Updated: Jul 25, 2020
June 28th 2020
The month of June is celebrated, in all of its colourful glory, as the month of Gay Pride. On June 28th, 1969, the NYPD raided the Stonewall Inn; a gay bar and recreational tavern in Greenwich Village. There, patrons of the Stonewall, other Village lesbian and gay bars, and neighbourhood street people all finally fought back after the police became violent. The riots that ensued are widely considered to constitute for one of the most important events leading to the gay liberation movement for LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual & Transgender) rights, with the first official gay pride parade following a year later in New York City.
Yesterday marked that monumental day in history and Twiggman and I, celebrating a 50th Gay Pride Anniversary that was also very much in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter Movement., joined Cultivating Voices Live Poetry Open mic as featured artists.
Identifying myself as a Pan-Sexual, (someone who is not limited in sexual choice with regard to biological sex, gender, or gender identity), and also a Sapio-Sexual, (a person finding intelligence sexually attractive or arousing) above all things, as well as being a black woman living in America, the LGBTQ movement and the BLM movement certainly hits home for me.
Inequality and persecution are, without a doubt, the murky waters in which oppression breeds. I do count myself lucky in having had little experience with any real oppression towards my own sexual explorations, as people still think it to be for their own personal amusement when a woman is attracted to another woman and/or ‘cute/harmless’ when what they deem as ‘beauty’ to be attracted to another same-sex ‘beauty,’ despite how far removed they are from the truth. I have however, spent a lifetime faced with racial inequality; from straight out racism to low key inequality. I have been called a Nigger more times than I can even count, been kicked and spat upon and have even once been told by my white boss that my bright blonde hair was (in so many words,) too loud bleached against my dark skin. I have been sneered at, laughed at and far too often, and in the very same way that the gay community also has, been made to feel less than the divine speck of stardust that I am.
People all over the world who, just like myself, have too often been belittled, made and kept small, kept down, battered, bruised and some nearly even killed for things that are beyond their own control, all come together during the month of June, throw their rainbow flags in the air and, parading through the universal streets with the gleam of solidarity, love and equality within their eyes, walk strong… together. For just like a casual walk through the ghetto, there is always strength in numbers.
‘United we stand. Divided We Fall.’
Yesterday, despite the implementation of a social distancing that has made gathering of all kinds very near impossible, Twiggman and I joined The Cause and went Live for the Poetry Pride Parade. Because, where there is a will, there is certainly a way… and live videos continue to connect us to a source of authentic voices all over the world during a time when we are urged to stay in, stay separated and remain masked, muffled and distorted.
The previous evening, Estée had stood on her front porch and, sweating against the thick, soupy air of a Louisianan summer night, had braided my hair for me. Leaving a string of curls hanging down on each side of my face, Estee had also left me with fresh edges and half a crown of braids that rose up from the centre of my forehead like a black sun rising up over a river of brown body; its rays, pulled back into a high ponytail that, as I got ready for the parade, stretched their afro tendrils out towards the light of the real sun.
In my own small act of representation towards the girl/boy that lives harmoniously within me, I adorned myself with a pink casual-velvet dress and then, for the sake of equality, paired the outfit with my brown leather, face-stompin’
Anarchy boots. I painted my face elegantly with rose eyeshadows and pink mascara, touched with a dash of baby blue eyeliner. And beneath it all, even though no one else saw, I wore my flowery blue and pink girl/boy boxers; because, as so often it is, you never truly know what is underneath the makings of another person. And I am certainly no exception; a simple amalgamation of precious pinks as well as boyish blues. The girl & the boy within were harmoniously appeased, for just like the night needs the day, just as the water needs reflect the sky, just as the sun needs the moon to mirror its every move, my temperaments also need one another in that same way and are
touched differently on any given day.
Twiggman also rolled right alongside of me with his new and improved look. Wearing a bold and bright sky tie-dye blue t-shirt beneath a rainbow fish dress shirt, dark fitted trousers and a newly attained, (specifically for the parade,) rainbow coloured patchwork fedora, Twiggman also stands in solidarity with the LBGTQ movement.
