Intense feelings mark jazz/poetry evening
Burmese journalist-writer Khet Mar, a writer in residence at City of Asylum Pittsburgh, opened the poetry segment of the Jazz/Poetry concert Saturday night in the Mexican War Streets.
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The sun was going down but the music and words were rising Saturday night at the start of City of Asylum Pittsburgh's fifth Jazz/Poetry Concert at its Mexican War Streets headquarters.
Narrow Sampsonia Way, between Taylor and Jacksonia streets, was lined half its length with hundreds of folding chairs in front of a raised stage backed by a large video screen. At the start of the evening, most of those chairs were filled.
On that stage were Trio 3 -- saxophonist Oliver Lake, drummer Andrew Cyrille and bassist Reggie Workman -- joined by pianist Geri Allen. Their collaboration on waves of progressive jazz dominated most of the evening.
An international cast of five poets joined by two writers on video, headed by Khet Mar, the Burmese writer now in residence in Pittsburgh, the third endangered artist to be sheltered by City of Asylum since it began in 2004. Khet Mar has been jailed in her native country for her efforts supporting women's rights and educational reforms in that dictatorship officially called Myanmar.
Wearing a traditional Burmese dress, she opened the evening with a poem she wrote after coming to the city:
"In the freedom of Pittsburgh, life takes place and takes flower."
She added that since living here, she has been "relieved to be free of fear. In the bright lights of Pittsburgh, I felt freedom."
Vietnamese novelist Nam Le, author of "The Boat," reads from his debut short-story collection at 7 tonight at the WYEP-FM South Side studios. The reading concludes this year's American Shorts season.
Le studied at the Iowa Writers Workshop and is fiction editor of the Harvard Review. Also on the program is the short film, "New Boy," by Stephen Green based on a short story by Irish writer Roddy Doyle.
Tickets are $10 at the door. WYEP is at 67 Bedford Square. Details: 412-622-8866.
Three other international writers from the University of Iowa's international program -- Soheil Najm of Iraq, Milos Djurdjevic of Croatia and Meena Kandasamy of India -- read briefly as well. The diminutive Kandasamy hit the emotional peak of the evening of poetry with a riveting work on the plight of the Tamil peoples of India, a crescendo of words in English, concluding "Crimes of passion. Our passion, your crimes."
Later in the evening, Republic of Georgia writer Irakli Kakabadze took a multidimensional approach to his performance by appearing simultaneously live and on the video screen in a poem attacking imperialism.
The poets-by-video were Mansur Rajih of Yemen and Chenjerai Hove of Zimbabwe.
City of Asylum founder Henry Reese also obtained a video of an Iranian poet speaking during that country's recent protests over the disputed national election. Despite its technical problems, the presentation was a moving one.
But the evening belonged to Lake's trio and Allen, both of whom delivered poems as well as intense, tough music that held center stage most of the evening.
Their collaborations with the poets, musical responses to the words, were not as successful as last year's performances. Lake originated the concert's trademark poet partnership since the event's beginning, but the chemistry was not in the air Saturday night.
Kakabadze, who is sheltered by the Ithaca, N.Y., branch of the writers' program, presents a program of words and music written while visiting Pittsburgh at 8 p.m. Friday in the New Hazlett Theater, North Side. Tickets are $10. Details: 412-320-4610.
First Published September 14, 2009 12:00 am