All our love: Jayne Cortez

Jayne Cortez is much celebrated in life as she is dearly remembered. Was does not sound right. When I learned of her passing on yesterday, I alerted Frank Chipasula, because in our communication sometime we had talked about her. Frank is devastated, but like a true poet has chosen to mourn her with words of fondness and gratitude. So I’ll keep the tributes coming, build what Frank calls the digital shrine, because Jayne took her life and work very seriously, and through her example taught us to do the same.

I first met Jayne in Dakar in 2007. I lived in Popenguine then, and one of the writers I was with heard that Jayne was to give a reading/performance in Dakar, so off we went to see her. It’s true she was spitting fire. At the time I was trying to find my voice, and one of her poems became my mantra: “Find your own voice and use it. Use your own voice and find it.” The chant with drums was just what I needed to set me on the right path. Three years later when I was in Syracuse, she came with her band–The Firespitters–and performed at the Community Folk Art Center. She was the same indefatigable woman. A true daughter of the Universe who managed to live on two continents. I bless her journey in the great beyond, and the many lives she touched. LATE FALL AND WINTER 2012 385

Find your own voice & use it
use your own voice & find it

The sounds of drizzle
on dry leaves are not
like sounds of insults
between pedestrians

Those women laughing
in the window
do not sound like
air conditioners on the brink

The river turtle
does not breathe like
a slithering boa constrictor

The roar of a bull
is not like
the cackle of a hyena

The growl of a sea-leopard
is not like the teething cry
of a baby

The slash of a barracuda
is not like
the gulp of a leaping whale

The speech of a tiger shark
is not like
the bark of an eagle-fish

The scent of a gardenia
is not like the scent of a tangerine

Find your own voice & use it
use your own voice & find it



Frank Chipasula (of Brown Turtle Press) tribute

 She has been a great sister to me, since the 1980s. Now I have to gather all the books, records and CD of her poetry that she has sent me and spend some quiet time with her. Yes, she was a true fire-spitter. Sis Jayne made Realism and Surrealism ram horns, pure light exploded and licked blind eyes into sight… She was, above all, the real thing/ the real deal; no histrionics, no soul-selling, for she controlled her Bola Word. She exhumed shadows of shady deals and scattered the corpses of lies on the wayside for all to see. She shook the contents of hypocrites’ closets out on landfills. Improv being her sure harness and anchor, root, trunk and branch, what couldn’t she do? Her long fingernails raked the thighs of night till they bled a new dawn. And later, she swallowed suns that could burn steel. And she spat out a huge flame, which was her true true tongue. If it touched your face, you were blessed.

Her truth was lethal and essential.  LATE FALL AND WINTER 2012 384

A meeting between two men
two views
two arms devoted to racing
two old land fills dumped in
office of boozing eagles
in bureau of carousing penguins
vodka of my hiccuping pencil
scotch of my vomiting eraser
and everything depends on
this day’s drunken storm of prayer
this day’s icebreaking calm at the
bottom of the summit of polyester pants
tonight in cloudy eyes of irritated marines
tomorrow in dead spot of the index

And if we don’t fight
if we don’t resist
if we don’t organize and unify and
get the power to control our own lives
Then we will wear
the exaggerated look of captivity
the stylized look of submission
the bizarre look of suicide
the dehumanized look of fear
and the decomposed look of repression
forever and ever and ever
And there it is

And here is an excerpt from “IN THE MORNING

In the morningin the morningin the morning LATE FALL AND WINTER 2012 362
gonna kill me a rooster
in the morning
early in the morning
way down in the morning
before the sun passes by
in the morningin the morningin the morning

In the morning
when the deep sea goes through a dog’s bite
and you spit on tip of your long knife
In the morningin the morning
when peroxide falls on a bed of broken glass
and the sun rises like a polyester ball of menses
in the morning
gonna firedance in the petro
in the morning
turn loose the blues in the funky jungle
in the morning
I said when you see the morning coming like
a two-headed twister
let it blowlet it blow
in the morningin the morning
all swollen up like an ocean in the morning
early in the morning
before the cream dries in the bushes
in the morning
when you hear the rooster cry
cry rooster cry
in the morningin the morningin the morning

I said
disguised in my mouth as a swampland
nailed to my teeth like a rising sun
you come out in the middle of fish-scales
you bleed into gourds wrapped with red ants
you syncopate the air with lungs like screams from
like X rated tongues
and nickel plated fingers of a raw ghost man
you touch brown nipples into knives
and somewhere stripped like a whirlwind
stripped for the shrine room
you sing to me through the side face of a black

In the morningin the morningin the morning

Yes, she was pure field hollers, work/liberation songs/Blues, Jazz in the original Congo Square sense, Griotte, word-spinner per excellence, a shameless witch with bitch and bite in a seething brain where lions fought. If you were fake, her tongue-blade peeled off your ripe-mango-skin mask effortlessly…Conjurewoman made words do dirty and beautiful things on graffiti walls or the side of the sky while some poets were struggling to clear away some blocks made especially for them.


