east washington life
Jon West-Bey, executive director of the American Poetry
Museum (left) and Intersections curator Fred Joiner.
A poetry event at Honfleur Gallery
by Alan King
reating a venue where various types of artists
could develop and learn from one another while
encouraging community dialogue through poetry
was enough motivation for the American Poetry
Museum and D.C. poet Fred Joiner to team up and
start a reading series.
With the Honfleur Gallery’s exhibits in the back
drop, the bi-monthly poetry event Intersections
has three components: poetry feature, moderated
discussion between audience and artists, and then
open mike. The house band, Mello D and The
Rados, plays before the set and during intermission.
For Joiner, who curates the series, it’s the dialogue
portion that sets their event apart from other readings.
“Even in more literary-focused open mikes,
there’s still very little time for question and answer.
It’s kind of like you get up there, you’re spoken to,
and then you leave,” Joiner said.
For the American Poetry Museum, which
presents and collects poetry in various forms,
spoken word poetry is one they choose to curate the
same way an object is curated.
“That’s the reason why we have the format that
we have where we have two poets. Some of the times
they complement each other, sometimes they don’t,”
said Jon West-Bey, executive director of the Ameri42 ★ East of the River | October 2007
can Poetry Museum on Good Hope Road. “In the
same way that you decide to put two objects beside
each other in a museum exhibition, this is one of
those programs that’s carefully curated.”
But this is not the first attempt at bringing
poetry east of the Anacostia River, according to
long-time D.C. poets Joel Dias-Porter (known
as DJ Renegade) and Brian Gilmore.
In 1990, there was 8 Rock, an African American
Cultural Arts Center that was two doors up from
Mama Coles Restaurant near the corner of Good
Hope Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue.
During its six year run, 8 Rock hosted various events such as live music, film screenings, and
readings from The Dark Room Collective, a community of established and emerging African American
poets founded in Boston and led by Thomas Sayers
Ellis and Sharan Strange.
“The big thing at 8 Rock was the Sunday
open mikes with the band,” Dias-Porter said. “8
Rock had intermittent featured readings, but not
a regular series.”
For Gilmore, it was the Fast Talk Full Volume
reading for that same anthology.
“I think the Fast Talk Full Volume anthology
release was biggest for me,” he said. “So many good
writers were participating in that book. It is still
a great event for me personally as a poet, to be in
that book.”
Eleven years after closing its doors due to
monetary factors, the community work of 8
Rock has been revived by the American Poetry
Museum, whose outreach is through educational arts
workshops presented at partnering schools and af-
ter-school programs, its collections, and through live
and online exhibitions.
Along with the D.C. Poetry Festival, Intersections is part of the museum’s public programs.
Legends like Renegade, Gilmore, and Toni
Asante Lightfoot were people that West-Bey
drove from Richmond to see in D.C. back in 1996.
“These are people I looked up to and I applauded them for starting series that were
groundbreaking,” he said. “The idea is to do the same
thing with Intersections.”
For six months since the series has been running,
their features have ranged from dancer/poet/playwright
Holly Bass to Dias-Porter (DJ Renegade) to Patrick
Washington, of the spoken word group Poem-cees.
“I’ve been here since 1994, so I’ve watched those
folks leave the community for a certain amount of
years because there were no venues that they felt
stimulated the type of environment that they wanted,” Joiner said. “To see them come back, and to see
them come to this event in particular is an amazing
compliment to the work that the American Poetry
Museum is doing…That’s what keeps me staying
the course.”
The series, Joiner said, was called Intersections
because it deals with every aspect of the artists’ lives.
During the discussion after his feature, Terrance
Nicholson (known as Sub Zero from D.C.-based
hip-hop group Opus Akoben) talked about the intersection of martial arts with his visual arts and his
craft as an emcee.
“Even in the way it’s structured now, it acts as an
educational tool. For poets and artists who are less experienced and aren’t used to thinking of their work in
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a particular way,” Joiner said. “When
[they] see an artist talking about the
concerns of their work, or the structure of their work…the amount of
revisions they do…or the emotional
space where their work comes from…
they’ve learned something.”
Looking ahead, one goal of the
museum is to eventually make the
reading series available on their
website through streaming video
for those who are not able to make
it out.
“We’re starting to document it
and make those documents available
because the people that feature, these
are significant writers and…artists,”
West-Bey said.
Another goal, along with gaining
name recognition and the trust of
the community, is to have a building
in three or four years that will house
their programs while maintaining an
outreach presence.
In the meantime, Intersections
takes place every first and third
Wednesday at the Honfleur Gallery
on Good Hope Road.
“We always encourage people to
bring their opinions…and bring an
open mind with them,” West-Bey
said. “Primarily, it’s an event that’s
for the people…While it’s curated
by Fred, it’s certainly informed by all
the people that attend.” ■
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