We took a moment to interview Nordette Adams, Quaint Issue 5 contributor and official representative/organizer of the National Beat Poetry Festival‘s New Orleans event. The event will take place on Saturday September 12th from 2pm – 6pm at Morning Call in City Park. With a host of readers, live music, and more, you definitely don’t want to miss out!
Quaint: This year, the National Beat Poetry Festival is running events all over the country, and even a few events overseas! How did you end up getting involved with the organization, and what makes New Orleans a good host city?
Adams: My friend William F. DeVault (West Virginia) asked me to do it. He’s known as the “Romantic Poet of the Internet.” I’ve known him for about 10 years now, but only online. I’m not sure whether he recommended New Orleans or the NBPF asked him about finding a host after they selected the city. Or maybe he remembers my attempt at writing a poem after the Beats style about 10 years ago. (I doubt that.) Whatever the case, I said, “Yes.”
New Orleans has almost always had a vibrant literary community, and the city claims one of the founders of the Beat Movement as a native son, Bob Kaufman. It made sense to me. I said “literary” there rather than simply “poetry” because the Beats were also prose writers, most notably Jack Kerouac. Two prose writers are participating in the Born to the Beat on Saturday, Terri S. Shrum, a fiction writer, and Tyler Gillespie, who may write everything, but I know of him more as a nonfiction writer.
Quaint: The NBPF’s mission is to promote “non-traditional” poetry. What does that mean to you? As part of the canon, are The Beats really non-traditional these days?
Adams: At this point I think the Beats are more traditional than people think they are because many poets have come out of that style. So, there’s now a “tradition” of Beat poetry. Beat poetry is often in your face, non-conformist, and its poets and writers were concerned about social justice issues and protesting the status quo. They identified with “being beat” as in worn out in the after math of World War II followed by the Korean War. We see echoes of Beats in spoken word poetry today.
But I think the NBPF means that the Beats were not formalist but rebels. Similar to the modernists, the Beats also wanted to “make it new” and break conventional rules associated with typical poetry and create a different aesthetic. They also addressed issues such as sex, homosexuality, substance abuse, and race more openly. In the 40s and 50s those topics weren’t tossed around as casually as they are today. I think the Beats ushered in the poetry needed for the 1960s. For instance, the Black Arts movement grew out of the Beats in part through Amiri Baraka previously known as Leroi Jones. He protested till the day he died. The language in Beat poetry is often frank and while it has cadence, it more than likely cannot be scanned for iambic pentameter nor does it tend to flow with quatrains. If someone associates poetry with sonnets and lots of rhyme, then they aren’t talking about the Beats.
Quaint: There’s a pretty impressive and varied lineup for the New Orleans event, from former Poet Laureate of Louisiana Julie Kane to established, award-winning poets like Carolyn Hembree and Mona Lisa Saloy. You’ve also included younger poets, such as M.E. Riley, and even some local musical acts! What were your criteria when selecting performers?
Adams: So often the poetry events here are clearly separated. There are spoken word events where you will only see black poets, poetry readings where you’re more likely to find mostly white people. Then there’s the divide of are you a page poet or an oral poet. I wanted to see a cross section. I had two criteria: the poet’s work was exceptional and vibrant, and the poet was comfortable in front of an audience.
After that I tried to mix it up with contrasting styles. The vocally expressive poet A Scribe Called Quess? is quite different from a more subdued poet such as Gina Ferrara. Then you have Dennis Formento who proudly traces his poetic genealogy to the Beats. To hear Dennis and then Julie Kane, you’re leaping through the spectrum.
So, I guess it really is a Beat Generation reading because I did not want to reproduce the typical poetry reading. I asked Mona Lisa Saloy because I like her work and she’s studied the Black Beats. She has a foot in both the spoken word community and the page poets community. And when I say page, I don’t mean spoken word poets don’t write down their works. I mean that they think more about how the poem will sound when spoken and Page poets think more about what does the poem look like, feel like, and read like on the page. I asked The Shiz to perform because it’s a damned good band that already has ties to the poetry community through one of its founders, Liz Hogan.
Quaint: When we think of The Beats, we of course most often think of Allen Ginsberg—and perhaps of Ferlinghetti and Corso. There were, of course, some tremendously talented women who participated in the movement. Any favorite poems by the lady-Beats?
Adams: The women of the Beat generation tended to be associated with its men first. There’s Anne Waldman, an active poet and prominent figure in the movement, but the one who’s most known for her work as a poet is Diane di Prima. And it’s possible I also remember her more because she was once married to Amiri Baraka. But of her work, I find “Ave” to be beautiful and powerful. It just so happens that the audio is online:
For a full lineup, and to learn more about the New Orleans Born to the Beat event, please visit its official Facebook page. Quaint contributors past & present will be reading, including Quaint poetry editor Kia Groom. Come out on Saturday, if you’re in the neighborhood! We’ve love to celebrate poetry with you.