I didn't take the time to talk with Dasan Ahanu at The Water Hole 2016 Winter Retreat , I wouldn't have known what to say and in those situations I find that listening is far more important.
A year later I want to express my gratitude for what I learned and how I used what I learned in his workshop.
“Pretend you are saying these words to your aunt,” he guided one of the poets, and automatically the tone of her voice softened and her body language was more fluid. It took all of thirty seconds to see the dramatic improvement.
Note to self: Visualize who you are talking to or might be talking to when presenting a poem.
Then the final night of open mic at TWH, I heard poems delivered with a s-l-o-w steady rhythm that drew us in. Although, I wasn’t in the workshop where he shared that technique, I could see Dasan Ahanu’s signature in those performances.
Those poems breathed. He finds the flower and meat in the poem and within minutes is able to tell us how to make the listener smell it or taste it.
Note to self: When reading a quiet short poem - take your time - let the words walk into the listener’s ear.
Workshop Facilitator: Back home in California, Nikia Chaney invited me to facilitate a workshop at the Performance Alliance of the Inland Empire (PI) on performing poetry. I asked participants to choose a powerful line from one of their poems and read it. Great lines were shared but they didn’t take the listener on a journey.
Before Dasan Ahanu’s Workshop: I would have tried to guide the poets to find the rhythm in the line and accentuate words.
Now: Visualize who you are talking to.
Who are those words intended for? A former lover? What tone do you want to use to tell her…? A police officer? Angry or fearful? Can the officer tell? Can we tell?
One poet found passion in his confrontation with an officer, another found declarative statements where there once was question marks. The rapidfire performance poet who wrote to her lover slowed down and felt what she wrote. She began to cry, her voice cracked, and we all cried.
Personal Growth: In an open mic I have always wanted to share some of my shorter more quiet poems but didn’t know how. Now, I breathe and let the words walk slowly into the listener’s ear. My anxiety and fear of losing the audience melts away with each word.
I didn’t take the opportunity to talk with Dasan Ahanu. I wouldn’t have known what to say - I was still processing but watching him work with us and seeing his techniques in practice and then being able to use those techniques to help other poets bring their work to life is alchemy.
A little of Bessie Smith's Black Water Blues and Give Me One Reason - Tracy Chapman coupled with a template on how to write the blues, made for a fun evening of playing with rhythm in poetry. All I needed to do was bring ingredients and stir and the creativity poured out.
Kris Peterson wrote and performed blues at the workshop.
Thank you PI Founder and IE Literary Laureate, Nikia Chaney for the invitation to teach. It was great fun being a guest facilitator for the lesson: Writing in Rhythm at PI - The Poetry and Performance Alliance of the Inland Empire in San Bernardino's Garcia Center, 536 W. 11th St. They meet every other Monday evening 6 - 8 p.m. It is one of my refilling stations and I'm looking forward to our next poetry rendezvous in music, meters and memory.
We are all gifted, that's our inheritance. - Ethel Waters
To close out Black History Month and usher in National Women's History Month, on the last Sunday in February, Inlandia Literary Laureate Nikia Chaney, along with curator Lisa Henry, coordinated a poetry reading at the San Bernardino Garcia Center, in honor of Our Ladies of Blues.
Artist Linda J. Phelps Young's vibrant depictions of blues giants: Josephine Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters was infused with an art deco style. You could feel the camaraderie and love of life and entertainment from each framed regal blues lady.
Before the reading, I refreshed my memory with research on their lives and From Billie's rough harsh beginnings, to Bessie literally singing and dancing for her supper, I am in awe of the power and resilience of these five creative warriors. These weren't "nasty women" they were women who could stare nasty in the eye and shame him. Jim Crow's wings were amputated in their presence.
Two Conversations in Blue
Composed of Quotes from the Five Ladies of Blues
If I don't have friends then I ain't got nothin' - Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday: I've never had a chance to play with dolls like other kids. I started working when I was six years old.
Ethel Waters: I've never been a child.
Bessie Smith: I ain't good lookin' but I am somebody's angel child.
Josephine Baker: Beautiful? It's all a question of luck. I was born with good legs. As for the rest ... beautiful, no. Amusing, yes.
Ella Fitzgerald: What everyone wants more than anything else is to be loved.
Josephine Baker: The things we truly love stay with us always, locked in our hearts as long as life remains.
* * * * *
Josephine Baker: I was learning the importance of names - having them, making them - but at the same time I sensed the dangers. Recognition was followed by oblivion, a yawning maw whose victims disappeared without a trace.
Bessie Smith: It's a long road, but I know I'm gonna find the end.
Billie Holiday: I'm always making a comeback but nobody ever tells me where I've been.
Ethel Waters: We miss a lot in life because we don't know when to quit, what to leave out.
Ella Fitzgerald: It isn't where you came from, it's where you're going that counts.