A.E.: I was thinking there about the popular forms, performance poetry, which sometimes relies only on the ‘performance’ itself to the detriment of the efficacy of ‘the word’, same with spoken word, which is sometimes simply ‘spoken’, without much attention to craft within those pseudo-oral, popular genres.
E.B.R.: Well, saying you’re a poet and taking the “oath” of poetry—given all that the latter means—are two different things. Interestingly, the word “poet”—maker, doer, robust handler of creativity—has fallen on bad and good days, has had its “falls and rises”—to borrow a phrase from Baraka. So, everybody’s a poet! And that neutralizes the “punch” of the poem and the poet. I have argued for loose categories for poetry so that bards holding to strict canonical or non-canonical standards could pursue their craft and that others—the open soul poets and troubadours—could go after theirs. One problem is that all are called “poet/s,” a practice that has both good and bad points. Yes, poetry began in oral vortexes, in the heart and eye, in the viscera as well as the cerebrum. But those who want to return it to those origins often don’t know enough about them to make a convincing case—either in theory or practice. Admittedly, there’s great value in the energy and artistry produced in performative arts, in spoken word, and those energies and artistry are clearly empowering other oral- and page-based poets. And while the evolving process dictates that we hold judgement in some areas, there is still the need to tap into the roots of the literary, mythic and mythopoeia traditions that inform and form the poetry that we study, cut our bardic teeth on, and wish to preserve and pass on to future generations. Then, as you mention, there is always the issue of “urgency,” when the message defies, or gets “out” inspite of, craft. While some of the “messaging” is mesmerizing, even galvanizing, emphasis is too often put on glamorizing. It’s a “mix” of in which we will be winnowing and threshing for some time.
A.E.: How many poetry collections do you have out there so far and how have your work influenced younger generation of African American poets; by your work I am also talking about your mentoring and organisational activities.
E.B.R.: I published two pamphlet poems (A Tale of Two Toms and A Tale of Time and Toilet Tissue) in the 1960s. In the 1970s five volumes were brought out including Sentry of the Four Golden Pillars, River of Bones and Flesh and Blood, Songs from an Afro/Phone, Consider Loneliness as These Things, and In a Time of Rain and Desire. The Eye in the Ceiling, winner of an American Book Award, came out in the early 1990s; and Blues Ode to the Foredreamers was released early this century. So that makes seven volumes. I think I have had an impact on younger poets, especially here in East St. Louis where I am poet laureate (since 1976, the year that Doubleday published my critical study, Drumvoices: The Mission of Afro-American Poetry) and the Eugene B. Redmond Writers Club was founded (by former 60s student Sherman Fowler and others) in the 1986. My former students range from medical doctors to academic “doctors,” and many, as I am seeing, still write poetry. I taught at several colleges and universities in the U.S., Nigeria, Holland, Canada, and the West Indies, and so my personal stamp is in some of those institutions and communities. Former poetry students and others influenced by me ask for “blurbs” and prefaces on a regular basis. Most recently, Caribbean poet-essayist Opal Palmer Adisa requested a blurb for Eros Muse, her new book. I blurbed protégé Pamela Plummer’s Skin of My Palms and Reginald Lockett’s Random History Lessons. I visit schools, churches, cultural and crisis centers, prisons, and activists organizations and carry the word of the kwansaba, which is catching on here like it is in Nigeria and England. My volumes of poetry, regular tours of poetry workshops (like the World Stage in Los Angeles and Writing in the Circle in Atlanta), 39 years of teaching, editorial work (as editor of Drumvoices Revue and literary executor of the Henry Dumas Estate), and participation at events like the National Black Arts Festival (Atlanta), the National Black Writers Conference (New York), the Gwendolyn Brooks Conference on Black Literature and Creative Writing (Chicago), and Furious Flower Poetry Conferences I and II (James Madison U. in Virginia), have allowed me to interact with peer poets like Baraka, Madhubuti, Mari Evans, and Jayne Cortez, as well as bards of the generation right behind us such as Rita Dove and Yusef Komunyakaa, and younger “Turks” like Tyehimba Jess, Tony Medina, Elizabeth Alexander, Kevin Powell, Plummer, and Mendi Lewis Obadike. A crowning achievement for me, of course, is my own daughter, Treasure Redmond-Williams, who has an MFA in Creative Writing and teaches college-level writing in Memphis.
A.E.: Thank you for your time!
Sentinel Poetry (Online) #40
THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF POETRY & GRAPHICS...Since 2002
ISSN 1479-425X March 2006