Posted by: Viola | July 10, 2015

A fantastic evening at the Poetry Foundation

Well, it’s already July 10th. And I cannot believe it. Here I am, and I am pinching myself, trying to remind myself to put my feet on the ground instead of floating up into the air like a balloon. I don’t want to wake up from this dream.

❤ Sometimes, in life, we feel wonderful. We feel great. We think that we have reached an incredible height of happiness. We feel so content, so joyful, so at peace. We cannot imagine that there is anything beyond this, beyond the current level of joy we feel or experience.

And then something happens. If we are lucky, something more comes our way. And we find that we have been bumped up to an even higher level of happiness. And we are shocked. How could we have imagined our former happiness to be the pinnacle of bliss? When now we are thrown into even greater happiness? 

It makes us wonder what joys abound that we might not be aware of. What ecstatic experiences could be around the bend in the road of our lives. What pleasant surprises of sweetness could be out there, just waiting to be discovered or waiting to discover us. ❤

This is the only way I can think of, right now, to describe the amazing experience of reading at the Poetry Foundation last night. It was truly surreal. July 9th, 2015, 7 pm, and 61 West Superior Street, in Chicago.

I had a hard time sleeping the night before. I woke up feeling alright, not too nervous. As the day progressed, I felt more and more nervous. I practiced my reading for maybe the hundredth time. This time, I reduced the number of poems, and I made sure everything fit into 10 minutes. I also rehearsed a short introduction, thanking the various people who made this reading possible and who also made it possible for me to have a beautiful chapbook. I got dressed, ate some food, packed any items I needed (camera, shoes, jacket, wallet, chapbook, etc). And my friend (who is hosting me here in Chicago) and I set out. We took a taxi and hit the road around 3:40 pm. There was traffic, so we only got to the venue almost 2 hours later. Crazy!!!

The staff at the Poetry Foundation welcomed us and led us to the “green room” and we sat down and relaxed. I took a peek at the auditorium where we were going to be doing the reading. I got some photos. The other poets who would be reading arrived, and we chatted a little bit. The editors from the African Poetry Book Fund also arrived, and we hung out together in the green room. I got autographs for my own box set of the Eight New-Generation African Poets.

As guests began to arrive, I changed into my fancy shoes for the event. There were reserved seats for the poets and editors and their guests of honor. The program began at 7 pm. The room was packed. It was so wonderful to see all the seats taken. The audience was mostly made up of brown-skinned folks. The audience looked like a beautiful earthy ocean, from where I stood at the podium, to read my poems, after a nice introductory discussion by the editors (Kwame Dawes, Chris Abani, and Matthew Shenoda) and a quick introduction by Matthew Shenoda of each poet (he read our short biographies, and then we each took the stage, and we read for about 10 minutes each).

I was the first poet to read, since the order went alphabetically by last name and my last name begins with “A”). I read six poems. Poems I read were: What to Wear, Leaving Bamenda, Muddy Shoes, Skin Color, Journey to a Farm on Lake Awing, My Father’s Lungs. ❤ I would have liked to read one more poem, but I wanted to keep within my allotted ten minutes.

Before reading, I briefly thanked the Poetry Foundation and Poetry Society of America for making it possible for me to share my poems at the reading. I thanked the African Poetry Book Fund and all its wonderful editors and team members, as well as the team at Akashic Books, for giving me such a gorgeous chapbook, which is beautiful and perfect. I also thanked my friends and family for their support, and thanked my guests of honor for attending the event. My special guests for the evening were Dr Chante Nde, Mrs Verkia Fusi, and Mr Dibussi Tande.

My reading went well. No stumbles, and no mumbles, and no sing-song annoying poet-voice. 🙂 My heart was pounding when I began the reading, but it slowed down and evened out, as the reading progressed, and I felt calm and happy by the time I got to my last poem. Unbeknownst to me, my guest of honor, Chante, was recording my reading. She told me when the event concluded that she had a complete video of my reading, and I was so thrilled because I now have a video to share with all those who were not able to attend the event.

I enjoyed listening to the other poets read, once I was done with my 10 minutes at the podium. Tsitsi jaji, Amy Lukau, Ladan Osman, and Warsan Shire read their poems, and it was an honor to be in their presence and hear their magical words.

The event was over before I knew it! We, the poets/readers, gathered to take lots of photos with each other and with the editors and also with the guests. I was so thrilled to meet some Cameroonian guests who attended the event. Wow, it was surreal. They introduced themselves to me (some are poets, as well, which is fantastic), and we took photos together. I signed a few autographs. I expressed my gratitude to everyone who said “hi” to me, got a photo with me, or bought the chapbook box set and requested autographs, as well as anyone who came over to me to compliment me on my reading. I was so humbled and honored and fiercely proud of this perfect evening. It went more beautifully and pleasantly and magically than anything I could have ever imagined.

The poets/readers and editors, as well as organizers of the event and any special guests, retired to a restaurant near the venue. The restaurant is called Beatrix. We walked there and sat down for dinner. I sat next to poet Warsan Shire and next to Charif Shanahan of the Poetry Society of America (he is also a poet). I enjoyed talking to these wonderful and remarkable individuals. After eating, I moved around a bit, so that I could talk with a few other members of our party, especially Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani.

I appreciated having my special guest Chante at the dinner. She and I caught a cab back to her place once the dinner was over, which was a little after midnight. We were home by 1 am. Our cab driver was a Nigerian man and he got to hear a little bit about our wonderful evening in the company of African poets and writers and editors.

I was so happy and full of energy, once home, and it was tough to go to bed. I am still coming down from the “high” of being in the presence of so many phenomenal artists and pioneering creative spirits. I felt so at home and at peace around them. I cannot thank them enough for giving me the blessing of a great experience reading for the first time in Chicago and at the Poetry Foundation. Truly one of the happiest days of my life. I hope and pray for more days like this. More moments of poetry and community and light.

My left knee is complaining, some joint pain, perhaps from wearing my heeled shoes, which I don’t wear too often. But I am not complaining at all. Not at all. I will take joint pain any day, if it means I get to dress up and look gorgeous in an African dress and read my poems about Cameroon and my life and eat dinner with literary artists and smile and laugh and celebrate words for an entire evening. ❤

Thank you so much again to everyone who has supported me and who continues to support me. You give me so many reasons to wake up every day and renew my commitment to being a poet. You inspire me. Thank you to everyone who made the event a success and a joy. I am blessed to have crossed paths with you. You made a dream come true for this girl from Cameroon. And for that, I am eternally grateful. ❤

Here is the video of my reading, and when I have photos assembled into a format I can share, I will do so.

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