I hear...a legend...
Once there was a little boy, trying to find his way on the West Side of Chicago. Never knew his father, losing his mother when he barely knew her.
Another lost child to be sucked in and spit out by the horrors of urban America, right?
This lost young soul had an uncle who not only took him in, but also led him to a literary life; the uncle would come home from work every night and read him the poetry of Edgar Alan Poe, mad creator of enticing beats and dark undercurrents.
The angels, not half so happy in Heaven,
Went envying her and me—
Yes!—that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee...
Those rhythms stuck with him, and when he was assigned to write a poem in eighth grade, it flowed out of Harold Branch III.
“My English teacher wanted me to write a poem for Valentine’s Day; it wasn’t half bad–the girls liked it,” Branch, known for years as HB, recalled with a chuckle. “The more you write, the more your true feelings come out; I started talking about my past and pain, losing my mother when I was really young–she died by suicide when I was 2.”
With the rhythm and darkness of Poe shadowing his subconscious, his poetry was more than a hobby: “It became more of an emotional outlet, to deal with depression and pain.”
HB went on to become a street poet, sharing his feelings-to-verse with street hustlers who said, “that’s right, that’s it!”
They got it.
“The killers, drug dealers, the supposedly lost ones, thugs–they were all dealing with depression; they were hurt, lonely, afraid–scared to death.”
He moved to Phoenix and polished his art with craft, learning about theory and expanding his intellectual universe at ASU. He didn’t need much training in speaking his words: “By the time I got to ASU, I had been performing all over the place,” on the radio, at poetry cafe slams and at hip-hop shows.
He went on to tour with rock bands and publish a book of poetry (Finding My Way), all the while under the lifelong spell of a poet who would leave him–nevermore.
“The beauty in darkness, that’s what Edgar Alan Poe did for me,” HB said, during a Zoom with HARK Valley last week. “I really identify with that.
“A lot of my writing is heavy, the struggle mental health…back when it wasn’t cool to talk about.
“If I was raised on another poet, it probably wouldn’t have the same effect…”
This year, HB is thinking about time: “It’s the 30th anniversary of me as a writer–starting out at 14 and I just turned 44.”
HB celebrates 30 years of poetry at 5 p.m. Sunday, March 13.
HomeBase, an art-based collective he started years ago, helps HB toast the anniversary, with a big poetry show featuring Deana Dean, Mel-Rob and live music by hip-hop violinist Jonathon Levingston.
The show is at Coyote Mexican Cuisine, 7822 N. 12th Street (at Northern) in Phoenix.
“I’ll be hosting and doing poetry,” HB said.
He might read something he wrote in his wild teen years, such as Generation Unknown:
Deny me of my rights and take my life for granted.
But I'll make it!
Plague my mind with your conspiracies then accuse my generation of delinquency.
You won't get me!
Attack other nations for power and money then call me a menace when I do it with my homies. We're all the same!
Allow yourself to be represented by someone who I know doesn't give a damn about me then you wonder why I have low self esteem.
It leaves me baffled!
You get high off of making poor people poorer and I get high off of marijuana.
Which one’s worst?
You flash your red, white and blue and do drive-bys in bombers and battleships, yet when I imitate you in my neighborhoods you label me "At Risk".
What do you expect??????????????????
Or he might recite a newer poem, like Your Joy
I am so glad you are happy.
I hear you
I listen ...
My beautiful Black boy,
I am so glad you are happy.
I started praying for your joy
And your peace
The moment I realized praying for my own wasn’t working.
HB, who is working on a doctorate in performance psychology at Grand Canyon University, is as proud of the scene he helped develop under the HomeBase poetry nights as his own. “It’s like the people need us,” HB said, freestyling at a fast clip. “People been struggling with COVID–it’s called HomeBase for a reason. It was to nurture the artists. If I can inspire poets, the audience is going to be fine. The poet’s need is higher than the audiences…
“Our local poets can get down just as good as Atlanta, New York, Chicago or L.A.”
Even so, he says he’s not a hype man: “I’m not a promoter. I’m just not.
“My job as a poet, the way I see it, is to bleed on stage so you can heal as a crowd. That’s a heavy responsibility: talking about my mom and dad and dangers in the neighborhood. I relive it on stage. I’m doing it for somebody in the audience.
“It allows me to own my demons. Demons don’t go away. The question is: do they own you or do you own them? I own them.”
As someone else once wrote, back in 1845:
And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
As those words gave him weapons to use in his battle, so HB III has passed them on to his two kids. “Oh yeah, I hit my kids with it!” he said with a laugh.
“Everyone knows I’m a psycho for Poe–I’ve got shirts, mugs, lunchboxes…”
And, in the very same way the legendary poem concludes, the spell over HB…
Shall be lifted—nevermore!