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Crying in the Desert

Diaspora Harvard-Radcliffe Black Literary Magazine May 1976; $2

A YEAR AGO the Harvard-Radcliffe literary scene was a desert, with but one ancient and mangy camel (the Advocate) stumbling through it, cranking out two or three issues a year. But this year all sorts of new or rejuvenated dromedaries have begun trotting across those shifting library sands. The Advocate, under new leadership, came out of the Dark Ages with regular issues, glossy covers, and lots of advertising. A group of creative writing students and friends organized an alternative literary magazine, Padan Aram, which emerged with several graphically-innovative and successful issues.

Most recent in the welcome Harvard-Radcliffe literary upsurge is Diaspora, a well-designed and often sparkling publication inspired by the black experience in America and produced by a group of black students at Harvard.

The most immediately striking aspect o Diaspora is the way it's put together. The dominant impression is one of spaciousness and particles (words, poems) emphasized by their well-planned isolation in white space. Poems flower out onto the pages, or waterfall down them, or squat like fertility goddesses statuesque against the white. Then too, illustrations recur at intervals never longer than four pages--illustrations mostly that caress the eye, or that sit back and wait to be scratched, or that just purr. Vicki Minnis '77 did Diaspora's cover of cavorting silhouettes, as well as two impressively simple, almost monumental lithographs inside. Several of Lydia Bassett's 79 drawings reveal the influence of African abstraction, as well as a remarkable control of her medium. And the photographs by Marc Roberts '77, William Lewis Jr. '78, and King Downing are superb.

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AS FOR THE literary part of Diaspora, it is by no means an unqualified success. College literati generally ropewalk their readers over deep pits full of slobbering metaphors and toothless symbols--all juicily anticipating being able to gum us to death down below. The freshness of youth too often translates as poetry into tired old cliches, because students usually have a naivete about what has come before.

But in Diaspora, there are some writers who are in touch with, continually reach out for, their heritage--Africa, slaveships, plantations, revolts, the crushed hopes of an oppressed people always bubbling up nonetheless through chains and cigarette smoke and broken refrigerators. These writers' best verse is narrative and pithy and stabbing, like "Miles to Go" by Marc Roberts (Diaspora's editor) which moves tightly, inexorably, raspingly, through one dismal day of a ghetto woman's life and ends

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but things would get better

they had to get better

hope was her wine

her lover

her god

It was her nightly scream

that satined the sheets and silenced

the laughing faucet...

There is variety here, from Frank Scott's untitled exclamation

Umph!

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