Spotlight on Al Black – Celebrating 5 Years of Mind Gravy!

Al - tea signing

Five years ago Al Black started a spoken word poetry group called Mind Gravy hoping to make some difference in the local, and highly diverse, poetry scene. Today, Wednesday night Mind Gravy has become the most anticipated night of the week for a large cadre of devoted attendees. Some people come to read or recite, others to listen. But everyone who comes know they have found a place where they belong. Al Black did that. Jasper asked Al 6 quick questions about Mind Gravy as he celebrates his fifth year of making a difference in the lives of people and the life of a culture. Here’s what he had to say.

1. First, please explain to readers who aren’t aware exactly what Mind Gravy is.
Mind Gravy is a purposely diverse and sometimes edgy poetry venue with a music component that adds to the diversity and sets a vibe for the start of the event.
We start with a guest musician followed by a featured poet and then an hour of open mic — this open mic component often exposes us to new and exciting talent.

2. You’re celebrating the fifth anniversary of Mind Gravy this week. How are you feeling about the open-mic program 5 years in? Has it evolved the way you had hoped it would?
The five years went fast and we are always looking for ways to expand and diversify what we do – our goal for this summer is to start live web broadcasting and a Mind Gravy Youtube channel.
My goal in starting this was to seek unity through diversity, so it has been allowed to evolve within a loose framework of artistic acceptance, not just tolerance.
Mind Gravy is about the core group of folks that continue to come to our weekly event, so it is more about what our audience makes it.

3. What was your mission going into the project — what did you hope to create or accomplish?
Going in, I was disheartened with what I saw as a fractured poetry scene that was divided in every way possible, race, style, slam, page, spoken, class, education, etc…..publicly they said many of the right things about each other, but privately it was condescension and purposeful segregation by acts of omission and commission.
Mind Gravy’s mission was and is unity through diversity; it will never be totally accomplished and the target is always morphing and changing, but I feel we have created a community and identity that is viable and impacting others to explore and expand what they do in the creative community

4. We know there have been many, but can you choose one of your favorite memories to share with us?
I purposely stir the pot; one evening I had a white musician with a mullet and singing songs about the lost cause and his rebel background to open – my featured poet was a black hip hop poet. The musician stayed and listened to the poet and after we closed, they stayed out front on the sidewalk talking.
The musician still comes to Mind Gravy occasionally.
Where else would they have been exposed to each other and engaged in dialog?
This is when I know we are doing something important.

5. What has been your greatest challenge?
Finding a viable and accepting venue was our greatest challenge.
We have been with Drip Coffee for three years now. Before coming to Drip, we bounced through several venues. Working with Sean and his staff has been a blessing.
We faced three major issues finding a venue:
• The other venues were shaking financially and closed or were not well-managed and hard to deal with
• They were not gay friendly and told me to restrict that kind of creative expression
• They were not black friendly and told me to restrict hip hop and urban creative expression

6. Finally, would you be willing to share one of your favorite poems with our readers?

This one was written to me because of a poem I had written and Muddy Ford published about two friends who had been music and poetry features at Mind Gravy.
This is another confirmation that Mind Gravy is doing something important.

Daughters of Light
for Al Black

Back then on the tile floor, you goat,
you knew the score, you saw it
in the way she tapped her feet,
the way my voice was clear,
the beat was something he tried
to ignore, but the light would not
be folklore, nor rumor, innuendo. No.
When sun rises it is a tornado, takes
houses with Dorothy and the apple
trees and scarecrow and tin woodman
who needed to be watered, the oil can
can only go so far, and someone who only
has a brain will eventually become a
drain, a bore. Take me home. Toto, like
every dog, needs a bone, needs
to know the alpha, a score works in football,
but last night there was a loser and tonight,
the daughters of light are the winners of more.
You saw it all, wise goat man, tropical
tee, maybe you only came for tea, but
when you looked into the eyes of her
and me, you saw light, a shy dawn
beginning to blossom, the ladder of
stars working its way up the bosom
of the world until we could say, We are done.

Cassie Premo Steele

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