April 18-May 1, 2001 Where to begin! Florida is a very enjoyable place on many different levels. The people are friendly, the water is green/blue and warm. The weather can be very warm and humix and the mosquitos are bothersome sometimes. Seems like the clouds, wind and sea play drunken demolition derby everyday here. It's also alot cheaper to live here than in California and they have lots and lots of entertainment diversions galore! I didn't take many pictures in Florida because I was too busy having lots of bizarre kinds of fun and, besides, it isn't a good idea to take a digital camera to the beach. I used to live in San Diego and have visited Hawaii many times and there seems to be similiarities except that Florida is a much larger version of the two. In many ways, it has more physical things to offer including hiking through the Everglades along Alligator Alley and fundraising off the coast of Key West. I did have one close encounter with one 3 foot gator perched no less than 5 feet from me and I didn't even notice until I looked down. Quiet critters dem gators! Another thing about the Everglades are the mosquitos. Huge, multiple airforces of the flying vampires. I thought about asking one if it will fly me down to Rio for a few days. So what did I do mostly in Florida you ask? Well, I laid out on the beach in Ft. Lauderdale drinking rum runners, hung out on Las Olas (which is a very happening place filled with clubs, bars and even a museum), visited the Everglades and saw an alligator up close and personal, (By the way, you should drive on 75 or 441 East-West through some of the most pristine land in the U.S. This reservation has 1-3day hiking trails which runs flat through some gorgeous flora. Beware, the occasional gator of tortoise may jump out of nowhere so be prepared to run.;) Visited Miami Beach, took a fundraising cruise (don't laugh), went down to Key Largo and the Florida Keys through a serious rainstorm. Some days and nights are a little blurry but I believe they were fun! The notion that Florida is jam-packed with retireees and senior citizens is not true. The notion that people here are a bit crazy is true. But there is a difference between SF crazy and Florida crazy and I think I prefer the latter.. So the people have been VERY friendly here and certainly know how to enjoy themselves. While in Florida, I met several friendly poets and writers when during a judging stint at the Grand Slam of Poetry in Miami. It was fun and I received (and ate) a free chicken dinner while doing my very first slam judging turn (I didn't permit myself to do such things while Prez of the NPA). I decided to stay in Florida as it seems to offer alot of different opportunities for somebody with my experience. I learned that the country's largest book festival is held in Miami every November. We'll see how that all goes... Now on to Chicago and then to Minnesota in a few days to visit Long Prairie-Grey Eagle Highschool and teacher David Bengtson.
May 5-May 14 Stopped in Chicago for the day to take in the sites. Stayed mostly around North Chicago and noticed $2.00 a gallon gas prices. Yow! Lots of softball fields in Chicago and the nice weather brought out a pasty population. Walking along Lake Michigan is a pleasure and I wish I had more time to visit the museum located on the waters edge. Slept in my rental car that night and made it to my 6am flight just in time. Arrived in St. Paul, Minnesota and drove the 2.5 hour drive Northwest to rural Long Prairie. Along the way, I see a sign that says "The home of Sinclair Lewis". The directions and traffic were excellent and I arrived at my very nice accomodations (formerly The Flamingo) I contacted my sponsor, David Bengtson who invited me to come up and demonstrate Cin(E)-Poetry to his students almost immediately. David had called me about 10 years ago to request a free VHS copy from the NPA archive. I soon learned that he used the videos consistently and effectively in many of his classes and I later saw excellent student Cin(E)-poems made there over the years.A recent Email: My name is Mark, I spoke to you after your presentation at Intermedia Arts. I wanted to let you know once again how much I enjoyed your work. I think it's great that you got a chance to work with some students in Long Prairie. David's video classes were an amazing experience in high school and the artists he brought to the school had a big impact on me and a lot of my classmates. My friends and I still make videos whenever we have access to editing equipment.
It's very difficult to put into words my experience in Long Prairie other than it was a very intense, fun and heart-warmingd timee for me. Probably one of the best all-around experiences I've had during my trip. I went to the highschool everyday and presented, taught and consulted on Cin(E)-poems to 4-5 different classes a day. The students were very receptive, asked terrific questions and seemed genuinly interested in the material I had to show them. One day, I was even able to go with David down to Minneapolis and makeo a presentation at Intermedia Arts to a few interested educators from the community. Their I met David's friend Mark, a professor at Hamlin, who provided nice accomodations for us as well as Carolyn Holbrook, a teacher and literary arts organizer who will be producing the 2002 National Poetry Slam taking place in Minnesota. I also made presentations at Hamlin University and the local Arts highschool on Thursday. All in all, it was very exhilerating and I was happy that all the technology I was lugging around held up through all the grind. On Thursday alone I must have presented to over 100 students and teachers. Mark and Carolyn were excellent hosts and I look forward to working with them again in the future as this whole Cin(E)-poetry thing seems to have peaked their interest as well as the students'.
