27th Annual Celebration of African American Poets and Their Poetry
Avenging the Ancestors Coalition is an organization in Philadelphia which has a list of inventions invented by black men and women. ATAC says: We did it. They hid it. Grounded in the Akan concept of Sankofa, ATAC explains that genius is political and if the person with the idea was owned by another or the competitor was more powerful, then theft would go without prosecution. In the case of Lacks, the doctor(s) just hid his research from the family and ignored Mr. Lacks refusal to cooperate by stealing Mrs.Lacks's cells.
Gene Howell, Jr. and Halifu Oṣumare performed a duet—their poetry full of loving metaphors—Gene’s “Le live da la femme noire or Black Woman Book,” Halifu’s answering “Where did you come from” felt unrehearsed. It was as if poetry were their livelihood, their breath, all else unnatural or pretense.
Steve McCutchen shared stories about NASA and the black mathematicians and scientists he knew as a child, in his poem “A Lever and a Place to Stand.” His tribute, “Conversation,” to his friend Lee Williams was also lovely. At times his voice sounded like Lee’s.
Darlene Roberts shared a meditation on the N- word. However, it was a poem she wrote for Lee which he never heard, which took us back to Victor’s Café in Oakland and to the Western Addition Cultural Center in San Francisco where Darlene, as President of the International Black Writers in San Francisco would host monthly Saturday meetings.
Andre La Mont Wilson’s work is biographical and this year his selections, centered on his parents, Mom and Dad: “Heartache”; “Note in a Pot”; “Sankofa.” Both parents were poets and left him lots of poems when they passed. Andre said that his dad, a ceramicists would send him pots for presents. He says, he would have enjoyed a visit from Dad more until he found the note in the pot.
Douglas “Katabatzi” Coleman’s work is always excellent; however, this year, his choices: A New Song; Blood Run; and Emancipation” were stunning artistically. He spoke about education in “A New Song.” The pedagogy in the new song youth will sing would “model peace and contentment. . . . Let’s teach the youth a new song, with rhymes and verses that they belong.”
In “Blood Run”, the poet challenges us to value black lives while acknowledging that this world’s values should be rejected. He writes: “Abandon notions of racial superiority/Embrace the common humanity/that we may explore our destiny/Let’s practice reciprocity.”
Karla Brundage’s work was self-reflective. What is public education and who does it serve and fail to serve and who cares when the neediest needs remain unaddressed. Her closing poem – Maafa Crossing was really great! She said she wished she had a rapper for the poem and a brother from the audience volunteered. He was really good too.
Jasmin Strange arrived just in time. Her stories about the poetry were almost as interesting as the work. The second poem had a refrain, “I see you,” which reminded me of something important. When we fail to acknowledge each other it contributes to the eerie displacement we see often in allies, doorways, street corners.
Tyrice Deane’s poems interrogated the notion of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in relationship to black people’s transport to this nation.