Transfixed

bcandme

“Transfix” is not a word one gets to use often. Last Thursday, three times, I found myself in a place and a condition that matches the definition: “make motionless or helpless, as with amazement.”  The word origins are more graphic. Think of the unfortunate butterfly or beetle mounted with a pin through its thorax. Here is an Etsy page with dozens of specimens. Instructions abound for doing this yourself, and unlike those 50 insects we were to capture, kill, and mount for 9th grade biology, the killing is now discouraged.

The occasion was the Arts Commission mixer, this iteration dedicated to poetry. The key to its success: A spoken word performer called Black Ceasar. Here’s a magazine article about him. This is his Instagram post about our event. Here he performs “Champagne Poetry” on YouTube. He does commercials for the Texas Rangers, available here from March 2023 in the Dallas Observer. An important sentence: “They’re also a leap in the right direction toward making fans of all cultural backgrounds feel welcomed and connected to an organization that has endured its share of diversity missteps.” In a similar but more pointed example, here he performs “For Change” sponsored by the Dallas Cowboys. For these he has been nominated for two Emmys.

His name is Kristoddie K. Woods. Originally from Mississippi, he performs and mentors, teaches and coordinates. Publishes. All those things are great, but on some level the most important are that he answers emails, makes it on time to Zooms, both with beauty and grace. Not everyone does that. “Nice” is not a very strong word, but having worked with him for a month on the mixer, I can assure you I am his fan first because he is legitimately, actively nice.

From an established, well-known figure, let’s move to a high school student, “a real find,” her “finder” Anne Perry said. Aryianah is a high school student who has won awards for her spoken word poetry. She’s in the National Honor Society and serves on her city’s Youth Action Council. She also teaches and mentors others in her craft. Her transfixing performance involved the story of a girl who doesn’t feel loved until she does. As with Black Ceasar, she takes you places. You have to be there.

In her own words, Empress Axa “wants to impress on the hearts and minds the good news of empowering encouragement”…and “is a poet of passion who delivers strong punchlines about loss, love, and life.” Empress has been named top 25 WOWPS Slam Champion (2021); ExtraOrdinary Women in the Arts (2022); and Denton Black Film Festival Slam Champion (2023). Here is her feature: Shoutout DFW in January 2024. A Duncanville native, she has a day job that requires clarity and strength, to which she brings charity and kindness. I met her the night of the event after exchanges of information in preparation (or, texts and calls. Why be wordy?) Somehow, I was elsewhere when she performed. We were outside when I was apologizing, and she said, “You didn’t miss anything.” She took a breath and gave me her performance. In its entirety. Just for me. Her eyes on mine for minute after minute of transfixed journe-making. Her work was about her mother, given with such depth and detail that I can only repeat—you had to be there.

A brief distinction between reading poetry and performing poetry: I can do the former. I cannot do the latter. As I have said before on these pages, I sometimes come across a poem I don’t’ remember writing. And I could no more quote you a single poem of mine than the man in the moon. No, I don’t perform, although I believe I can read my work better than anyone else. Not necessarily a good sign. I want to commend to you a poet who is better than I, Chris Mikesell. He read one of my favorites on Thursday, “Baptism by Night.” His work is not just clever; it can be funny, allusive, insightful. He takes us to places of the heart and of the mind. His presentation was not less than the others. It was different.

To conclude on being transfixed: Most people have heard the phrase “Water water everywhere and not a drop to drink.” It’s a slight misquote from “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” whose poet uses “Nor any drop to drink.” You can hear it here read by Ian McKellan. Long, but well done. A much shorter interpretation by Iron Maiden is here. AI images, too. I’ve heard of them, believe it or not. That’s about it. Genre-making apparently. The music for the Mariner is compelling. A galloping rhythm, guitarist/composer grandson explains. (“You’re not going to go to the drive-up window with that playing are you?”)

The phrase from the poem that our mixer’s performance poets made me think of is “He holds him with his glittering eye—” because now I know what that feels like, literarily speaking. Coming away from an event richer than you went in makes all the difference. Support the arts. Experience can’t be shared. Kim Campbell, co-founder and Executive Director of the Dallas Winds, ends his introduction of the group with “Be amazed!” It’s true. You’ll be glad you did. And transfixed, at least occasionally.

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