Monday, November 10, 2008

Upcoming Salon Featuring Ana Sisnett & Iya Omi Oni

Austin Salon Sit-Down
Saturday November 15, 2-4pm
Carver Museum
1169 Angelina St
Austin, TX

Featuring Ana Sisnett & Iya Omi Oni for an afternoon of poetry, drumming and learning about the artists' crafts and their lives.

About the Artists:
Ana Sisnett is a poet, visual artist and activist. Her published works include the children's books "Granny Jus' Come" and "Two Mrs Gibsons". Ana's visual art will be featured this Friday, November 14 as part of The First Annual Care Partner Art Show, Mosaic Austin, For more information visit:

Iya Omi Oni has over 30 years of experience in performance. She is the former director of Ibu Ayan, an ensemble of female musicians dancers and singers and has also presented programs through the Arts in Education Program, Young Audiences, Alliance for Education as well as many schools and universities throughout the United States. She is also a recording artist and composer.

The Austin Salon Sit-Down is the place to be if you want to join a dynamic group of people interested in creating a platform for discussing and presenting the works of Austin-based artists of color. Join us at The Salon. Talk about yourself and get talked about.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

September Featured Artist: Samiya Bashir

About the Artist:
Samiya Bashir is the author of Where the Apple Falls: poems, editor of Best Black Women's Erotica 2 and co-editor, with Tony Medina and Quraysh Ali Lansana, of Role Call: A Generational Anthology of Social & Political Black Literature & Art. She has also published two chapbook poetry collections: Wearing Shorts on the First Day of Spring & American Visa. Her poetry, stories, articles, essays and editorial work have been featured in numerous publications including: Callaloo, Essence, Contemporary American Women Poets, among many others. Bashir is a fellow with Cave Canem and a founding organizer of Fire & Ink, a writer's festival for LGBT writers of African descent. She's currently wrasslin' poetry, paint, stuffed bunnies and sunshine in Austin, Tejas. website:

Work Sample:

View Samiya's work on Torch:

September 20, 2008 Salon Sit-Down Discussion

"Joy is the ultimate act of resistance."

~Toi Dericotte

Today was an example of embodied, communal inspiration. Samiya Bashir read to us from her, as of yet unpublished, manuscript Gospel, breaking us down and building us up, bringing the good news and binding her words so that we could get lost in them, unleashing them to keep us close. Self-described as a "positive treatise on faith and action", Gospel is her work in progress - tender, vulnerable, as of yet - unborn into the larger world. Whereas Where the Apple Falls opened with Sankofa, Gospel opens with Legba, guardian of the crossroads, trickster, infinite possibility. As Samiya floated through the movements of her work, we were present to her play: to her use of the visual form in conjunction with the aural form, her use of tension and blank spaces to render our measured breaths.

We discussed timeliness of work, and usefulness of work and what does it mean to be an artist and to create work that is or is not useful. Though problematic, Samiya expounded on this concept when she discussed the inception of Gospel - a few poems that lay across her lap as in front of her, on the screen in her New York apartment living room, she watched New Orleans go under Katrina's waters - as a meditation on intention, and on the role of poetry to save both her life and the lives of others. As we listened and discussed both Samiya's work and process, those of us in the room drew and painted on P├źnz, which Samiya had brought to the table as an example of how the act of working in visual languages loosened her spirit enough to reclaim words.

From that point, Samiya read from Reginald Shepard's Orpheus in the Bronx, his essay "Against the Other's Other", and asked us to consider the question, "What are we not?" Around the room, people responded visually, literally, metaphorically, and philosophically (one participant wrote out: "I am everything, but ________." A brief, multi-lingual exercise, this consideration led us back to a conversation about the ways in which our actual contemporary language is not sufficient to describe our multiple, multi-faceted experiences, identities, perspectives and that in some ways, poetry is the response to essentialism, daring to transform language with its very existence.

