Monday, November 21, 2011

Poet's Corner at Vanderbilt: Houston A. Baker

The other night that got me sick I'm sure of it: the Houston A. Baker reading at Vanderbilt's Scarritt-Bennett Center, in The Front Porch. It's a cozy place to have a reading, part gallery, gift shop, socially-countered cafe, intimately lit reading room, always gentle crowds. And they do it once a month.

The reading was a joyous one, which is to say that poetics was not the sharp thrust at the wound which poetry readings tend to replicate. Smiles and graciousness were the foreground as Mr. Baker read for a mixed hour of storytelling and poetry, talking on jazz, The South ( "One has to do certain things in the country to escape the sense of country" ), The 60's, Leadbelly ( "I don't think you can be black and not be invested in The Blues" ), juking, how his wife became his wife (who was lovely as soap), and what he called an 'ancestral past' that remains present in his work.

Mr. Baker teaches at Vanderbilt and is the author of many books on black literature/cultural studies. Mr. Baker is an eloquent, intelligent, graceful person. As such, one is not able to determine, or perhaps does not care to determine, the point at which storytelling and poetry part ways ( there is a point ). While the evening was entertaining and interactive, only with the last poem of the evening did he move past traditionally communicative/descriptive language and address the sense of trauma ( this being one of the origins of The Blues) in events that necessarily lead to a creative exorcism of their inarticulate nature/ forming alternate avenues in order to address what is itself alternate ( of articulated/logical/known experience ). Mr. Baker's poetry is a poetry rung out of personal story, validated by his having lived it.

O, and he's down with Nate Mackey.