“We’re going to meet at 2pm in Fowler Square in Fort Greene (on the corner of Fulton and Lafayette). We’ll plan some logistics together, then we’ll do a set there, and then a set at the monument in Fort Greene Park… Just have a poem or three ready to go.”
The date and time were set, the locations secured. Throwing the required materials of a 21st century poet in my backpack (notebook, pen, CONDUIT by Khadijah Queen, iPhone), I felt like some kind of spy, arming myself with supplies to complete a mission off the C stop at Lafayette on the first official day of summer. This corner of Brooklyn is seriously one of my favorite pockets of the world. Emerging from the C train only to be enveloped by Habana Outpost, the makers of a revolutionary $3 fish taco and facilitators of a Sunday movie night featuring iconic films to the tune of Foxy Brown (September 28th), Poetic Justice (June 1st), and a Twilight Zone Marathon (October 26th//also, what more could you ask for in this life?). Walk down 5 steps and you can bramble into a bookstore that gives me hope for future generations of die hard readers of the word, Greenlight Bookstore. Shuffle further down Fulton and you’ll encounter 69 Burger (where the Oaxaca burger lives), Spike Lee’s 40 acre and a Mule headquarters (with a list of all his “joints”) and Fowler’s Square, a small slice of a park that seemed to appear out of the cement and exists as a sort of community front porch.
I take residence here, waiting for my fellow pop up poets, and start people watching (one of my childhood tendencies that has yet to leave me). In the upper right hand corner of the park is a young blk woman stringing together earrings, filling the metal park table with her tools and beads. To her left, a congress of older blk men, laying out only in the way real OG’s know how and have spent a lifetime perfecting, them three, cutting and smoking cigars. To their left, workout women taking a break to guzzle water and talk shit before jogging down into Fort Greene Park, the sun eclipsing and beating on their backs. The solstice had begun that morning at 3:51am, and I realized I had no actual idea what that meant. A summer solstice only goes down when the tilt of the planets’ Northern or Souther hemisphere is most inclined to the star it orbits. When you break down the word into its Latin origin, it means “sun/to stand still.”
In the midst of all this Googling, I am delightfully interrupted by Caits Meisner, a genuine bad ass poet and educator with fire engine red hair and a smile that forces all to surrender any negative energy. The mill of poets steadily continues flowing in the next few minutes with Samantha Thornhill, Jon Sands, Adam Falkner, Oveous, Jayson Smith, Corinna Bain, Lauren Williams, Sabrina Hayeem- Ladani and a man I had not met before carrying a saxophone case and a grin. I was overwhelmed by the sudden influx of good folks, good folks that I admire and have aspired to emulate in the years that I’ve known them, good folks that were about to engage in guerrilla-style poetry, practicing the skill of bringing art to people instead of waiting on them to come to us.
The instructions were simple and delivered by Jon, “jump in when it moves you. Don’t let the flow get dropped! Really be in the space, any part of it– if you feel like the bodega is calling to you, stand up next to it and kick a poem from there.” And we had an ulterior motive; if a poet wasn’t kicking a poem, then she/he could scout the area and ask folks this question: have you ever experienced a random act of kindness? When did the world tilt in your favor for no immediately discernible reason, asking nothing of you in return? The folks who wanted to share would sign a waver and have their acts of kindness recorded for PUP.
By 3pm, all the poets and saxophonist were in the arena, ready to get down with the get down. Adam kicked it off, in combination with our saxophonist, with a song wrenched from the gut. Jon jumped in with a poem, a smile determined and sincere on his face, reaching out to our Fowler Square audience, some of whom had stopped running their errands, eating their lunches and texting on their phones to catch poetry. And then we set it all the way off, Samantha jumping on a bench and getting into her poetics, Jayson taking hold of the square and breaking it down, Corinna gently approaching each audience member of the right hand corner of the park, delivering his work with care, as if the poem were crafted special for each person he spoke to, Lauren, a beacon of light competing even with the solstice, Sabrina, generating laughter and provoking thought with her ode to her left breast, Oveous, delivering his poem about his heritage from the gut, all the while saxophone glimmering behind each work, highlighting and imbibing the words we spoke with that magic only music can provide. The sun was still high, with no signs of relenting. We endeavored to reflect it.
A random act of kindness: our jewelry maker from Fowler’s Square? A year ago, she was unable to be a teaching artist, the only thing preventing her being the fee for a course to get her license. The woman instructing the course decided to let her take the class, free of charge. Our jewelry maker is now a full time teaching artist, able to do what she loves and only what she loves, solely due to the kindness a complete stranger bestowed on her.
The poets began to make our way to Fort Greene Park, hungry now for more stories, more acts of kindness, more points of connection. Upon climbing up the hills to the statue at the center of Fort Greene Park, a monument for the Prison Ship Martyrs, we found an unexpected source of joy: there was a free concert going down. Everyone in the park looked like Black Excellence and Black Excellence Mama, from the elderly man doing an off beat and endless cha-cha, to the young photographer documenting him, to the musicians performing their original jams. It became very quickly clear that we would not be able to pop up poem here; our turf was took! We took the L for our own performances, and most of our group decided to stay and enjoy the concert, continuing to ask folks about random acts of kindness. Earlier in the day, I lacked definition for a summer solstice, but by 6pm in Fort Greene, I think found my own. Everything within the day June 21st was bent toward light, tilting fully toward a joyful source. The next band that came up to perform passed out mini tambourines to each of us, and as their set ended, the DJ began to blast the classic electric slide jams: I Wanna Dance With Somebody, You Wanna Be Starting Something, a good handful of James Brown. Suddenly, there was a surge of artists and all we could do was go to the left, to the right, break it down, pick it up and turn it around.
The sun had yet to set on 8pm and there were 5 poets left to their own devices in the park, myself one among them. We each started to read to each other: new work from chapbooks, new work from novels, new work from manuscripts, all stories that we have held close to our hearts but felt compelled to extend to each other. A friend of mine who had come to see our pop up performance shared her random act of kindness: in the dead of winter this 2014, she braved a walk home from my Bed Stuy apartment to the train toward her Bay Ridge apartment, the snow relentless, the ice on the ground, unforgiving and violently present. She admitted to busting her ass on the pavement a few times, to crying when she did, more out of frustration than actual pain. She was waiting for the bus at 1am and you know how that go in Brooklyn: it don’t. Finally, a bus, one that she doesn’t have to take, pulls up near her. The driver waves her to come to the door. “Where you heading?” the bus driver asks. “Atlantic Terminal,” my homie replies. The bus driver, going against her route, gave my friend an express lift, taking her from the depths of Bed Stuy to the R train. The driver had nothing to gain from helping her out (maybe something to lose from doing so), just saw her and decided it wouldn’t be asking for too much to give somebody a hand when she so clearly needed it. A random act of kindness is more than a solace, they are each a solstice; a bending toward light when it all seems to have gone out.
- Aziza Barnes is 22, blk & alive. She loves a good suit and anything to do with Motown.