In poetic terms, Indigo Moor’s voice is as deep as a lake, his laugh as big as a redwood. He recently began a three-year epic in which he will travel a hero’s journey as the poet laureate of Sacramento. The local world will be his stage.
The plum appointment came from an initiative by the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission and segued into a months-long selection process involving committees and reviews.
Moor, born and raised near Charlotte, N.C., is a multi-genre artist who has published two award-winning books of poetry, “Tap-Root” and “Through the Stonecutter’s Window,” with a third due in July, “In the Room of Thirsts & Hungers.” His play “Live! at the Excelsior” has been optioned for a movie, and his short stories have appeared in a number of literary magazines. He is also a scriptwriter, musician (upright bass) and photographer. His honors are many, including finishing as a finalist in four prestigious competitions – the T.S. Eliot Prize, the Naomi Long Madgett Award, Saturnalia Book Award and Crab Orchard First Book Prize.
Moor is a graduate of the Stonecoast MFA Program at the University of Southern Maine, a graduate member of the Artist’s Residency Institute for Teaching Artists, and a board member of the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference and the Sacramento Poetry Center. He also helps military veterans write poetry and leads workshops for students.
We talked in his home in South Sacramento as a waterfall of rain poured outside and a cool breeze blew through the living room. The walls and tabletops displayed artworks from New Zealand, Mexico, Africa and California. A rack of well-used pots and pans hung from the kitchen ceiling. Incense burned in a holder, spreading a subtle scent.
Visit Moor at http://indigomoor.org.
Q. The core of the job?
A: I want (the community) to understand that poetry isn’t just something a few people do, that it can be an everyday part of their lives and help them express things they may have difficulty expressing on their own.
Q: How did you become a poet?
A: I’ve always had the desire to express myself. I wrote short stories when I was young, and I painted. Poetry became another vehicle for my self-expression because it appeals to me.
Q: Traditionally, the South has always been a fertile ground for writers.
A: I had little to no access to the works by great Southern writers (such as Eudora Welty and Thomas Wolfe). Technically, we were only a few miles from downtown Charlotte, but I grew up in a very rural, isolated place, with no streetlights or buses. What I got as far as reading, I got mostly in school classes.
Yet when I look at my voice in fiction, it resembles the way (Southern writers) expressed themselves, a (metaphorical) “Southern drawl” that comes across. So there could be something to be said about (upbringing and environment) instilling in you that type of narrative flow that comes from the South.
Q: The African American experience also informs your work.
A: There’s a lot of that in there, mostly because many of the writers I first started reading were southern African American poets, and I still have a lot of kinship with many of them. Obviously, no matter how much you’re writing about another subject or people from another geography, you’re really writing about yourself.
Q: Poetry evokes emotion and thought. Is there a theme running through yours?
A: “Saudade” (“missingness”) is a Brazilian Portuguese term meaning a longing for something that is either past or has been lost, often used to describe the Brazilian (frame of mind). I think that can be said for the South also, something that is intrinsic there.
That emotion comes across in my poetry – things that are past or I never got to know. I think a couple of my stage plays and some of my short stories are pretty funny, but there’s nothing funny about my poetry, it has a lot of gravitas.
Q: What are your duties as Sacramento’s poet laureate?
A: I get to do anything that can inform a particular group, and I can bring people together in admiration of the arts. Tomorrow night (Monday, April 10) I will speak to (an inaugural gathering of citizens organized by the) Asian American Public Safety Service. I wrote a poem to commemorate what’s going on with them (regarding) the epidemic of home invasions in their (South Sacramento) neighborhoods. I love getting the chance to reach people through poetry and let them know they’re not alone.
Q: What else?
A: I’ll be at the Sacramento Poetry Center for an ekphrastic event, meaning poetry written about art. There will be artwork on the wall, and we poets will be responding to it in verse, though we do get to see the art before the event. I’ll be doing the same thing at the Museum of African Diaspora in San Francisco.
Q: Tell us about your next book, “In the Room of Thirsts & Hungers.”
A: It started as an epistolary of conversations between (actor-singer-activist) Paul Robeson and (fictional Shakespearean character) Othello, but expanded and became a mirroring of their two lives – the similarities between them and the times they lived in. Both men grew to great heights at times when you would think their societies would not have accepted them. Both had downfalls because of intrinsic errors within themselves. (Note: Robeson played Othello onstage in Europe and America from from 1930 till 1959).
Q: It’s hard to imagine now, but many serious 20th century poets were superstars in their day – Robert Frost, Maya Angelou, Dylan Thomas. Today’s audiences seem to want Pinterest and the “Fast & Furious” franchise more than “The Road Not Taken.”
A: The times changed, the modes of entertainment changed, and people’s lives changed. I was listening to a comedian who was saying that when you look at the hand-written letters from Civil War soldiers to their families, and then you look at letters now, the level of literacy among the (uneducated soldiers) is astounding compared to now. Of course, he was making a joke, but it was sort of scary.
Q: That dovetails with the general notion that reading poetry is a chore.
A: In a lot of instances, people want to be passive readers instead of active readers, and poetry makes you work a little bit. It makes you think about how (the poem’s message) pertains to you, and makes you examine some things about yourself. We live in a society where there is video played at the gas pumps. People want to be entertained and advertisers want us to act rather than think. It’s a different mindset, but I get it.
“Casting Aside Eden” by Indigo Moor
Buried above my ancestors,
I kept their stories; they
dreamed my future,
necromanced life through
my veins, into my two hands,
cupped around a crescent of soil.
That was before I traded
the horizon for the perfect shingles
of this new neighborhood: carved
from the wild; a bird shape
pulled from a block of wood.
Corn and wheat sown to concrete.
Plowshares stagnated to flowerbeds.
Horses sold to memory.
I set my family’s feet North.
Unhinged the moon, drug it
behind our caravan,
hung it crooked in the sky
above my prefab roof, believing
I would hold its meaning as I
would all my ancestral stories.
Falling upon opiate grasses,
I was locust, sated – noticing
neither the moon nor my history
as they faded like the shrinking
calluses on my hands.
From “Tap-Root,” copyright 2006 by Indigo Moor / All rights reserved