What is the poem I’d like to write with my community? 

I’ve been writing it since 1992, on the page and within enduring relationships forged as a volunteer member of the Anansi Writers Workshop at The World Stage in Leimert Park, Los Angeles. Within the walls of the stage, during years of Wednesday night workshops, poetry has schooled me, hounded me, and sometimes tortured me so badly, I found that it was wisest to head to the woodshed to study and consolidate lessons before venturing back to the page. 

Collaborations at The World Stage crystallized my allegiance to becoming a medium, a lightning rod, and an interpreter of my best ethical and esthetic impulses. It crystallized my embrace of a roiling set of creative motivations and my virtuosity within a rigorous critical community whose members celebrate their quest to write multidimensional poems that sing with artistic power, personal subtlety, and depth of meaning. This broader sense of community membership was ignited by my first published poem in 1978—a rant against police brutality in The Black Scholar.  But then, on Wednesday, August 30, 2023, in an unexpected and dynamic circle of reciprocity,  the Anansi Writers Workshop was canceled so that members(many of whom were children  when I enrolled in the workshop) could attend the launch event for the second year of laureate programming at Altadena Library, where I gave my final reading in L.A. before relocating to Florida to recover from a medical emergency. 

At least thirty members of the workshop pushed the attendance to more than one hundred folks that evening. We wrote a living poem. We laughed. We cried. It was church. It was ceremony. It was humbling. I was grateful. I was awestruck.  It was uplifting, as only a reading at The World Stage can be, featuring anonymous community members, visiting OGs like Naomi Long Madgett and Pulitzer Prize winners, such as Yusef Komunyakaa, among scores of other honorary members of the congregation.  

Only a month before that August launch event, I was visiting my own version of Jordan Peele’s  “Sunken Place”—sedated and intubated for three days, only to awaken to weeks of rehab (which is still ongoing). Revivified, I stood before and within my community: a mortal, a student, a poet, frail but embodying my generation of study in a community ‘storefront with a halo,’ which is  what I’ve dubbed The World Stage for years. 

It’s too early to know if I can expect to write poems as a resuscitated man, if not a resurrected  man. Time will tell. For now, the truest poetry, the poetry I’m most grateful for, the poetry that rings like Bobby Hutcherson’s vibraphone, that can well up like a superbloom of wildflowers from my beloved  California sojourn, will be the poem that I inhaled with my Anansi music makers who helped  illuminate my Grooved Pavement Ahead out of the Sunken Place. 

After the loving compression of that two-hour program, any poems I write will be more like a

GoGo of passion cell division carnivale implosions
tumbao of an ecstatic life 

I will forever imagine  

gleaming Black hands cupping sunrise 
trembling through the parting hours 
drawn to combustion between my dance with ideas & imagination 
electrified by downstroke from all directions 
feeding me gravity of dancers orbiting invisible meaning 

My choir of Anansi folk will feel like 
blindfolded Monarch butterflies 
fluttering against midnight 
wing-to-wing in a sliver of sight through closed eyes 
dropped & draped over my cooing  
wings droning with a choir’s amen to life 
annealing from the forge of relentless recombination 

One night in Altadena 
we were a riot of becoming in the vows of loved ones 
circles fused hands raised in guarantee to humbly protect this stirring 

our poem read … 

We give you permission We show who you need to be We your people

Peter J. Harris is the author of various books, including Safe Arms: 20 Love & Erotic Poems (w/an Ooh Baby Baby moan) (FlowerSong Press, 2022)featuring Spanish translations by Francisco Letelier​​; SongAgain (Beyond Baroque Books, 2022) and Bless the Ashes (Tia Chucha Press, 2014)which won the PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Award. In 2023, he was named an Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellow. Harris’s project, “Ode to the Land,” will pair senior citizens and high school students for poetry workshops and create a public poetry reading series focused on place, home, and odes to iconic natural and cultural settings in Altadena, CA, an unincorporated area of Los Angeles County. The workshops will feature guest poets and performing artists who have expertise in presenting the ode as well as other lyric and narrative forms of praise poetry.