By Nick BeJeaux
Baton Rouge is a major player on the world stage of performance poetry, so when two renowned leaders of the local poetry scene publish chapbooks at the same time it is a major event to be sure.
Poets and educators at Forward Arts, Inc., Xero Skidmore (FA’s executive director) and Donney Rose (program director) will be releasing their respective book of poems, upBeat Downbeat and The Crying Buck, during the next Eclectic Truth Poetry Slam and Open Mic Night on June 16. The event will be held in the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge at 7:30 p.m. Admission costs $7.
Before the official release of their chapbooks, DIG sat down with Skidmore and Rose to talk about their new poems and the events that inspired them.
upBeat Downbeat by Chancelier ‘Xero’ Skidmore
The poetry of Skidmore’s upBeat Downbeat chronicles the ups and downs of his musical career, how music has shaped his life and vice versa.
“Every kind of issue that we deal with in society is filtered through our art,” said Skidmore. “It is only natural, I suppose, that a lot of the issues that I tackle in poetry that’s not about music can also be seen through the lens of a musician.”
Through this lens of the musician, Skidmore writes about his experiences with gigs and fellow musicians, but also tackles heavy issues like domestic violence (Missed Pitches), a daughter trying to become a musician in her own right (Love Talking) and, for the first time, the divorce of his first marriage (Remorse Code).
“It was something that I just never wrote about,” he said. “I’ve been playing percussion now for several years, but I realized only after a discussion with Laura Mullen over at LSU that I picked it up after my divorce. In many ways I was inspired, indirectly, to pick up drums by my divorce. I didn’t realize the connection between the two until I started putting these poems together.”
Skidmore says he endeavored to bare all in this work but feels that, for the most part, upBeat Downbeat shows that even when times get tough, the show must go on.
“I think, for the most part, it’s an upbeat book,” he said. “Regardless of how some things may be presented as struggles, what happens at the show becomes part of the show. That’s life as well; the mistakes become a part of life.”
The Crying Buck by Donney Rose
In The Crying Buck, Rose takes on the human condition through the lens of black masculinity.
“The Buck is an archetype that arose during the slave days where it was desired by plantation owners to have strong, virile, unbreakable, black male slaves, which were refereed to as ‘bucks,’” said Rose. “The crying aspect of the title refers to the emotional turmoil that a lot of black men face. This book deals with how often that turmoil is swallowed in masculinity.”
Rose said he wanted to explore the place where men come to when they are alone with their emotions in a society that encourages being stoic.
“For a lot of us, in our communities, the idea of having depression or not being in a good emotional place is indicative of weakness,” he said. “This is a pushback against the idea that you have to remain a certain way to maintain a certain level of masculinity.”
For Rose, The Crying Buck is a way to explore the human condition, but his ultimate goal is to bring humanity back to the perspective of black men. Rose said he accomplishes this by using universal emotions to transcend race and gender lines.
“Any man can relate to these poems, but there are also poems that talk about depression, anxiety, fear and insecurities; these are all relatable across the human condition,” he said. “The only thing I’m doing differently is looking at a perspective that isn’t always looked at.”
upBeat Downbeat and The Crying Buck are available for purchase at www.xeroskidmore.com and www.donneyrose.com respectively.