Thursday, June 16, 2011

Memorial reading for Akilah Oliver

Last night I went to a memorial reading for the dear, wonderful, deeply questioning, and relentlessly beautiful poet Akilah Oliver. It was held at The Poetry Project, and sponsored by belladonna.

A number of poets read their own work in tribute to her or inspired by her, which was very touching. Most read from Akilah's own impressive, incredible body of work -- her explorations of desire, of subjectivity, race, culture... and most piercingly, of loss and grief. Her poems all contain a lucid, brave, and vulnerably honest voice that haunts me and makes me so sad for her passing.

One former member of Akilah's group, The Sacred Naked Nature Girls, performed, nude, riding a bicycle. It was heart wrenching, in part because Laura Meyers was such a talented performer, but also because it invoked a younger Akilah, the Akilah right before I met her in 1996. I remember her talking about The Sacred Naked Nature Girls, and wishing I had had an opportunity to see them. I felt Akilah's presence so sharply and sweetly during this performance.

At the end of the reading there was a screening of her reading her own work. It was so intense -- after two hours of people reading her work, invoking her through her language, to see her physically, in high resolution, and to hear her warm, firm, and living voice. The last line was, I believe, "someone is calling my name" -- and, of course, we all were, and are, and will for a long, long time.

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