SANFORD - Blending poetry readings with personal stories about artists who created the work, Lenard D. Moore took Central Carolina Community College humanities and history students inside the Black Arts Movement during an hour-long journey that occasionally even veered into song.
The English professor from the University of Mount Olive gave his perspectives to university transfer students in "B.A.M., Black Arts Movement." His presentation on September 29 at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center was part of an annual college series on culture.
Moore is more than an academic. He is a jazz musician and poet who collaborates with musicians and painters, and who incorporates music and poetry into his own work. One of his interests is the Black Arts Movement, an artistic outgrowth of the civil rights movement during the mid-1960s to early 1970s. During that burst of creativity, poets reflected on the social landscape and reinvented language to make it their own.
Standing behind a podium on stage, Moore introduced his topic by reading a short segment of "The Black Arts Movement," an essay by Amiri Baraka, who also wrote under the name LeRoi Jones. Baraka was co-architect of the Black Arts Movement along with scholar and writer Larry Neal.
For most of the hour, Moore pulled out paperbacks heavily bookmarked with three-by-five index cards, reading verse and telling personal stories about the famed artists he got to meet during decades following the Black Arts Movement. As he introduced one poet after another, Moore explained why each was so innovative and how artists played with language, even creating new forms with novel spellings.
When Moore launched into "Dear John, Dear Coltrane," by Michael Harper, his voice got louder and more intense as he read -- and occasionally sang -- the poem about how people survive suffering through "a love supreme." As Moore's cadence became more staccato, some young students on the one side of the lecture hall were nodding in rhythm.
Though the Black Arts Movement writers produced most of their work four decades ago, Moore believes their messages are still relevant today.
"Some of the writers whose work I cover were involved in the civil rights movement, in the women's movement and in the movement for affordable housing," Moore said in an interview weeks before his presentation. "They were writing about issues that were represented at the time, and I feel the writers today respond to the same things.
"These are issues as prevalent today as they were decades ago."
While Moore had plenty to share with the students, he says presentations like these are actually a two-way street. A few weeks before his appearance in Sanford, the poet was already looking forward to the interaction with students and how it might shape his work.
"We feed off of each other and I feel we learn from each other," Moore said at the time. "I learn from the response of my audience -- the questions they ask and how engaged they might be with my presentation and my content."
He didn't leave disappointed. With most of the audience long gone, a short line kept building near the stage, where a dozen or so young students waited to speak with the musician-poet about the topic and his work. A few even wanted to get advice for their own writing or have a volume of Moore's poetry autographed.
One of them was Justice Evans, a high school junior attending Lee Early College and taking English 111 at CCCC. After signing a copy of his book, Moore explained how poems in the collection were inspired by pictures he had seen in the past, and the two discussed how Moore translated those images into poetry.
Before Evans moved on, Moore gave the aspiring young poet some specific ideas for how to use that same approach to elevate her own work.
"I really enjoyed it," said Evans, still visibly excited about the chance to discuss her craft with a noted artist. "I really love learning about the African American history and, especially with art, it really brought my interest."
Moore's appearance was made possible by funding from the North Carolina Humanities Council, a statewide nonprofit and affiliate of the National Endowment of the Humanities.
For information about Central Carolina Community College and its programs, visit its website, www.cccc.edu or call the college at 919-775-5401.
Lenard D. Moore recently spoke to Central Carolina Community College humanities and history students about the Black Arts Movement.