“and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be shared
but when we are silent
we are still afraid
So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive.”
I feel part of the smaller story. I feel part of the larger story. Skyscrapers are like small cities with thousands of people that live and work there. Their foundations and superstructures provide different appearances. These tall buildings are seen as symbols of power and greatness. They are improved in live time to stand the test of weather and the moods of mother nature. Yes, some days I feel like a skyscraper… especially when I began spoken word in Los Angeles.
It was clearly the congregated movement of griots and sages before us that declared the time again. Only the shadowless and their corners really thought “they started something new” or “took it to the next level”. Only time would be able to determine those thoughts just as the medu netter has spoken for centuries in the pyramids. Only time, still will reveal that.
One would have thought the time was 1961 and women were still only allowed to be house attendants. When in fact it was 2001. Writing and performing poetry was not new to me. I was shocked that it was being critiqued and shared in seemingly ‘non art environments’. Coffee shops, lobbies of recreational centers, after hours at businesses and theatres in need of publicity. The art form was taking on a new timeframe and would need new walls to hold it’s voice.
In an already big city. A city with the most highly structured designed skyscrapers, one would think she could just pick up where June Jordan left off. Just take the notebook from Gwendolyn Brooks and turn the page. But it wasn’t like that for Jaha Zainabu, Bridget Gray and Rachel Kann, my “come up” crew. None of us were novices to the arts. Together we were decades of stories, poems, lectures, theatre and visual art. Together we split the city and nestled our art amongst those who neighbored our homes. We supported our venues week after week and then by bequest, politics were engaged in our arts but this time the agenda was to undermine. From history our community arts had a focus of meeting weekly to “build and feed each other”. These new politics were of division because all of us would not be able to eat. In fact, it happened so fast we weren’t even able to decide on our seasonings! And many owned microwaves and had never lit a stove or practiced patience with a crock pot. But she/we stood there.
One would have thought it was 1961 they way we were over looked to perform feature poetry shows. One of us was even told, “women can’t hold the audience attention to do a feature segment”. And week after week, we went and supported the self served. And we began to see the bending of the art. This was called open mic, to disavow the necessity for us to hold one another accountable. We were allowed to do and say anything and not read or study and some times not even demanded to practice. Our art scene became like loose, dangled dred locs from an unhealthy scalp. Her voice strewn like sidewalk abandoned Christmas trees. With the desperate opportunity for manhood to be demonstrated, she/we were overlooked. It was not 1961.
Now about this, She was given the mic and then cut short by loud music playing in the background to a host dancing behind her begging for a laugh and a few smiles. She wasn’t given the same time limit, as he. And She, was given time on the stage to express her newest and most intimate poetry piece. She was accepted by the audience with warm applause and finger snaps. Capsized with emotion, she stepped away to gather herself only to have the host scold the audience clapping for her by saying, “We don’t do that here”. And then She, was too serious and her voice was too loud. “You should write some love poems”, he declared to her after she received thunderous applause when all night he received scattered rain drops. And then She, was a performer amidst reading writers. And while both are styles of interpretation, it distinguished her natural flame to a fire and cast her away feeling lost and unheard.
And she/we were paid less. And she/we were heard less. And then one night we all talked. And we almost cried. And we all had the same story and we all reaffirmed it wasn’t 1961. And Rachel decided we should do our own. And we did. And we sold out a night club on Hollywood Blvd with an all female poetry feature show. The first of it’s kind during this wave of poetry in Los Angeles. And we ate. And then our four corners of the city saw what we were made of. That temblor thwarting technology that doesn’t fall during earthquakes. That strong wavering skyscraper that houses thousands of people working and living with stories to tell.
(part II tomorrow)
You drink moonshine with the honest intentions of getting drunk. Drunk with good memories of thigh slapping laughter and fistfuls of sticky dish candy.
You drink moonshine with grown moments. Not shallow kisses or store bought espresso shots.
