"Grief is a complicated emotion but also an inadequate word in many ways." --Akilah Oliver
I stumble over tense. Akilah knew that face. There is one face on every face when grief strikes.
often now when i imagine life i think of what should
be finite, the guise of limitability, the desire for stop
are there greeters there [are you one] when we former ghosts arrive
is this sea deceptive, as if alive or an actor, the world masked
in my own way there was a time when i stumbled over a tense: says/said
now, bereft, in anticipation of how night collapses
into its own effluence i conjugate occasions, ask just for time, just a little time,
to get love right
Akilah Oliver passed away unexpectedly in February. The poetry community from where I live it was/is stunned. In a poetry class I teach in a NY State Prison for males, we, while also dealing with Gil Scott-Heron’s recent passing, dug into Akilah’s work. We wrote from her “meditations (redemption chant)” our own breathing in grace grace grace out face to the sky poems. I sat in a room with men in green and grief and wrote. Akilah did this.
There is a memorial reading tomorrow night in NYC at The Poetry Project, a venue Akilah supported and curated for and attended and performed at with right love. I’ve asked for lines in honor of -- as a toast to -- her and will offer them here. Go to the reading if you’re in NY. Buy her books and hold them open.
Some words for/of Akilah:
...I hope she would like it if I described her voice as a "vibrating speech act".
...She was reading on stage and at a certain point they took turns reading poems from the audience, one of which I had submitted ("Incantation"). She started out slowly..., as she got to about the 5 line she really tuned in, her voice and body got into it, she became a part of the poem. By the end she said "wow/whoa!" as if she had 'been in there w/me'. I felt for the first time someone had really understood me, or that was a better performance than I could have done w/my own poem (definitely)....I thank her again, posthumously, for her amazing ability to tune in.
[I]ntelligence, caring, a love of cocktails & a woman for whom "the road" seemed to really be her home.
Ever expanding outward, here here to the most liberated mind I know.
"What are the limits of your body?" - Akilah, 2006. I think about this often. In the context of when she asked this, the conversation was on lots of types of bodies: literal, physical, mental, imaginary, etc, etc. Thank you, Akilah.
Akilah’s gaze, all she draws in and holds. still.
As the beneficiary of Akilah's gifts at various points in my life, beginning long before I ever met her, I want to toast and celebrate her spirit of generosity, which was fluid and bountiful, sustaining and sustained.
I met you at Naropa Summer 1995 and bought the SHE SAID Dialogues loved the title so much.
I met you at Pratt Fall 2010 at Julie Patton's talk and then goodbye, too tired to come to dinner you said...
Ave atque Vale, beautiful poetry sister, beautiful soul, first and last.
In between I saw you at the Anne Waldman conf in Ann Arbor.
Vita brevis, ars longa est, you will not be forgotten.
Dear Akilah, Thank you for all the conversations we had. I'm so glad I saw you last summer and was able to tell you how beautiful you are in person.
A wonderful poet, teacher and friend who no longer inhabits this plane in a temporal form, but who is ever present in spirt, verse, memory and flesh memory.
--Tracie Morris, Sheila Lanham, Patricia Spears Jones, Rachel Levitsky, H.r. Hegnauer, Rachel Zolf, Evie Shockley, Maria Damon, Shiva Aliabadi, Luis Humberto Valadez
Wednesday, June 15, 2011; 8:00 pm
Akilah Oliver Memorial Reading.
Please join us as we create a space for people to read and perform Akilah Oliver’s work and work inspired by her. The reading will be in the Parish Hall, a room where she read her work, carefully listened to the work of other poets and taught workshops. The event is an opportunity for us to express our deep gratitude and pay homage to her gifts and her greatness. With Rachel Levitsky, Eileen Myles, Patricia Spears Jones, Julie Patton, Tonya Foster, E. Tracy Grinnell, Tracie Morris, Charles Bernstein, Steven Taylor, Tyler Burba, Julian T. Brolaski, Rachel Zolf, Joyce LeeAnn Joseph, Laura Meyers, Stacy Szymaszek, Marcia Oliver and a special tribute from a group of some of her former students: Stephen Motika, Lydia Cortes, Jamila Wimberly & Mia Bruner. Presented with the Poetry Project.
Poetry Project: 131 East 10th Street; New York, NY 10003
Akilah Oliver (1961-2011) was born in St. Louis and grew up in Los Angeles. In the 1990’s she founded and performed with the feminist performance collective Sacred Naked Nature Girls. For several years, Akilah lived in Boulder, Colorado, where she raised her son Oluchi McDonald (1982-2003) and was a teacher, activist and beloved member of the community at Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. Recently, in New York City, Akilah taught poetry and writing at The New School, Pratt Insitute and The Poetry Project, where she also served as Monday Night Readings Coordinator in 07-08. She was a PhD candidate at The European Graduate School and a member of the Belladonna* Collaborative.
Akilah Oliver’s books include A Toast In The House of Friends (Coffee House 2009) the she said dialogues: flesh memory, which received the PEN Beyond Margins Award, and the chapbooks An Arriving Guard of Angels, Thusly Coming to Greet (Farfalla, McMillan & Parrish, 2004), The Putterer’s Notebook(Belladonna 2006), “a(A)ugust” (Yo-Yo Labs, 2007) and A Collection of Objects (Tente 2010). She read and performed her work as a solo artist throughout the United States and collaborated with a variety of artists and musicians including Tyler Burba, Anne Waldman, Ambrose Bye and Rasul Siddik. She was artist in residence at Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center in Los Angeles, and received grants from the California Arts Council, The Flintridge Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. Among her many projects, she was writing a book-length theory of lamentation.