From Pain to Empowerment - The Fabric of My Being" was the theme of an enchanting and emotionally-charged literary event featuring and hosted by Sistah Joy at Parish Gallery-Georgetown on Thursday, April 30, 2009. Sistah Joy's latest chapbook, which she debuted at Parish Gallery that evening, also bears the same title. This article includes an in-depth review of the evening at Parish Gallery by friend and supporter, Lawrence Shavers.
The evening was celebratory. As April is National Poetry Month (NPM), the event marked both the closing of the 2009 NPM observance and also the release of Sistah Joy's latest chapbook, From Pain to Empowerment - The Fabric of My Being. Printed below, with permission of the writer, Lawrence Shavers, is his review of this final 2009 NPM event hosted by Sistah Joy at Parish Gallery. My thanks go out to Lawrence Shavers for the review, as well as to Doc Powell, Sydney March & Lorenzo Sands for their masterful accompaniment at Parish Gallery.
|Reviewed by Larry Shavers
|A review of J. Joy “Sistah Joy” Matthews Alford’s performance and release of her chapbook at the Parrish Gallery-Georgetown on Thursday April 30th.
Watching great artists at work on great nights is pure pleasure; J. Joy “Sistah Joy” Matthews Alford’s second appearance at the Parrish Gallery-Georgetown on Thursday, April 30, 2009, was nothing short of a stunning performance. The show heralded the release of Sistah Joy’s latest chapbook “From Pain to Empowerment-The Fabric of My Being.” Often with an emotional edge, Ms. Alford kept all present enthralled with poetry of intellect and courage, in addition to sexuality, and with much candor. It was the kind of winning performance that has characterized her recent appearances at the Black Box Theater at the Clarice Smith Performing Art Center at the University of Maryland and the Poets Pavilion at the Congressional Black Caucus.
Noted poet, educator and literary activist, E. Ethelbert Miller, calls Alford a “Pioneer Poet.” Others have anointed her a poetry virtuosa and it is easy to understand why. She had her creative genesis in the artistic melting pot of Washington, D.C. Miller is a fan, as is Washington D.C. Poet Laureate Dolores Kendrick. Alford exudes the air of an African princess with a touch of bohemian flavor. The subject matter for the evening, from pain to empowerment the journey of a woman who dealt with the angst of empty promises, adversity, disappointment, and doubt, and how she ultimately transcended all with her incredible faith walk, was riveting. But it definitely took a back seat to Alford’s amazing performance. A physically beautiful woman, her body language and facial expressions were as captivating as her words. This was Alford at her finest. Her voice was enchanting, her range vast, and her rhythm dead-on. She skillfully took great care over lyrical interpretation. Alford delivered her poetic offerings with great intensity and ease. She embedded her story with an emotional edge so raw that she often transported the audience. In one poem she had the audience ready to jump for joy, and moments later break down and cry. Her poetic structures were brilliantly designed and in her use of rhythm especially, there was much to be enjoyed and admired, while of course being technically proficient. It was easy to imagine many of these poems being set to music.
This brings us to Alford’s musical accompaniment. With the pulsating beat of Lorenzo Sand’s upright bass on her left and the masterful Djembe drumming of Doc Powell on her right, the set was rhythmically enhanced by the sweet and melodic flow of the flute from Sydney March. While experiencing all from the court yard just outside the gallery, the music was notable for its modesty and its care not to impede the conversational rhythms of Alford’s poetry. Always keeping pace with the poetic lyrics and setting the tone for her emotional expressions, the trio’s uncategorizable, continually shifting music was a patchwork of blues, jazz and African rhythms . This was a perfect underscore for an evening of near perfection.
An incredibly interesting and distinguishing aspect of Alford’s performances is her ability to personalize them. It sets her apart from other poets. She masterfully tells a story, interlacing moments of commentary with observations, or with personal anecdotes or with praise testimony, always insightful and always compelling. The poems at that point are no longer just poetry, but a revelation of her extraordinary thoughts and inspirations.
The chapbook “From Pain to Empowerment-The Fabric of My Being” signifies a new self-confidence and maturity as Alford artfully provides the reader with a luminous account of her journey, a journey that ultimately ends with the understanding that her Creator is her salvation. She does not hide things from us, as I think lesser poets do. She allows us to overhear clearly what she has discovered no matter how transparent and painful. Her language is precise and her reflections offer a praiseworthy view into the deepest emotions of the human heart. This takes an abounding courage and moral conviction. Alford’s pain is authentic as are her triumphs. Pain, desire, and love-lost poetry have long been the preserve of the human experience. Alford’s poems convey the myriad nuances of discovery, pain, disappointment, and revelation. There is pathos here and ecstasy, obsession and resignation. But Alford does not seem to allow it to overwhelm her. Her subplot could be, love requires trust and balance. That empowerment is most often forged from the crucible of our darkest and sometimes crippling emotions is evident, even if it took her awhile to recognize. Alford also displays her compassion for the people, places and things she has encountered, which have helped shape her perspectives. Appreciation and praise for her Creator are very evident. Alford, is in search of the extraordinary be it love, spirituality, or empowerment. But like many of us, may have difficulty recognizing reality from the desired. She clearly lets all know that she is a work in progress. The obvious hypothesis is that her religious upbringing and staunch faith walk quench her fires and guide her to much sought after peace and tranquility. If Poetry is to transcend the Poet, it has been said; it must expand, explore and attempt to break new ground. There is plenty here to like and even appreciate. Alford has penned a powerful and emotional testimony to the power of the saving graces of her Creator. Her delivery of that message is so compassionate, poignant and intensely personal it assures that her poetry will survive the test of time.
The Parrish Gallery-Georgetown 1054 31st St. NW Washington, D.C. 20007, primarily but not exclusively, represents contemporary visual artists of significance from Africa and the African Diaspora. The gallery was a visually stunning and perfect setting for the type of performances Sistah Joy displayed.
Sistah Joy Alford can be found hosting poetry and open mic every third Thursday of the month at Annie’s Art Gallery in Temple Hills Maryland. (www.anniesartgallery.net)
The chapbook “From Pain to Empowerment-The Fabric of My Being” copyright © 2009 by J&D Publishing is available at The Parrish Gallery-Georgetown and Annie’s Art Gallery in Temple Hills Maryland.
All of Sistah Joy’s books are available at poetsistahjoy.aol.com.