NYU Black Renaissance Noire NYU Black Renaissance Noire V. 16.1 - Page 76

si: When you arrived, what was the aesthetic dynamic in the Watts Workshop? kd: There were different things happening at the Workshop and many serious writers. There were people who just came by there. The work was mediocre, blasé, and then there were different schools of thought. Some stuff was very abstract, surreal and deep, different, experimental approaches to writing and to communicating ideas and feelings. Then there were more traditional ways of expression, using rhyme schemes and storytelling to rhyme schemes, or very, very literal presentation of ideas. 74 It’s like Ojenke and the Watts Prophets, you got the Coltrane school and almost like a blues school, a Langston Hughes school. The Prophets were very, very strongly rooted in community and tradition, in terms of their work. It was very folky. Many of us were kind of condescending in terms of their people approach to the art form, but at the same time, I think many people related to the Prophets and to that type of work, because it was understandable. It wasn’t over people’s heads. Sometimes, some of us were so far out there, or thought we were so far out there, that we lost our audience. The Prophets were always rooted in their audience. Some of the cats that came through there came through consistently, and they had the ability to go on both sides of the fence. Ojenke was out there, but he was always rooted in the community. People like Curtis Lyle, and sometimes Eric Priestley; they could get far out there where they could lose some folks. And that was always a balance for me, trying to create a voice that was accessible, but was a fresh voice that could talk about some complex or deep ideas, or point to events or subject matter that were deeper. Basically, it’s really difficult sometimes to find a balance point, where you can create work that has a depth and a strength to it that is not so far out there you lose folks. That really became a challenge to do that. There are things that I learned about imagery. Imagery can evoke thought and it can evoke emotion. In the same way that you construct a paragraph, you have sentence after sentence after sentence to make a statement. With imagery you can do the same thing, where you have one image after another image after another image in rapid succession. And the images can be so stark and so hard and so bright and so visual that it almost transcends the intellectual part and hits at a more gut level. At the end of the succession of these images, they can feel what you say. “Do you feel me” is “Do you understand me.” It’s that kind of thing. But if you isolated those images, and read them slowly out of the context of the whole piece, it would be harder to understand, and it wouldn’t have the same kind of feeling. si: To what extent were women involved in the Watts Writers Workshop? kd: Yeah, there were quite a few, but they never really, really surfaced. Wanda Coleman was around for a very short time. But, as a poet, Wanda Coleman was very instrumental in opening up venues outside of the community for me — Beyond Baroque and places like that. She moved in a larger community. As a younger poet, who she kind of liked, a lot of times somebody would call her for a gig that she couldn’t do, and she would recommend me. So, Wanda kind of helped me. si: How did you first come in contact with her? kd: The poetry scene. Just being out. Somebody has a reading. She’s reading; I’m reading. It wasn’t like a light turned on, or I met Wanda through this person. It’s not that kind of story how it came together. I would hear about her from people like Eric Priestley, Ojenke. She doesn’t really claim the Workshop. She came through there, but cats were kind of misogynistic in those days. She claims more of Studio Watts, which Jayne Cortez was involved in, and she looked to her as being her mentor. Some of her experiences, cats were kind of hard back in the days. si: You’ve talked of the poets and poetry at the Watts Writers Workshop. What else was being developed? kd: There were plays at the Workshop. Although most of the time we talk about it from the standpoint of the poets, they had novelists, playwrights, and other aspects. They put on plays there, and all kind of different stuff. And they had a theatre.