It’s a poetry potluck with Sandra Beasley, Steven Leyva, Alan King, and Naomi Ayala in a virtual poetry reading from their own kitchens!
HoCoPoLitSo opens its 47th literary on Friday, November 5 at 7 p.m. with a virtual Poetry Potluck. Join Sandra Beasley, Alan King, Steven Leyva and Naomi Ayala, each live from their own kitchen, as they read and discuss a feast of food-inspired poetry, and maybe even share a favorite recipe.
As the 2021 Lucille Clifton Reading Series event, Poetry Potluck celebrates the beloved Lucille Clifton, HoCoPoLitSo’s longtime artistic director and first writer-in-residence in the Howard County School System. With technical and artistic support by Howard Community College’s Arts Collective, this year’s program features four writers who have also served as HoCoPoLitSo’s literary ambassadors in the school system.
The program honors 30 years of providing a writer-in-residence to the Howard County public high schools. The evening will also honor Howard County teachers with FREE admission* and a special message from poet Taylor Mali, author of “What Teachers Make: In Praise of the Greatest Job in the World.” (See video clip below for a little teaser.)
Poetry Potluck – Verse in Good Taste
Friday, November 5th at 7 p.m.
An Online Reading live-streamed from kitchens of poets and former writers-in-residence Sandra Beasley, Steven Leyva, Alan King, and this year’s poet Naomi Ayala.
10 general admission*
Reservations required via HCC Box Office
Click here to make your reservation: https://ci.ovationtix.com/32275/production/1080760
*Howard County teachers with a valid @hcpss.org email can request a complimentary ticket by emailing BoxOffice@howardcc.edu
Watch this year’s Lucille Clifton reading, “Why We Can’t Wait: Poetry of History and Justice,” featuring Joseph Ross reading from his latest book Raising King. In this event, Mr. Ross is introduced by E. Ethelbert Miller. The reading is followed by a Q&A session hosted by HoCoPoLitSo board member Susan Thornton Hobby. Ninety minutes.
Joseph Ross launches his new book of poems, Raising King, introduced by E. Ethelbert Miller in a virtual presentation.
Now available to watch online:
The 2020 Lucille Clifton Reading Series provides an opportunity to deepen and extend our understanding of the experiences of others and ourselves as Ross explores through verse the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. Ross based his poems on King’s own writing in Stride Toward Freedom, Why We Can’t Wait, and Where do We Go from Here. Ross will read and discuss his work beginning at 7:30 p.m. in a virtual presentation.
Ross says Raising King “invites readers to journey with Martin Luther King, Jr., from Montgomery to Memphis. These poems, some in Dr. King’s voice, some in other voices from his time, offer the reader a new way to understand the compassionate and prophetic life of Dr. King.” Joseph Peniel, author of The Sword and the Shield: Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. writes: “Raising King is a groundbreaking poetry collection that helps to rescue the radically compassionate legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Joseph Ross brilliantly reminds us that King’s power derived from the way in which he forced American and global citizens to confront uncomfortable truths about race, poverty, citizenship, war. A must read.”
Ross is the author of three books of poetry: Meeting Bone Man (2012), Gospel of Dust (2013) and Ache (2017). His poetry has appeared in a wide variety of publications including The Los Angeles Times, The Southern Quarterly, Xavier Review, Poet Lore, Tidal Basin Review, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, and Sojourners. His work appears in many anthologies including What Saves Us: Poems of Empathy and Outrage in the Age of Trump, edited by Martín Espada. He served as the HoCoPoLitSo’s 23rd writer-in-residence and teaches high school English is Washington, D.C. He is a six-time Pushcart Prize nominee and his poem “If Mamie Till Was the Mother of God” won the 2012 Pratt Library/Little Patuxent Review Poetry Prize. Raising King will be available from Willow Books in mid-September.
E. Ethelbert Miller is a literary activist and author of two memoirs and several poetry collections. He hosts the WPFW morning radio show On the Margin with E. Ethelbert Miller and hosts and produces The Scholars on UDC-TV which received a 2020 Telly Award. Miller’s latest book If God Invented Baseball (City Point Press) was awarded the 2019 Literary Award for poetry by the American Library Association’s Black Caucus. Click here to view the E. Ethebert Miller Collection at GWU.
