Now even with its boundaries and definitions being encroached upon by the mere movement of time, gentrification, or globalization, I ached in my soul to send something so endearing that she might happen to hark back. Harlem. As lovelorn and foolish as this premise may sound, I long to continue singing her sweet odes, I still see the haunting ghosts of a deep and illustrious history of Jazz and Poetry, of social movements, revolutions brewing, all churning such delicious moments of solidarity within the confines of her majestic and somewhat overlooked architecture, I wanted to create a link to the past, a roadway to the future to help secure Harlem’s history in the hearts of its people.
Jackie Robinson was not only a man who broke down certain known social conventions, but gave hope to throngs of people, that their voices could be heard in a time when all they knew was silence. As American as the relationship between Poetry and Baseball, Jackie enabled a light to come through the darkness amidst desperate times that required a righteous resound, a truthful re-address of what it was to be American, of the rights for all to participate, and with a bit of courage even knock it straight out of the park.
Jackie Robinson Bandshell Theatre in Jackie Robinson Park in Central Harlem is the preeminent precipice to launch such a reverberating band of voices from all over to unite in this “dome” of sound, to speak truth to power with its resounding acoustic echo and beautiful modern day castle aspire.
In this our second year, we aimed to do exactly that and through the support and help of Poet’s and Writers, Gregg Dotoli, Max Kurganskyy, and the good people of our community, we came through on September 16th 2017 to gather and share our stories, our poetry, and songs to the streets of Harlem, which turned out an electrifying success.
Poet and Social Activist Bob McNeil of QBR Books: The Black Book Review, once more took the reigns of hosting, and with brilliant effect his thorough and deliberate baritone could be heard from Avenues over as he brought together the audience, the performers, readers, and passerby that unknowingly attended the event. He was just the man to uniquely herald forth such a grand undertaking, and was truly deft in hand at accomplishing the defining of a profound memory in the hearts of everyone who made it out.
And what a great show of force did we have in spades! Performers this year included, Jana Astanov, James Browning Kepple, Eartha Watts Hicks, Marc W. Polite, Gregg Dotoli, Olena Jennings, Robert Kramer, Bob McNeil, and the 2016 winner of the Jackie Robinson Poetry Day Award, Carla Cherry. Inspired verses came from all!
The Open Mic performers featured this year were Sherese Francis, Makeba Amira, Taneeka L. Wilder, Tanya Robinson, M.A. Dennis, and Ronald Bullins. Edgar Alan was on the guitar, rocking the upside down fendercaster, creating music for the audience as well. The show was broadcast worldwide via Facebook live stream, so those who were not present could hear all the delectable indigenous poetry of Harlem.
As the show drew to a close, Bob brought each remaining performer up to create a genuine and original piece of spoken word poetry by knitting together each person’s one line based upon the last letter of the person before them. The first poet would on the spot come up with a line, and then the last letter of that line would be the first letter of the next poet’s improvised line, to create a flowing continuous and immediate new poem straight from the minds of the 15+ performers on stage.
The Excited Winner of this year’s Gregg Dotoli Poetry Prize was local blogger and writer, Marc Polite who performed a moving rendition of his winning poem, “Poetic Ruminations of Mr. Born Nice.”
For all of the kids who attended (aged 2-92!) They were invited to participate in the Harlem Renaissance Chapbook Creation Station, sponsored by Underground Books. Children had an opportunity to learn how to make their own Poetry Chapbooks by selecting works from Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Gwendolyn Brooks, Jean Toomer, Countee Cullen, Federico Garcia Lorca, and many more! A good amount of our younger members of the community walked home with a memento of the event, some new found knowledge on book publishing, and their own personalized book of Harlem Renaissance Poetry.
We look forward to continue to broaden and strengthen the vision of this event, and to bring the community each year a festival of Poetry, Music, Thought, and Discourse, for everyone is encouraged to be a part of it. With the help of such fine organizations such as Poet’s and Writers, we welcome next September for all to come out for Jackie Robinson Poetry Day 2018 together and help relive Harlem’s literary past, and contribute to its bright new future!