NYU Black Renaissance Noire NYU Black Renaissance Noire V. 16.1 - Page 73

The Workshop kd: Two things: There was a program on tv that had on Eric Priestley, Ojenke, and a couple of other Watts writers, and I was very moved. Then I heard an announcement on the local soul radio station that there was a branch of the Watts Writers Workshop that was opening up or had an outlet on my side of town, the Westside. So, I went down there one night, and one of the first people I met was Otis O’Solomon — at the time Otis Smith — and later of the Watts Prophets. Chairs were in a circle and people read their work. When they finished, they were critiqued. People there were very honest about how they felt about your work, and a lot of them were very encouraging. Otis O’Solomon really encouraged me to write poetry. I always say, “It’s all your fault.” si: When you first go to the Westside branch, are you taking poetry seriously as a path for you? kd: 1965. I was fifteen. I didn’t get invol ved until two or three years later. I was a kid, man. As a kid, I wasn’t really thinking about too much of anything other than experiencing, trying to understand what this life was about. It was a very social time in terms of looking at all that was happening in the world around me, and the shift in consciousness that was taking place. As a kid, I was very much right there, trying to figure it out, and, at the same time, going into adulthood and experiencing new things and the freedom of having the world before me without parents. It was wide open. What poetry did was begin to shape some kind of identity for me, and a sense of self-worth, because of the feedback that I would get from others. It was encouraging and rewarding, helping me feel good about what it is and the work. When I go back and look at the work at the time, it was like, wow, back in the day some of us could get by with that kind of stuff. I guess certain cats saw promise, and they would encourage me. si: When did you migrate to the Workshop in Watts? kd: Around 1968, 1969. There was really a big disconnect between the Westside and Eastside. Eventually, the Westside branch didn’t last too long, and I ended up venturing to Watts and becoming part of that workshop. There was a lot more energy there. There was another thing that kind of led me to the Watts Writers Workshop. There was a publication that Quincy Troupe edited, and I was fascinated by two poems. One was Quincy Troupe’s “Ode to John Coltrane.” There was another called “I Can Get It for You Wholesale” by K. Curtis Lyle. I didn’t know either one of them at that time. All the original members pretty much had gone on to do other things. A lot of them actually left the Watts Writers Workshop, and they started this thing called the Douglass House, which was different from the Workshop, even though it was an offshoot of the Workshop. They got a house. Many of them lived together, and there’s a lot of wild stories that I’ve heard some of the guys tell. This was before I came around. BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE kd: I started writing more seriously in high school. I didn’t have any specific style. I was just writing these poems. Then I had the opportunity to see LeRoi Jones [Amiri Baraka] at the Black Congress, this place on 85th and Broadway. They were doing the play, Black Mass. Before the play itself, Baraka did this reading. He had hooked up the same emotional and energy level that was in the music that I was listening to, rhythmically, and it had the fire that I was hearing. In fact, I was sitting on the side, and they had this red spotlight. He was reading with all this energy, and spit was flying from his mouth into the light. It looked like flames were jumping out of his mouth. That impacted me quite a bit. It just took my head off. I was listening to a lot of Trane. His poetry reading, and the way he wrote it with the energy and the fire, mirrored the avant-garde music. It inspired me to find a voice for those feelings that I had like that, and [to] find a voice for it in my work. And it was the same kind of energy coming out of the Watts Writers Workshop. A lot of the writers, like Ojenke, Eric Priestley, Quincy Troupe, and K. Curtis Lyle, who were older writers in the Workshop, had performance styles that were very, very musical, very, very forceful. So these were my earlier influences. si: How did you find your way to the Workshop? 71 si: When did you start writing poetry. and what were your early influences in terms of other poets and styles?