Thursday, April 22, 2010
Treasure Williams & Sonic Possibilities
At the risk of over-simplifying things, let me start with this: Treasure Williams has this big, powerful poetic voice—a voice too rambunctious to fit neatly on the pages of conventional American literature; a voice too unruly to sit quietly on a single pew in any static conception of black discourse. Treasure, who was the featured poet at a reading in East St. Louis hosted by the EBR Writers Club earlier this week, has a reading/delivery style that provides some useful ways for thinking about the sonic possibilities of black literary art.
Treasure read several poems and shared her thinking on her approaches to writing. Her poems touched on a range of topics such as family, the after-effects of Hurricane Katrina, southern black women, and relationships. The poems were funny and sarcastic, militant, sad, empowering, and resonating.
Since Treasure moved to the Midwest, she and I talk now and then, and interestingly enough, her regular speaking voice had somehow caused me to almost…almost forget about the force and versatility of her performance voice, the presence of her stage presence, so to speak.
During the course of her reading, Treasure mixed in the blues and black church music, different versions of southern folk talk, and a style that we might generally refer to as “black proper speech.” She even inserted tingles of field hollers here and there in some of the poems she presented. It was a really wonderful listening experience.
Here's Treasure singing a portion of "Wade in the Water" at the beginning of her poem "Her Name is Antoinette Legeaux."
In some ways, her delivery style aligns with a few notable poets of her generation including Tyehimba Jess, Tracie Morris, and Patricia Smith. Like those poets, Treasure has developed a really vibrant performance intelligence. The southern features of Treasure’s presentation style, however, give her work a distinct sound and feel.
Here's an excerpt of Treasure reading her poem "My South," which presents her home state of Mississippi as a person with multiple, contrasting identities.
As someone who’s interested in persona poems where poets take on the voices of others, I was especially interested with how Treasure continually emulated the voices of people and characters she presented in her poems as well as in the stories that she was telling between reading individual poems. She slipped into multiple southern accents, making distinctions between speakers from Mississippi and Louisiana. So in addition to projecting her own poetic voice, Treasure has become this repository of several black women's voices.
Recordings © Treasure Williams. Presented with the author's permission.