September 25, 2021
Sep 25, 2021
from the desk of Cassidy Ann, Citizen Vinyl Staff Producer
Afro-Carolinian poet Glenis Redmond is reaching out to her ancestors and calling them into the present, like a seance.
“They’re interested in my life, and they’re in cahoots with me on this path to make a better world,” Redmond said. “Communication is still a two-way street, if we’re open to it.”
She’s about to release a vinyl record featuring readings of two of her latest poems. The two-sided album, “Afro-Carolinian Folk Tales,” was borne out of a collaboration with Asheville-based painter Julyan Davis. The two artists connected in 2018 when Davis reached out to share a folktale about mermaids he’d read while researching African cultures in South Carolina’s Low Country. He asked Redmond, who has long written about her African ancestry, if she’d be interested in pairing her poetry with his paintings to depict the story.
“I said ‘yeah, I’m interested, but I’ll see how my creative process holds up,’” Redmond recalls.
During that time, she had made an intentional decision to pull back on writing, unless it pertained to her Afro-Carolinian heritage. She was battling stage three multiple myeloma, a cancer that attacks plasma cells. Redmond says when she sat down to write, the words seemed to flow.
“I just started writing from what was going on inward. Wherever you go when you’re trying to heal,” Redmond said.
Part of that healing, she says, is naming and calling out the places in Southern culture where African heritage and history show up.
“I’m being a placemaker with poetry, creating spaces for people who come after me and for people who are now existing,” Redmond said.
In her poem, “When Mama Dreams of Fish,” Africa shows up in the retelling of her grandmother’s superstitions, passed down by her mother. For instance, a dream about fish means someone is pregnant. A child with gray hair means they will be wise. She writes:
I’ve learned as my mother’s daughter, to read between the words,
and walk between the worlds with closed eyes.
The line is a reference to the juxtaposition of her mother’s Christian beliefs. Similarly, the clash between religion and the natural world appears in the title track, “Cymbee” — the poem about the mermaids.
The white man does not believe us
Says we’re full of what is beneath them.
Yet, they wrangle us from our world.
Their bible says they must rescue
us full of blueblack savage witchery.
They say we spin wicked folk tales.
We say their religion: golden coins.
Through the collective voice of enslaved Africans, Redmond calls out the dehumanization of racism, the brutality of slavery, and the destruction of the environment. All in a single breath. The entire poem is written in the form of “Kwansabas,” which are seven lines, each containing seven words, and each word has no more than seven letters. The structure, attributed to Black poet Eugene B. Redmond (no known relation to Glenis), honors the seven principles of Kwanzaa.
While the story of the mermaid brings up the wounds endured by enslaved African Americans across the South, it’s also about liberation. It’s a balancing act she’s spent her career refining. She calls it, “weighted history.”
“The land speaks. History is not gone. Energy is not gone. People say it’s in the past, but it’s right here amongst us,” Redmond said. “Particular to me, I can feel it in port cities, and especially the port city where my people came through, I can feel their presence.”
Fittingly, the two poems recorded on vinyl will be featured in a forthcoming book, called “Port Cities.”
“I hope this offering will speak healing into other people’s lives because we surely need it, now more than ever,” Redmond said.
Glenis Redmond and Julyan Davis will be joining Citizen Vinyl in downtown Asheville, NC
for a live, recorded discussion and album release on Thurs, Aug. 26 at 7PM.
100% of proceeds from album and event ticket sales will be donated to Asheville Writers in the Schools.