SOMERSET, NJ – There’s always a Jersey connection for South Carolina-based poet Glenis Redmond. That connection was on display on Thursday as Redmond shared stories of life, loss and love with seniors at the Quail Brook Senior Center.
“New Jersey really is a second home to me, not just because I’ve been coming for 11 years,” said Redmond. “When my father retired, we lived at McGuire Air Force Base. I went to Burlington. People say, ‘Why are you here?’ and I’m like, ‘because I’m supposed to be here.’ There’s always a Carolina and New Jersey connection.”
The resident artist at the State Theater in New Brunswick shared poems written about important women in her life and from history to celebrate Women’s History Month. She’s held a residency with the State Theater for 11 years that takes her across the state performing and teaching poetry to communities.
One of the poems – titled “Dancers” – Redmond performed was inspired by Norma Heflin, who she met at Quail Brook Senior Center in 2014. A prolific dancer herself, Redmond and Heflin immediately bonded over their shared love of the art form.
“When I met Norma, I felt a kindred spirit,” said Redmond.
Whenever she visits a community, Redmond gets a history lesson. When she came to New Brunswick, she learned of Paul Robeson’s father, who was born a slave in North Carolina.
“We’re always looking at connections, I call it grace. Those moments when we’re still long enough we can make the connections,” Redmond said.
That’s how she discovered the story of Harriet Jacobs, born a slave in Edenton, North Carolina, who hid in her grandmother’s attic for seven years before escaping to freedom.
The poem Redmond wrote about Jacobs, titled “House, Another Kind of Field,” was one of three she performed where she wrote from the point of view of the subject. All three poems were based on the lives of influential African-American women in history named Harriet: Harriet Tubman, Harriet Wilson and Harriet Jacobs.
“Those are hard poems. My mother, she's like ‘Why do you go back there, to the 1800s?’” said Redmond. “I don’t know, somebody always tells me about history and I write it down in my journal. Like in New Jersey, we have the Lost Souls Project where 177 enslaved people were sold into the deeper South. And New Jersey was the last Northern state to abolish slavery. It’s so interesting how all these things are connected.”
The last poem Redmond performed was written for her grandson on the day he was born.
“I’ve been dedicating it to all of the children, not just my grandson because all the children are special,” said Redmond. “Right before I was here today I was at the youth shelter and these are some kids who are facing some hard things in life and all children should be loved.”
Redmond’s visit to the Quail Brook Senior Center is one of the last stops for her current stint in New Jersey. Soon, she’ll be heading home to spend time with her grandson, Julian.
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