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The Triangle's Black Poetry Theatre (BPT) presented two performances of their newest work, Love Letters to My Child, at the Common Ground Theatre in Durham this past Sunday. The work, which examines various aspects of the mother/child connection, is a Reader's Theater presentation accompanied by music, provided by a single singer/guitarist, Kemet Jacobs.
The work is the brainchild of BPT member Laysha Churchwell, who performs the first piece of poetry, Tiffany Riddick's "Letter to My Child," via audio tape. This particular work is divided into two parts, which open and close the show. Kemet provides music under this and many of the other selections in this work.
A total of thirteen works are presented by this troupe, selected from a large number of contributors. When the call for contributions went out, the response was so great that it was necessary to cull these works from an astonishing number of responses. So great was the response, in fact, that the BPT has published an entire book of "Love Letters to My Child," which is a collection of all the contributions received, including a poem received from a poet in South Africa.
This topic was a natural for this particular show, which was the second annual Women's Showcase for the BPT. This event, which is designed particularly to "celebrate the artistry and creativity of women." All the participants were women, and the poetry they presented was a sophisticated combination of rhythms, emotions, and connections which were dynamically presented by three readers. While these three presented almost all of the works, two authors were invited to read their own poems. Christine Vaughan and Tawanda Blake both participated by reading their own "Letter to My Child."
Of the three main cast members, two presented, among the others read, their own works. Camille Brown, who writes under the name "Cami Brown Shuga," presented her own "I Wonder," in which she asks several questions of her child, including "Will I ever get the opportunity to teach you everything I know;" "Will I learn to let you go?" She refers to her child as "my roaming seed." Kim McCrae, whose nom de plume is "Redefining Freedom," closed the performance with a plea "To the Next Generation of Thinkers." The third cast member, stage name True Blue, read some of the best works onstage, including a work titled "Please Don't Turn Out Like Me," by Tara Cook. Cook fears "My daughter will inherit my inabilities," and asks, "Please don't let the pricks of my words cut your skin." She also hopes that "the ghosts of the past may not haunt you."
Kemet, the guitarist who accompanied several of the works, wrote several songs that interspersed these works with music. She wrote and performed the title work, "This is a Letter to My Child." She also performed a lovely a cappella rendition of "Wind Beneath My Wings" to close the first act of the performance.
Black Poetry Theatre presented Love Letters to My Child as the third in their four-performance season. The work was a beautiful presentation which gave us insight into the complex love that exists in the hearts of mothers for their children. The works emphasize this love, but also allow us as audience members to hear and feel the particular love of the Black woman for her children, which is bound up in the particular ancestry of the race. One author, Nia Wilson, comments particularly on this ancestry, saying "ancestry labeled me as unfit…" "as my mother before me and her mother before she…" and states, "I am working to set us free;" "I am trying to get this right." This is a theme of all these works, as each mother presents her hopes and aspirations for all of her children. These works are lovely, complex, and visceral, evoking emotion as only poetry can.
I cannot close this review without commenting on an aspect of this show that was not in any way the result of the presentation. One couple came to the show with a babe-in-arms. I winced when I saw the child, because I knew that the show would be unable to proceed without being disrupted by this child, who was going to coo, and cry, and disrupt the show. The child was far too young to appreciate the performance, and while I understand that the parents wished to see this show, they should realize that to come with a baby simply detracts from the show for all the rest of the audience. Please do not bring small children to a performance; it is unfair to the audience and also unfair to the performers, who have worked very hard to bring us the presentation.
Black Poetry Theatre will present its next performance in April; keep your eyes on the CVNC schedule for dates and times. If this performance was any indication, these works are strong, vibrant poems that reflect the lives and times of Blacks in a serious, scholarly, and dynamic way.