Tom Minter's Off The Stoop Blog

a playwright's journey, creating, connecting, and conversing.

smoking out the beehive

with 2 comments

…the ‘right’ thing would be to write; to chronicle occurrences, as they are occurring. But the reality is –that’s a difficult track to maintain.

..to be honest, as I get older I find it is better policy to keep my mind on what I’m doing, rather than to try and map my thinking along the way, or versify the topography..

Much.. –no; an immense amount of work has been going in the silence between my last entry and this one.

The school year, and especially my project with my high school students at School Without Walls, really took off; not only did they excel in engaging issues around ‘community displacement’, and discerning the vanished neighborhood, under the funded encroachment of “re-purposing” and ‘institutional encroachment’, but they created a module of a Timeline to document these discovered increments of change, in the Foggy Bottom environ.

The Timeline module presents as a ‘tree’ with several branches draping photos and documentation on the subjects of their investigation of the area, dating –in 20 year segments- from 1900 to 2040; the last year being one for their own ‘punt’ of prediction.

The module is mounted on a ‘lazy Susan’ and turns easily so that all ‘leafs’ of documentation can be seen; but the ‘tree’ sits on a box mount, with a slit in its side, so that others can write out their own predictions (for 2040) and deposit them.

There are two models of the Timeline that were built; one was given to the Heurich Mansion, in acknowledgment and thanks, for the beginnings of the class’ investigation of Foggy Bottom social history (Christian Heurich being the head of a German immigrant brewing family, who established a factory on the Potomac, just at Foggy Bottom, which employed a large community of German Immigrants at the turn of the 20th century –and whose mansion was a marvel of the day; built in iron, for fear of the rampant devastation of fire which often destroyed the more common wood built buildings of the late 1800’s).

The second module was given to the GW Archive where students were hosted to an opportunity to look through the archival material –photos, magazine, newsprint and books- collected by the university, detailing the origins of community in Foggy Bottom, and the changes and demographic shifts in culture which occurred over time to virtually eradicate visibility of earlier settlement footprints.

The students presented their findings to representatives of the Heurich Mansion, and GW Archive; the modules are being finished, and will be gifted to these agents, so that tourists, or school groups, may discover the work of these students, and even interact with their project, in the deposit of “2040 Predictions” –hopefully to be honored with a reading, by the Archive and Mansion, in 2040.

..this was an amazing journey of discovery for students and institutions alike. And this school was only one, of six, which I am involved in, in this school year.

..But there was huge opportunity and effort of work for me outside of the schoolwork concluding 2012.

..in this past October, my play Reconstruction received a reading here in DC, at Fort Fringe. The cast was of spectacular ability, and the audience participated in the ‘after’ dialogue with friction and engagement.

But one of my favorite words was in action throughout: serendipity..

The character of MISS MARIAH, in my play, was performed by Ms Jewell Robinson –who had never read my work before, but was so moved and engaged by my reach, that she, under her other hat, commissioned me to write a piece for presentation.

You see, Ms Robinson is Director Of Public Programming for the National Portrait Gallery; its current exhibit features profiles of poets, and is entitled Poetic Likeness.

The commission, made to me in November of 2012 (3 months ago), was to write something to highlight the work of the black poets in the exhibition, for a presentation in the museum’s offering for Black History Month.

I took the commission, excited and honored to be offered such prestige from this prominent institution..-

but, that did not obfuscate the difficulty in the assignment: weaving something to highlight the lives and legacy of talents of six black poets, whose journeys stretch from the late 1800’s to the present day! And, not only to do so comprehensively, but to do it in a month and a half, recognizing that the work would have to be available for rehearsal, at least 2 weeks out from the presentation date, which was this past Monday, February 4th.

..so you may understand my silence..

-it was concentration. And in that chute of effort, more than serendipity played its hand; I’m telling you, I seriously started scarfing background; searching out specific titles of biography and context; immersing myself in the music, and social layers of texture, travel, and global internecine crises that undulated across the poets’ timeline.

..and deeper; suddenly finding myself channeling voices and instincts which brought me to connecting these gifted, diverse artists of color, and moment.

To be honest, at the start I did not know all of them, or their work as well as I might.

In learning about Claude McKay (1889 – 1948) I touched the inner conflict inherent in a cage of colonialism; born in Jamaica, subject of Queen Victoria, aspiring, intelligent, aware and precocious, McKay startled British society with his penetrating poems, ‘ballads’ full of melody and the lilt of the island patois; he also presented a slim view of the variant shades of colour -coloureds- who made their life off of ‘bumming’ what they could from their fellow man..

This early identification of the skeins of colour and society, wedge his work, and, after coming to America, fix in his stature, giving him the view between African American slavery, and, in the afterbirth of Emancipation, predations of a deepening “intellectual” ideology, and Negro discontent.

His journey was a wide-ranging struggle to keep to his moral compass; he strode through the Soviet fields of communism (in the early 1900’s), and bridged a connecting tissue of political struggle between Comrades, and American Marxist/Socialists.

McKay’s politics gave virulent voice to the rage of racist abuse of blacks in America; his initial trip into the south was a decimating and defining moment of clarity for him, in the nature of a particular American savagery, where lynching, rape, and burning were handy tools of oppression against people of color..

..I came to appreciate the particular tragedy of Jean Toomer (1894 – 1967), whose mix of color presented him as “white”, but whose conflict of soul constantly brought him against the grain of easy living, and, ultimately, caused him to fracture in himself, unable to fully fit the pieces of his birthright, and paradox, in America.

Langston Hughes (1902 – 1967) I have always admired, but had never been so intimate with; his endeavors in opera (taking his play Troubled Island, and working with the black composer William Grant Still) as well as Broadway (his work with the composer Kurt Weill in creating the libretto for Street Scene) are amazing journeys of artistry in their own right, but in the dexterity of this man’s reach, I found myself awestruck at the diversity of his forum!

Audre Lorde (1934 – 1992) was a voice I was not very familiar with; I knew of her activism, but I was not aware of the deep soul of her poetry, or the challenge of her health..

Amiri Baraka (1934 – ) is a name that inflicts, incites, and antagonizes; his work is a ‘slicing’ arc, through styles, polemics, pose, theatre, and modern reaches of rap and hip-hop.

Yusef Komunyakaa (1947 – ) is a deep resonant thinking man whose journey from southern blues, into Vietnam, and further personal tragedy.. is of such breathtaking dimension and succinct dialect that I was subsumed in his storytelling voice, style, knowledge and humanity.

…so; these are the six; these were the companions, in my last two months of silence, during which I found the craft to fit their stories into a length of tapestry that allowed them to speak their own character; entitled: smoking out the beehive.

It was not simple, but it came through the immersion; distinct music; distinction of styles; influences and counter-struggle; polyphonic, ultimately; rich. Through whom we are all enriched.

I came to find the right chord: Words. Crack the world before me.

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2 Responses

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  1. Tom, thanks for catching me up on your life and for the lovely education!

    Lori Brutten

    February 7, 2013 at 6:44 PM

  2. Nice !!!

    Ana

    February 6, 2013 at 10:06 AM


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