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Poetrychoir: view, inter- and re-

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Inspiration House Poetrychoir: the Spoken Word in the Neighborhood

At 9 p.m. on February 28, Peter J. Harris, host of KPFK’s Inspiration House, organized a Poetrychoir at the Rock Rose Art Gallery at 4108 North Figueroa in Highland Park. The theme for the event was achieving peace.

Inspiration House airs on 90.7 FM Monday nights; from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. Harris founded the show, which features a single poet speaking aloud their work over musical accompaniment.

The Poetrychoir event was based on the same model as Inspiration House performances, however a total of seven poets would perform in the same show. This event was the first of its kind. As Harris said, “I wanted to bring voices together in a format where we could sorta sing.”

The poets were Peter J. Harris himself, and Gloria Alvarez, Carlos Ramirez, Sequoia Mercier, V Kali, Jawanza Dumisani, and finally Dorian Merina. The accompanying musicians were Michael Ligon on the baby grand piano, Marcos Loya on bass, and Rafael Robledo played the guitar. The performers had not rehearsed together, or been told what they were expected to do. The event was meant to unfold. As Harris said, “If you trust writers—trust their creativity and their intelligence—the rest is the gift of improvisation.”

As the musicians prepared the audience for what they were about to hear, Harris stepped up to the microphone, “Put down your gun. Pick up your baby,” he said. As he spoke out his poem, the night’s event began.

Harris introduced the other poets with this statement: “The writers that will join me are writers of uncommon witness, of long voice.” When he finished introducing the poets and the audience, each poet spoke their poems in turn. Unaware of what to expect from each other until after it was voiced, the poets chose their pieces to fit the moment and the performance.

The musicians played beautifully behind the poems, pausing occasionally to catch the feeling of the new poem being brought out. Ligon described it this way: “a lot of gospel, spiritual and soulful music.”

The poets were different from one another. Alvarez frequently used Spanish and English together in one poem; V Kali liked to use images from music, even singing occasionally as part of the poem. Ramirez used his poetry to describe with frightening realism scenes that seemed to be actual events from his life. Mercier took the opportunity to highlight her poems of physical pleasure and intimacy. Dumisani placed his words together to create diamond-cut meaning. Merina took the simplest ideas and used them to open the gates of heaven.

The choir was a success. The beauty of the music and the spoken words absorbed the listeners. It was an extraordinary event.

The surroundings for the performance were helpful to contemplating peace as well. The Rock Rose Gallery had a display of visual arts—paintings, sculptures, mosaics, and others—with the theme “Visions of Peace.” The gallery’s director Rosamaria Marquez said, “Creating a sense of community through the arts, that’s our mission at Rock Rose.” Rock Rose has an active community calendar, often with several events each week.

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