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Filip Marinovich Recaps Wednesday’s ‘EPIC!’ Amiri Baraka/Thomas Sayers Ellis Reading
At his blog The Wolfman Librarian, Filip Marinovich has written a marvelous piece about the Amiri Baraka/Thomas Sayers Ellis reading that took place at The Poetry Project in New York on Wednesday. Oh our goodness, we wish we had been there. Lucky for us all, there’s this recap:
. . . . One of the best nights EVER at the Poetry Project. Thomas Sayers Ellis was terrific, he told us a story about how when he first came to the St Mark’s in 1988 he rode the bus from Boston and missed the bus back and stayed overnight on the couch at Lee Anne Brown’s and when she didn’t have honey for the tea she said “Go down to Allen’s door and get the honey,” and he did and it was Allen Ginsberg IN A ROBE and he ran back to Lee Anne’s to get his camera and took pictures of Allen and Allen said “Always put the hands on the face, my photography guru Robert Frank told me that, always do it,” and then they talked about Bob Kaufman for two hours.
Ellis then very casually looked at the back of the room and said “I see David Henderson back there in the colored section, what’s up, Babe.” Everybody fell down laughing, and we were IN.
Ellis read us a wonderful long poem solo full of staccato rhythms and breaking words and duende syncopation wakefullness, “foot and free…reverend feet.” Then in a gesture of pure reverence he joyfully read Baraka poems from “The Dead Lecturer” a seminal volume that gave notice after the debut of “Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note” that death is no excuse to stop writing poetry: we must resurrect ourselves and go on, turning away (strophe) from “that which used to move us” into the new, the unknown, a left turn into music. Ellis was joined onstage by James Brandon Lewis, who opened up the room even more with his tenor saxophone, conversing with Ellis in an electric jazz duet.
The set was on the short side, Baraka encouraged Ellis to keep going, but we took a break. During the break Seehorse comes in and says “I found the Fed Ex truck and gave the package to the Fed Ex man, he rolled the window down for me and took it!” “That’s great, Seehorse,” “But also,” she continued, “Also I went home and saw all this smoke and went into our apartment, the apartment’s fine but there’s smoke in the hallway on the ground floor.” My legs went jelly because I had spent all day sage-ing the apartment and I thought I might have accidentally started a fire. I sprinted over to our place and when I got there I was relieved to find it was only a cooking-smoke-from-the-kitchen kind of smell, and the super arrived and we checked it out. I raced up to our apartment, which smelled like a monastery, saw no fire, and sprinted back to Church–in time! for Baraka’s reading.
Which was EPIC! visionary! the best I’ve ever seen him give! Of course, vanity of vanities, I was waiting to see if he would read “AM/TRAK” and if he would mention our encounter, which he DID. He said “Where’s that–the guy that wanted to hear that poem–Jesus Christ where is it–here it is–This is called AM/TRAK.” This is a poem I spent long hours studying a million years ago in college, for me it is Baraka’s masterpiece, and he’s written many, but for me this is the one for my own desert island manhattan of duane reade duende reed and close reading and close duane reading. It is the most vulnerable tender mad requiem I’ve ever heard, from one Libra genius to another Libra genius. Baraka enters death in this poem to speak with the departed John Coltrane and returns with one more piece of music from him: their conversation, which is now.
Read the whole thing here. And if you’ve ever wanted to work with Marinovich, or like Aquarians who write poetry, take his special one-day workshop, “Reading Poets by Sun Sign,” on Feb. 16. As of this writing, there are still spots left.