Gil Scott-Heron passed away yesterday. I should be sad, but I’m not. Right now, there’s a part of me that is in disbelief over this announcement. There will never be another like this extraordinary and talented genius. My thoughts go out to his loved ones during this bereavement. I pray that his soul is finally at peace now that it has made its transition from our world.
When I seriously began writing poetry fifteen years ago, I discussed only two topics: love or spirituality. I felt like a poem had to always end on a positive note to make the reader feel better about themselves. As I started attending spoken word venues in Philly, I discovered that was not the case. Poetry had neither limitations nor boundaries as some poets shared their personal feelings and experiences that were not always for everybody. They inserted social commentary about current events into their verses to invoke thought. They were raw, brutal, and unapologetic. I admired artists like the Twin Poets, Pat McLean, and Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon for their honesty, strength, and fearlessness. They, too, were inspired by Gil-Scott Heron.
One of the most important lessons I learned as a poet from my poetry teacher Lamont Steptoe is to always read and study those who came before you. I can’t remember if my parents owned any Gil Scott-Heron’s albums, but I also don’t recall them ever exposing me to his music either. He touched my spirit with his powerful verses backed behind a beautiful, simple melody. The first Gil Scott-Heron poem I ever listened to was “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” which was only the tip of the iceberg to his amazing body of work. “The Bottle” helped me address my feelings about alcoholism and the ugly effects addiction had on the lives of others, which inspired me to write the poem “Survivor.” My personal favorite is “Winter in America,” which commented on the social, political, and racial climate and the struggles of the early 1970s. This piece served as the blueprint to my poem “Strange Days.”
Last night, I spent a few hours reading comments that my friends posted on their Facebook profiles about Gil Scott-Heron. Some were short, simple messages due to a loss of words; others were long, detailed testimonies recalling their favorite memories. They were beautiful, sentimental, and loving. They all came from my friends’ hearts sharing how much Gil Scott-Heron influenced and inspired their lives. If I could have had the chance to personally meet him, I would thank him for his brilliance, courage, endurance, and insight. Fortunately, I did through the legacy he left behind me for me and many spoken word artists and fans. His artistry will live on, and hopefully, will continue to touch future generations to come. Rest in peace, Gil Scott-Heron.