Zoom attendance is limited to the first hundred registrants. Additional virtual attendance will be available through live streaming on Facebook.
Donate to HoCoPoLitSo to help make this and other events like this important discussion happen.
“What happens to a dream deferred? / Does it dry up / like a raisin in the sun?… Or does it explode?”
— Langston Hughes
Join us in this celebration of HoCoPoLitSo’s 45th anniversary with a unique historical exploration of the art that transformed our world. Explore the power of words from writers such as Langston Hughes and live jazz by such greats as Duke Ellington in a not-to-be-missed speakeasy atmosphere evocative of the era. This transporting evening of live jazz, poetry, and visual art from the 1920s Harlem Renaissance honoring former artistic director Lucille Clifton is presented by the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society in partnership with Howard Community College’s Arts Collective. Tickets are available on-line at OvationTix or from the Horowitz Center Box Office on the campus of HCC or by calling 443-518-1500.
Honorary Chairman, County Executive Calvin Ball, will join local poets, musical theater performers, and a jazz quintet who will perform some of the most sophisticated literary and artistic works of the period. Signature cocktails, small bites, and period attire promise to make the evening magical. Musical theatre performances by Valerie A. Higgs, Mayumi B. Griffie, and Jamar Brown along with live music from Petra Martin and the Jazz Masters will recreate the golden age of jazz. Local poets and performers include Linda Joy Burke, Alan King, Faye McCray, Nana Owusu, Shawn Naar, and Chania Hudson, honoring the work of writers such as Countee Cullen, Alice Dunbar Nelson, Claude McKay, and Georgia Douglas Johnson.
This powerful event will be held October 5, 2019, starting at 7:30 p.m. on the campus of Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia, Md., in the Rouse Company Foundation Student Services Hall, room 400. Admission tickets are $45 each and include a wide variety of speakeasy-inspired small bites. A cash bar will be available, serving two signature cocktails evocative of the era, plus beer and wine. Period attire is encouraged. Seating is limited.
HoCoPoLitSo is celebrating its 45th year of nurturing a love and respect for the diversity of contemporary literary arts in Howard County. The society sponsors literary readings and writers-in-residence outreach programs, produces The Writing Life (a writer-to-writer talk show), and partners with other cultural arts organizations to support the arts in Howard County, Maryland. For more information, visit www.hocopolitso.org.
Howard Community College’s critically acclaimed Arts Collective engages performers, creatives, and audiences with innovative events that ignite our collective imaginations. For more than two decades, Arts Collective has served as a creative cauldron, providing expert guidance and training to new and experienced artists in bringing vibrant life to diverse works on the stage; from the newly devised to the classics and all in between. Arts Collective’s positive, collaborative, educational environment is open to everyone. For more information, visit http://www.howardcc.edu/artscollective .
HoCoPoLitSo receives funding from the Maryland State Arts Council, an agency funded by the state of Maryland and the National Endowment for the Arts; Howard County Arts Council through a grant from Howard County government; Community Foundation of Howard County; and individual contributors.
Direct ticket link: https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pe/10434325
HoCoPoLitSo opens its literary season October 26 with “Ordinary Wonder: Three Poets on Writing and Reality,” featuring Michael Collier, Elizabeth Spires, and David Yezzi. The 2018 Lucille Clifton Reading Series highlights three Maryland poets with new, acclaimed collections. Collier, Spires and Yezzi will read and discuss their work beginning at 7:30 p.m. in the Monteabaro Recital Hall of the Horowitz Center for the Performing and Visual Arts on the campus of Howard Community College. Join us in celebration of HoCoPoLitSo’s forty-five years of literary programming at this year’s Lucille Clifton Reading Series. A book signing and wine and cheese reception will follow. The suggested donation for this event is $5.
The three poets, in their own ways, hold up the ordinary world to the light of poetry and examine everyday mysteries, both beautiful and horrible.
Michael Collier’s most recent collection is My Bishop and Other Poems (2018). Poet and professor A. Van Jordan wrote, “My Bishop and Other Poems reminds us of the power of the observant in an age when, too often, we move too quickly to notice the world unfolding around us. These poems bring a passion, an empathy, and a way of seeing I had forgotten was possible.” Collier’s other collections include An Individual History, a finalist for the Poet’s Prize, and The Ledge, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. He is the director of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Maryland, a director emeritus of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conferences, and a former Maryland Poet Laureate.