When asked about the body as place/metaphor/vehicle in her work, Samiya described her own transformation in relationship both to this question and to the way this question has challenged her in her work. Whereas in Where the Apple Falls, she was exploring her body as a body, her body as a tree, her body as something acted upon by the nation, Gospel is coming into the world after her own inquiries into the "one-ness of things". Describing her body as a faith, her faith as an I and I, as a mouthpiece, as the pencil, as that which creates access to the world, as that which is in the way, where her bodies rest in this moment is in the dance.

One participant picked up on just this dance, and asked Samiya to discuss the poem which she described as "one that [I] really like". That poem, or any poem that feeds the soul, is finding the light in darkness, finding joy in moments of great distress, of embodying artistry: choosing to create in moments when society is in great turmoil. Of embodying the tension between creation and destruction. Of speaking truth to power.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

July Featured Artist: A. Van Jordan

Author's Bio:

A. Van Jordan
is the author of Rise, published by Tia Chucha Press, 2001, which won the PEN/Oakland Josephine Miles Award and selected for the Book of the Month Club from the Academy of American Poets. Published by W.W. Norton & Co., 2004, his second book, M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A, was awarded an Anisfield-Wolf Award and listed as one the Best Books of 2005 by The London Times (TLS). Jordan was also awarded a Whiting Writers Award in 2005 and a Pushcart Prize in 2006, 30th Edition. Quantum Lyrics was published July 2007 by W.W. Norton & Co. He is a recent recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, 2007.

Author's Work:

To read and see A. Van Jordan's work, go to The Cortland Review
or to Norton Poets online

July 5, 2008 Salon Sit Down Discussion

There are some artists who are just always on fire!

A. Van Jordan, on his way back to Austin from out of town, came directly from the airport to the Salon to deliver a beautiful exposition and conversation on his work, his vision and his process. He read from both M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A and from his earlier work, Rise, sharing with us 20 minutes of poetry and history and a sense of place.

In the discussion, participants asked Van a variety of questions, including;

How was your own relationship to language shifted through the writing of M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A?
How are you transformed by your work?
How did you become a poet?
What are you working on now?

In his responses, Van referred to the concepts of character, history and form. "How can I not be transformed by my work." he laughed, pointing to the ways in which line and form lead him to think of breath, breaks, memory. How the work itself pushes him to different levels of engagement with his personal vision, American history. And how every work brings him to an inevitable melting point in which ideas, emotions and language are fused into the body of a poem or set of poems.

As an example, he discussed Quantum Lyrics (2007), a collection that utilizes a screenplay structure, embedded with comic book and blues references. He decided to use the screenplay structure because of its particular connection to time and location - a connection which is generated by the form itself. This seemed the most giving structure for a manuscript that discusses male vulnerability, ideas of the public-private persona, quantum physics, childhood and the death of one's father. Each body of work is, in its own way, about the gift of poetry: the ways in which poetry can communicate the emotional truth of an historical moment, of a character, of the form itself. Van reaches that place of truth in his work - time and time again - and from that place, transforms history.

As far as how he arrived to this moment, he says, "Poetry found me." A Communications major at Howard University, and an environmental journalist in Washington D.C., Van started writing at age 30, after visiting and performing in open mics of the D.C. area. DJ Renegade, Crystal Williams, Patricia Smith and Tyehimba Jess are his peers, and also the shoulders that moved him into poetry. Spots like Mango, Bar None and jazz spots throughout town moved him into his questions around form and language. Poetry claimed him in the 90s and brought him to us today.

Monday, June 23, 2008

June Featured Artist: Amanda Johnston

Author Bio:

Cave Canem Fellow and Affrilachian Poet, Amanda Johnston has performed across the country for various causes and events. Honors include a 2003 and 2004 Artists Enrichment grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women and the 2005 Austin International Poetry Festival's Christina Sergeyevna Award. Currently, Johnston serves on the board of directors for the National Women's Alliance, is an ensemble member of The Austin Project Performance Company (TAPPCo) and is the founding editor of Torch: poetry, prose, and short stories by African American Women.

