Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Studio Museum of Harlem Reading

So I am featuring at a Cave Canem reading tomorrow evening at the Studio Museum of Harlem alongside poets Patricia Spears Jones, Roger Bonair-Agard and Simone White. These readings hosted at the Studio are a collaboration between CC and the Studio Museum in Harlem. Poets selected by CC are asked to respond to one of the Studio's current exhibits.
Initially we were supposed to respond to Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series. When we started getting stuff in the mail to get us started I was excited because Lawrence's work is spectacular and it appeals to me aesthetically. I knew I was going to be able to vibe off it. The subject of migration also intersects my immigrant past and present.

But life wouldn't be life if it didn't throw us curve balls right? I found out two weeks ago that the Jacob Lawrence Migration Series will not be on exhibit at the Studio Musuem after all. We were asked to instead respond to a contemporary artist named Kori Newkirk.
My response was: Huh? Who? Here I was, on the third rung of Jacob's ladder!
I must say that I found that all of my co-readers acted so positively about the last minute change. I found myself a bit of a grouch about it, but that was mostly my own insecurities emerging. I strongly believe its healthy for artists of all types to put themselves in challenging situations such as this. It's always a good exercise when some element of pressure is involved in producing works. There's also this intimacy about looking at another artist's work in such a way where we are forced to examine how it does or can intersect with our own life, our own artistry.
It makes me think about artistic movements back in the day such as Surrealism, Cubism--Movements that engulfed many and certain poets. I loved the idea of sculptors kicking it with poets kicking it with painters kicking it with dancers kicking it with novelists.
After the exhibit change my nervousness began to ripen like a mango in 100 degree weather. Am I going to generate worthwhile material from this project? What if i don't like this Newkirk fellow's work? What if I go to the Museum and come back with nothing?
Let's not even talk about the fact that the reading was next week! We can't ignore the social pressure of this assignment. I mean, we all want produce something we're proud of and represent, you know! I mean, I've seen advertisements for this reading every blasted where! It's visited me in my mailbox more than once. E-mail. Our faces are also floating around the Studio Museum on these fancy advertisements.

On top of that, I've been writing strictly for kids for the past 2 1/2 years, and most of it fiction, so talk about switching gears. When it comes to poetry I always fear that I'm going to lose my touch, so to speak. But poetry is like riding a bike though one poem may be training wheels and the next could be a Harley.

Newkirk is a contemporary artist who is exploring black culture/blackness through his visual art in some provocative ways. There's the basketball hoop with elongated nets made of synethetic hair, braided, like in a weave. There were his self-portraits, photos of himself with his face blurred out, like in the COPS episodes. He even had a 10 minute movie, which I didn't get at all. Overall, I enjoyed his work and felt things stirring inside my pot.

Last week Thursday Roger and I went to Harlem to check out the exhibit together. Our weather forecast: I was nervous and he was confident. We strolled around the exhibit at our own individual pace. After I explored everything I sat down on the floor in front of a piece prepared to dream a bit, write down whatever lines floated into my head. Roger sat down with me and after a couple of minutes he said "so, i'm ready when you are."


Man, I was just getting started! I asked him if he felt he got all he needed and he nodded and said yep. Cocky jerk, i thought to myself. Again, my insecurities speaking. He showed me his little black book where he had taken some measley notes and even a sketch. My book was blank. He asked me a bit incredulously, "so you were planning on writing here?" I was like "um....yeah!" It was like we were on different artistic planets! I found myself intrigued by the contrast, how we all have such different ways of working. I was ready to starting writing some tour de force and Roger was ready to grub.

Minutes later, we were down the street enjoying Trinidadian cuisine.

I recently left my full time position at the Children's Aid Society so that I can write full time. I start back at Juilliard in January. There's nothing more scary and empowering that making a decision to change your life. I certainly recommend it to anyone. I made a decision to shift my worries. Now, my worries will be more financial in nature, but at least I'll have ample time to do what i truly truly love. That was the choice I made.
I feel like I had this room in my mind that was all cluttered with furniture and bodies and suddenly they all just moved out. I'd forgotten what this room looked like before all of this: clean wood floors, large windows. I walk around in this room all day. I'm redecorating. I've put a elliptical machine in there. I'm putting some things up on the walls, threw some cushions on the floor. This is the room I sit in to write.

I've worked on several poems since our visit to the museum last week. Actually, I started working on this really large idea, a book-length idea, pretty exciting--three poems so far. However, I decided to abandon that idea for now and start working on something totally different to satisfy the reading. I'll get back to it later. I'm working on three to four poems for tomorrow. It feels so good to be writing poems again.

Roger and I checked in with each other this morning. Do you know this fool has one line? And he's as cool as a cucumber. I had to laugh. If it were me I would be freaking out! I asked him when he's going to buckle down and he said tonight! Not now, not this afternoon, but tonight. He knows himself, and he knows his poetic imagination will rise to the challenge. I find that most of my own insecurities have melted away. Most.

What I've been looking forward to most about this reading is experiencing everyone's work. This is the fascinating thing about art. Four poets are walking into the same museum, and viewing the same work, though we're all seeing the different things. It will hit different things in all of us, spark our infinitely diverse curiosities.

Oh, I can't wait to hear what everyone comes up with! I'm certainly looking forward to seeing Roger pull this off, because I know he will--he always does. And yes, I'm enjoying looking forward to seeing what more will come out of me as the hours wind down. I just hope that by Thursday evening at 7 it has 10 fingers, 10 toes, a juicy drum of a heart.