Elizabeth Spires‘ most recent poetry collection, A Memory of The Future (2018), was influenced by Zen and Asian art. The New York Times wrote of the work, “In these lyrical verses, Spires questions the quotidian, elevating the everyday to a meditational art form.” Spires’ other collections include Worldling, Now the Green Blade Rises, and The Wave-Maker. The author of six books for children, Spires lives in Baltimore and is a professor of English at Goucher College.
David Yezzi’s newest collection of poems is Black Sea (2018). Other collections include Birds of the Air, Azores, and The Hidden Model. Reviewing Birds of the Air (2013), Farisa Khalid noted the poem Orts “does something that many poems strive for but don’t quite get at, and that’s conveying with clarity the otherness of our world—the strange beauty of what we experience and the mystery of what we can’t always understand.” Yezzi has contributed poems and criticism to The New York Times Book Review, The Times Literary Supplement, The Wall Street Journal, The Paris Review, The New Republic, Poetry, The Yale Review, Poetry Daily, and elsewhere. Yezzi, who lives in Baltimore, is the editor of The Hopkins Review and poetry editor of The New Criterion, and chair of the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University.
Three Poets On Writing and Reality
Michael Collier, Elizabeth Spires, and David Yezzi
Friday, October 26, 2018 – 7:30 p.m.
Monteabaro Recital Hall at the
Horowitz Center for the Performing Arts
Howard Community College
HoCoPoLitSo, a private, nonprofit literary organization, receives funding from the Maryland State Arts Council, an agency funded by the state of Maryland and the National Endowment for the Arts; Howard County Arts Council through a grant from Howard County government; The Columbia Film Society; Community Foundation of Howard County; and individual contributors.
Laurie Frankel’s Goodbye For Now
A Howard County Book Connection Event
Wednesday, November 1, 2017 • 1 p.m.
Rouse Community Foundation Student Services Hall, Room 400
Howard Community College
10901 Little Patuxent Parkway
Columbia, MD 21044
If you could connect with your beloved dead through technology, would you? Laurie Frankel’s novel, Goodbye for Now, is a love story with technology at its heart. Join us to hear Frankel read from her ground-breaking book at HoCoPoLitSo’s series celebrating ground-breaking poet and HoCoPoLitSo artistic advisor Lucille Clifton. Gather with a group of curious minds for this intriguing discussion. The New York Times said Frankel’s book, “extends the reach of technology just beyond our fingertips, where it feels possible.” This program is brought to you by the Howard County Book Connection; a partnership between Howard Community College, the Howard County Public Library System, and the Howard County Poetry & Literature Society (HoCoPoLitSo). A book signing will follow. Tickets not required.
Seniors can request transportation by calling 410.715.3087. For other accommodations, call 443.518.4568 by October 16
This event is free. Click here to register and let us know you are coming.
On October 30th at 4 pm, HoCoPoLitSo hosts Carolyn Forche for the Annual Lucille Clifton Reading.
Here is a reflection by Sama Bellomo who is a rehabilitation technologist who writes accessible curricula to help individuals with disabilities gain employable skills on their way into the workforce. Sama has previously contributed to this blog with a letter to HoCoPoLitSo after attending the 2014 Lucille Clifton Reading event with Michael Glaser.
When it is not possible to stop the suffering of others the decent thing to do is listen and bear witness. When we validate someone by hearing and retelling their story we help them carry the heaviest bricks of the human condition to a new space where their suffering can be built into something meaningful.
By devoting years of her life to the protection of human dignity in war-torn places Carolyn Forché gives people’s pain a way to connect, to rest. First she collects the writings of devastated people. She listens, empathizes, and surely cries. Next, she connects the works with those of others who endure similar horrors, breaking their isolation by organizing and cataloguing their grief. Perhaps she reunites neighbours, lovers, or siblings among the pages. Maybe the loneliest are finally in good company. Wars ruin lives – but poets like Forche give that tremendous sense of loss a new purpose, a community, a voice.
