#POETMOM: Gimme Shelter
By Heidi Siegmund Cuda
“Hope is the thing with feathers.” Emily Dickinson
I’ve betrayed the birds. I’ve had to sell my small home so the adults in the house could move forward in peace and now instead of a 1945 original postwar bungalow, in its stead will be a monument to man. The rhythm of nature will move on.
My daughter is a great poet, the accolades are too many to innumerate but my favorite moment in time was when she was invited to perform at the Church of Ocean Park, a most progressive non-judgmental place, where they were honoring civil rights freedom rider Mildred Pitts Walter. After my daughter performed her poem about her best friend titled “Lakota” and all the awards were handed out, we gathered up our things to leave. And we both watched with jaws dropped as we witnessed Walker making her way to Mila, waving people out of her way like she was in a hurry to get somewhere.
She held my daughter’s hand and told her, “When you open your mouth, it’s God’s voice coming out. We are all here standing beside you.”
My daughter’s poem is one of love, and that’s not a bad word to summarize the core of Get Lit, an L.A. youth poetry program 60 schools deep and still in its infancy. As it celebrates its tenth anniversary this year, it love runneth over. As we listen to unique and impassioned thoughts through words cascading off multi-cultural tongues, we begin to learn things about Los Angeles, ourselves, 2016. It’s raw, organic and pure; uncensored thought at the forefront of an open-minded generation.
THE CLASSIC SLAM
My daughter is one of three poets selected to publish their works all month at mariashriver.com in honor of national poetry month. Her words don’t pull punches, she’s an artist, fostered and nurtured by the stellar teaching staff at her public charter school, and then further inspired and refined by the poets and mentors of Get Lit, a non-profit started by a remarkable woman named Diane Luby Lane, who got her salt from her mom and her passion from literature. I had the honor of chronicling many Get Lit poet stories for the getlit.org website in honor of the tenth anniversary, and the stories are brilliant, tragic, heroic and so very apropos of our times. Get Lit’s official team of poet players have been homeless, abused, autistic, abandoned or suffering from crippling suburban angst. And when they hit the stage to tell you about it, you best bring hankies.
The Get Lit Classic Slam is this weekend, and my daughter’s team is feeling the pressure. Her all-girl, first-year school won the Classic Slam last year against such poetry powerhouses as Cleveland High and Harvard-Westlake. Stakes are higher this year, as 60 schools compete for the finals over the span of three days, up from last year’s 40 schools.
I steel myself for what’s to come: three days of raw and undiluted emotion, a mirror held up to nature by shaky hands and steel magnolias, flowers that grow from concrete.
I feel I’ve betrayed the birds. As I watch them dart about the yard, the rhythm of nature fueling my art, I know I’ve let them down. They come to my garden for food, and shelter and water. I acknowledge their presence, and we live in peace. And all around us, we hear the whirring of power tools, as mcmansions rise into the desert sun.
I am beginning my second act, in a new small home where wild birds can find food and adults can live in peace. I am interviewed by reporters for college newspapers and podcasts hosts, who find it interesting that I have authored many punk and rap books, while working as a columnist and investigative producer. One reporter asked me what I think my legacy will be. I said, “Nothing compared to the poets. They’re the real frontlines.”
Nothing compared to the poets. They’re the real frontlines. Get Lit and the Classic Slam are critically important, to anyone who wants to know what time it is.
Author/screenwriter Heidi Siegmund Cuda’s latest book, The Definition of Down, a love letter to the hip hop generation co-authored by Darlene Ortiz, was recently featured in Sunday’s New York Times. Her serialized portraits of Get Lit players can be found on getlit.org in the monthly column #POETMOM. Previous posts include Fox, The Los Angeles Times, and countless others. She is now writing about music again for Easy Rider.