..past plumbs present - in reading about Claude MacKay's novel, Romance In Marseille, reviewed in today's New York Times..
The resonance is deeply personal, turning back to remember a commission from the National Portrait Gallery, and the journey of knitting a tapestry of black poets into a frieze, etching their voices and journey.. That work is called Smoking Out The Beehive, and was performed at the National Portrait Gallery in 2013. Going back to the 'journal post' I wrote, about that creating to a quick timeline, I'd forgotten that it, too, came in proximity to a reading of Reconstruction..
Today, as Claude MacKay strides in 'lost' words finally affixed to print, Reconstruction comes again into view; on the 24th February, at West End Library at 6:30pm, in Mosaic Theater's reading series, Mosaic On The Move.. - and I am once again caught off guard by confluence of this synchronicity, out of another February, 7 years ago. This is the entry of February 6, 2013: "..in this past October, my play Reconstruction received a reading here in DC, at Fort Fringe. The cast was of spectacular ability, and the audience participated in the ‘after’ dialogue with friction and engagement. But one of my favorite words was in action throughout: serendipity.. The character of MISS MARIAH, in my play, was performed by Ms Jewell Robinson –who had never read my work before, but was so moved and engaged by my reach, that she, under her other hat, commissioned me to write a piece for presentation.
You see, Ms Robinson is Director Of Public Programming for the National Portrait Gallery; its current exhibit features profiles of poets, and is entitled Poetic Likeness. The commission, presented to me in November of 2012, was to write something to highlight the work of the black poets in the exhibition, for a presentation in the museum’s offering for Black History Month. I took the commission, excited and honored to be offered such prestige from this prominent institution..- In Claude McKay (1889 – 1948) I touched upon the inner conflict inherent in a cage of colonialism; born in Jamaica, subject of Queen Victoria, aspiring, intelligent, aware and precocious, McKay startled British society with his penetrating poems, ‘ballads’ full of melody and the lilt of the island patois; he also presented a slim view of the variant shades of colour -coloureds- who made their life off of ‘bumming’ what they could from their fellow man..
This early identification of the skeins of colour and society, wedge his work, and, after coming to America, fix in his stature, giving him the view between African American slavery, and, in the afterbirth of Emancipation, predations of a deepening “intellectual” ideology, and Negro discontent. His journey was a wide-ranging struggle to keep to his moral compass; he strode through the Soviet fields of communism (in the early 1900’s), and bridged a connecting tissue of political struggle between Comrades, and American Marxist/Socialists. McKay’s politics gave virulent voice to the rage of racist abuse of blacks in America; his initial trip into the south was a decimating and defining moment of clarity for him, in the nature of a particular American savagery, where lynching, rape, and burning were handy tools of oppression against people of color..
..I came to appreciate the particular tragedy of Jean Toomer (1894 – 1967), whose mix of color presented him as “white”, but whose conflict of soul constantly brought him against the grain of easy living, and, ultimately, caused him to fracture in himself, unable to fully fit the pieces of his birthright, and paradox, in America. Langston Hughes (1902 – 1967) I have always admired, but had never been so intimate with; his endeavors in opera (taking his play Troubled Island, and working with the black composer William Grant Still) as well as Broadway (his work with the composer Kurt Weill in creating the libretto for Street Scene) are amazing journeys of artistry in their own right, but in the dexterity of this man’s reach, I found myself awestruck at the diversity of his forum!
Audre Lorde (1934 – 1992) I knew of her activism, but I was not aware of the deep soul of her poetry, or the challenge of her health.. Amiri Baraka (1934 - ) is a name that inflicts, incites, and antagonizes; his work is a ‘slicing’ arc, through styles, polemics, pose, theatre, and modern reaches of rap and hip-hop. Yusef Komunyakaa (1947 - ) is a deep resonant thinking man whose journey from southern blues, into Vietnam, and further personal tragedy.. is of such breathtaking dimension and succinct dialect that I was subsumed in his storytelling voice, style, knowledge and humanity. …so; these are the six; these were the companions, in my last two months of silence, during which I found the craft to fit their stories into a length of tapestry that allowed them to speak their own character; entitled: smoking out the beehive.
..it came through immersion; distinct music; distinction of styles; influences and counter-struggle; polyphonic, ultimately; rich. "Through whom we are all enriched."