P.M.-Dawn: Harlem Renaissance Remix

Erica Thompson

I used to be obsessed with the Harlem Renaissance. I still have a "jackdaw" (a collection of artifacts) and an unfinished play based on the era from my freshman year of college. So I jumped at the chance to attend the "Harlem Renaissance Remix" event at Art of Republic, hosted by local poet Scott Woods, on a recent Friday.

I'm still amazed I had the guts to wear a gold "flapper" dress from Party City; I dealt with the terror of potential mortification right up until I entered the Short North venue. I was relieved to see other women in vintage dresses and one brave guy in suspenders. I was also among the lucky handful of attendees who received a free soundtrack of tunes by Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington and other jazz giants.

The two-room space was cozy but charming, with big, bare windows, exposed brick walls and beautifully detailed artwork of celebrities like Beyonce and Twiggy. I mingled with people while enjoying wine and some of the best appetizers I've had in a while, including chicken and waffle bites, mac and cheese cups, barbecue meatballs (amazing) and cheesecake bites.

The building was packed by the time the show started. Four supremely talented poets - LaShaun Phoenix Kotaran, Omowale Crowder, IzettaThomas and Geoff Anderson - read poetry and fiction from the Harlem Renaissance period. The masterful jazz drummer Dr. Mark Lomax provided musical accompaniment, and Woods proved to be a gracious and hilarious emcee.

Kotaran tackled the poetry of Georgia Douglas Johnson and showcased her beautiful vocals on George Gershwin's "Summertime." Crowder embodied Countee Cullen (it took me an embarrassing amount of time to realize he was introducing his pieces in character). His renditions of "Incident" and "A Brown Girl Dead" elicited gasps and even tears. And he adeptly conveyed the similarities between the country then and the country now with his commentary between poems.

Thomas - with a little help from Kotaran - read from Zora Neale Hurston's "Their Eyes Were Watching God," demonstrating a skill for interpreting Hurston's use of colloquial language. Anderson closed the show with selections from Langston Hughes, including "Note on Commercial Theatre," "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," "Crossing Jordan," "Mother to Son" and "Blue Bayou." Anderson's delivery of "Mulatto," which he said had personal meaning for him, left a lasting impression on the audience.

The fun, unique event definitely piqued my interest in the larger Columbus poetry scene. I'm grateful that I get to meet so many brilliant artists in this city. And hopefully Woods will do another show featuring more poetry from this period, which often brings about "a tear … a smile … the blues … sometimes the blues. Folks, that's the heart of Harlem!"