities that sprang up after the Vietnamese war. I suspect the Gulf Coast communities have some different linguistics from the communities here in Colorado, for example.

So, if you have traveled around North America and marveled – or simply noticed –  the wide variety of ways people deliver their gliding vowels, this site is for you. I found it via a post at bitrebels, by the way – another site worth checking out on a regular basis.