By Treasure Shields Redmond, Guest Blogger
My dad has taught me about selflessness as I have watched him chronicle writers incessantly and obsessively.
He goes nowhere without his camera like a mobile griot. Kufi tilted to an impossible angle. Stacy Adams, no socks. Somewhere in my twenties it hit me — people smile when they see him coming. Even the notorious curmudgeons – the Amiri Barakas and the Ishmael Reeds. These giants who don’t suffer fools, are glad to see “Eugene.”
In 1993 my dad won the American book award for his collection The Eye in the Ceiling: Collected Poems. Named after a signature poem of the same title, when “The Eye in the Ceiling” won an award in the 60’s, the judge said it was a perfect poem.
My dad, Eugene Benjamin Redmond’s, acumen as a poetic technician would find few detractors, but what has always astounded me about him is not his lifetime of teaching and scholarly work, not his corpus of poetry, but how he has managed to consciously sidestep fame.
He recently lost a good friend, Dr. Maya Angelou, who would routinely accuse him of putting other people’s careers before his own.
I’m not sure I totally agree with her, however, I do believe there is a deliberate mission to the madness. After all, his magnum opus is his book, Drumvoices: The Mission of Afro-American Poetry. This book length study of black poetics is present on every reading list at every university if one wants to earn a PhD in African American Literature. Nowadays, the word “mission” makes many black poets, especially those with a foot in the academy (as I have), a little nervous. We have come up during “an art for art’s sake” time. A time where we’ve been made to believe that having the word “political” as a descriptor before a poem almost turns it into a slur.
Along with my dad’s own poetry, and his critical work, he has created another visual canon that was recently digitized by the University from which he retired. It contains over 100,000 photos of black writers in their most social and most intimate moments.
This ongoing project of being a video griot sits alongside my father’s writing practice. And each of these sit alongside his Black Arts Movement mission to publicly love black artists for a living.
One of the signature universals about writers and poets in particular is that we are observers. And not only are we observers but we often see more (or differently) than “non creatives” do. I know I speak for many writers who may be reading this now when I mention the experience of recalling childhood events or neighborhood incidents with siblings and family members. I am routinely charged with “going too deep.” Or met with the response, “That’s what you remember?!”
Well my dad spends the majority of his life in observation mode and one part of his muse processes that in poetry and another equal part of his muse processes that with photographs.
Maybe other writers could’ve cashed in on their talents in a more capitalistic fashion, but what surrounds this prodigious muse is a Black Arts Movement aesthetic, a mission, if you will, that is philosophically rooted in Black Nationalism and a belief that art should be for us, by us, about us and near us.
When I consider the anti-capitalist bent The Movement, I better understand my father’s reticence to make the pursuit of financial gain his focus.
By the time this is published, my dad will have gone to celebrate Dr. Angelou’s homecoming. Within the last year, he has lost other good friends, namely Jayne Cortez and Amiri Baraka. Each time one of these great trees fell, he traveled to grieve and celebrate with his comrades and their families, getting up to assist in committing them to the ancestors. My dad is headed toward his 77th year. I find myself calling him more often. I talk with him, but this is the first time I’ve been asked to consider “what I have learned from my father.”
So I guess I would have to say that my dad continues to teach me how to be an artist who’s watchful, constantly in practice, and constantly in love.
A Mississippi native, Treasure Shields Redmond is a St. Louis Metro area poet and educator. She has received an MFA from the University of Memphis and is presently a doctoral student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Her poetry manuscript, chop: 30 kwanzabas for Fanni Lou Hamer has been shortlisted for several important prizes. Follow Treasure on Twitter: @treasureredmond
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