I’ve been revisiting my studies of Carolyn Forché, whose book, “Against Forgetting,” has a permanent spot in my living room. I keep it in plain sight so that it’s a ready tool when I need to share an example of ordinary people who do extraordinary things on the worst and last days of their lives. The book is so thick and yet it was pared down from thousands of poems for whose inclusion Forché fought individually. Forché wrote an introduction to every single author, giving their poetry context, finding what the poem needed to say and clearing space for it in the reader’s mind. I flip through it to remind myself to keep ownership of my responsibility to improve the human condition where I can. I use the dog-eared pages to empower budding self-advocates. I harvest the hope and earnestness that Forché writes into each author’s leading biography to play my part in suicide prevention, which I spend a great deal of time doing, with no regrets, and with great thanks to http://www.IMAlive.org for training me to do without fear.
I gratefully tip my hat to Professor Jean Sonntag at Howard Community College who had a profound impact on the way I view myself and the world around me, through the lens of others’ written voices. She supported my investigation into the Japanese Internment further by giving me an Incomplete grade at the end of the semester which gave me time to catch up on the coursework I’d set aside. She was teaching me that I could and should make time to grow as a decent human being when there was something I really needed to understand. Because she taught me that making time was possible I got my first good look at how delicate we are, at how quickly we will treat each other poorly if we are not careful. The work I did to assimilate E.O. 9066 into my prior knowledge of “Great Man History” changed my sense of what it means to be proud of American History. But even then, the most gruesome inhumanities had yet to hit me because there are so few first-hand accounts and even fewer images from the Japanese Internment Camps. First-hand accounts have a unique way of haunting a reader’s conscience about what cruel acts people can commit against each other in deeply evil times, when just yesterday they had been neighbours.
Also at Howard Community College, Professor Lee Hartman first introduced me to Carolyn Forché. In a Creative Writing class Professor Hartman played a video where Forché spoke with HoCoPoLitSo. Forché told me in that recording what it was going to take for me to become a force to ease human suffering: I would have to listen, and it was going to hurt.
Of course I’d known what the Holocaust was, and of course I was sorry about it – for as sorry as a then-twenty-something could be about what public high school had said about it. Forché told me through her talk that I knew too little and could not be sorry if I did not truly know how the Holocaust had undone an entire people.
Fanni Radnoti published “The Borscht Notebook,” a posthumous final volume of her late husband, the Hungarian poet and writer Miklos Radnoti. To get the book she had sifted through a mass grave, through more than twenty bodies’ worth of human remains. Hoping and dreading that one of those bodies belonged to her beloved, whom she had not seen in more than two years since they had been separated by the Nazis, she found him. The book was in his pocket. Forché dutifully told these details to my Creative Writing class through her video recording session with HoCoPoLitSo and I was no longer just sorry. Sorry was no longer enough, and it never will be again.
My two neighbours at the time had been Holocaust survivors from Poland, who had been devoting their lives to recovering artifacts and human remains for proper burial, remains that had been turned into decorations such as tattooed skin lampshades and shrunken, sand-packed heads. After I saw Forché speak in that video I knocked on my neighbours’ door and asked them humbly about their experiences. They spent the next six hours showing me what they had recovered, articles and letters they had written, denials they had gotten from museums and private collections for items that had no hallowed ground.
It puts a strain on their marriage. They lose sleep. Their basement is a fully devoted workshop of recovery. They write home. They live modestly. They carry themselves happily despite the torture that continues in their histories, in their daily life. I was able to provide some technical support, a modest kindness to help their heroic efforts. We have lost touch but not a day passes that they are not in my heart, a part of who I am now, determined to help with activism, closure, and rehabilitation, using any skills I have.
As a member of the LGBTQ. community I am still trying to assimilate the confusing and overwhelming truth that I myself would not have survived the Holocaust, nor would much of my community, had I lived in Eastern Europe, where part of my family is from the former Yugoslavia. Forché’s works brought up the question in me: what do I have yet to learn about LGBTQ history, what should I be against forgetting? I have grown to raise awareness of genocide and to resist cultural eliminativism, be the acts overt or covert.
Knowing better leaves no excuse for not doing better, and then-twenty-something me was learning that in my college years. Somewhere in the world starvation, murder, and torture have happened today. They happened yesterday. They have happened since time immemorial. They have never happened to me, and they likely never will. That means I am in a position to do something about it. Knowing better leaves no excuse for not doing better: what can I do for my part to move the world forward?
