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Two Poets and a Bassist

On Nov. 15, the Creative Writing Program at Miami University hosted Two Poets and A Bassist, featuring Janice Lowe, Yohann Potico, and Tyehimba Jess. This performance follows the previous day’s panel, Collaborating Across the Arts: A Discussion.

Professor Keith Tuma kicked off the event recalling his time with Lowe’s Leaving CLE: Poems of Nomadic Dispersal, which was published this year by the Miami University Press.

Lowe, a composer who has worked on multiple musicals, performed these poems from behind her keyboard while Potico set up to the right with his accompanying bass.

“I neglect the sight reading. Everything is timed and cued, so when she says that word, I hit that note,” replied Potico when asked about performing with Lowe. “Accuracy is the challenge.”

With a focus on the migration and reverse migration of her family before her birth, Lowe preluded many of the pieces with the anecdotes that brought her relatives to the space each poem was concerned with. Her readings were punctuated with a repetition and questions developing a powerful interior voice whose tone was further amplified by the melodies.

“I hear in musical phrases,” she said, explaining how she developed her poetry into song. “I hear it in myself, where the meanings change with volumes and with tempo.”

The second half of the two-hour event was opened by the Director of the Creative Writing program, Cathy Wagner, who called Jess’ poems, “brilliant instances of resistance.”

“Okay, so I have to follow music, and that is always a hard task,” said Jess, an associate professor at the College of Staten Island. Reading from his new book Olio, Jess addressed the audience before each poem to present the stories and styles that informed each piece.

Jess explained the importance of opening up to the audience after the performance saying, “The objective is to introduce these folks [the historical figures in the poems] to audiences in a new, engaging ways. To talk to the audience. To engage with the people.”

Throughout the evening, both poets addressed how art can serve as the opening for important discussion about recent events in the country. Jess concluded the night with a poem whose goal was to memorialize Black churches that have been burned and the shooting last year at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

“I think this reading was an important and timely event; the poets’ focus on social issues in their work reinforced the power that art can have to capture attention, to evoke emotion, to delve into the nuances of social institutions and events, and to fight for change”, said Kinsey Cantrell, a senior Creative Writing and Literature double major. “I walked away from the reading with an expanded tool set from the unique forms the poets used and a renewed determination to use my art critically and responsibly.”

Tim Thomas
English Department Ambassador
Creative Writing & Literature ’17