The Journey to "New Images"
By Dahveed Nelson
Leon Thomas is still setting the tone for this reflection, yodel crooning: "The Creator has a master plan..." And I begin again. The fourth time I have started this task. I know that the castle of thought that will flow forth, will truly be beautiful, for it has been hard to attain.
Yes, the creator has a master plan even for the telling of this story. The story of this four-year Journey to now: the eve of the fourth annual Langston Hughes Black Poetry Festival. I sit musing as Sister "Collage" pours forth her poetic offering on CD. It is fitting that I listen to a voice that came to me because of our web site. This sister logged on to www.blackpoetryfestival.com and discovered a place that she would like to be and sent her really beautifully done CD for us to see and hear Beautiful work fashioned from the heart's vision. That's what the festival is about, beautiful work fashioned from the heart's vision. That is why it is equally fitting that as I finish listening to Collage, I tune in Mark Deutsch's plaintive bazantar sounds. His musical vision inspires me as I trace the path from the original heart motion ten to twelve years ago to concrete reality today.
I participated in a poetry festival at Denver U. in the late eighties and the featured poet made such a deep impression upon me that I never forgot. Two of the poets who read at this festival were in fact recent Pulitzer winners and showed by their performance that they were worthy of the recognition they had received. The poetry was alive! I vowed that if I ever got a chance I would do something to bring poetry to life in that same manner. In 1997 I got the chance. I had become resident artist for Divinity in that year. And the head of Divinity suggested to me that I organize a poetry festival. I leaped at the opportunity. I projected April (which was poetry month) 1998 as the time for the first of our poetry festivals.
St. Louis is in the heart of America, the Gateway City, and it has been a seedbed of creative expression. The city is especially known for its blues tradition, and the poet whose memory we chose to honor with our festival was also known for his blues poetry. Thus the theme/title of our first Festival: From The Heart of the Blues. It was the first annual Langston Hughes World Black Poetry Festival. We had a little funding, mostly local poets and relatively small audiences, but a great spirit. We had five days of readings, discussions, panels and performances. We had beautiful work fashioned from the heart's vision. We were encouraged to try it again the next year.
"The Creator has a master plan..." Leon Thomas wails in my memory, and it rings true with the wonderful unfolding of the vision of the festival. In 1999 and 2000 the festival grew in stature and merit. The venues and sponsors grew. This in turn gave us the chance to seek more artists of international stature. Most importantly, however, the festive celebration of the poetic spirit grew as the festival grew. The theme in '99 was "And Bid Him Sing," taken from a line from a Countee Cullen (Harlem Renaissance Poet) Poem. And the Festival sang its way into the hearts of an even greater audience that year. In 2000 we finally reached the mass media and a mass audience. We called the festival, "Of Rivers We've Known," after a famous Langston Hughes poem, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers."
The success and steady growth of these past three years have raised a great deal of optimism for the 2001 festival. We are ready to bring forth fresh "New Images for the New Millennium." Mark Deutsch has finished his background serenade, "Collage" has given her poetic offerings, but Leon continues to croon-yodel in my memory, "The Creator has a master plan peace and happiness for every man..."
Log onto our web site, then visit the festival and see that plan unfolding.
Dahveed Nelson, a founding member of the Last Poets, is artist-in-residence at Divinity.
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