Forché is featured in “Voices in Wartime,” another anthology volume that portrays exactly what one would imagine it does. A video documentary bearing the same title accompanies the book on my shelf and bears witness to the fact that Forché is not alone in her work. There are others concerned with trying to put words on the unspeakable, to educate, an appeal for peace, a chorus of humanitarian voices.
Regretfully, I’ve read comparatively little of Forché’s own poetry. Am I worried about what else she is going to teach me? Am I afraid my own conscience will become too heavy a boulder, that I won’t have the strength or won’t summon the will, to push it up the mountain? Am I afraid she will have a lighter side, and I’ll then have to find my own ways to lighten up?
Forché is so big a force in my life that it is not possible to count all the places in which her efforts have propped me up when I have stood up for myself or others, and my legs wobbled. Lest we forget, Carolyn Forché chronicles what we need to know about human suffering if we truly wish to end it.
To reserve your ticket for the Lucille Clifton Reading to hear Carolyn Forche and her Poetry of Witness at Monteabaro Hall at Howard Community College, please visit: http://brownpapertickets.com/event/2568971
In this mini-series on young people in/of poetry, I have made my own observations about the importance of poetry in the lives of young people and I have interviewed HoCoPoLitSo’s Student on Board, Katy Day about poetry in her life. Next up is HoCoPoLitSo’s student intern, Faheem Dyer.
Faheem is a senior at Atholton High School. He has been pursuing his interest in poetry since middle school, and some of his favorites are Whitman, the Beats, and the Romantics. At Atholton, he is the president of the Poetry Club, and he serves his school’s student newspaper, Raider Review, as the Opinions Editor and the Online Editor. When he graduates this summer, he hopes to attend college in the fall to study creative writing or comparative literature. He says, “I believe that a deep engagement with the written word is essential to the intellectual growth and a healthy understanding of the world, both on a personal, and social level.”
Here’s what he had to say.
What do you get out of attending poetry and literary events, such as the Rita Dove and Joshua Coyne event last year?
I think the most profound thing I gained was the direct exposure to talent and experience of Ms. Dove’s and Mr. Coyne’s caliber. More than that, though, I think the chance to see these two people share their insights and ideas on their crafts with an attentive, engaged audience helped deepen my understanding of those art forms, both as a consumer and aspiring creator.
As a student and as a citizen of this world, what benefits do you see in reading and studying literature (especially poetry)?
I believe that being well-read in literature is the most important part of being a well-educated and informed individual. Whether it’s lofty philosophical theory, or raw poetic passion, all human knowledge and experience is cataloged with language; writing is one of the most important vessels of thought, and to make oneself a student of that is to put oneself at the heart of it. That is invaluable in growing as a person, and it is absolutely essential to a robust education.
What’s your favorite work of literature (a particular poem, poet, or novel maybe)?
I personally never get tired of Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, specifically “Song of Myself.” The wild, loving, and almost holy way Whitman addresses the nature of the world around him is beautiful and altogether profound and spiritual on a deeper one.
Do you have any thoughts on what literary organizations like HoCoPoLitSo can do to engage young people?
I may not be able to speak for all young people, but I know that if I were not already interested, simply being shown poetry in ways that demonstrate its continued relevance could easily engage me. Also, in introducing poetry to others, I would keep in mind what priorities and temperaments I’m trying to appeal to, because there is something for any young person of any mindset to gain from poetry, but the ways to make it appealing differ greatly from circle to circle.
You can read Faheen’s review of HoCoPoLitSo’s 2014 Lucille Clifton Poetry Series event when Rita Dove and Joshua Coyne read and performed together on stage at Howard Community College.
As a teacher, I am envious of teachers who get to teach students like Faheem. His commitment to poetry signifies more than his interest or even “skills” in language and literature – for me, it signifies the potential for a deep and wide understanding of the world that I believe literature students like Faheem can cultivate.
Poetry and other forms of literary arts ask us to look outward – at the world, at people, at history, at cultures, at empowering ideas as well as dangerous ideas. At the same time, they ask us to look inward, too – to think, to feel, to ask questions of ourselves, to imagine, and to nurture our interior lives.
Yes, poetry can do that. And Faheem knows it.
– Laura Yoo
Member, HoCoPoLitSo Board of Directors
HoCoPoLitSo’s forty years are full of cherished memories. In this blog post, board member Laura Yoo shares a favorite recent memory from the 2014 Lucille Clifton Poetry Series Reading with Rita Dove and violinist Joshua Coyne.
