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Detroit Voices, Part 2: Ron Allen Poet & Healer

Detroit Voices, Part 2: Ron Allen Poet & Healer image
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frrïÉYïïT7nm "Forallpeople who understoodthatRHYTHM is the most sacred principie of the universe " - Ron Allen I want my body back I want my body back I want my body back Where is my body? These are the first verses of a poem appropriately entitled "I Want My Body Back." It is also the title of Ron Allen's latest book of poetry (Ridgeway Press, 1996). This type of poetry is indicative of the kind of existential struggle Ron Allen has been waging throughout his life. You have to see this powerful Detroiter on stage, reading his poems; the energy , the speed, the virtuosity are mesmerizing. His verbal agility is such that most people have a hard time keeping up with him. No one leaves the performance untouched by the challenge. was never photographed And placed on milk canons. Did anyone see my body On TV selling underwear? Somebody put out an APB On my body . Don 't want any body But my body back Ron Allen is a survivor of countless wars: Vietnam, schizophrenia, alcohol, drugs, poverty and more. Bom in 1947 and raised in Detroit, Ron Allen could have been dead long ago. But fatc was and still is on his side - to OUR benefit and pleasure. Ron is also an accomplishedpercussionist. Whetherheplays bongos, congas, or reads his poetry, his rhythm is infectious; the pounding is non-stop: Is my body now In some funeral parlor Used as a casket dummy Pumpedfull of the embalming Fluid of Reaganomics? Is my body now being A human error in Thermo-nuclear holocaust? Ron Allen never stops playing the tom-tom of life. He is an organizer, a leader, medicine man, shaman and healer of himself and his community. Although his body has been "stolen" and mutilated, that does not stop him - just the opposite. And Ron always takes time to help others heal. Since he joined the First UnitarianUniversalislChurchonCass Ave. (where he lives), Ron has seen a regeneration through Faith, Love, and Discipline (exercise and diet.) Thischarismatic Black man lives in a small room on the third floor of the church. It is cheap, quiet and il is a refuge for Ron. Here, in his small "domain" he can practice his art: writing poetry and plays. "I search for wholeness, the complete organism" says Allen. "It is a Buddhist idea; I do not dissociatc intellect, body and soul ... I want to interact with my community, and my art should be a bridge bctween unformed and formed. Life is all vibrations and rhythm." Is m body now working in some South African jail pushing Apartheid for both Botha 's Body and my body For this body politie Of white supremacy? Ron is an astute observer of the political and social system. "I'd like tosee some change, a non-hierarchical system, some scaled-down villages or communities. I believe the present system is oppressive and unbalanced. You have to have balance, peace, rhythm, harmony. My art has to be truthful, it can't be detached from my experience. Content comes before form, and when I talk about drugs, love or schizophrenia, it is not a theoretical idea but it is like a vi visection of my self-consciousness." Ron is a cook at the Cass Café and for me, that experience has influenced his art significantly. The "culinary" aspect of Ron's writing is unique. His poetry is a mixture of Creóle cooking and soul food. When you throw in a good dose of Eros, well then you're cooking! Take for instance a taste of the delicacy of Ron's poem "The Culinary Images of U": yr mocha mint mandarín mesopotamian breast. . . or or garúe okra. . . and jasmine sexuality. . . yryorubia hol pepper touch of the cay enne griot word. . . u make me. . . whole wheat yin curry liquidfire yorubian onion ghana eggplant detroit cornbread milletfeasl u cook me jambalaya in your creóle oven to blackened orange roughy ufill me up ufdl me up ufill me up with yr love This is not parochial writing. It is open and generous; the surreal quality of the images is based on life, on experience and never the product of bookish theory. Another aspect of Ron's talent is his teaching. "I teach in three different places in Detroit. I'd like to help people overeóme their difficulties through poetry. Poetry is the core of my teaching." And he has this beautiful expression to describe his work: "I cali myself a spiritual facilitator of some kind of energy. I like to facilítate growth ... I believe my art has a message and through this community service I will bring some