The vision for Tracing Poetic Memory in Bayview Hunters Point is to create a seamless integration of poetry, images, and sound using new technologies to generate and distribute multimedia poetic content based on community research and engagement. We will work with cross-generational participants in Bayview Hunters Point who will provide their own poetry and images for the project’s interactive website. At the core of the project is my own search for memory and the understanding of change in the neighbor where I spent part of my early childhood.

Origins of Tracing Poetic Memory

Tracing Poetic Memory is the culmination of creative efforts I have pursued for more than thirty years, including mixing poetry, images, and sound and sharing the results in diverse communities. The professional foundation of my efforts began during my time in Ethiopia (1978-83), where I arrived as an evolving poet, journalist, and photographer, however, I practiced those skills mostly separately.  The more established journalists in Addis Ababa used Tandy “laptops” with the computing power of Casio watches. I had a portable manual. By my return to the US, specifically Chicago, there were already leaps in software and digital technology. I could digitally convert the images on film that I shot while in Africa.

Once while working with a graphic designer on my first website we viewed on screen one of my photographs of a dark-skinned woman, in a jet-black hooded dress, sitting on golden sand in front of her wheat-colored abode. I shot that image outside of Timbuktu. The image appeared unusable since the woman’s face was lost in the shadow of her black hood. The designer, working on the digitized image, began “brushing” away the black void inside the woman’s hood until her face appeared. I now had access to all my images from Africa and realized I could collaborate with graphic artists to rework these images and combine them with my Africa poems. This graphic designer and I knew each other because of our involvement in the “performance poetry movement” in Chicago.

Where it not for those images I shot in Africa I am not sure I would have began the process of integrating my poetry with images. By 1999 I was projecting these images while performing them at the Field Museum of Chicago (thanks Quraysh Ali Lansana for that gig). Many artists with digital graphic abilities and technology geeks have touched these efforts in some way over the years, such as Elizandro Carrington, Robert Karimi, Claire Dougherty, Danica Conneely, Rina Kim and others. It has been a process getting to this Creative Work Fund project.

Mark Sabb and I ran into each other at a time when we both had the time and interest to collaborate. Mark already knew my work, however, about a year ago he happened to be in San Francisco on break from studies at Chapel Hill. He was walking down Van Ness with critic, journalist, novelist, poet, and author of the Afrosurreal Manifesto, D. Scot Miller, who noticed me sitting in a cafe window (this has been a common occurrence for D. and I). D. introduced Mark and I and the collaborating started soon after that.

Mark, an “Internet Artist” and designer, brings the skills that enable this project to integrate poetry with graphic elements, images, sound, animation, down to the level of code writing. With this collaboration we have already began creating the seamless integration of these different elements that previously had appeared in my work as separate forms on the same screen or stage struggling to find their unified expression. This project is changing that while simultaneously drawing on the experiences of cross-generational residents in Bayview Hunters Point to find and deepen my own story, while transferring associated skills and access to technologies to those residents who want and need them to tell their own stories.