Tag Archive for Umbra

Aldon Nielsen reads Lorenzo Thomas for Distāntia Reading Series


In a time of social distancing, virtual connection has become more important than ever. Off Topic Poetics, a non-profit Youtube channel, has taken full advantage of the moment by starting the Distāntia Reading Series. The online video project is described as “an experimentation with intimate social distancing through remote access to poetry.” The channel accepts recordings from poets reading their work in quarantine and posts them to a playlist titled “Distāntia.” The original work, coupled with a video of the poet reading, creates an intimate viewing experience that can help people who feel isolated from human interaction during COVID-19 distancing.


“Sprucing Spring up on Larkin Street,” a poem from The Collected Poems of Lorenzo Thomaswas recited by editor Aldon Lynn Nielsen and submitted to the project earlier this week. Lorenzo Thomas (1944−2005) was the youngest member of the Society of Umbra, predecessor of the Black Arts Movement. The Collected Poems of Lorenzo Thomas is the first volume to encompass his entire writing life. His poetry synthesizes New York School and Black Arts aesthetics, heavily influenced by blues and jazz. In a career that spanned decades, Thomas constantly experimented with form and subject, while still writing poetry deeply rooted in the traditions of African American aesthetics. Whether drawing from his experiences during the war in Vietnam, exploring his life in the urban north and the southwest, or recalling his beloved ancestors, Thomas was a lyric innovator. His experimentation is perfect for our current moment of social improvisation in the face of the unknown, reminding us that we can always find new ways to navigate the world around us.

Subscribe to Off Topic Poetics on Youtube to stay updated on the Distāntia Reading Series, and check out The Collected Poems of Lorenzo Thomas to read more like “Sprucing Spring up on Larkin Street” to keep you company during social distancing.





A Celebration of Lorenzo Thomas

In late October a celebration of the late poet Lorenzo Thomas was organized at the Poetry Project on St. Marks.The event featured readings of his work by A.L. Nielsen, Charles Bernstein, Erica Hunt, Tracie Morris, and other contemporary poets in celebration of Thomas’ legacy and forthcoming poetry collection, The Collected Poems of Lorenzo Thomas, edited by Aldon Lynn Nielsen and Laura Vrana.

Afro-Caribbean poet Lorenzo Thomas was born in Panama in 1944 and relocated to Queens, New York, in 1948. Recognized for his contributions to the Umbra workshop and the proceeding Black Arts Movement of Harlem, he published ten collections of poetry in his lifetime, including Chances Are Few (1979), The Bathers (1981), and Dancing on Main Street (2004). He was the editor of Extraordinary Measures: Afrocentric Modernism and 20th-Century American Poetry (2000), which received the honor of Choice Outstanding Academic Book for the year. After graduating from Queens College in 1971, Thomas served in the United States’ Navy (1971–1973) and later became a professor of English at the University of Houston-Downtown, in 1984. He passed away in 2005, in Houston.

Recordings from the event can be found on YouTube.
Part I
Part II