Over the last six months, Twiggman and I have been working on particular style of set, where in which we take a poem from Wild Flower and then carefully pair that poem with a cover song that relates to the poem and embodies it in some kind of way. We then pepper the song verses throughout my original poetry piece, thus creating a seamless ten minute performance that offers the audience a touch of the familiar as well as the foreign and hopefully harmoniously drifts in between storytelling and singing; Story & Song.
More recently, in order to give ourselves a fuller instrumental sound, we each purchased
looping equipment: Twiggman got a loop pedal and I, a loop station. Twiggman took to his pedal like a bass (the fish) to water and, although I am not yet completely familiarized with this technology, the possibilities seem endless. With every harmony that I loop and layer and with each strange improvised sound journey that Twiggman and I embark upon, my loop station gets closer and closer to becoming my instrument.
Of late, I have also been making more of a conscious act to be more active on Poetry, Author and Spoken Word groups via social media platforms and had, a few weeks back, posted an excerpt from ‘A Version of You’ on the Cultivating Voices Open Mic Poetry page. The excerpt, entitled Divinity’s Disconnection, is a piece depicting the loss of Indigenous Culture through white genocide; resulting in the disconnection of indigenous people’s divinity. Cultivating Voices thanked me for my voice and then went on invite me to share further and perform in the Poetry Pride Parade.
Last year, at Mon Cirque Wine Bar, I was amongst a select few artists that provided entertainment for Sebring’s first ever Gay Pride Parade. That evening, I read pieces about equality, shared deeply personal same-sex poetry and, with two beautiful women by my side, sang, ‘We are Family’ to a colourful assortment of circus patrons. It was a historic moment for our tiny little town. And I thought of that moment with great Pride as Twiggman and I set up our electronic looping stations and prepared for our ten minute Pride Parade Poetry performance.
The event itself was estimated to span out over several hours with Twiggman and myself scheduled to close out the first hour of the parade. I selected a piece entitled, ‘Like a Man,’ to perform: A poem from Wild Flower about gender neutrality that is paired with James Brown’s ‘Man’s World,’ as well as ‘Portishead’s,’ ‘Glory Box.’ It is a sultry and soulful mash up that is scattered with poetic depths and is undoubtedly one of my favourite ‘Story & Song’ Frankenstein’s.
Sitting there in the cool of the bedroom with our electronic stations at the ready, Twiggman and I were introduced to several other artists via social media, who then waxed lyrical about ‘falling into moments of groundless grace,” “tomatoes” that were “plucked from flesh joined gardens,” and some artists even “spoke sunflowers.’ It was beautiful. And when my soul was sufficiently soothed and our time to shine was upon us, Twiggman brought in the sexy bassline and we performed ‘Like a Man,’ with an almost perfect grace.
Our set was over soon after it began and, after returning from the soothsaying spell of performance, I allowed my eyes to focus back into the present. The online community really seemed to vibe with our work; complementing on the unique fusion of poetry and music via the comments section of the feed. Our host, Sandy Yannone, was bursting with the bounds of beat poetry. And some even went on to call our performance ‘masterful.’ It felt good to contribute to The Cause as my authentic self and even better to have a strong platform from which to do it from.
Whilst enjoying the rest of the poetry Parade, I sat beside Twiggman and, blowing celebratory bubbles of bemusement into the camera lens, I felt so completely inspired by the act of sharing art, music and poetry, that I decided to put together a little shindig of my own.
During my stay on Burgundy Street, a few of the neighbourhood girls, after discovering my own affinity for writing, had confided in me of their love for music and poetry. We had each discussed doing something together ‘one of these days’ and then gone our separate ways, a few hundred feet apart at all times. Yet, amped up from the Poetry Parade, the day felt like a day worthy of facilitating such things.
So, as the orange sun set and bled its crimson colours out across the broken and bejewelled
rooftops of the 9th Ward, Twiggman and I pulled out all the gear that we had so dutifully been collecting for such an occasion, and began to create The Atmosphere. Now atmosphere, I believe, is very important to poetry. You’ve got to set the scene, be able to hold an audience and, once hooked, allow that audience to hang upon your every word. A stage is the perfect accomplice for such a command and Twiggman and I, with the goal of summer festivals in mind, had collected the perfect gear in order to make such a creative mobile scene possible. So, at the bottom of the Burgundy Street Steps, we opened up my van, Melody, spilled her creative contents out into broken turbulence of Nawlins’ and thus created the musically mobile environment that I had long desired to build.
