James C. Kilgore

James C. Kilgore (1928-1988) was born in Jackson Parish, (Ansley) Louisiana on May 2, 1928. He married a teacher, Alberta Gunnels, in June of 1960, and they had three children. Kilgore is referred to as a poet and essayist. He earned his B.A. in English at Wiley College and his M.A. at the University of Missouri. A veteran of army service, Kilgore served as a telegrapher (1952-1954) in Italy, Austria, and Germany. After teaching high school English in Arkansas, New Jersey, and Missouri, he came to Cleveland where he was an assistant professor of English at the Cuyahoga Community College, where he founded the Cuyahoga Writers Conference in 1974 and helped organize an Urban Writers Workshop Series in Cleveland. He also served as an adjunct professor of Afro-American literature at the University of Akron.

He was a member of the Modern Language Association of America, the Renaissance Society of America, National Council of Teachers of English, Ohioana, and the Ohio Poets Association. Some of his works include: The Big Buffalo and Other Poems: A Sampler of the Poetry of James C. Kilgore (1970), Midnight Blast and Other Poems (1971), A Time of Black Devotion (1971), Let It Pass (1976), Until I Met You (1978), and African Violet, Poem for a Black Woman: New and Selected Poems (Lotus Press 1982). He received fellowships from Case Western Reserve University in 1964, University of Nebraska in 1966, and University of California, Santa Barbara in 1968. In 1982, he was named Ohio Poet of the Year.

James Kilgore died on December 16, 1988 in a house fire in Beachwood, Ohio, while trying to rescue his daughter and grandson.

I breathe poetry: fusing with my blood
She speeds through arteries,
float up veins.
Neither red nor white, She writes wisdom
in a corner of consciousness,
And then lies
like a brooding panther,
poised to stalk
at the smell of memory.

St. Louis University's JSTOR site


Night Song
by James C. Kilgore

A storm shutter mumbled against my window;
A freight train moaned in the long railyards;
Its wheels beat
 like a sad drummer
  on winter steel;
A heavy, diesel-powered truck tromboned across
 ghetto streets;
An octave above the trombone’s trail,
I heard the midnight blast of my heart.

    (from Four Poets Cuyahoga Community College, 1974)


“What Color Are You?”
by James C. Kilgore

His fierce-brown, young eyes probing me,
“What color are you?” he flashed.
“Sociologically, I’m Black,” I said, uneasily.
I need more time to answer that.
If after three months of seeing a man
    darker than the dark of Floyd Patterson
    bigger than the big of Muhammed Ali,
    a discordant contrast to the black of
    Adam Powell,
    and poetic tension to the tan of
    Ertha Kitt—
If after three months of aesthetic days
    you don’t know the color of me,
I need time—
I will give you an answer the next time
    we meet.”

“What color are you?” stabbed my sleep.
I lay in sarcastic positions,
    sometimes angry,
    often indignant.
Nothing satisfied
    until I rose from my color-disturbed bed
    to probe the color of me…
Slowly, haltingly,
I woke the sleeping keys:
I am the color in between
    the color of my mother
    and the color of my father;
I am the color of their dark love;
I am the color of their whispered fears;
I am the color of the dark love and the
    whispered fears between my mother and
    my father.
I am the color of the winter pines
    waiting on the dark land
    behind the Hardwood Quarters
    in Louisiana’s Ansley
    where my father rode the steel carriage
    that ate up twenty years of Southern
I am the color of the song my cousin A.J.
    sang as he stepped across the steel
    stanzas between the two parts of Ansley:
“Hurry down, Sunshine! See What
    Tomorrow Brings!”

I am the color of Countee Cullen,
    Claude McKay
    and Eldridge Cleaver.
I am the color of their painful integrity;
I am the color of “Taboo,”
    “If We Must Die,”
    and “We build a new city on these ruins.”
I am the color of the man who drove the
    get-away car when Gwendolyn Brooks
    went out riding in “Beverly Hills,
I am the color of “Swing Low,
    Sweet Chariot,”
And I am the color of “We Shall Overcome.”
I am the color of a century of singing hope,
But I am not the color of the songs of
    Birth of a Nation:    
I am the color that is not the color
    of Jim in Huckleberry Finn;
    not the color
    of black life in Gone with the Wind,
    not the color of the tiger-chased boy
    in Little Black Sambo;
    not the color of the shuffle of
    Step ‘N Fetchit.
I am the color of Richard Wright’s
    Uncle Tom’s Children:
    the color of the desperate search to be free.
I am the color of adolescent September labor
    bending toward red sunset in
    Missouri’s Bootheel;
I am the color of millions of American
    children waiting the guidelines to equal
I am the color of welfare with little fare,
    of Head Start with bootless start,
    of capitalism with no capital.
I am the color of the troubles of this world,
And I am the color of many thousand
    troubles gone;
I am the color of dying hope;
I am the color of growing fear to love
And yet the color of love when all is lost.
I am the color of nights and thunder;
I am the color of the rifles of Mississippi,
    Texas, and Tennessee.
I am the color of the victims of the lone
    gunman apprehended and the
    multitudinous conspiracies set free;
I am the color of the Souls of Black Folk,
    of “Lift Every Voice and Sing”;
    and The Fire Next Time.
I am the color of “Soon One Morning,
    Death Come Creeping in your room”:
I am the color of imperfection;
I am the color of art;
I am in the imperfectly perfect color.
I stumbled toward the dark bed.
I had tapped the keys to sleep…
I will give you an answer the next time
    we meet.

                (from African Violet: Poem for an Black Woman,
                New and Selected Poems
, Detroit: Lotus Press 1982).