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Local News Reviews - Austin (DN-R)

Professor's Idea Grows 
Into Gathering Of Black Poets

Daily News-Record

Joanne Gabbin's love for poetry began in high school.

"I wrote a little poetry myself occasionally," says Dr. Gabbin, who teaches in the English department at James Madison University and directs the school's Honors Program.

In college, she became aware of poets who would influence her throughout her life, she says, such as Gwendolyn Brooks, Langston Hughes and Sterling Brown.

"Poetry can be so powerful in expressing every human emotion," she says.

She experienced this most profoundly later on, while she was doing research at the University of Chicago. Her mother was dying of cancer.

"So I was questioning everything," says Gabbin.

She turned to Sterling Brown's poem, "Sister Lou," which is about comforting a friend as she was dying and realizing that all things will be OK in heaven.

"It was so powerful and comforting to me," she says.

She met Brown in 1972 and did a dissertation on his work in 1980. She later published a book in 1985 that was the first study of Brown.

"That led me to study Brooks, Sanchez, Walker and Giovanni," says Gabbin, who has published articles on all of them.

The first Furious Flower in 1994 began when she tried to honor Brooks by inviting her to campus along with a few of her friends. It grew from there.

"Furious Flower is a stirring metaphor for poetry that's beautiful and poetry of resistance," says Gabbin. "There's something in that poem that values freedom."

Gabbin refers to the global black experience as "the diaspora." Themes of resistance and freedom show up in African-American and other black expressions in the world.

Gabbin, born in 1946, grew up in Baltimore's east side. Her love of language was formed in the Baptist church.

"That's the first place I recited poetry," she says. "It was the first place I could form words that people would applaud."

After graduating from Morgan State College in Maryland, she married Alexander Gabbin and went with him to continue their educations in Chicago.

Her parents, who had moved to Baltimore from rural North Carolina, were "not highly educated," she says.

"Mother took me as far as she could go in educating me," says Gabbin. "When she could take me no further, she said 'You can go as far as you can.'"

Gabbin's mother died as she was completing her Ph.D. dissertation on Brown.

"Every time I publish a book or do this conference I think, 'This is for you, Mom,'" says Gabbin.


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