If you hear the word poet or poetry and as I do, imagine a pile of written words, placed at odd angles on a page, stanzas lacking punctuation, countless metaphors, its delivery silent to the ear, you have yet to be acquainted with the works of Sarah Fabio. Take a moment to listen to one of my favorite poems of hers, “Work It Out”, off of her vinyl record Boss Soul: 12 Poems by Sarah Webster Fabio.
Set to “drum talk, rhythms, and images,” Sarah Fabio’s poetry takes flight. As a daughter of a poet myself, I find her works break from the page in ways I have never heard before, becoming more poignant with each intonation and each accompanying beat. Understanding Sarah Fabio’s approach to poetry has also helped me appreciate her singsong spoken word records more. According to numerous biographies on Sarah Fabio her unique approach to poetry involves juxtaposing Western and non-Western dialects and metaphors. She views language as a means of control. “Words were often used to deny and distort Black reality by the people who sought to oppress and repress and suppress Blacks.” In response to this colonialization of English, Fabio posits “Black talk has always taken words and images and ‘broken’ or ‘distorted’ them to present their world view, to code a new language which would be foreign to those who could control and repress them. Double talk with two levels of meaning.” Fabio’s poetry captures this tension inherent in the use of English in the United States, and in turn, the larger tension in a society that continues to struggle with oppressive forces and racism. You can hear this unique linguistic method used in “Work It Out”, with the male speaker using Western English and Sarah Fabio following in slang.
I’ve learned all this and more about Sarah Fabio’s poetry as part of my work at the BFC/A over the past two weeks, as I’ve helped to set up an exhibit of Sarah Fabio’s work in the IU Cinema with the help of Jim Canary of the Lilly Library and Brian Graney of the BFC/A. Last week as part of the set-up, I made a trip to the Lilly Library where I was able to examine the 7 works in the series Rainbow Signs, released in 1973, that will be featured in the exhibit. When they were all laid out on the table, the design of the small booklets in this series clearly followed the theme of the title, forming a rainbow of colors in the reading room of the Lilly Library. Each cover has a different neon color and overlapping fonts that sometimes make it hard to distinguish the title names. These vibrantly colored books are outspoken and bold, a reflection of Fabio’s legacy of activism for black consciousness and her outspoken condemnation of racism. For the display, some of the books will be propped open so viewers get a look inside at the poetry and Fabio’s signature while others will be positioned to show the cover art. The exhibit will also include a summary of Sarah Fabio’s life for those who would like to learn more about her. These 7 booklets, along with a broadside of Sarah Fabio’s poem Race Results, U.S.A., 1966, printed in red ink on white paper, will be up on display beginning today–Thursday, February 28th–in the lower lobby of the IU Cinema.
This exhibit will coincide with the upcoming film series A Change is Gonna Come: Black Revolutionary Poets where Rainbow Black: Poet Sarah W. Fabio, a documentary on Sarah Fabio’s life as a poet and scholar, will premiere for the first time in its newly preserved and restored state at IU Cinema on April 22, 7:00 p.m. This event is the result of over a year of work between the BFC/A, Cheryl Fabio–the director of Rainbow Black and the daughter of Sarah Fabio–and Colorlab, a renowned film preservation lab. A Preservation Grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation was awarded to the BFC/A in 2012 to fund this preservation project.