By CRISTINA FERNANDEZ-PEREDA
Feb. 27, 2008
It’s Wednesday night and Fred Joiner is getting ready to bring one of his passions to Good Hope Road. It’s Anacostia, in southeast Washington, D.C., that he dreams of filling with poetry.
“I believe art can raise quality of life of any people,” Joiner said.
He is host and curator of the “Intersections” poetry reading sessions in D.C., organized with the American Poetry Museum.
Joiner brings poets from the Metro area to Anacostia on the first and third Wednesday night of each month. The readings celebrated during the ’90s at 8 Rock Café, also in this neighborhood, inspired Joiner to start “Intersections.” He met John West-Bey, director of the American Poetry Museum and expressed his interest in developing poetry reading sessions through the Honfleur Gallery.
Fred Joiner introduces poets Katy Richey and Dwaine Betts during a “Intersections” Poetry reading session at the Honfleur Gallery, located at 1241 Good Hope Rd. SE, Washington, D.C. Audio provided by Fred Joiner.
Joiner admits they could have moved to neighborhoods in northwest D.C. and attracted more attention: “We could even go just to the other side of the river, near Capitol Hill, but we had the deliberate intention in working in Anacostia. It needs the art.”
Art as hope for Anacostia
Anacostia is the poorest neighborhood in the nation’s capital and its first historical suburb. According to the Brookings Institution, in 2000, one-fourth of D.C.’s poor — most of them black — lived in “extreme poverty” neighborhoods, east of the Anacostia River. Two-fifths of the people in these neighborhoods lived below the federal poverty line.
Reverence, 8th Ave., N.E.
By Katy Richey
It’s aglow in this place.
So much that the air sizzles
and the sound rises
from somewhere below the floor,
floats upward and lingers
below the canopy ceiling.
A woman with orange hair
now blocks my view.
Two songs ago her feet
were planted firmly on the ground.
Now they kick and scream,
reaching out to a little boy
with yellow buttons and a lean man
with hands clasped behind his back.
it’s hard to breathe here.
But only a mild suffocation
like when someone you adore
stands too close,
or when you wake with no memory
of the dreams you’ve had.
Just a slight uncertainty,
that sways along with
the voices and the tambourine.
“It’s a complicated place. There’s poverty, people deal with violence every day … but there’s so much sense of community that there’s also hope,” poet Katy Richey said. “I think it’s a growing community and it’s finally getting attention after being forgotten for a long time.”
Richey is one of the poets participating in “Intersections.” She describes the sessions as an opportunity to bring poetry to a place “where art and culture don’t always get.”
Katy Richey shares with the audience her poems “High Blood Pressure,” published by Beltway Poetry Quarterly, and “Ghost Writer.” Audio provided by Fred Joiner.
Like Richey, Joiner had been in the D.C. area long enough to think Anacostia was in need of cultural investments in the neighborhood.
“It was about bringing art home, not just poetry,” Joiner said.
Latanya Simpson, program coordinator for the American Poetry Museum, agrees that Anacostia is in need of culture.
“We feel that there is a lot in the northeast area but not so much here, and there are great D.C. poets,” she said.
At Honfleur Gallery, poetry and photography join for an audience of poets, artists and neighbors becoming familiar with the gallery events.
“People have issues with the time but they also admit having issues with the area, they don’t want to come here at night,” Simpson said.
The D.C. poetry scene
Joiner hopes events like “Intersections” bring more attention to Anacostia with a poetry community he describes as vibrant: “There needs to be more attention paid to it. It has become so popular now that hopefully we have a larger support of the coming events.”
Richey, who teaches English as a second language in Montgomery County, Md., discovered the D.C. poetry scene approximately three years ago and started participating in different reading sessions.
“There’s just so much. It’s really big,” she said. “There’s such diversity that you can have performance, dramatic, musical and literary poetry all at the same time, especially at the readings.”
Katy Richey reads Natasha Tretheway’s poems “Flounder,” published in her second book “Domestic Work,” and her own poem “Charlotte.” Audio provided by Fred Joiner.
Among the best-known names in the local poetry scene are E. Ethelbert Miller, the most active in the poetry community; Kenneth Carroll, executive director of DC Writers Corps; Sarah Browning, from DC Poets Against the War, and Kim Roberts, editor of Beltway Poetry Quarterly.
A night of poetry
As curator, Joiner is in charge of choosing the topic for the night and gathering the poets. After the authors read their work, they engage in discussions about their writing, art and whatever that night of poetry inspires. Then he brings the audience an opportunity they rarely have at other local readings: during the last part of “Intersections,” the microphone is open to whoever in the audience wants to participate.
The discussion part of the session allows the artists to engage with the audience about their work, their creative process and their influences. But the open mic has another purpose.
“It allows us to discover new talent and feature other readers too,” Joiner said.
D.C. poet Dwaine Betts, reads “A Different Road,” his first published poem, and “There’s a Boy Named Fest at COC36.” Audio provided by Fred Joiner.
It is during this part of the session that the audience can join the poets, express their thoughts about the authors’ work and maybe even share their own creations.
Joiner will never forget one session when a woman in the audience, who had never read her poetry before in front of an audience, left her shyness behind and shared her work.
“It was very meaningful to me because I felt we had created a safe space for her to share her poetry,” he said.
Investing in the community
“Intersections” and the American Poetry Museum work with youth too. Different programs work with schools in the area in accordance with the museum’s intention of “investing in the community” of Anacostia.
Currently the Museum of American Poetry is working, along with other institutions, with Sunrise Academy and the Washington Middle School for Girls.
“We are heading up now to youth programs so we can teach through poetry and engage new readers through the messages of poetry,” Simpson said.
“We need to develop art from here. The neighborhood has been neglected at a city level for so long that I hope we are starting a trend of bringing community artists from D.C. too,” Joiner said. “Hopefully, ‘Intersections,’ and events like it, places like the gallery will make other art organizations look at Anacostia as a home and site for artists.”