I love a good poem, don't you? With apologies to Joyce Kilmer,
I think that I shall never see
A poem I cannot like.
Even the ones that don't rhyme.
Of course, in my youth, I thought a good poem had to rhyme. How else would you know it was a poem? In the 5th grade, my favorite poem was "Fleas."
It's the shortest poem in the English language, according to my old Scholastic Books joke book. Joke or not, it started a lifelong appreciation for poetry and admiration for poets. And I must confess, I still lean toward the moon-June-spoon variety. There's something so satisfying about a clever rhyme. Like limericks. I've always loved limericks, but like haiku, it's a form of poetry that I wish I was better at. Couplets are my forte. My alter ego Tita writes them in pidgin.
I climb up da mountain, I swim in da ocean,
Ev'ryting I do get da local motion.
I use my mind, I use my mout',
I open 'em both an' I tita out!
She's the better poet, I know it.
My mom, bless her heart, has always been a fan of my poetry. She's kept most of my childhood scrawlings in a fat scrapbook, alongside faded photographs and yellowed newspaper clippings. Here's one I wrote when I was 8, apparently influenced by Burt Bacharach and Dr. Seuss.
The birds will go on singing a song,
The bells will go, "Ding dong, ding dong."
The only worry I have in the world
Is how long I am going to stay curled
By my Pop
(Hope I won't have to stop!)
Just him and me.
I told you Tita was the better poet. Fortunately, one doesn't have to be a good poet to appreciate good poetry. I am reminded of that every time I'm at a poetry slam. Another form of art at which I'm completely unskilled and equally enthralled.
A little over a year ago, I was blessed with the opportunity to perform at the Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival. Taking Tita and her Pele stories to Manhattan and the Bronx was an unforgettable high; taking in the rest of the show was even more stimulating. I enjoyed immensely, as the program stated, "the words and music of poets and ensembles in the great oral poetic traditions of North and South America, the Caribbean, Native America, Asia, Europe, and Africa." I know, they left out Hawaii and the Pacific. Tita was a bit miffed, but only for a moment. The festival was all it was billed as, and more. I was moved to dance by Latin American and Balkan bands, moved to tears by achingly passionate wordsmiths.
Now one of those world-class artists will be performing on Maui for the first time, tomorrow night at The Studio Maui.
Kurtis Lamkin is a gifted poet and musician from Charleston, S.C. He was featured in the PBS series "Fooling With Words" with Bill Moyers and has performed around the globe, from Gambia to the Guggenheim. His repertoire ranges from political commentary to praise poems and folk music.
he trips cornrows like a one-man kindergarten, scattering south toward woods senile in far haze, yelping like a harmonica in search of a bootdance
if I could teach him I would tell him: men are longitude, women latitude, but wherever you stand is the top of the world
- From "Golden Season" by Kurtis Lamkin
He accompanies himself on the kora, a 21-string West African harp/lute made from a large gourd. The sound is rich and beautiful, like an earthy koto or an ukulele multiplied. "The kora talks, for real," says Kurtis. "That's why when Africans were brought here, all African instruments were banned from the United States - because they could talk."
Tomorrow night's concert will be a rare treat. I hope you'll join me for it. I'll be introducing the show and, who knows, Tita might be inspired to add a few words of her own. In any case, I'm looking forward to a splendid evening of music and poetry.
The birds can keep singing their song,
But the bells, I fear, are all wrong.
I'd rather hear more a'
The strings a' the kora
Than the ding or the dong a' the gong.
Don't worry, I'm pretty sure Kurtis doesn't do limericks.
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.