Myesha Jenkins: A sister who all the time mentioned it with feeling

Myesha Jenkins (1948 – 2020)

Poet, feminist cultural activist and jazzwomxn Myesha Jenkins died on Saturday, September 5. San Francisco-born Jenkins had lived in Johannesburg since she moved right here from California in 1993. She was not simply an observer however an integral a part of our jazz scene: her instrument, quite than some machine-made assemble of metallic, valves and reeds, was the phrase.

The sounds of taking part in, the gamers and the particularity of the South African scene have been all magicked into life from sort on a flat web page by means of her phrases, as on this vignette, Jazz Membership, of the elders of the style:

“On Sunday afternoons/ Previous males sit beneath a tree/ Listening to their music/ Laughing loudly/ Sipping brandy and coke/ Tapping their two-toned sneakers/ Remembering desires of/ Pink attire and flying brown legs.”

“Magicked”, although, is the incorrect phrase: like each good author, Jenkins labored rattling arduous at her craft. Having been writing for years, she present in South Africa the supportive firm of different poets.

With two others she met at a 2002 Port Elizabeth writers’ workshop, Napo Masheane and Ntsiki Mazwai, she fashioned the Feelah Sistah Collective. 

“Males so dominated that area,” she mentioned, “that once we obtained dwelling we mentioned: ‘Now we have to do one thing about this.’ We phoned round repeatedly to get others to hitch us. Lebo [Mashile] was the one who turned up.” Feelah Sistah grew to become a trio, repeatedly augmented by probably the most fascinating of different poetic visitors.

The mission of Feelah Sistah was the identical one which Jenkins lived on different phases and in different arenas too: “We wish to declare a stage the place ladies who’re poets can converse to and transfer different women and men. We’re bored with ‘… and now the women are gonna come up’ — as if we’re completely different to different poets,” she mentioned on the time.

Her love of jazz had began early. “I’ve been a lover of jazz for over 50 years,” she wrote in 2017. “It began in school and noticed me by means of my research, marriage, divorce, journey and relocation midway world wide. I used to be a waitress at a jazz membership for a number of years, which gave me repeated publicity to the completely different sorts of that music in addition to the lads (largely) and girls who make it. It was city Black classical music that mirrored migration, urbanisation, anger, resistance, freedom. That was jazz to me.”

Resistance to racism, oppression, ageism and misogyny infused Jenkins’s texts and the praxis of her life. Typically it was a refined undertext; the liberty of jazz metonymic for better freedoms; generally entrance and centre, as in In The Night time:

“Girls are out within the evening.

They’re cleansing streets/ some are strolling streets/ coming dwelling from work/ others are working/ answering a name/ dashing to the hospital/to bail somebody out of jail/ getting the forgotten loaf of bread/ working from right here to there/ going to hold with the women/ having fun with the liberty of the membership/ stress-free from a tough day/ of taking orders/ sunny-side up by tomorrow in stilettos/ dressed to kill with glistening lips/ on the lookout for kissers.

And a few are simply alone once more at nighttime/ really having fun with the moon.

What are you doing out so late, ma?/ Being a girl, officer,/ being a girl.”

Jenkins printed two collections of her personal work, Breaking the Floor in 2005 and Goals of Flight in 2011, and in addition featured in varied anthologies. In 2017, she united her passions for jazz and writing because the shaping spirit behind the gathering To Breathe Into One other Voice, an anthology of South African jazz poetry. 

In 2013, Jenkins was awarded the Mbokodo Award for womxn in arts within the poetry class.

She introduced poetry to the airwaves between 2011 and 2016 by means of the annual SAfm Girls’s Month collection Poetry within the Air, and extra not too long ago, even whereas scuffling with the debilitating results of most cancers remedy, within the Kaya FM podcast collection Myesha’s Memoirs, Living with Jazz and Poetry. She introduced poetry to the reside stage by means of the month-to-month Out There jazz and poetry periods she hosted on the Orbit Jazz Membership. 

And she or he introduced poetry into numerous lecture rooms and workshops, together with by means of her work with visible artists on the Arts for Humanity undertaking. Having seen her educate, her “taking part in with phrases” educating strategy was distinctive and uniquely efficient, meriting far wider recognition. In simply an hour, she obtained a roomful of hesitant womxn juggling language with freedom and delight. 

Once more, it was severe magic: she labored arduous to ensure her educating served the collective of learners and labored equally arduous to form areas wherein new poets might converse and create.

Once we get again to the jazz golf equipment once more, will probably be inconceivable to not see that vacant seat, near the stage, the place Jenkins should be — listening intently, head tilted, half-smiling, eyes closed; generally, when the spirit of the sounds moved her, boubou-clad shoulders dancing.

“You possibly can take me for a experience/anytime, day or evening/ let’s get out of right here/ experience into the heavens./ We’re bumping throughout the mountains of the moon/ passing planets the place the oxygen is skinny/ gliding onto Saturn’s rings/ listening to the tinkle of twinkling stars./ Yeah, take me for a experience/ throughout galaxies/ into one other universe/ discovering a brand new sky/surrounded by nothing we’ve ever recognized/ clear open highway./ Yeah, take me for a experience.” 

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