si: Some years ago Eric talked about the Workshop and read poetry to one of my classes at Antioch University. Someone asked him about you. Eric just smiled and said, “Kamau was our Frankenstein Monster.” kd: Yeah, he always said that. “We created a monster.” Here was this young guy with hair all over his head and wearing overalls. I would say that they had an influence on my affliction. One of the guys in the Workshop, Cleveland Sims, used to always say, “Poetry is not art. It’s an illness.” There’s a lot of truth in that. si: What was your poetry like then? kd: I was very angry. The Sixties and Seventies were very, very angry times. I was a young guy with hair all over my head, thin as can be, and fire coming out of my mouth, just fire. I was very sincere about the things I was seeing in the world, the injustice, and pretty much that’s all my work was about, talking about how fucked up things were, and placing blame. Through age and experience that has tempered, but that’s what the Sixties were about. They were very, very searching times. It was crystal breaking time, stuff was being stirred up, challenged, examined. That’s what a lot of my work reflected. As a young person, when you really begin to understand the journey that your lineage was connected to, the story from Africa to the present day, when you really start to understand that, there is a lot of anger that rises, a lot of blame and a lot of focus on stuff that manifests itself as anger. It was a very, very vicious past, and as young people, that’s what we were clued into. The obvious and generalized conflict that young people see, all of its manifestations in the different systems that have brought us to this point, is black and white. Especially during that time, there were very, very distinct worlds. We were coming out of a period of the so-called Civil Rights Movement and were going into the revolutionary Sixties. We were coming out of a very, very distinct period of time, when it was very clear cut in terms of a black society and a white society, and the apparatus that kept that social system in place was very, very similar to the apartheid system in South Africa. So this rage is part of what broke up the last part of that and opened the door for the multi-cultural strivings that you see prevalent today, the mingling of audiences and listening to other voices, and respect for other cultures. Part of it was met with the force that King put out, and what couldn’t be met with that force was met with the force that was symbolized by the energy of Malcolm X. BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE I was also trying to find a way to bridge two worlds, where I could actually make my work accessible but not common, to be out and in at the same time, because some of the work I felt was really not understandable and some was mundane and preachy. I was attempting in my work to bridge that, to have enough grounding in the work so people could understand what’s going on or feel what’s going on, and at the same time an expansiveness that brought fresh music to the work, brought more color and could stretch people. That was the attempt, and to this very day is what I am attempting in my work, to play as high as I can, but to be able to communicate. Getting that from them, being a part of the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra, and having a consistent platform to perform my work, developed that side of my poetry experience. I was getting this from these somewhat older brother figures, and also from performing with the Arkestra, getting the musical side of it, the phrasing and rhythm and dynamics and improvisation. Those two experiences molded me into what I am. 73 These cats had a lot of experiences, and that stuff would come out in their work. Rather than poetry that rhymed or was very linear, their work had more rhythm. It was constructed in a different way. Sometimes the imagery was very startling and very surreal. Much of my poetry was free verse, but I was probably doing some of the rhyming. I had no idea what imagery was, and these cats were young masters of imagery. That really deepened me and broadened my perspective. Although it probably took a while before that actually started manifesting in my poetry, between hanging around visual artists and seeing the way they constructed imagery and told stories with images, and also seeing how the poets did the same thing, it planted the seeds for broader work. And then, I was influenced by Baraka, as well.