By Michael Cao
“I want to take you take on a journey deep into the hills, up the hollows into the mist and mystery to Hazard, Kentucky, a drumming heart of the planet. Where we have so much treasure —the mountains, minerals, music and the people of Appalachia.”– CD Collins
Light drums and keyboard chords punctuated the words. The sounds were of music, poetry, stories. People were not sitting in a traditional concert hall, rather they were gathered in the backyard of a historic house in Malden to experience art in a myriad of forms.
In early October, musician, writer, and poet CD Collins organized a spoken word event, entitled “Words Move Mountains” at the Wilson House of Visitation, a historical house at 68 High Street in Malden. According to Bahai history, Abdu’l-Baha, the son of Baháʼu’lláh, visited the house in 1912. David Weigert, a retired professor from Berklee College of Music and caretaker of the house, co-produced the event with Collins. (Urban Media Arts did a podcast with Weigert talking about his story and the Bahai house.)
Guests sat down at the backyard of the Wilson House to watch the lively performance. CD Collins was the lead performer, while three musicians, David Weigert, Sandy Zaragoza, and Santon played drumset, guitar and keyboard respectively.
Spoken word is a form of storytelling, defined as “an oral poetic performance art that is based mainly on the poem as well as the performer’s aesthetic qualities.” Collins was part of the resurgence of spoken word with live music in Boston in the early 1990s, and has been performing spoken word since then.
Collins shares her childhood stories from Kentucky, the culture she experienced, and the people she knows so intimately – people who worked hard, growing tobacco in the fields or working blue collar jobs. Though it was a chilly Sunday, Collins’s words seemed to touch the audience. People clapped in rhythm when Collins and Santon, a blind musician who has collaborated with Collins on several projects, were playing and singing together.
People could also purchase Collin’s discs, books, and antique Kentucky walking sticks (made from tobacco sticks) during the intermission.
“I come from the trailer. You all know what a trailer is don’t you? It’s a metal box….that people live in. It has no foundation, but it has very deep roots.”CD Collins
After the event, Neighborhood View interviewed Collins, who reflected on her journey with spoken word, poetry, and why she continued to perform.
“In the political divide, people are so separated, and it’s getting worse. One of the reasons it’s getting worse is that people are in two different realities,” she said.
“There’s the reality that’s portrayed in the different news medias, and I don’t think either one of them are the facts, not to say the truth. I think the truth is something that’s deeper than the facts. For example, the author Marilyn Robinson said, facts explain nothing. On the contrary, it’s the facts that require explanation. So in my work, I want to go deeper than the facts to the truth, my truth.”
Collins said her main artistic goal was to “change the world.” She grew up in Kentucky and studied in the Northeast. During the ‘90s, she started her spoken word performance in Massachusetts. Collins said her Kentucky background was one of the reasons why she wanted to perform.
“I came from an area in rural Kentucky that most people in the northeast know nothing about. But they think they do.” said Collins. “I mean, it’s unbelievable. The stereotypes, I get the things that are said to me, when people hear my southern accent, they assume I’m a racist. They assume I’m not educated.”
Collins said she was not a spokesman for either culture. Instead, she accidentally became an ambassador.
She could not argue with every person who had stereotypes, so she chose to perform to “move” people, “When you tell your story, or you give voice to someone else’s story. That’s right here. That’s where everything changes.”
“That’s where you find empathy. That’s where you find connection. So hey, that’s what I’m trying to do with my work. I’m trying to do what art does, which is heal the world.”
As an artist, Collins said her job was to make meaning of experience and then reflect it back to the audience. “That performance [on Oct. 2], that wasn’t about me, that was about you as an audience member. I’m doing a job, and I feel like I’ve been given a job on earth. That feels like an incredible gift to have been given a job to do, which is to use my voice on my behalf, on the behalf of others.”
When asked about which culture she felt most at home, she said, “I am a Southern woman, from the mountains. That’s who I am. But if I had stayed there, I would not have been able to find my voice. The way I found it was when I moved 1,000 miles away to Boston, Massachusetts, and started telling my stories. People still love to be told stories. “
During the interview, Collins talked about her place in Malden, a place she felt at home, “I found this apartment in Malden, which is a project of the Malden Redevelopment Authority (that has) artists’ lofts and affordable housing for artists. Malden wanted to bring some artists in, to be one of the threads in the tapestry of the beautiful, artistic community in Malden.”
Collins said she was grateful for not only the Malden Redevelopment Authority, but also all the people she met here in Malden.