You drink moonshine with album covers laid across your living room floor. With cheap candles burning against 24 year old wallpaper inspired by a Barbara Streisand movie. Moonshine is ancient.
You drink moonshine from a frosted green glass, by yourself, upon the smell of the Saturday rain. Get drunk with solitude and independence and darkness and patience. The same way it was brewed away from company.
You drink moonshine with open toe mary janes and slightly chipped purple polish on your big toe. Living fly. With a summer strapless dress wearing a too little bra. Carefree and comfortable. Cause hell, the bra is holding half of ’em in.
Me time. Moonshine brings precise direction of tomorrows paradise and yesterdays error arrows. You drink moonshine in the morning shower with singing alongside the radio.
You pass moonshine times to the ones you love. Hot, steady nights saving on the electricity bill with wet white sheets atop floor fans. Moonshine banjo. Moonshine phone dimes.
You drink moonshine when it’s right
to get it right.
You drink moonshine by yourself, upon the smell of the Saturday rain.
I have been asked so often various questions on how a poet is supposed to act, where they are supposed to perform, who they are supposed to support… I answer the question and conclude with, “this is my perspective.” I try to remember my conversations and dialogue with various artists and crowds at educational institutions to be better prepared for these “life of a poet questions”. Recently as I was browsing the shelves of the poetry section of a used book store…
“Run Toward Fear: Poems and a Poet’s Handbook” by Haki Madhubuti
An elder, award winning poet, essayist, educator, founder & publisher of Third World Press and founder of the Gwendolyn Brooks Center at Chicago State. I suppose he too became bombarded with questions from our generation on this art form now once again prominently (cause this ain’t new people!) in the forefront called poetry and wrote words of refreshing encouragement and guidance.
Pick the book up! Writers and performers PERIOD not just poets! I have to share a few things until you get to the bookstore!
“You may not be able to earn a living exclusively as a poet or writer, but if you persist, work hard and nuture your talent; it is almost guaranteed that you will earn a life. To choose to be a “poet” as a professional endeavor is not very high on the preferred or most lucrative career path in our nation, therefore as a poet, you must adhere to a few standard and not so standard rules.”
ONE Learn to run toward fear. Understand that-even with the emergence of performance poetry and poetry slams and the increasing number of individuals who profess to be poets–few people actually read poetry. Understand that although smallminded individuals rule the world, it is always right to question, challenge and hold them accountable for their actions.
TWO Think about, read, and study more poetry than you write.
THREE Repeat number two.
FOUR Minimize the praise given to your poetry from parents, friends, lovers, siblings, spouses, running buddies, cheerleading squads, creditors and former lovers.
TEN Write your truth and you will seldom have writer’s block.
ELEVEN Most people think that they can write poetry. Many of them are right and need encouragement.
THIRTY-NINE Poets must be acutely aware of “fame” which is like a flame in the brain and will cut serious writing potential by 85% and turn most of the poets it consumes into game show participants and other cultural embarrassments.
In total he offers his golden wisdom in 40 rules. I am positive this book will help any writer/poet in their endeavors. I know I will use it as a resource for my performances/lectures!
just passin’ some water along for the ’forever thirsty’!
speak on love,
We have to take back the trees.
Arouse the hyenas to distract the thunder so we can scratch our backs on the blades of grass.
Rub baby powder on the chest of slumber so they can dream pure. Denounce titles and all this other foolery you have adopted to be our family structure.
That silence is not mine! I am the threatening crashes of waves you belittled to sand. Because… because I believed them too. I bought the lemonade recipes and choreographed a dance to sour times. Framed my “S” shirt for company to count the stripes I’ve endured and marvel at brown brave. Outside of ourselves we have once again been led to puppetry. And I hate you too.
This is not us. There is no book. Only 81 of those songs are ours. Come unprepared with bread so we can dip away the excess. It is me. Re-member…
Listen to him no more. Let her voice be of distant space. We have to take back the trees, we have to take back the trees.