Saturday, July 12, 2008

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.

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