It was wonderful meeting you and seeing your examples of Cin(e)poems. ...it was clear that those who were in attendance enjoyed it. And my students at Hamline University were excited by this art form they'd never seen before. -Carolyn Holbrook
Thursday night, Carolyn took us out to dinner at a restaurant frequented by politicians. Both David and Carolyn are plugged into the educational system here and a few state legislators took the time to come by, introduce themselves and shake our hands. It's strange, but I've met more politicians on this trip than I ever have living in California my whole life. I wonder what they think when I tell them I'm originally from San Francisco. WARNING: DON'T TRY THIS AT HOME: On the 2.5 hour drive to and from Minneapolis, I was able to work with David on a couple of new Cin(E)-poems. As we drove, I would ask David to look at newly rendered video to gauge his impressions. While he looked, I watched the road so we wouldn't smack into a semi. I drove back on Thursday and he was able to learn the basics of the video editing program I use and eventually learned how to make changes to a video, add effects, add text and create transitions. I think he was surprised to learn how easy the program is to grasp. Back in Long Prairie, I continued again presenting work and talking about the genre to several classes. One of the most SPECIAL times of this entire trip took place on Friday when I was treated to a few songs by the student choir. . I must say it was some of the most beautiful singing I had ever heard and I was glad to have recorded them on my camera. One particular song was so moving, I couldn't stop thinking about it all day. It was a piece choir teacher, Marilyn Bengtson, had taught to the students. It was a piece called SONG OF THE EARTH and was based on a now-extinct Native American language. It was a powerful performance by the students and evoked many different feelings that I would not soon forget. At some point I realized how everyone here went out of their way to make me feel very, very welcome and I instantly fell in love with everyone and everything. During the weekend, when I had free time, I rushed back to the motel room and worked on a few new pieces in the hope I could show something on Monday, the last day of my visit. Over the weekend, Sue Farmer, photographer and journalist, was kind enough to take me hiking through various parks. The weather cooperated nicely and I took images of the surrounding area carved by huge slabs of ice sheets many a millenium ago. My hope was to merge the images with the recorded choir music and present it as a gift to everyone who made my stay so enjoyable. Monday came and I showed David and his first class the piece I worked on with him titled, WHAT HE'LL DO, as well as SONG OF THE EARTH, a piece I secretly worked on over the weekend. Well, David liked it enough to setup a special showing for the choir students during 3rd period in the school performance theater. After it screened, everyone seemed very happy with the results and some even were moved to tears! It makes it all worthwhile when you can share your own art with people who inspired me with their singing just a few days ago. David provided a quick tour of the area which included the site where Vikings lived centuries before Columbus and a farm road occupied by the Amish. The Amish look just like they do in the movies complete with horse and buggy, hats and long beards. David tells me that they have been moving into the northwest part of Minnesota looking for cheap farm land. It was striking to see an Amish farm on one side of the road (rolled up power lines etal) across the street from a home with a bright, yellow sports car and jet skis parked in the driveway. I think it would have been fun to sit somewhere for a day and watch how each go about their lives. Unfortunatly, I didn't have the presence of mind to take my camera and shoot a picture. :( Ahh, but I had to leave this place comprised of wonderful, thoughtful individuals who strive to bring art and beauty into the lives of their students.
And thank you...again and again...for the wonderful and generous work you did here with my students and me. I will remember your visit as one of the highlights of my teaching career ...and of my life, for that matter. You have left a lasting impression on many, many people. We are all very grateful. -David Bengtson
I'll probably come back for one reason or another. I look forward to it. Now it's back to Florida for the Pan-African Writers Conference and an entirely new experience...
MAY 16-21 I was invited to do a workshop at the Pan-African Bookfest & Cultural Conference at the Historical Museum of Southern Florida the weekend of 19-20. In addition, I was invited to a Poetry cruise Saturday night from Midnight-6am so I thought I had better rest up and prepare for a very long weekend of.....fun! The Historical museum is beautifully located in downtown Miami with lots of things to see and do along the cultural plaza. The entire weekend focuses on Erotica, Humor, Romance, Social commentary and Poetry with a Pan-African flavor. I'm squeezed somewhere in between The film and panel discussion on the life of Malcolm X and poetry readings from poets featured in Eugene Redmond's DrumVoices anthology. I saw Eugene last night at a Haitian Flag Day party held at the Jakmel Art Gallery. Eugene is the poet laureate of East St. Louis whom I met while producing the Celebration of the Word event. It was a nice warm night and I was treated to drum music, singing and dancing along with a special ritual commemorating Haitian Flag day. My sponsor, Raining Deer, said this is how the Caribbean looks and feels. By the way, Raining Deer is the kind poet who is sponsoring my stay by letting me stay at her lovely house in North Miami Beach. Raining Deer produced literary events for a number of years in Florida and is also a publicist and a published writer and magazine editor. She's currently working on a fascinating book on Oyotunji, an African village located in South Carolina! The pictures and text described an incredible journey of one man who established a traditional African village during the time of Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King. Completely fascinating stuff! I had no idea such a place existed in the U.S.!! After the workshop it is on to the midnight poetry cruise complete with gambling tables! I get to listen to poetry AND do a little fundraising at the same time! Imagine that! I can't wait. In addition, I have a couple of distributors who want to look at the new work I've created. I can't make the stuff fast enough! Hopefully there will be a few online sites, including mine, which will have the new cinepoems available for viewing. Anyway, this will probably be my last journal entry for awhile as I prepare for my So. American experience and Peru excursion.I don't know when I'll update it again but thank you to anybody who has taken the time to read my journal entries. . --------------------