Black Christmas

The ironies of celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ with the complete Sopranos collection on DVD speak for themselves. But the place where the meaning of Christmas becomes synonymous with consumerism is a comfortable one for the Black Poets Collective, which stages a show called Holy Days December 19 at the American Jazz Museum.

Gino Morrow is president of the nonprofit group, which takes its poetry and spoken-word performances and workshops to such venues as the Paseo Academy and the Lansing State Prison. He says the December show will uniquely address some of the ambiguities of the holiday season — “What it may bring and what it means to people in a positive and negative way,” Morrow says.

Holy Days acknowledges different perceptions of what the season — Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanza — may mean,” he continues. The show will include solo readings and performances accompanied by the beats of the musicians sharing the stage.

Morrow, a multimedia designer and veteran of various competitions and poetry slams, isn’t critical of the commercialization of spoken-word performance. He sees rap impresario Russell Simmons’ “Def Poetry Jam” on HBO as the necessary melding of underground poetry and pop culture. “I auditioned for the first one, and my goal is to at least get on the show,” he says. “The more people who get the message, the better.”

To Morrow, the spoken-word form is the natural outlet for people who are traditionally unheard or unacknowledged. He recalls the Collective’s scholarship awards in 1998. “The high-school students said that they felt they finally had a voice after not having one on the streets, in the schools or at home,” he says.

“We’re like street ministers,” Morrow says of the Collective. Even though what we do has more edge to it than what you’d find in church. Even if our work rattles people sometimes, overall we hear people say, ‘That was good for me. I needed that.'”