Sunday, October 30, 2011

Redmond, Baraka & Multi-directional Approaches to Poetry

Dancers from East St. Louis/SIUE Centering for Performing Arts

There was dance, jazz, African drum playing, gospel music, and oh yes, poetry. The mixed genre, festive nature of the production were familiar features of an event organized by Eugene B. Redmond.

For years now, Redmond has made sure to incorporate music, song, and dance performances into poetry events. Of course, for Redmond, poetry readings are almost always occasions for something more. As an active participant in the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s, Redmond had absorbed the philosophies and practices that sought to break down barriers between various artistic forms.

Eugene B. Redmond & Treasure Redmond giving reading
This past Wednesday, October 26, Redmond and members of the Eugene B. Writers (EBR) Club celebrated the 25th anniversary of the club at the Missouri History Museum. The featured reader for the event was Amiri Baraka. But the lead up included a wide range of artistic performances, including a welcome by the mayor of East St. Louis, shorter readings by members of the EBR club, acknowledgment of elders, and a talk and reading by Haki Madhubuti.

Amiri Baraka
Baraka, as always, lived up to his reputation as a wonderful performer of verse and facilitator of various cultural ideas. He read poems by black history, music, and political dissent and interpretation. His reading was witty, humorous, and musical. He hummed jazz tunes as preludes to some of the poems, and sung parts of a spiritual as he read a piece referencing the Middle Passage and the enslavement of black people.

Baraka's multi-directional approach to presenting individual poems corresponds in many ways to Redmond's approach to organizing a poetry event. There's attention to history, music, movement, culture, and politics that is hard to miss in either.

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