Poetry News

On Steve Cannon & A Gathering of the Tribes

By Harriet Staff
A Gathering of the Tribes

At T, the New York Times's style magazine, M.H. Miller visits Steve Cannon, the poet and publisher who documented arts and culture from the Lower East Side with his influential magazine, A Gathering of the Tribes. The article begins with Cannon's recollections of the magazine's start, recalled during a conversation with Ishmael Reed. As Miller explains, "The idea came to him one night in 1990 at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, which was a block away from the building he owned at the time on East Third Street." Let's pick up with the story from there: 

The Nuyorican opened down the street in 1981, and by 1990 its poetry slams had become a downtown sensation. Cannon, the author of the legendary but little-read 1969 book “Groove, Bang and Jive Around,” which Reed calls a “pre-rap novel” that predicted the spoken-word style that was flourishing at the Nuyorican in the late ’80s, was the club’s resident heckler, shouting at hesitant performers to get on with it and “read the goddamn poem.”

He was there with his friend David Hammons, a renowned artist so famously reclusive and unreachable that the very idea of him having a friend seems strange, like trying to imagine Thomas Pynchon buying toilet paper. Cannon and Hammons met on a park bench in the late ’70s, a few years after Hammons arrived in New York from the West Coast and began making mordant, provocative sculptures that dealt with black identity, using discarded materials he gathered around the city. A gardening spade with chains dangling from it lampooned racist terminology; bottle caps gathered from bars were used to adorn comically tall basketball hoops in a 1986 public installation called “Higher Goals”; hair swept from the floors of black barbershops became a leitmotif of many sculptures and installations. Hammons would often find these materials on long walks from his studio in Harlem all the way downtown, where Cannon’s house was a regular stop.

Learn more at T.

Originally Published: February 13th, 2018