I was wowed, moved, and inspired during Rita Dove’s reading and Joshua Coyne’s music this past October. Their performances and their talk, facilitated by HoCoPoLitSo’s Co-Chair Tara Hart, was engaging and fascinating.
But in my memory of that evening, I am thinking of three young women that I met after the event. They were simply giddy with excitement. They stood behind me in line to have their programs signed by Ms. Dove. They whispered to each other, “That was so cool” and “I wonder if she’d take a picture with us?” I offered to take a picture of them with Ms. Dove, and later they also posed with Coyne and his friend Emmett Tross the singer. These three young women were stirred by the whole evening.
While the performance by Dove and Coyne was phenomenal, it’s these three young women who linger in my memory after the event. I keep thinking, how can we get more of that?
Even as a professor in the English department at Howard Community College, I don’t often witness such excitement about literature, especially poetry, from young people. And this makes me sad. I just want to grab them and say, “Can’t you see? Don’t you see just how beautiful and amazing these words are?”
I think we’re all born with the capacity for creativity, and for poetry. Poetry is everywhere in the lives of children. Everything they do rhymes and the very way they acquire language itself is poetic. My kindergartener says that at school, before they eat, they say to each other, “Bon appetit. Now you may eat!” You can’t tell me that’s not poetry.
In his famous TED Talk, Sir Ken Robinson says that schooling kills creativity, and I wonder if it also kills interest in experiencing others’ creative productions like poetry. Schooling has become a pragmatic and utilitarian endeavor. There is very little room for what are (inaccurately) perceived to be purely aesthetic endeavors like literature and other forms of art. But what many don’t realize is that there is so much usefulness in literature. Steve Strauss, a columnist for USA Today and a small business expert, tells us about a research on the impact of studying literature,
Keith Oatley, one of the researchers, said the reason fiction improves empathy is because it helps us to “understand characters’ actions from their interior point of view, by entering into their situations and minds, rather than the more exterior view of them that we usually have.” This improves interpersonal understanding and enhances relationships with customers and business associates. When you hire an English major, you’re likely hiring someone who brings cognitive empathy to the table. (from “Why I Hire English Majors” in The Huffington Post)
So literature is not only beautiful but also useful.
By the time young people graduate high school and enter a college course like introduction to literature, many of them see literature as a chore and poetry as a mystery. When it comes to literature, most of them stand somewhere between empathy and fear – and perhaps those two feelings are not mutually exclusive.
One way that HoCoPoLitSo tries to cure young people of this fear is through our Writer-in-Residence program. This year, Joseph Ross of Meeting Bone Man (2012) and Gospel of Dust (2013) is visiting high schools in Howard County for poetry workshops. He writes in his blog about the students he worked with at Homewood:
They were asking to be seen and heard, “tenderly.” […] While these young people had been through some difficult times, they used poetry to name their sadnesses and to face them. This is what the power of poetry looks like.
In addition, for many years HoCoPoLitSo has worked with Bill’s Buddies of the Folger Shakespeare Library to visit Howard County schools. This year, thanks to HoCoPoLitSo’ s sponsors and partners, middle school students from all over the county were visited by actors from Center Stage.
Recently, I learned that those three young ladies at the Dove and Coyne event were Nsikan Apkan and her two sisters. Nsikan is a student at Howard Community College with great interest in poetry. She even wrote an article about the event for HCC Times (check out page 19 of the October 2014
We also have young people like Katy Day who is HoCoPoLitSo’s Student on Board and a student at University of Maryland, College Park, studying English and Psychology as well as Faheem Dyer who is HoCoPoLitSo’s student intern from Atholton High School. You can read about Katy’s curious claim that “humanities ain’t like the Pre-Chew Charlie’s” and read Faheem’s review of the Dove and Coyne event for the Raider Review.
Young people like Nsikan, Katy, and Faheem will create and carry the future of poetry and literature in Howard County, in Maryland, in the US, and in the world.
In the next few weeks, I will share with you my interviews with Katy, Faheem, and Nsikan. They will tell you what draws them to literature, to poetry in particular. They will tell you about the future of poetry. And we will all see that we need not lose heart about the future of literature, of poetry. We have Katy, Faheem, and Nsikan.
