"I look at history as a current event, and everyone fulfills a historical role," offers Heru, named for the terrible redeemer, the hawklike watcher of his ancient Egyptian ancestry. "What interests people is not necessarily what they're hearing at the moment, it's the possibility of what they might hear in the next second, and that's what's gone from a lot of artistic endeavors."
Friday nights in the Jakmel Art Gallery and Cultural Center's Caribbean Back Yard bring the jazz of poetry, oral tradition as improvised revolution. Cool, loose, urgent, hot. Hopeful Coltranes of verse coax riffs with dramatic flair, summoning the deep roots and long dreadlocks of language, referring back to ancient Egypt, to Ethiopia, to Harriet Tubman, to Liberty City, to Jean-Jacques Dessalines, linking it all to a present-day African experience in America.
This is not a poetry slam. This is not a rap competition. This is Spoken Word with No Apology. No apology for using language as a weapon. No apology for unabashed honesty. No apology for revisiting history, indulging anger and pain as transcendental medium, demanding change now. So to anyone who thinks of poetry as a pleasant, if slightly melancholy, endeavor, remember, it's called No Apology.
On the street, impervious cars fly by on the insomniac strip, what the evening's host Heru might call Biscayne Babylon. Inside, Babylon is held at bay. A large cutout of Haitian emperor Jean-Jacques Dessalines points a finger at the black sky. Soon the prop is onstage, a visual aid for a poem about how Dessalines was so fierce in battle he made Napoleon's soldiers eat their dogs.
"We're interested in artists taking the role of intellectual, political critic, and social investigator," explains Heru, whose poems, such as "Tell-Eye-Vision (Tell Lie Vision)" and "Poets of Today (Careless Ethiopians)," disclose his law background, reading like killer closing arguments in the case for African liberation and repatriation. "And we're inspired by those artists who did the same thing -- the Peter Toshes, the Bob Marleys, the Curtis Mayfields -- the people who realized that they had a platform and they needed to use that platform to try to change the consciousness of the people."