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RAY DUREM BIO

 

FROM TAKE NO PRISONERS, VOLUME 17 IN THE HERITAGE SERIES, PUBLISHED BY PAUL BREMAN, LONDON, 1971

RAY DUREM WAS BORN IN SEATTLE, WASHINGTON, 30 JANUARY 1915. HE RECEIVED LITTLE FORMAL EDUCATION, RAN AWAY FROM HOME AT 14, JOINED THE NAVY WHILE WELL UNDER THE AGE FOR ADMITTANCE. HE CAME OF AGE IN SPAIN IN 1937, DURING THE CIVIL WAR, AS A MEMBER OF THE INTERNATIONAL BRIGADE. HE DID NOT WRITE A BOOK ABOUT THAT. WHEN EVENTUALLY HE DID START WRITING, TOWARDS THE END OF THE ‘FABULOUS FORTIES,’ IT WAS POETRY. HIS FIRST PUBLISHED WORK APPEARED IN THE CRUSADER, WHOSE EDITOR, ROBERT WILLIAMS, HAD THEN NOT YET BEEN FORCED FROM MONROE INTO CUBAN AND EVENTUALLY CHINESE EXILE. RAY WORKED IN FACTORIES, SHOPS, WAREHOUSES AND THE LIKE ALL OVER THE WEST COAST. HE ENLARGED A BIT ON HIS EDUCATION, AT THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, AND WAS A VORACIOUS READER. PHYLON, VENTURE AND THE HERALD DISPATCH ACCEPTED HIS POEMS. LANGSTON HUGHES BECAME INTERESTED, TRIED TO FIND A PUBLISHER AS EARLY AS 1954–LATER HE INCLUDED A POEM NOT REPRINTED HERE IN HIS ANTHOLOGY ‘NEW NEGRO POETS: USA.’ MEANWHILE, RAY HAD STARTED A FAMILY: HE MARRIED ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL WOMEN, AND THEIR FIRST DAUGHTER, KENYA, WAS BORN IN 1954. TO SAVE THEIR CHILDREN FROM DEVASTATION OF GROWING UP IN THE UNITED STATES, RAY AND DOROTHY HAD MOVED TO MEXICO–BUT COMMUTING BETWEEN GUADELAJARA AND LOS ANGELES TAKES A HEAVY TOLL, AND BY 1962 THEY WERE ALL BACK IN L.A. WHERE RAY DIED OF CANCER ON 17TH OF DECEMBER 1963.

ONE MAJOR GROUP OF HIS POEMS HAD APPEARED THE YEAR BEFORE, IN THE HERITAGE ANTHOLOGY ‘SIXES AND SEVENS’–IT WAS INTRODUCED BY THE ‘STATEMENT’ WHICH ALSO SERVES AS PREFACE TO THE PRESENT BOOK. OTHER WORK HAD BEEN ACCEPTED FOR PUBLICATION IN THE UMBRA 2, THE NEW YORK MAGAZINE RUN BY HERNTON, DENT AND DAVID HENDERSON, BUT ONE OF THE PIECES SELECTED WOULD LEAD TO A RIFT IN THE EDITORIAL BOARD: ‘A DECORATION FOR THE PRESIDENT’ WAS THOUGHT UNSUITABLE IN THE WAKE OF THE KENNEDY ASSASSINATION AND CONSEQUENTLY APPEARS HERE FOR THE FIRST TIME. OF THE THREE POEMS INCLUDED IN UMBRA 2, ONE DOES NOT REAPPEAR HERE – THE SAME GOES FOR ONE OF THE THREE POEMS PUBLISHED IN THE UMBRA ANTHOLOGY OF 1967 AND IN JUNE MEYER JORDAN’S SOULSCRIPT OF 1970.

RAY DUREM’S TOTAL EXTANT OUTPUT PROBABLY CONSISTS OF NO MORE THAN FIFTY OR SIXTY POEMS, MOST OF THEM NEVER PUBLISHED. WRITING WAS NOT AN OCCUPATION RAY TOOK VERY SERIOUSLY – SOME OF IT HAD TO BE DONE TO GET THINGS OUT OF HIS SYSTEM, TO FIND A FORMULA FOR SOME OF HIS MORE DISTURBING THOUGHTS, AND HE WAS GENUINELY SURPRISED WHEN PEOPLE WANTED TO LISTEN. NOT MANY DID, ANYWAY, FOR HE WAS WRITING WELL IN ADVANCE OF HIS GENERATION AND THE GENERAL TRENDS OF HIS TIME. IT IS SAD THAT HE DIED IN ADVANCE OF HIS OWN FULFILMENT. A LOT OF HIS WORK IS UNEVEN, UNPOLISHED, UNTENDED – BUT IT PIONEERED A SPIRIT WHICH WOULD NOT EVEN BEGIN TO SURFACE UNTIL FULLY TEN YEARS AFTER THE EARLIER POEMS PUBLISHED HERE HAD MADE RAY DUREM ‘THE FIRST BLACK POET.’ HE LEFT A PRIVATE TAPE RECORDING CALLED ‘ONLY THEIR EYES’ ON WHICH HE READS THE WORKS HE WANTED TO BE REMEMBERED BY.

 

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