On September 29th, I attended a book signing at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History Hosted by Detroit’s Broadside Press. In the flyer it said there was going to be a presentation by Dr. Gloria House of photographs taking of Idlewild, MI., where a wonderful writer’s retreat was held in the summer of 2009. Dr. Gloria House read from "Home Sweet Sanctuary," the new oral history book of Idlewild, MI residents; and Aurora Harris read from her new book of poetry, “Solitude of Five Black Moons”, which I purchased at a poetry reading in honor of Ron Allen a Detroit poet and playwright that had passed away at the Thistle Coffee House on Cass Avenue. One of the readers of this reading tribute was WCCCD and Broadside Press poet Professor Rayfield Waller. I was really excited and looking forward to being at this performance. I have been a fan of Broadside Press for years, proud of the fact that Broadside Press started under Detroiter Dudley Randall and was one of two major Black presses of the sixties. I was extremely excited because my creative writing professor is a Broadside Press poet and one of my favorite poets Aurora Harris, a poet I have followed since the Grey Stone Jazz Museum Poetry Series back in the late 80s early 90s I think I remember it being held at the Book Cadillac Building was going to be a part of this event. Not to mention this event was taking place at one of the most beautiful buildings in Detroit, The Charles H. Wright Museum.
The event started at around 7pm, which was good because I had another event that I attended for extra credit at WCCCD Downtown campus Donnie Simmons art and poetry slam, which I had to leave before the poetry slam got on the way. It was a cool and rainy evening but the spirits in the air were so fresh and light. I truly do enjoy the arts. When I finally made it inside the atrium at the Charles H. Wright Museum Dr. Gloria House was already performing. Walking into the Theatre of the Museum is a different experience from that of the Fox, Fisher, Max or Opera House in that it is very imitate. I am not sure on how many it seats but when you walk through the doors you have to walk down the stairs or side ramps to get to the seating; which is a small semi-circle that leads to a slightly raised stage that is semi-round also. For Dr. Gloria house presentation the screen was pulled down and the pictures that had been taking and some that had been collected was being displayed on the screen and Dr. House was reading from “Home Sweet Sanctuary” the auditorium was not crowed which it almost never is with cultural events such as history of Blacks and Detroiters or Detroit poets and Artist our community. I wasn’t the only person late because there were people at the top of the atrium all along the wall and that is where I took my spot along the wall in the back.
On the screen were these beautiful images of Idlewild, Mi, in the summer, the winter, of the houses and the residents and as Dr. Gloria House was reading she was accompanied by a cellist who sat at the left side of the stage. I enjoyed this part of the presentation because I was hoping to see pictures of my Grandmother Evelyn and Grandfather Robert Young; my mother told family stories of her mother and father partying in Idlewild when she was a little girl. So it was nice to hear of stories and history of the “Black Eden”. After the reading of Gloria House the screen went up and the lighting changed, the cellist left the stage. A gentleman came up to the podium to introduce Aurora Harris reading also from the back cover of her book which states; “Aurora Harris was born in Detroit of African American and Filipina parentage. She grew up in a Catholic and Muslim family where English, Spanish, Tagalog and Ilocano were spoken. She holds an M.A. in Social Foundations of Education Eastern Michigan University and a B. A. in Sociology from Wayne State University. Ms. Harris is an activist-educator, poet and mentor. Her poetry is drawn from a foundation of identity, history and culture that includes family, women’s lives, jazz Detroit culture and travel. Her poems have appeared in anthologies and journals.
The first time I saw Aurora Harris perform she was accompanied by a Jazz performer and at this event she read for awhile from her book and then she was accompanied by members of the In The Tradition band. What was so interesting about Aurora Harris is that she trained the Detroit Poet Slam Team for five years in a row, whose members were at the event that I just left over at WCCCD Downtown Campus. What made this performance so special was the venue, the hardware of this Theatre was made for a very dramatic set, the lightning and the surround sounds. Aurora stepped on stage and the energy of the crowd, the audience was magnetic, you could tell the crowd was poetry lovers and/or fans of Aurora and Broadside Press. “Solitude of Five Black Moons” is Aurora first collection of poetry, so that also made it a special night to share in that experience. Out of the twenty-four poems, four section book Ms. Harris read maybe ten and received two standing ovation, three counting her closing, which she received reading my two favorite of the book; the first one from section two: Remember Their Stories, is “Enough Jungle Heat to Make You Want to Pull your Skin Back, which is a three part poem in the voice of three different people and the last being in the voice of a veteran. Aurora changed her voice and the audience was floored, the starkness of her voice, she was able to act her voice out and I hadn’t seen anything like that in a long time. It reminded me of our class lecture about acting and dancing and the lectures about the performer becoming the character.
The second standing ovation came from section three; Checkpoints titled “When the “Poets” Became Jukeboxes”. When I bought the book “Solitude of Five Black Moons” at the tribute poetry reading for Ron Allen, I left the reading and went over to Bert’s in the Eastern Market to get me a sip of wine a listen to these young jazz guys go, while sitting at the bar with my wine listening to the sounds of these guys and reading, when I got to “When the “Poets” Became Jukeboxes” I had began to fight to hold back tears. It really snook-up on me, I was reminded that night the power of poetry. And the author of that poem that was in complete contrast to the inspired version of Dudley Randall’s poem of the same name was just as powerful and emotional in this setting. It is a poem about the author/poet/activist holding a poetry forum or series with a group of “troubled” teens, it deals with the issues and problems of the Black community teens and mentality and it is a very painful account that ends wells (happy or in this case positive outcome).
The evening ended with ordevers, the atrium was decorated with some of the images of Idlewild, all along the circle of the atrium were tall tables with candles and purple and white dressings, there were servers in white coats and you could purchase drinks along the side of the walkway entering into one of the exhibits. Both Dr. Gloria House and Ms. Aurora Harris had their joint table in the gift shop where they were signing their books and greeting the guest. It was one of the more dressy/causal events I went to in a while and will definitely be savoring that performance and night for a while to come. I will leave you with “Description”:
She was illuminated dreams/ Oppressed with flowers.
With hair like the mountains/ Snowcapped and dark
Eyes like oceans/ lips like honeycombs
And skin like gold and mother-of-pearl
In a translucent river
She was the solitude of five black moons
She is black
A million stars at midnight bright
But she is invisible
She is the angel of life
Whispering to me