Introductions for Jayne Cortez & Sherman Alexie – 25 March 09

Jayne Cortez is the author of eleven books of poetry and performer of her poems with music on nine recordings. Her voice is celebrated for its political, surrealistic, dynamic innovations in lyricism, and visceral sound. Her most recent book is On the Imperial Highway: New and Selected Poems (Hanging Loose Press). Her latest CDs with the Firespitter Band are Find Your Own Voice, Borders of Disorderly Time (Bola Press), & Taking the Blues Back Home, produced by Harmolodic and by Verve Records. Cortez is organizer of the international symposium “Slave Routes: Resistance, Abolition & Creative Progress” (NYU) and director of the film Yari Yari Pamberi: Black Women Writers Dissecting Globalization. She is co-founder and president of the Organization of Women Writers of Africa, Inc., and can be seen on screen in the films Women In Jazz and Poetry In Motion.

Jayne Cortez’s work embraces the fact that words are musical, and words have edges – it is the work of the poet to make those edges belt out their mysteries. She’s a poet of confrontation but always in the service of furthering the conversation. Her surrealism serves to unite what only seems disparate on the surface – the animal, human, industrial and natural worlds existing in various states of motion, communion and collision. The human body becomes a fertile marsh “filled with images that most of us are afraid to see.” (Walter Mosley). Coming out of Black Arts, spoken word and blues poetry, she has become a singular artist and activist. In an article about her work, Tony Bolden writes that her texts “reflect a radical internationalist politics shaped by the specific historicity of the African American experience and committed to the liberation of colonized subjects globally.” It’s my honor to present Jayne Cortez.

Sherman Alexie’s newest collection of poems, Face, has just been published by Hanging Loose Press. He has a new young adult novel coming from Little, Brown this spring (his last one, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, won the National Book Award ). He also has a new book of stories coming out with Grove/Atlantic in the fall. He has published over 20 books altogether. The New York Times called him one of the major lyric voices of our time. An enrolled Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Indian, Alexie lives in Seattle.

In 1992, Hanging Loose Press published Sherman Alexie’s first collection of poetry, The Business of Fancydancing. He has held our attention ever since. His work takes on the difficult legacy of colonial America and its cultural and personal aftershocks in the 21st century. Alexie says: “One of the ways in which colonization works is that it destroys family units, and it destroys generational contact. I had no grandparents because they all died for various colonial reasons. Without that connection to grandparents, I lost my connection to my history.” We’ve all heard the adage Comedy = Tragedy + Time, and humor and satire are used provocatively by Alexie, but he throws in another equation: “Poetry = Anger x Imagination.” It makes sense that his emotional dexterity also serves to crush racial stereotypes as well as formal assumptions. In an essay on Alexie’s work, Kenneth Lincoln writes that he “knocks down aesthetic barriers set up in xenophobic academic corridors, and rebounds as cultural performance. He can play technique with mock sonnet, breezy villanelle, unheroic couplet, tinkling tercet, quaky quatrain in any-beat lines.” It’s a great pleasure to present Sherman Alexie.

-Stacy Szymaszek