Twiggman and I set up our pop-up gazebo, opening the van doors up to the gazebo’s back doors; thus allowing melody to become, much like Twiggman himself, a melodic backdrop to the entire scene. We placed two chairs within the gazebo, a mic stand, music sheet holder, amp and looping devices. And with the assistance of Twiggman’s external power source, we had everything that we needed for our street performance. It was a dream in action. And for a few sweet hours, we offered our entire poetic sound journey performance to the rough yet receptive streets of the Lower 9th.
Each time that I opened my performing eyes, squinting through the thick sting of sweat that had taken to resting upon my eye lashes, I would see a couple more bodies join the party, crouching over the steps and casually tuning into the performance that had spilled out from the streets most prominent of steps.
Live streaming from my phone, Twiggman and I also opened the space up as an open mic event for our neighbours. I casually MC’d the evening in between my own performance and invited my first guest, Babylon, (Robs son) up onto the stage. Babylon is a tall, red-skinned guy in his mid-twenties with rouged chin-length dreadlocks, a mischievous twinkle in his eye and a perpetual verse upon his lips. Having spent the odd evening front-porch jamming out with Babylon, I knew of his talent and looked forward to showcasing him. And as Twiggman played a bluesy rift, also adding a beat from his loop box, the boys melded together nicely. Babylon let slick lyrics slip from his cheeky side-winding lips and, for the first time upon stage, he saturated the streets with his RAP: Rhymes and Poetry.
After Twiggman and I performed a few more pieces, Estee’s daughter, NineDaBrat,
cautiously descended the stairs just like the soft beginnings of a rainbow that had been cast against the tail end of a grey storm. Only a few days prior, NineDaBrat had revealed to me of how she had always secretly been a writer with a fondness for poetry and, as she took the stage that night for her very first time, with the intention of poetry about her step, I felt a sense of great pride rise up inside of me. With her rainbow stained clothes gently hugging the curves of her voluptuous and dark body like a liquorish salt water taffy softly pressing is dark and bold colours against its own wrapping paper, the young woman cast her black eyes tentatively towards me in acceptance and then began.
Sitting there upon the steps Like A Man, I lit up a smoke, locked eyes with NineDaBrat and, nodding, encouraged her to press forward.
With the blue of her hair cast vibrantly across the night sky, through a gentle lisp and a soft voice that was flushed with certitude, NineDaBrat delivered her poem entitled, ‘Black Woman.’
With each pull upon my smoke, I became filled with this young woman’s story, with her
journey of defence against men, with her desire for security as well as equality and above all other things, I was swollen with the tender message of love and wisdom that came straight from her wise little sweet sixteen-year-old heart. It was poetry straight from the teat of an old soul and I was moved by her contribution.
The neighbours and I went on for some in this way. Babylon took the stage a few more times and Estee even got up on stage, shining in her lime green pride parade outfit as she graced us all with the gospel of her voice, until we each, after sweating the minerals right out of our bodies, reached a musical crescendo. Our poetic pride parade was a great small success.
Later that evening, long after our gear had been safely stowed away back into the dream machine from whence it came, I stood upon the steps and, reflecting, enjoyed my ritualistic bed time smoke.
I listened attentively as one of the boys played Hendrix’s, ‘Red House’ and, standing with my back facing the last front porch stragglers, I looked down towards my van. Spying upon the scene of magic that had previously been set, I allowed for a warm feeling to wriggle its way up my legs, stretch itself out across my body and then out across my chest like a cat needing before sleep. My heart was warmed as the music, once more, began to move me.
As the words from ‘Red House’ popped up from a forgotten slot in my memories, I thought over the power there was in being able to set up right there and then in the middle of the streets and offer our collective sounds to the world… finally.
And as I sang soulfully into the streets without a care in the world, even more so, I pondered over the ability to facilitate in bringing people together from those streets in order to offer them a microphone, for the very first time, that serves to amplify the authenticity of their unique and unheard voices.
It was a dream come true, a journey of pride, and alongside of the LGBTQ and BLM, it was also a personally powerful movement.
April Lee Fields
April Lee Fields