When our dear actor friend Vin Shambry had a conflict arise with our November VOICES concert, we were nervous about who would fill his shoes. Vin had been a big part of the conversations about exploring many perspectives through music and the arts -- conversations that had led to the concept of the 2017-18 season and a powerful sense of purpose for our organization.
Well, in an amazing experience of serendipity, a friend of a friend suggested that we reach out to S. Renee Mitchell. I hadn't ever met Renee before, but I visited her website and fell in love. Her website describes her as "Writer. Speaker. Artist. Teacher. Creative Revolutionist." The website for Spit/Write, the Portland Youth Poet Laureate Project, describes her as "Poetry Goddess." And when I started down the thrilling rabbit hole of watching YouTube videos of Renee's poetry readings... wow. (Go do it now! You won't regret it....)
We wrote to her, and wonder of wonders, she was available on the date of our show. We described the concept of the show and asked whether she'd be interested in reading one of her works there. She agreed!
Renee then came to part of the dress rehearsal, 2 days before the concert, to meet us and hear a little of the rehearsal. She talked more with us about the concept of the show. She listened to the music and read the program, which had the complete texts of the performance. She shared that the music and texts were inspiring to her and that she was going to go home and think about what she'd perform.
And here's the amazing part. She came back, 2 days later, for our show and had WRITTEN A BRAND-NEW POEM. It wove together the texts and concepts of all of the works on our program. In particular, the spiritual "There's a Man Goin' Round Takin' Names" comes back over and over again. For example:
I hear him goin round
delighting in taking my past, present and future
and drowning it in loss
alienating children of color with trauma by association
making them feel motherless before they are even born
yes I hear him goin round
but he cannot stop my soul from longing
and so i look for promise embedded in displacement
embrace comfort in the coolness of the cursive stream
just beyond the barbed wire fence
that barrier that keeps my movements
and my anger contained
but does not prevent my dreams from escaping
You'll want to read the full poem HERE and you'll also want to look at the concert program HERE (or preview it below) if you want to understand fully the artistic magic that Renee made happen, telling these stories, telling her own story, admonishing listeners to take care with names and identities and perspectives.
Poetry goddess? YES. And so we reached out after the concert and asked whether she might consider joining us for the rest of our season, as our first Poet in Residence. And, to our delight, she has accepted. We look forward to continuing this collaboration.