Since I've been talking poets, spoken word, and geography, I'm inclined to say just a little about Treasure Redmond, who I've blogged about before. I consider her a friend, but I also view her as one of the most talented readers of poetry that I've witnessed in the region since I moved to St. Louis back in 2003. That Treasure is southern--Mississippi through and through--and now a somewhat recent transplant to St. Louis connects to some of my thoughts about how migrations matter to the sound of spoken word poetry at particular moments.
Few, if any, poets have a musical and performance background like Treasure. She was part of a rap duo that opened for M.C. Hammer back in the day. (I'm really, really going to have to catch her at some point for an extended interview on her life as a rapper and writer). What is, I wonder, the shape of artistic knowledge for a rapper-turned-poet? Among other issues, I imagine she brings a wealth of experience to the practice of reading and performing her words.
Beyond the value of what a rap career gives a poet, I've heard something different in Treasure's work, notably, a black church expression. In performances of her kwansabas on Fannie Lou Hamer, Treasure presents aspects of gospel songs, a nod to her own upbringing as well as the infusion of black music into the Civil Rights activism of Hamer's day. Treasure's ability to sing and her willingness to infuse black church songs into her readings gives her poetry a distinct sound in the larger discourse of spoken word poetry.
Gospel music can be heard all over these days. But you get a sense of the music's Mississippi routes when Treasure, who's from Meridian, reads and sings in the persona of Hamer, who's from Montgomery County. Even when Treasure's reading various other poems beyond her Hamer project, I've gotten the sense that she carries the sounds of a range of powerful black Mississippi women in her head, and she draws on the sense of their various voices as she shapes and projects her own distinct sound.
In many respects, Treasure's sound and performance style are are repositories for elements of African American expressive culture.