Abiodun Oyewole : 2LP Conversations
Branches of The Tree of Life
How did the tree become a theme to a body of work you have been writing for the past 40 years?
For several years I have been talking to trees. There is a park across the street from my apartment and each morning I give honor to the trees. They stand so regal and tall. I know they’ve been here a long time, so I imagine that they know something since they’ve seen so much. It’s like if walls could talk. I feel like trees can see and hear everything around them. Even though they don’t move they are still active and they store a lot of information. Because the title of my first book of poetry was Rooted In The Soil, I felt I needed to stay in that arena of thought, so I entitled this book, Branches of the Tree of Life. After deciding on the title, I began to realize that throughout my poetic career I have used mother nature as my metaphorical pool to express my feelings and ideas. This awareness became even more apparent when my publisher found excerpts of other writers’ use of trees in their work, and I felt like I was in good company. While re-reading my poetry, I discovered that more often than not I use trees or some aspect of a tree to make a point. When I look at my life through my work and the places I’ve been, trees have played a very important role. I guess you could say, trees are alters I use for prayers.
What are your thoughts on the shifting state of the political voice in poetry, from the Black Arts Movement to today? Where are we now? Where are we going?
The politics of poetry has changed dramatically since the days of the Black Arts Movement. You have open mic night and poetry slams, two things that did not exist back in the day. During the Black Arts Movement, poetry concentrated on the social and political scope of our lives. We used poetry as a weapon against oppression and racism. The Black Arts Movement made it clear that you’re not just writing for yourself, but for the masses. There were love poems back in the day, but they too were tied up with the values of the movement; it was all about the collective. Poetry today is more about “me” as opposed to “we.” It’s more or less an ego exercise and much of it wallows heavily in the pathos of our lives. Poetry as a revolutionary tool is not popular today. It has become a vent for frustrations and fears that we tackled in the Black Arts Movement. I always say that in the absence of a movement, the circus comes to town and much of what we’re hearing today does not echo the cry of Black unity.