change socially, politically . . . Ron uses an anecdote to explain: "If a man is drowning should I give the man a mirror to look al himself drowning. or should I give him a rope? Well I choose to give him a rope and save him. That's what I mean by healing. My lypc oí teaching stays away (rom linear thinking and white supremacy. Education should foster wholeness." Language is obviously a very important and powerf ui tooi for Ron. He loves words and their infinite possibilities. He says: "Language is power; If I say to you, 'you are a nigger; you are no good,' you will becöme that. There is always a relationship between dominant and subordínate. I try to créate a language which has identity and still is a part of the whole. I sec all kinds of dysfunctional behavior (psychological, political, ecological . . . ). I believe things are out of sync, and I see this as being the heritage of colonialism and imperialism ... The nature of man is to be once with nature; I say Iets créate a language where all have identity but are part of the whole. The basis is coexistence. Your relationship to language has to be organic." Things have never been easy for Ron Allen. He lost his dad when he was seven or eight years old and his younger brother died in his arms at 1 9. Ron was 2 1 . Naturally, Ron lived the life of a very rebellious young man: drinking, doing drugs, trying to be "cool," talking or dressing in order to fight the "antiseptic and sterilized middle-class." But Ron admits that "you can't do drugs successfully." Although drug-taking can be seen as a way to find "spiritual peace," Ron says, it is all based on cash and the end is clear: prison, or even death. Ron 's life has been a succession of ups and downs. Particularly painful was the year 1982, when he "collapsed." But Ron is asurvivorand in 1 992 he got on the right track for good it seems. Ron says: "I heard this inner voice who told me, 'First year: Ron, don't worry about any shit, do your art. Second year: don 't write for a year, meditate. Third year: write for a year, but don' t produce it. Fourth year: produce all the stuff: poetry, plays ....'" In 1996 Ron published his book of poetry and produced his first play: "The Last Church of the 2Oth Century ." Currently he is working on his second play: "Ritual of a Dead Planet." By the way, "The Last Church ..." will be performed at the Trumbull Theater in Detroit during the first two weeks of April. The name erf his theater group? "The Thick Knol Rhythm Ensemble.' His theater strikes me as a mixture of the surrcal and the absurd. Says Ron: "Therc is a synergistic kind ofthing in my theater and my poetry; it is percussive, there's athickness to it and there's a flow going." Ron is clear about what he wants in his writing: "I want my language to have different layers, intensity, colors, texture, organicness. I like images a lot; they feed into my subconscious, my genctic history. I don't want to control them. I want a natural flow." Allen has been involved in the literary life of Detroit for about a quarter of a century. He has collaborated on grass-roots oriented publications such as Solid Ground, City Arts Quarterly and Eye to the Ground. In 1 988, City Arts Quarterly had a beautiful piece on Ron Allen called: "The Driving Forcé." Ron Allen has been reading his poetry all over Detroit and in Ann Arbor (at Galerie Jacques where he is always greatly appreciated). However, it is his ongoing program "HIP" (Horizons in Poetry) initiated in 1982 which impresses me most. It is a great feal of longevity by any standard. Ron made the cover of the Metro Times in 1 995. He was then called "The Prophet." Ron Alien has survi ved; he says: "the greatest possible development, the ultímate Art is to live the Art itself; it is more important than what you produce." I will gi ve the last word to Ron's dear friend Faruq Z. Bey who so eloquently wrote the introduction for "I Want My Body Back": "Ron Allen touches the core of the metaexperience and at that core is word sense. Ron's is the poetry of sensation. All of those sensations that defy containment by mere utterance . . . And those couched in the intricate rhythms of the ghetto diaspora. Yeah . . . Ron's are the rhythms of the 1 2th Street (pre-riot) bongo player. The nascent, primordial rhythms of the streetbush native who ogled his own core seeking meaning." Note: Ron Allen and Semaj will read their poetry at Galerie Jacques (616 Wesley, 6659889) on March 7th at 9:30 pm. Robert Anderson collaborated on this article.


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