Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Jayne Cortez

Jayne Cortez dies at 78
Described by the New York Times as “a poet and performance artist whose work was known for its power its political outrage and above all its sheer, propulsive musicality”, Jayne Cortez has left a chasm in the art world and the hearts of many. She died of heart failure in her Manhattan home in New York.

Born Sallie Jayne Richardson on an army base in Arizona in 1934, her father a soldier and her mother a secretary. She moved to Los Angeles at the age of seven and even at that young age she enjoyed listening to her parents’ jazz and Latin recordings. In high school she studied music, drama and art. After graduating from high school she attended Compton Community College. In her early years of her artistic career she changed her surname to Cortez, her grandmother’s maiden name.

Cortez is the author of a collection of poetry books and has performed her poetry and music on nine recordings. She has presented her work and philosophies around the globe at various universities, museums and festivals.  Her poetry has been translated into 28 languages ‘and her work can be seen in anthologies, journals and magazines such as Daughters of Africa and Poems for the Millennium. In 1991 she co-founded Organization of Women Writers of Africa with Ghanaian writer Ama Ata Aidoo, of which she was president of. She was organizer of "Slave Routes: The Long Memory" (2000) and "Yari Yari Pamberi: Black Women Writers Dissecting Globalization" (2004), both international conferences held at New York University. She has also had her stint on the silver screen appearing in Women in Jazz and Poetry in Motion. She also went behind the lens and directed Yari Yari: Black Women Writers and the Future.

In 1954 she married Ornette Coleman and later divorced him 10 years later. They have one son, jazz drummer Dernado Coleman. In 1975 she married sculptor Mel Edwards. Both she and her husband contributed to Art for Humanity’s, Dialogue Among Civilisation portfolio in 2010. Though she may be gone she shall forever live through her words.

Jayne Cortez
 I’m pulling away from availability of weapons & war
to have a dialogue with
chemicals leaking from apples & bananas while
a seascape sings its great sewage song of tomorrow
So back off
It’s not only space debris, iceberg floes & toxic waste in
squid ink of my insomnia
I’m pulling away from the ideology of class & religion to
wiretap water supplies & have a dialogue concerning
sanitation & human dignity
& as colonies disappear to reappear like blank pieces of paper
I scrub my tongue
I rinse my spirit
I dust off my poetic imagination to kiss the sunshine
& send a message to the earth in
the transformative foam of six thousand languages

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