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Arts & Life

Sounds Of Poetry Will Now Greet Kansas Citians Walking Through The Crossroads

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Carlos Moreno
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KCUR 89.3
Mid-America Arts Alliance will deliver an exhibition through its outdoor speakers for the next six months.

Mid-America Arts Alliance is still closed to the public, but their latest exhibition, "Forgotten Stories," will reach the public through external speakers.

Anyone walking through the Crossroads from now through January may hear it: poetry. Poetry will pour from speakers onto the sidewalk along Baltimore for 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

The Mid-America Arts Alliance building has been closed to the public since March 2020 when the coronavirus upended normal routines, so Director of Arts and Humanities Programming Kathy Dowell has gotten creative in her attempts to engage the public.

Dowell says, “We have this building where we’re usually inviting people here to experience the work that we do and be a part of supporting the artists that we’re supporting, and wouldn’t it be interesting if we could do something with poets and support the work of poets?”

The show that she and poet Quraysh Ali Lansana orchestrated is called “Forgotten Stories,” part of a partnership between M-AAA and Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Tri-City Collective of which he is a co-founder.

As the show’s curator, Lansana commissioned two poems from a poet in each state that M-AAA serves: Arkansas, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, and Missouri. Each First Friday a new poet's work will begin.

“What we wanted to do with the "Forgotten Stories" project is really push some who would go out and find things that history books have neglected or forgotten about,” Lansana says.

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Angelina Daves
Texas poet ire'ne lara silva will kick off M-AAA's "Forgotten Stories" exhibition in August.

First up is ire’ne lara silva of Austin, Texas. After quite a bit of research, she wrote “To the South,” a poem about the formerly enslaved who escaped by travelling south rather than north.

Lansana said the poem pushes on the pulse of the project.

“Here is an aspect of U.S. history that I think very few people know, and very few people are aware of the fact that our Mexican brothers and sisters were helping enable Black folks to find freedom going to the south as opposed to the north,” Lansana says.

The poem tells how Mexico abolished slavery in 1829 and subsequently refused to sign any document binding it to hand over fugitives who reached its border.

silva, who identifies as an Indigenous Mexican American, imagines the Mexican government’s position: “Once they step on the free land of Mexico, they are Mexican citizens and we will not send them back. We will not help you. We will not tell you where they are. They are our citizens once they step on this land.”

Because one of her areas of interest is ignored or unaccepted history, silva was eager to write two poems in that vein to share in Kansas City.

Missouri will be represented by Kansas City poet Glenn North whose two poems will be broadcast over the speakers beginning on October’s First Friday.

One of North’s poems, as described by Lansana, is about the first Kansas Colored Infantry that defeated a band of confederate rebels and paved the way for Black soldiers to fight in the Civil War.

Lansana says, “It’s a marvelous example of uncovering and rediscovering history that’s washed over, neglected, or forgotten. Under-explored at the least.”

Honoring family

The second poem silva wrote for “Forgotten Stories” is about a part of her life she felt was similarly under-explored. It’s called “Juanita Espino.”

It’s about the “conflicted space that a Latinx person with Indigenous ancestry occupies when they want to claim the Indigenous identity and how different that is from claiming a native identity where a person is registered with the government as a member of a native nation,” silva explains.

Cultural erasure takes place within conflicted households as well as at the hands of governing bodies. silva saw it in her own home, and, for the longest time, thought she was alone in that—she wants others who grew up similarly to see themselves in the piece.

silva’s mother and father were both born in the United States, but her mother was a dark-skinned “Mexican from this side” as silva says her mother would have put it. Her mother also had ties to Indigenous peoples, though silva no longer knows which ones.

Her father, on the other hand, was a light-skinned Mexican American who typically ignored all roots but those from Spain. To say the least, silva’s mother’s heritage was not celebrated alongside her father’s.

So, in “Juanita Espino,” silva wrote about the way shame informs identity, especially when previous generations had so much shame in identifying as Indigenous that they erased every trace.

“Not a soft erasure, not the erasure of time, but very deliberate intents to erase those ties and those connections,” she says.

She hopes that as people walk down the street near M-AAA and hear her reading the two poems through the speaker, they’ll pause and listen.

“I hope to make people curious,” silva says. “I hope it sparks curiosity to go learn more or that it sparks a discussion with someone else.”

"Forgotten Stories" runs through January 2022 at the Mid-America Arts Alliance seven days a week from 10 a.m.-10 p.m. at 2018 Baltimore, Kansas City, Missouri 64108.

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