16 April 2009

blogging the ala (2009): an evening of poetry in memoriam

8:14 – Arrived late and was a little fearful that I would be missing some of the poets, but as these things tend to go, there’s a late start… I recognize few of the names on the program so this should be a welcome addition. And it will be interesting to see how each channels the theme of the evening In Memoriam: Aimé Césaire.

8:16 – The poet & professor – aren’t they all? – Major Jackson begins the introductions.

8:18 – Ah… the program is being split, between readings by African American poets influenced by Césaire (as Jackson presents it) and African poets (he later reframes this as “poets of the African diaspora” which seems a rather odd construction considering the guests). Starting with the former: Gregory Pardlo, Evie Shockley, Afaa Michael Weaver, Danielle Legros Georges, and Micheline Rice-Maximin. And yes, they are all professor poets. But first some Alhaji Papa Susso – ALA’s resident griot…

8:32 – After reading a poem of her own, Georges reads Césaire in the original – “Sommation” – while Weaver will later read its English translation.

8:34 – Weaver reading “Summons”, the Eshelman translation. There just seems to be something lacking? In the song? The singing?

8:41 – “Out of Alien Days” read by Pardlo. In English. Again… Did I feel this way when I read Césaire the first time? No. Césaire, in my mind, rang.

8:50 – Shockley is by far – far and away – the most effective and moving reader, of her own work and Césaire’s. There is song in her voice, and it carries the fluidity of the verse that I remember.

8:51 – And Rice-Maximin carries the passion and the power of the verse, its urgency, in the original French.

8:59 – After a brief break we are beginning the second round. Six readers: Gabeba Baderoon, Amatoritsero Ede (though he’s not here yet), Obi Nwakanma (has a biography of Christopher Okigbo coming out this year which I’ll now be on the lookout for), Chimalum Nwankwo, Chinyere Okafor, Shailja Patel, and Odun Balogun (introduced as “a substitute” – it seems for Tanure Ojaide).

9:04 – Baderoon is first: “I Forget to Look”: “the uncovering and cutting of white skin… the mystery of sameness”. Tripping along on the notion of interiors.

9:07 – “Old Photographs” and then thinking out loud that it’s possible to tell the tale of the world through love poems: “Give” for her father. Telling stories, set pieces. (You can hear her read both these poems and 10 others on her website, tracks 10 & 12)

9:12 – And Nwakanma leads us in a song… and a much more explicit tribute, praise, of Césaire.

9:17 – Okafor starts her “Song of the Earth Goddess” – portions of the longer poem. Certainly animated in the reading.

9:22 – And then her poem “Globalization”. A too easy target? Perhaps, but also a few notable turns of phrase: – “It is a puzzle with many holes, many sides”; “It’s like cancer in the garb of malaria”; “The bush is no sanctuary from its gas…. The water is poisoned with its excrement.”

9:30 – Nwankwo’s evocation of Calvary leaves me cold, distracted, not focused. Am I not familiar enough with story, the imagery, the characters and stuff of it all? There is a definite rhythm that Nwankwo slides into – first around Barabbas – but it fails to carry me along, out of this puddle of indifference.

9:37 – Patel is offering up the opening of her one woman show called Migritude. Lights dim and a full body performance, though restrained, minimalist in many ways. “What’s the markup on the shapes of fruit in the dreams of a people?” Well-done; very well-done – and leaves me wanting to know, to read, perhaps to see, a little more. Though if the latter I’d want the text too, to follow along. Or rather, to retrace her steps, and mine, afterwards.

9:50 – Balogun is offering a rather standard, unremarkable reading of a few of his poems.

9:56 – And we are adjourned. Ede never showed up. Baderoon didn’t disappoint. Patel intrigued. And I will see what more of Nwakanma’s I can find (here's a start).


benjamin harrell said...

Very good read, I like.

mark l lilleleht said...

Well, a little late on my part, Benjamin, but... thanks!! Hope you've found more to follow and enjoy here -- but, more to the point, found some poetry worth reading through us. Be sure to check out our Twitter feed for the more than occasional striking line!!