The Furious Flower Poetry Center is housed in a little house in Harrisonburg –part of James Madison University. Never has so small a space held such a large role. I just got back from the third Furious Flower conference that brought poets and scholars of the African diaspora (majority American) to this well-to do city in the midst of the mountains of Virginia. A place where most of the people are Republicans. Where people talk football, hunting and yes education, law and order and too much money in politics. You can see that money in the terrible political ads. I got there on the Amtrak to Charlottesville which was on time as if to mock the lateness of the same train a month earlier when I went to VCCA.
I am so pleased to have been invited. I’ve been writing and publishing for four decades. I write because I want to try and make large work on intimate issues–at least I try. I don’t quite fit an of the critical stance and maybe my work never will. I just don’t know. But I was asked and I am happy to have read with truly fine and important poets: Jericho Brown, Camille Dungy, Mendi Obadike, Remica L. Bingham-Risher, Tyehimba Jess, Samantha Thornhill and A. Van Jordan. Our group brought a diverse range of poetics and strategies, but we were all well versed in how to present words. But it would have been great if we had been presented at Wilson Hall as were the other major readings. It would have been great if we had been introduced. But by Saturday everyone was close to exhausted–much to consider by some super considerable people. Despite these small issues, I am so glad I was there. And I was happy to sign the conference booklet–there are people who get all of the names.
And so there we were many of my bestest friends-there were we were chatting and gossiping and sharing of work old and new. But so much so much it makes sleeping almost impossible as words and phrases and images reel about my mind: Rita Dove telling us “this is not my hair.”; hearing Nikki Giovanni go on and on about space travel and champagne; watching Marilyn Nelson walk across the ballroom floor to get her award using an elegant walking stick; watching my main men: Tony Medina, Major Jackson, Thomas Sayers Ellis who were festive, pensive, observant depending. Medina’s performance of the poem/tribute for Amiri Baraka, which I first heard at Barka’s funeral was well done. Thomas Sayers Ellis performed with Luke Stewart (bassist) and James Brandon Lewis (saxophone) including his piece in honor of Chuck Brown, the founder of Gogo.Ekere Taille read well w/ her elders and Jessica Care Moore let her song King join her when she read in the Baraka tribute. Kwame Dawes gave a great talk as did Brenda Marie Osbey. The intelligence quotient was quite high. The focus on the Black Arts Movement impressive, but other Black cultural trends were also considered
I could go on and on, but I have to stop and figure out what does any of this mean. I think for me it means I am part of the discourse. That I have entered the charmed circle of poest and writers who are read, taught, discussed on a regular basis that makes me feel very good. We read. We talked to each other. We exchanged email addresses. We drank and ate and danced and felt so much gratitude to have the chance to be together. Dr. Joanne Gabbin has created a powerful entity, may it continue.