Amiri Baraka, Maya Angelou, and Toni Morrison at James Baldwin’s funeral, 1987. Photo: Thomas Sayers Ellis
Thomas Sayers Ellis’s poem “Polo Goes to the Moon”—an elegy for the bounce-beat go-go music pioneer Reggie Burwell—appeared in The Paris Review No. 209 earlier this year. Now he’s recorded a spoken-word version in “Amiri’s Green Chim Chim-knees Growth Tribe,” part of a tribute to Amiri Baraka to be released next year by Heroes Are Gang Leaders. Give it a listen above.
After Baraka died in January, Ellis and his frequent collaborator James Brandon Lewis formed Heroes Are Gang Leaders, a group of poets and musicians. They recorded the album over three six-hour sessions. Ellis calls it “a signifying groove head-nod to Mr. Baraka,” influenced by Thelonious Monk and A Tribe Called Quest.
The text of “Polo Goes to the Moon” is below.
POLO GOES TO THE MOON
for Reggie Burwell
There’s beena lot of talk,lately, as to whetheror not Americaactually wentto the moon.The non-believerssay there’s noweather in space—no humidity, no wind, no rain,only empty pocketsand crank shapes.Craters, big assasteroids, black holes.They say wavingour arms, all at once,is as false as the flagand We, the people, percussively agree:Astronaut-Bouncinglooks jive-phony, unless,of course, you think of the moonas a snare drum—half, eclipsed, full,and consider, as Polo did,the percussivenature of gravity,the forcible way the earth,like a party, pullsa body, every bodyback to it … every timesome symbol crashesor the rototoms,like satellites,get too-hype and someonejumps up, as Polo did,beyond theregular “lock” ofsolar systemlike a short, well-barberedmeteor, hurledinto the divine orbitof coma … beyond the limitationsof all things earthly,including the notionof nation, and its local,ingrown extension: going National.The whole timePolo was in the air,he was in total controlof his own ounceof lunar sleep,replacing the handcuffsaround Saturnwith open hi-hats.The whole timehe was onlife support,alphabetized,removing vowels.
Heroes Are Gang Leaders:Thomas Sayers Ellis, PoetJames Brandon Lewis, SaxophoneLuke Stewart, BassRyan Frazier, TrumpetJanice Lowe, PianoWarren “Trae” Crudup, DrumsThe question “Vowels?” asked at the end by Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie
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