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New Federal Theatre's "2020 Poetry Jam: She speaks, He speaks, We speak, Generations Speak"

September 21 & 28, 2020
on-line at www.newfederaltheatre.org
Running time: 105 minutes
Curator/host: Rev. Rhonda "Akanke" McLean-Nur
Director: Petronia Paley
Poet/performers: Mahogany L. Browne, Yusef Komunyakaa, Haki Madhabuti, jessica Care moore, Abiodun Oyewale, Sonia Sanchez, Shandenia Sivad, Quincy Troupe, Camryn Bruno, Renee McRae, and Natheniel Isiah Swanson

On September 21 and 28, Woodie King, Jr.'s New Federal Theatre presented its "2020 Poetry Jam: She Speaks, He Speaks, We Speak, Generations Speak," described as a program to "honor powerful voices, from revolutionary trailblazers to torch-bearing young artists, who invigorate today's Black verse." I tuned in on September 21. The group of poets represented an impressive variety of styles and themes, with an emphasis on social injustice and tragic murders in the Black community.  Most poems were delivered by the eminent collection of poets themselves in deeply felt, passionate renderings.

Rev. McLean-Nur did an outstanding job of curating the event, which featured poets ranging from 18-year old Nathaniel Isiah Swanson to Haki Madhubuti, whose first book of poetry was published in 1966.   Most were political poems, memorials to victims, and cries against injustice, but the event didn't lack variety.  There were interludes of African music played by Baba Don Eaton on the drum.   

Following a welcome by Rev. McLean-Nur, the program got under way with Quincy Troupe delivered "I Am Dreaming Harlem," in which he declared the names of many famous Black actors, activists, athletes and others known for their accomplishments. Among Troupe's many credits are the best-seller "Miles: The Autobiography of Miles Davis" and his memoir "Miles and Me," soon to become a major motion picture.

Sonia Sanchez's "haiku and Tanka for Harriet," expressed gratitude to Harriet Tubman: "We're free because of Harriet Tubman."  Ms. Sanchez, a leading figure in the Black Arts Movement, has authored over a dozen books of poetry.  She was appointed Philadelphia's first Poet Laureate and served from 2012 to 2014.

"Black Girl Magic" received a fiery reading by poet Mahogany L. Browne, who decried those who feel that "Black girl ain't supposed to do anything important, just have babies or tell jokes."  Ms. Browne is Executive Director of Bowery Poetry Club, Artistic Director of Urban Word NYC, and Poetry Coordinator at St. Francis College.

Yusel Komunyakaa's "Cape Coast Castle" was a solemn recitation of memories of atrocities, including the torture of women.  The poet is the recipient of many awards, including a Pulitzer Prize for his "Neon Vernacular."

A musical interlude was accompanied by a text graphic listing names of Black men and women who have been murdered.

Camryn Bruno was a 2019 Youth Poet Laureate of New York and is a student at CUNY York College.   Her poem likened the negative brainwashing about race to the cycle of a washing machine, constantly repeating the same information to brainwash the listener.

jessica Care moore's poem, "Where are the People?," keeps repeating the same question "Where Are the People?"   moore is a resident of Detroit and her poetry and voice are featured in the Smithsonian's New National Museum of African American History.

Nathaniel Isiah Swanson, an 18-year old native of Brooklyn, delivered his "Black Man be the Man." 

Shadenia Sivad saw the world as a mother in her "Dying in His Skin," lamenting the injustice to Black men - "price on his head, hand over his mouth" - men dying in their skin because they are Black.  Ms. Sivad's works are infused with hip-hop, social justice and activism.

Abiodun Oyewole exclaimed "They lied and we tried," citing the lack of credit and confidence in the word of Black men.  Oyewole has devoted his craft to retro-acting the perils of poverty, racism, and uplifting his people.

Rene McRae made a statement of personal strength and faith in "I have the Power."  Among her credits are co-authoring, with Deepak Chopra, of "Stepping Stones to Success."

Haki Madhubuti, the distinguished poet, educator and publisher, contributed "Where is the Poetry of Resistance?  America in the Winter Time," a stirring, inspiring anthem of his life and literary philosophy.



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