The title of the panel discussion last night was, Writers in a Time of Empire: What is to be Done? And I was honored to be wrestling with that question in the company of the greats, Sekou Sundiata and E. Ethelbert Miller.
Among the many wise responses to that question from those two, was Sekou's call to artists to explore ways to make common meaning. He spoke of the renewed call to conscience and citizenship for artists after the terrible events of September 11, asking what it means to be an American. I loved a term he used: first person plural, that we are all deeply implicated personally in these questions, but they are also public questions. This for me is a new working definition of what I try to do in my own poetry, explore the first person plural. That history and the world press on us personally, but also publicly. Or maybe AND also publicly.
Ethelbert asked about our country's founding documents, which set off a discussion of the Declaration of Independence and how other groups have adopted and adapted it. Sekou recommends the book, We The Other People, a collection of these adaptations.
The discussion was in conjunction with Sekou's show, the 51st (dream) state
, playing at the University of Maryland this weekend. Go to: www.claricesmithcenter.umd.edu
for more info and to buy tickets.
Here's the promo on the show: "Sekou Sundiata’s poetic and personal alternative to the State of the Union address explores America’s character in the current era of unprecedented global influence and power. Co-commissioned by the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, “the 51st (dream) state” brings an extraordinary, multi-cultural ensemble of vocalists, musicians and production artists who convey a provocative program of spoken word, jazz, world music and projected imagery. Music and text credits include Sundiata, Cornel West, Abbey Lincoln, Ani DiFranco, Jacob Needleman and other prolific voices."
If it's anywhere near as thoughtful and gorgeous as the man in person, it will be a knock-out.