Jacob Lawrence at age 23 showed a series of small paintings narrating the GREAT MIGRATION–the movement of thousands of Black people from the South of these United States to hopefully better lives in the North. This is the largest voluntary internal migration-all others were forced. I kept that in mind as I developed the poem, “Lave” which is part of the Poetry Suite commissioned by Elizabeth Alexander for the Museum of Modern Arts exhibition of the entire series for the first time in 20 years. One-Way Ticket: Jacob Lawrence Migrations Series and Other Visions of The Great Movement North is now up at MOMA and it is worth seeing because it shows how active, innovative and politically engaged African American artists were during the Great Depression into War Years and beyond. We are still working through the power of their imagery, those ideas, and of course their challenges. This panel is the one I focused on when writing my poem, though others are in the poem as well. Every poet in the suite came to Lawrence’ work from their own perspective, just as artists came to their response to the growing urbanization of Blacks differently from Lawrence. My life is like a dream, sometimes at least when it comes to poetry.
On May 1, a Debut Reading of the Poetry Suite moderated by Elizabeth Alexander will include me and Rita Dove, Nikky Finney, Terrance Hayes, Tyehimba Jess, Yusef Komunyakaa, Natasha Trethewey, Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, Crystal Williams, and Kevin Young.
At the preview exhibition, I had a chance to commune with my Panel, but I am sure when I go again, the gallery will be packed. Here’s the link: http://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2015/onewayticket/
May your life be a dream sometimes, too.