On Silence and Words Finally Spoken

Author Lita Hooper (at podium) accompanied Chad Fairies as an attentive Aberjhani concentrates in the front row.

Author Lita Hooper (at podium) accompanied Chad Fairies as an attentive Aberjhani concentrates in the front row.

Open mic recitals became a favorite outlet for poets during the 1990s and grew into a powerful mainstay of popular literary culture after 9/11. In the midst of war, world disasters, and political hype, the coffee house microphone amplified the voice of the individual and allowed his or her vice, whether filled with sorrow or joy or fear or love, to be heard. That was why I regretted, as the demands of care giving became more intense, having to give up my weekly stint at the mic some six years ago; and why I was thrilled, as well as terrified, by an impromptu request to recite some of my work at The Book Lady Bookstore last Friday. (photo courtesy of Joni Saxon-Giusti)


I was actually at the store–one of the most unique and finest in Savannah–to enjoy a reading by Lita Hooper, who had traveled from Atlanta to participate in the Savannah State University Poetry Festival. In addition to being a photographer, film producer, and associate professor of English, Hooper is author of the biography, Art of Work: The Art and Work of Haki Madhubuti; and the chapbooks, The Journal of Sojourner Truth, and Legacy. Just as I was settling into my seat to enjoy Hooper’s recital, store proprietor Joni Saxon-Giusti came over and whispered mischievously, "In a few minutes I’m going to put you on the spot." Before I could sputter, "Excuse me?" she stepped away.


After stumbling through the echo of Joni’s words in my thoughts, I realized she was considering asking me to step up to the mic to share a poem or two. And then she did exactly that. Six years of public silence was about to come to an unexpected end as I smiled and approached the podium. The truly ironic thing was that my last recital had been at that very location, 6 East Liberty Street across from the Desoto Hilton Hotel. But at that time it was a coffee shop known as the Gallery Espresso filled with tables occupied by fellow poets and poetry lovers, blended aromas of  freshly brewed coffee, a long bar toward the front of the shop, and artwork by SCAD students hanging on the walls.

Now, in place of the tables, there were shelves of rare and classic books, plus newer titles like my own ELEMENTAL The Power of Illuminated Love. There was even some art from ELEMENTAL on the walls. One row of chairs filled the aisle between bookshelves in front of the podium and another row sat to the left. The space was small enough that we did not need an actual microphone, only our poems, voices, and each others’ company. With that in mind, I lifted the copy of ELEMENTAL off the display beside me, flipped through the painted pages until I found Washington Park Number 162, and read:


I once watched Time grow fat
then explode in my face
as if too much pain
or too much love had gathered too fast
into a single small space.

The Universe said, "Let me show
your soul something beautiful."


And I then recalled two things:
the Disciple who loved his Teacher,
and the main reason I was born.
I watched Time disappear and tasted
upon my fingers the colors
of a vision still hot with truth.


They were good lines for describing one soul’s journey into silence, and good also for clearing the throat to speak once again.


For a couple of spoken word samples set to music, please visit these links right here at Red Room:

An Angel for New Orleans

African Griot Magus


© 22 April, 2009
National Poetry Month 

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