Keep calm and read on.
— Laura Yoo
HoCoPoLitSo Board Member
Have a favorite HoCoPoLitSo memory? Share it with us through this online form and you may find the story the subject of a future blog post.
HoCoPoLitSo has a history of pulling together people, words and music. A forty-year history, in fact.
On Oct. 22, HoCoPoLitSo made history again at a celebration of its fortieth anniversary, a free multi-media event called “A Word of Difference: Rita Dove and Joshua Coyne Celebrate History and Creativity.”
For the first time, prodigy violinist Joshua Coyne and former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove shared the stage to perform works inspired by an almost-forgotten eighteenth-century Afro-Polish musician — George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower. Dove read poems from her biographical book of poems about Bridgetower, Sonata Mulattica, and Coyne played his own composition, “Fingers,” a plaintive work meant to embody Bridgetower’s doomed career. The program was filmed by a crew from Spark Media for a documentary of the same name as Dove’s 2009 book, and a selection of scenes from the documentary premiered at the HoCoPoLitSo event.
Dove, whose book was described by the New Yorker as “a virtuosic treatment of a virtuoso’s life,” explained Bridgetower’s story at the reading. First, a musical tot is discovered in the servant’s quarters and given a tiny violin, an overbearing African “prince” as a father showcases his son’s prodigious talents, the boy’s talent blossoms under Haydn’s tutelage and the patronage of the Prince of Wales. Then, as a youth, Bridgetower meets Beethoven.
Beethoven and Bridgetower collaborate on an intricate sonata, which the going-deaf composer dedicates to his “crazy mulatto,” according to historical letters. Then the story turns even more soap opera: the handsome young Bridgetower either insults or flirts with or steals (according to one’s perspective) a young woman that Beethoven has been coveting.
The elder musician rages, tears up the dedication page, and Bridgetower retreats from Vienna in shame. His career skids to a halt a scant decade or so after it began. He dies in the London slums seventy years after he played in Paris to great acclaim.
Dove read a poem about the father giving his boy “The Wardrobe Lesson,” so he’ll dress in bright colors and flowing costumes to highlight his “exotic” background. She read “Augarten, 7 a.m.,” about the early-morning concert that premiered the sonata, which Beethoven later rededicated to violinist Rodolphe Kreutzer, who pronounced it so complicated it was “unplayable.” She concluded the reading with “The End, with Mapquest,” about her family’s trip to find the spot where Bridgetower died, in south London, asking at last, “how does a shadow shine?”
After Coyne’s two original songs were performed, one based on Langston Hughes’ poem “A Dream Deferred” and sung by Emmett Gabriel Tross, and the second played by Coyne on the violin, Dove and Coyne sat down for a discussion with the audience, moderated by HoCoPoLitSo board co-chair Tara Hart.
The two artists talked about when they first met and how they threw back and forth improvisations on free verse and piano music. And Dove explained that she formerly played cello.
“I must have music in my life,” she said. “Poetry can make the language sing, and like music, can create an emotion that is speechless.”
Coyne talked about playing the Bridgetower sonata, about it being a dialogue between the piano and the violin, and how “it is a killer,” he laughed.
And they offered advice to artists everywhere, on which work was the hardest they have composed (both agreed, they were all the hardest), and to learn to relax about creating.
“This is not a race to be an artist,” Dove said. “It feeds something in you.”
Coyne agreed: “Make sure you’re not going too fast to notice things.”
Outside, after the cheese and fruit were picked clean, and the red-clad volunteers from Columbia’s Delta Sigma Theta alumnae chapter had gone home, Dove lingered for photos and signatures on her books. Across the glossy foyer, sticky notes papered a column with thoughts about the evening written by audience members: “DEEP,” “inspiring,” “awesome,” they read.
This performance was presented free to audience members to commemorate the first reading HoCoPoLitSo offered, in November, 1974, by the late poets Lucille Clifton and Carolyn Kizer. HoCoPoLitSo is grateful to partners and donors that made the evening possible — the Alpha Phi Alpha Foundation, Candlelight Concert Society, the Columbia Film Society, the Howard Community College Music Department and the Columbia (Md.) Alumnae Chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.
To help HoCoPoLitSo continue pull together programs of this variety and quality, and make them available to all in the community, please consider making a donation.
Susan Thornton Hobby