In 2008, I began performing spoken word, but when I started grad school in 2010 and began working with our Black Studies Program at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville. I soon realized I was a spoken word poet who knew very little about the Black Arts Movement and its writers. I was an extension of a tradition and quite disconnected from it. I knew of Nikki Giovanni, and other poets like Gwendolyn Brooks and Maya Angelou, but not in the revolutionary, black arts renaissance context of the 1960s and 70s.
My prior experience working as grad assistant with Black Studies changed that. This was true poetry in motion. I had the unique experience of witnessing African American poetry and mixed media unfold for students of all ages and backgrounds in creative and intellectually engaging ways.
It was an amazing time. In one year, I went from reading and learning to meeting and dining with my literary and cultural heroes- from Nikki Giovanni, to Sonia Sanchez, to Haki Madhubuti, Eugene B. Redmond. I also had a brief opportunity to meet Amiri Baraka and hear him speak as well at a Kwanzaa celebration in St. Louis.
It may surprise some, but Amiri Baraka’s “Rhythm Blues” was often a favorite among our younger program participants (5th and 6th grades) and today I’m reminded of the indelible legacy that he’s left us in words, rhyme, rhythm, and spirit.
I know your spirit lives on through poem and song.
as your words. your rhymes. your rhythm.
jazz rhythm. funk rhythm. love rhythm. blues rhythm.
you co-wrote the soul of rhythm. blues. people.
you had a blues all your own.
a lifetime expressed over one long blue note
Architect of the Black Arts Movement
you set pages afire
by a mouthpiece so sinister
still leaves some folks afraid to administer you the title of cultural hero
but you lived,
writing and speaking your own truth
“Slaveboy, leroy from Newark Hill”
speaking and writing your known truth
your goddamn mind.
© Danielle Hall 2014