Monday, August 29, 2011

Monday Muse: Roy McBride, 'People's Poet'

I don't want you to understand my poetry.
I want my poetry to understand you.
~ Roy McBride

. . . [P]art of the reason why Roy is really special to me 
is that he has that Minneapolis flavor — soul poetry by way
of Powderhorn Park. The blues of Lake Street and the 21A.
His work was amongst the first I encountered to really give
the Twin Cities a lyrical flavor. . . .
~ Bao Phi in "A Poet's Poet: Roy McBride", Star Tribune

Born in Magnolia, Arkansas, Roy Chester McBride — who, according to all his admirers, was "easy to love" — died July 29, 2011, age 67; he'd spent the last years of his life partly in Wisconsin and partly in Minnesota.

A spoken word poet, McBride co-founded a local poets' group, Poetry for the People, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, as well as the Powderhorn Writers Festival. He also taught in Minneapolis-St. Paul schools and was a working member of In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre. Through The Fathers: A Poetry and Spoken Word Celebration, McBride and spoken word artists Marcus Harcus and Chris Holister introduced poetry and spoken word to families with children.

McBride was called "the old master of spoken word"* in the Twin Cities by filmmaker Mike Hazard, who made the poet the subject of a documentary A Poet Poets, a segment of which appears below. Hazard videotaped McBride at poetry salons, poetry slams, family get-togethers, and a variety of theatrical and other events, such as readings to benefit the Minnesota Alliance of Peacemakers.

The documentary, released this past April, is available here.

In this next clip, McBride recites his poem "Traffic" from the album Traffic, on which he collaborated with Willie Murphy on keyboard. (It's possible to purchase Traffic - The Lost Tapes, recorded in 1986 and comprising McBride's poems and Murphy's poems, directly from Willie Murphy.)

Another video of McBride reciting "Dreada Inna Babble-On" is here.

Other than the documentary and the videos noted here, I was unable to track down any collection of McBride's poems in print. His collection dating to 1982 is unavailable. (I did come across a broadside from Powderhorn Writers Festival featuring McBride's poem "It's Lilac Week" and Nick Wroblewski's color woodcut. The broadside also is available for purchase here.)

The best post I've read about McBride is poet Lyle Daggett's at his blog A Burning Patience. Daggett knew McBride and not only provides background about the Minneapolis poetry scene of the late 1970s and early 1980s but also features a number of McBride's poems, which, Daggett notes, "often have a joyful audacity,  socially and politically aware and keen-edged, poems of great tender compassion and vulnerability." You'll find Daggett's piece here.

Note: This post was updated after its initial publication and now reflects two corrections brought to my attention by Lyle Daggett. My thanks to Daggett.

* Quoted in Kelly Smith, "Roy McBride, 'Cult Figure', Beloved Poet", StarTribune, August 3, 2011

Bao Phi, "Roy McBride and the Blues of Lake Street", The Loft's Writers' Block, January 26, 2011

Peace Works: Poems, People, Prayers for Peace, Center for International Education, 2003 (Video including McBride)

Poem for Roy McBride by Jenne R. Andrews at La Parola Vivace

The spoken word community of which McBride was long a part frequently featured in programs at KFAI Radio, as a search will show. McBride appeared on Write On Radio in April 2001. The show is included in the archives but not available for listening.


S. Etole said...

It's always a joy to discover someone from my home state here.

Hope you weathered the storm well.

Anonymous said...

i like the quote. Magnolia is a pretty name for a town.

Louise Gallagher said...

Definitely a "find". His passing will be a loss t all.

Lyle Daggett said...

I was out of town for a few days, so just catching up on this now. Thanks for posting about Roy McBride, and much thanks for linking to my blog article about him.

A couple of small corrections, if I could -- the title of the video about Roy is A Poet Poets. (A singer sings, a painter paints, a poet poets... etc.) I have the video in front of me as I type this. The title of the video was given incorrectly in several of the obituaries of him in print and online.

Also, Willie Murphy plays keyboard, not (as far as I know) guitar. Anyway keyboard is what he plays on the CD Traffic which you've mentioned here.

But those are details. Again thanks for bringing attention to a longtime friend and a great poet.

(Here in Minneapolis on August 12 a tribute reading event was held in remembrance of Roy, in which around three dozen poets, musicians, and others took part, and which was attended by around 200 people. It was just stunning, overwhelming, to listen to all of the people whose lives had been touch by Roy and his work.)

Maureen said...

Thank for bringing the corrections to my attention. They are now reflected in the post and I've added a note to that effect. With my appreciation.