September 19, 2012, 7:00pm
The Second Annual Akilah Oliver Memorial Reading at The New School
“Therefore when I say ‘now that I am done with being dead’ I have declared an alternative self.” –Akilah Oliver, The Putterer’s Notebook
The healthy turnout for In Aporia, the Second Annual Akilah Oliver Memorial Reading, was no surprise to those familiar with Akilah, her exceptional work, and her influence. Well matched with the social underpinnings of The New School, Akilah’s work is still so current, so present and yet unconcluded. I am surely not the only one who feels this sense today- now that we’ve had this time to grieve the loss of Akilah’s life, we are now grieving the poet’s writings too.
For those in the Belladonna* and New School communities, there is a clear responsibility as experimental writers, artists, activists and scholars to build an archive of her life and work. In Aporia is no doubt a testament to this very need. The fact that this event will happen every year, featuring student readers alongside more seasoned poets, is proof of Akilah’s impact on her students, the Experimental Writing Collaborative, and in the Literary Studies Department.
The following readers performed on September 19th, 2012 at The New School Cafe: Eileen Myles, Nick Von Kliest, Krystal Languell, Wendy S. Walters. Each gave marvelous readings, some representing the Belladonna* Collaborative, and in between readers we watched videos of Akilah performing her work; poems such as “In Aporia” and “The Standstill World” particularly held the space. Eileen had to run out after her last poem to catch a train, but when I thanked her for being there, she said she considered it her duty. I believe many of us share this attitude, and that we each have something particular to contribute to the collective memory about our relationship to the poet and her work.
Approximately one year after Akilah’s death, some members of the community came together under the guidance of Anne Waldman in effort to stake a claim that we would never lose sight of our poet’s great wisdom. There was a realization midway through the conversation that we were Akilah’s archive and held guardianship over her work and potential future titles. Her son, Oluchi McDonald, was another topic that could not be overlooked- both of their deaths have left us with a raw impression of America’s health care system that we cannot reconcile. The issues of health care and women’s rights remain current with the presidential election contest between Obama and Romney- each is a subject Akilah addressed directly in her writing and activism. I often wonder if it is appropriate to separate activism from poetry in speaking of her when she managed to engage with both in such a transformative way. We need to activate Akilah’s wisdom from her poems, essays, interviews and recordings into a continuation of the conversation she began, which must not be allowed to fade.
On the campus of The New School for the memorial reading, I thought of years ahead, when The New School will grow into that big building over on 14th St, and when the Experimental Writing Collaborative will become much stronger than it is now due to Akilah’s continued influence, when we as poets and artists will come back… and back again to continue our mission in remembering a woman we love, whose community loves her and her life’s work- that of a poet, teacher, performer and activist. May we hold the space of Akilah Oliver and her son, Oluchi.
--Karl C. Leone, Intern