Editorial note: The following conversation has been adapted from an episode of PoemTalk recorded in 2016 at the Wexler Studio in the Kelly Writers House in Philadelphia. The episode features Al Filreis, Yolanda Wisher, Charles Bernstein, and Patricia Spears Jones discussing Akilah Oliver’s poem “is you is or is you ain’t” from Oliver’s collection the she said dialogues: flesh memory (Smoke Proof/Erudite Fangs, 1999).
Al Filreis brought together Yolanda Wisher (Monk Eats an Afro; the new poet laureate of Philadelphia), Charles Bernstein (Pitch of Poetry; codirector of PennSound), and Patricia Spears Jones (Lucent Fire: New & Selected) to talk about a poem by Akilah Oliver. It’s a prose poem to be found (on pp. 43–44) in Oliver’s bookthe she said dialogues: flesh memory (1999) and is reproduced here below: “is you is or is you ain’t.” PennSound’s Akilah Oliver author page includes a recording of her performing this poem during a Segue Series reading at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York on January 6, 2007.
Patricia Spears Jones talks with Charles Bernstein about her new selected poems, the influence of the blues and the pentecostal church (and sonnets) on her poems, her conversation with popular songs, her sense of communities and ideal readers, the performance of her work, her "contrarian" broadsides on politics and culture, and her persistent commitment to beauty.
Gil Scott-Heron was an African–American poet, writer, composer and musician. His understood the use of rage; the power of satire and the need for embrace and love. He was not the father of hip hop or spoken word, but his ability to speak truth to power in his lyrics; to satirize the political elite and to portray the complexities of African American culture and liberation struggles has given all of us much to contemplate and those who are part of the hip hop generation a model to use. As Ron Carter, who played on "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," said: "He wasn't a great singer, but with that voice, if he had whispered it would have been dynamic. It was a voice like you would have for Shakespeare." The comparison to Shakespeare makes sense to me. “Your Daddy Loves You,” “Winter in America,” and “We Almost Lost Detroit” are songs about divorce; disillusionment with America society; and the possibility of nuclear disaster – what a range. And like other great writers, he found important collaborators who spurred his creativity, most notably Brian Jackson. Few American poets of the postwar years have successfully created poems, stories and songs on large political and social concepts, while simultaneously dealing with intimate issues of love, family, loss, and yes addiction.