I went to the Grand Pavilion, where Yaseen AsSami, one of my cohorts,
|East Cleveland Public Library|
88th birthday party for Russell in February. Norman Jordan and Russell Atkins are two of the few poets still alive whom Langston Hughes included in his classic, The Poetry of the Negro 1946-1970.
But soon, the program was opened by the library's Executive Director, Sheba Marcus-Bey, who was a helpmate, promoter, and resource for the event. On behalf of the library, she reminded everyone of the length and breadth of his career and presented him with a bouquet of bright orange roses before turning the podium over to Robert E. McDonough, who introduced the program. First he asked everyone who knew Russell personally to raise their hands. The good news is that many who did not know him before the event were in attendance, very young students and friends who came with friends and who later said how very exciting it was to learn of his work. And the other good news-- there was no bad news here-- is that many many attendees did know Russell. Among them, I spotted Ohio poets Jerry Roscoe, Joan Nicholl, Bonnie Jacobson, Peg Swiniarski, Ray McNiece, Mary Chadbourne, and Tim Joyce, who, like me, has moved back home. In addition, the editor of Russell's first and only full-length book of poems, Here In The, was present: Leonard Trawick, was upfront and joined soon by Martin Simon, the widower of Adelaide Simon, who was instrumental in preserving some of Atkins' works, the originals of which were lost or destroyed in the past three years, and their daughter, visiting from Paris.
Russell Atkins: On the Life and Work of an American Master which is was available at the reading from Mac's Backs on Coventry. If you don't have the book yet, please RUN out to Coventry Road and buy it now from Mac's .
And then, nine of us from onstage each read one of our favorite Atkins poem, beginning with Arcey Harton, who read "Locusts, Crickets, This Summer."
Arcey was followed by Diane Kendig (that would be me),
followed with a reading of "Lakefront Cleveland," and then Chris Franke, ever Chris Franke, read the poem "Weekend Murder," which we all identify by its first line, "Sex Pants." I have to say that I looked over at Russell during the reading of the poem, and he enjoyed it very much. Norman Jordan spoke movingly of his days with Russell and the Muntu poets, recalling specifically the group's last meeting, disbanded the night the Hough riots began, and he read "Night and Distant Church." Kevin Prufer
A lively Q-A followed that included some boys asking intent questions, such as, who was the first poet Russell really liked when he was young? (A: Shelley, at first, for his references to crystal especially).
The program ended with the audience reading in chorus Russell's poem, "Idyll." The formal program, that is. The informal reception following went on for another hour and a half of eating, talking, and enjoying the company of poets and friends and poet friends, and especially our friend, the poet, editor, and composer, Russell Atkins.
|R.A. with Honorary Doctorate|
Photos, top to bottom: Norman Jordan and Russell (John Donoghue, background), Sheba Marcus-Bey, Leonard Trawick, Kevin Prufer, Arcey Harton, John Donoghue, Chris Franke, Mary Weems, Shaheed Mutawaf and Yaseen AsSami. And more:
|Nine readers (L to R): Arcey Harton, Chris Franke, Diane Kendig, John Donoghue, Mary Weems, Kevin Prufer, Norm Jordan, Shaheed Mutawaf, and Yaseen AsSami|