July 2017 Featured Artist
This month, Sacramento365 reconnects with its Featured Artist Series with none other than Sacramento’s own poet laureate Indigo Moor. His poetry – spanning the topics of the social sciences, the natural world, the South, his inner thoughts – is poignant, technical, and reflexive. His latest work, In the Room of Thirsts & Hungers, set to be published this month, is a comparative analysis between renowned artist, scholar, and equal rights activist Paul Robeson and the fictional character Othello (more on that later).
Yet the man himself isn’t moody as his name would make him out to be. Moor is jovial and warm, just like his baritone voice. A self-described “certified geek,” he has a penchant for anime, snowboarding, and Adult Swim. “I’ve never fit into a box…and I’m fine with being a little off-centered.”
Read on and learn how the North Carolina-raised and California-grown poet, musician and engineer is on a self-imposed mission to empower disenfranchised communities in his adopted city with the power of poetry.
A Wayward Southern Gent
While he might be the poetic voice of Sacramento, Moor’s roots are Southern. The poet attributes growing up near the woods in Charlotte, North Carolina to his active imagination and his love of nature. As a child, he was always interested in finding ways to unfurl his thoughts; writing poetry and short stories granted him a new world among the dogwoods.
While some of his adult work be described as love letters to the South, remaining in the region was not an option. Says Moor, “the South has a different mindset. A lot of people are content with having a home, family, and job…and that’s it. It’s not bad to want those things, but I was always striving to do something more. To be free from those expectations.”
Life (and the Navy) would take him all over the eastern United States — Illinois, Virginia, Washington State, Tennessee, and Florida. Open mic nights eventually gave him the gumption to share his words with others…and forced him to step up his game. Always inquisitive, Moor actively sought to grow as a writer, attending poetry retreats/symposiums and completing a Masters of Fine Arts with the University of Southern Maine. His fellowship at Cave Canem, a poetry organization “dedicated to poets of color find productive space for writing,” left a lasting impact on his craft.
“In black poetry, oftentimes there is a connotation that your work can only be about ‘the black experience as dictated by others.’ That frame of writing is limiting as a poet. With Cave Canem, I was given the freedom to write about anything and everything – and was surrounded by people who did the same.”
He even won the inaugural Cave Canem Northwestern University Press Poetry Prize for his second book of poetry, Through the Stonecutter’s Window, which covers his thoughts on a variety of subjects, including visual arts, history, and the natural world.
Below Indigo Moor gave us insights on how he turns his jumbled thoughts into evocative works of literature.
- Some of the poems he writes start off as a stream of consciousness. “I write longhand and it can get messy. I constantly tweak what I see on the paper until I reach an ‘aha moment.’ You must trust that the ideas will come. I know, I know. It is a fear for many of us writers. Personally, it has taken me years to overcome the issue.”
- He’s also learned a writing lesson or two from the King of Horror, Stephen King: “You have to leave space for the muse. If you do, it will show up.”
- “My poetry is an extended part of myself. My mind sometimes feels like it’s a jumbled puzzle. It’s satisfying to put words together and piece them into something that is logical and full of meaning.”
- From an April Sacramento Bee article: “if you stop learning, stop reading, stop studying, it destroys you artistically, makes you predictable. I enjoy the learning. The more I learn, the more I grow.”
The Power of Poetry
In March 2017, Moor added Sacramento Poet Laureate to his long list of titles and accomplishments. A program of the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission, the job of a poet laureate is just one: to bring to life the power and beauty of poetry to the Capital City for three years. With no rules or guidance, the role is for Moor to shape.
“As poet laureate, I will be representing all of Sacramento’s communities, schools, and neighborhoods. I want to understand and share the diversity that resides here. Poetry is a means to do that. Words connect people to ideas and shared experiences.”
Taking cues from former Juan Felipe Herrera, the former California State Poet Laureate, Moor is on a mission to make his work — and poetry in general — accessible to all.
In light of a growing number of Asian Americans being assaulted/robbed, occasionally by African American males, in South Sacramento, Moor lead a group activity at a recent Asian American Public Safety Service Center to help members of the Asian Pacific Islander community heal from the trauma, and to be introduced to African American males by other means than television. “Being an African American male myself, most likely the only one they have ever spoken to in length, there is initially, and understandably, a bit of hesitation [from the group]. By crafting a poem as a group, we were able to build trust and create something positive from a difficult situation,” says Moor.
“What I hope to do [over the next three years] is bring poetry into everyday life for those I interact with. I want to squash the idea that poetry is elitist…that only certain people do. I want poetry to be a tool that people can use to express themselves.”
In the Room of Thirsts & Hungers
This month, Moor celebrates the release of his new book, In the Room of Thirsts & Hungers. Focusing on the lives of the 20th-century artist, singer and civil rights activist Paul Robeson and Shakespeare’s Othello, the direction of this collection is a deviation from his previous books, Tap-Root and Through the Stone Cutter’s Window. “My approach with this book was more academic and structured than my earlier work,” he states. Divided into two distinct sections – a set of poems dedicated to each man and the individuals who populated their lives and time periods, respectfully – the comparative study unveils the striking similarities between the two. In real life and in fiction, the two men held great influence and power at times when it would seem most unlikely.
The book also marks the creation of Moor’s own poetic form. Called the broken sonnet, the form consists of four quatrains (a stanza of four lines) ending with a couplet (two lines). Moor uses the amended, “unresolved” structure as an allegory to the challenges faced by his subjects.
For Your Information
We couldn’t leave these personal tidbits on the cutting room floor.
- His writing isn’t limited to poetry. Moor is also a skilled playwright. Three of his short plays, Harvest, Shuffling, and The Red and Yellow Quartet debuted at the 60 Million Plus Theatre’s Spring Playwright’s Festival. His play, Live! at the Excelsior, has been optioned for a movie.
- He has received the 2005 Vesle Fenstermaker Poetry Prize for Emerging Writers and was a finalist for the T. S. Eliot Prize, Crab Orchard First Book Prize, Saturnalia First Book Award, the Naomi Long Madgett Book Award, and the Word Works Prize.
- He’s all about that bass, the upright bass that is. You’ll find the string instrument – and hundreds of books – in his home office.
- The guilty pleasures of this “off-centered weirdo” aren’t exactly mortifying: Netflix, sci-fi Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty, attending cultural events at Gold Lion Art and listening to the Hamilton soundtrack on repeat.
- Left brained or right brained? Why not both! The writer formerly worked at Intel as design engineer.
- Moor is well-rooted in Sacramento’s poetry scene, being a resident artist at the youth nonprofit 916 Ink and a former Vice President (now an advisory board member) of the Sacramento Poetry Center.
- His next writing assignment? Moor is currently writing his memoir.