Work Sample:

First Song
for Ahyana

She wailed and my heart stood still
as the doctor dangled her
head down and bloody like a fish
caught between the muck and pull
of my churning water and vine
creeping awkwardly up to this
blurry life of tears and loose soil.
The delivery room held fast
while her silence echoed off
defibrillators, nursing hands
and her father tending my
hollow earthbound body waiting
for his daughter's first solo
in a chorus of furrowed brows.
We wanted to hear her wail
with a quick slap on the ass
desperate breath then sound
at least a whimper of newness
breaching our anticipation
not this eternal pause of her
wide eyes questioning yes or no
to a world of uncertainties.
She wailed and my heart stood still
in that resounding yes, yes she would
stay in this imperfect place
with all of its cobwebs and stars
here, in the shit and pain of birth,
she wailed and her song began.

June 14th, 2008 Salon Sit Down Discussion

Amanda Johnston is a Poet, Mother and Daughter, and when she arrived, she brought both her mother and her daughters with her, embodying the multi-generational nature of her own work within the space of the Salon.

This month, Amanda brought us into her circle by reading her work and having us riff off of it - to enter her work and allow it to give us new words. She said it clearly, "I'm going to read you a poem, and you write a story from something that you hear. And if you want, then you take a line of your story and write a poem, and it can go on." She had first learned of the exercise from her mentor and friend, Patricia Smith.

As we moved from our own writing into a discussion about Amanda's process and writing, we began to engage questions of craft, of vulnerability, and of dialogue. Questions that were asked included:

What is your relationship to form?
What was your first poem?

Amanda answered candidly, speaking of her own sense of intimidation, of her own perception of form as a "white man's imposition". It was at Cave Canem that she truly allowed herself to explore form and what it has to give to her work, regardless of the end result of her exploration.
What was fascinating is that Amanda's first poems were at age 10 and were raps - a form that is defined by music, by life experience, by set rhythms and words. Her early explorations were the foundation to her later work, developed when she first learned about the connection between words and intention as a young poet living in Kentucky.

The artist's fascination with the whole person, and the people behind things led us into a discussion about the architecture of language. One person named Tapies, and his own inquiries into the life of material objects, which then led us to ask Amanda about her own relationship to objects and their stories. What, if anything, do they have to tell us? And Amanda answered very clearly: the ancestry or timeline of a body or thing tells us about who we are today. Who designed this room that we're sitting in? Who made the panels for the walls, and installed them? Who are we today bringing ourselves into this space that was designed with intention?

When asked what form her aesthetic takes, she responded, "It is a wagon wheel, in which the spokes are the different manifestations of the self - and questions about the self." Amanda went on to describe how she reads a book, as a metaphor for how her poetry falls in line with her aesthetic - she reads it in pieces, wherever it may open to when she picks it up. Her aesthetic is closely aligned with her process in which she multi-tasks, writing a poem as she has to, "getting the bones down" and then returning to it to pile on the flesh of it all. She spoke of being obedient to the poem, when they come, she must heed them. And being accountable to her community: making sure she writes them down and develops her work, because after all - she is a poet.

Which led to questions about joy and inspiration. One participant asked, "What is the intersection of fun in your work?" to which Amanda replied: "Fun should always be in my work." She spoke of the need to laugh, especially in tedious or serious moments, quoting Nicky Finney who said, "You are as writerly as the last poem you've written." Amanda insisted that in order to write, we must also enjoy life so that we may nourish the work we create. And of course, this means that for Amanda, inspiration comes from people, from listening to people, from remembering what people have spoken, from the day outside the window. She mentioned the names of poets she goes to when she needs to find her voice, or her own words: poets Sharon Olds, Patricia Smith, Nicky Finney, Afaa M. Weaver... and her community.

In this way, we can understand Amanda as an architect of language: a person who understands language as a landscape from which to design and develop buildings of memories and sound, and meaning. And creating poems that require the reader's active participation, and reflection on their own lived experience. Amanda, who also loves and is inspired by photography and video, aptly describes her own perspective as only one in relationship to others: each person has their own perspective on language, much in the same way the camera has its own perspective with relationship to what's in the frame.

She left us with the questions that form the basis of her inquiry: what angle is this image speaking to? What is it that we're not supposed to see? What is out of context? How can we present multiple perspectives? And how do we make it possible for all of us to have our own experiences with written and visual work?