Goretti Kyomuhendo

I am saddened to hear about Jayne Cortez! This is a woman who founded the formidable organization of women writers of African descent in NY in late 90’s. I was privileged to participate in two of her conferences at City Uni  NY in 97 and 2006. A great poet, too, and really a lovely person.


Kadija (George) Sesay

When you are in the middle of collating an anthology  that includes 100 poets and– out of the blue – a poem arrives in your ‘inbox’ from  Jayne Cortez, any faltering that you have to get that book completed has its wavering flames  rekindled. A touch of Jayne created fireworks. She will be SO missed. And I was SO blessed to have met her.

Word from SABLE LitMag


A goddess departed for ancestral lands  LATE FALL AND WINTER 2012 010
full of fire this songbird
screaming in the night in the noon early morn
crying tears of joy at the music of life
dancing between Africa and America
making  connection real
we continue our howl in the night
a choir member departed
purple robe in hand
machine gun of words on her shoulder
warrior woman poet
a song a dance
a scream a wonder
love is all
what else is real
a woman’s touch
like a razor to the heart
you bleed but don’t know it
until the blood consumes
let the blood rise to ancestor plane
for the living
the yet unborn.
–Marvin X
Fresno CA


Nuruddin Farah

“Jayne Cortez was that rare poet, expansively committed to excellence in the arts while remaining devoted to justice for all, her voice unerringly forthright, her verse subtle, her creative feat intricate. I loved her and will miss her greatly.”


I don’t quite remember who it was that introduced me to Jayne Cortez in 1968, shortly after she relocated to New York. It could have been Tom Feelings, the great, late, African American artist. He had returned from Ghana, Tanzania and, Guyana where he had gone to live and work. We met in 1961 shortly before my graduation from undergraduate college. The first secretary of Ghana had a party where he was hosting some Africans from the Diaspora in keeping with Dr. Nkrumah’s plan for repatriation to help build Ghana and Africa. It may have been Dr. Wilfred Cartey, the late Trinidad/Tobago professor and writer who knew Everyone, especially writers and artists of all mediums. In fact I think it was him.

Even then, Jayne displayed a deep knowledge and love for Africa. Her identity with and advocacy for Pan Africanism was evident in her mannerism and work. Politics were skillfully and creatively integrated into her poems. A clear and resonant voice, sharp tongue and flashing eyes were her signatures. It is this aspect of my dear sister/friend/comrade in arms and literature, that I want to highlight. Jayne was an activist who saw no walls of separation between her personal life, arts and commitment to building an egalitarian world. She was a voice for the oppressed and silenced and was equally on picket lines as on panels.

In the dark ages of virulent apartheid, we worked closely developing connections with progressive people and organisations that were trying to inform and liberate southern Africa. Along with her constant life companion, her husband Mel Edwards, Jayne was a force to behold. She lived and traveled to Africa countless times, reading and performing her poetry, lecturing and accompanying her husband when he did workshops in Zimbabwe, Nigeria and other places. Her vision of the future was clear and she sought out Pan African thinking people. Through the many events she either conceived of and organised; OWWA, the Organisation of Women Writers of Africa, (co-founded with Ama Ata Aiidoo), Slave Routes, Jayne sought out the best writers, scholars and actors on the scene of activism. She was honest in her interactions with others and didn’t suffer fools easily. Her mission of the liberation of all oppressed people was primary. Yet she was generous of spirit, kind and a loving grandmother to her son’s son.

I will miss my dear friend who critiqued me and chided me to let nothing interfere with my work schedule. All the lunches at our favourite place, Les Ambassades in Harlem, where I now live. Dinners at the Brazilian that she and Mel so enjoyed. The various walks and coffee shops where we talked about current events and shared dreams for the future of African peoples  all blur into an unforgetable memory. This memory is now marred by the pain of her immediate loss. In time it will turn into a lasting source of inspiration. Her voice in my ears will remind me that time, life is not infinite. Get on with it. Do your work.

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 6, 2013 2:00 pm
7 East 7th Street
New York, New York

 About Jayne’s revolutionary work

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One Response to All our love: Jayne Cortez

  1. mediasanctuary December 30, 2012 at 4:53 pm #

    She will be missed.

    Jayne Cortez “Find Your Own Voice”

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