By Edward Henderson
One of the many blessings of being part of the artist community here in San Diego is our many get-togethers. We see insightful movies, host writing sessions, partake in community service and of course, turn up. While the partying and fellowship is fun, the true fabric of what holds us together is the love and respect we have for each other and our art.
Alyce Smith Cooper can attest to this special connection the artist community has. It was her conglomerate of women wielding pens and scripting prose who guided her through the most turbulent waters of her life. Their destination? The sandy beaches of inspiration. A journey which birthed their collaborative effort entitled “The Gumbo Pot Poems: A Savory Recipe for Life, Community and Gumbo through Poetry”.
The compilation features poems from Cooper along with Dr. Judy Sundayo and Jamie V. Jones. Their offerings are a result of a lifetime of living, writing and building community. The book is broken down into sections resembling the essential ingredients for a delicious gumbo, a flavor that Cooper believes can be seen as a metaphor for how to build a thriving collective of artists.
“We came together and started talking about community and old times,” said Cooper. “When I was younger, I had a house where writers and creative people would convene and we would have soirees. I was known for making a pot of gumbo and pulling people together for conversations and whatever the creative activity was. That’s how this book got its genesis. Thinking about what the juice of creativity and community is.”
Cooper credits this community for helping pull her out of a very dark place in her life. Within the span of five years, her husband, daughter and son all passed away.
“I was in such a state of sorrow that my light couldn’t shine. They knew me as a writer, they knew me as a performer but they knew I was in a deep place of grieving. My friends knew that I had a brighter light and they wanted to see it.”
Dr. Sandayo opened her home to Cooper and Jones in La Jolla for healing, and inspiration. While the creative juices were flowing, nothing really struck the transcendent trio as the right project to pursue. However, Cooper was rejuvenated after hearing the post powerful word in the universe offered to her troubled soul.
“One day I ran into somebody I hadn’t seen for years. It was a guy I worked with many years ago and he said ‘you know I always loved you.’ Something happened inside of me and sparked a kindling. I started writing again. The pomes began to come and we got excited about how we could put it together”.
The ladies met once a month to put the project together. Along with poetry, the book features family photographs to add some context and sentimental value to the voices reaching out to the spirits of readers and a study guide for teachers to help guide students through the collection. In a beautiful homage to the voices that came before them, the book is dedicated to Dr. Maya Angelou.
“As elder women recognizing our mortality but also having children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. We wanted to leave something for people in their late 20’s to early 30’s. We wanted something to give some handle bars as you create the vehicles that you move forward in life. We wanted to give you something to steer with and a compass that is always true north, which is the true north of spirit, wholeness, light and love.”
If you feel a hunger to experience the unique taste of ‘The Gumbo Pot Poems’, copies are available for purchase on Amazon.com