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State of the union

Yvonne Delaney Mitchell | 2/1/2012, 11:55 a.m.

I don't know which made me holler the loudest, the Giants beating the 49ers and heading on their way to the Super Bowl on Feb. 5 or hearing the president of these here United States of America, Barack Obama, sing at his benefit-should I say, performance?-at the Apollo Theater. Not only is our leader of the free world intelligent, diplomatic, fierce and handsome, he can sing. Who out here right now isn't humming, "I-I-I-I, I'm so in love with you"?

So now I've seen former President George W. Bush do his little dance number with a group of African drummers (on TV, of course, and it made me holler, too, to see he's got rhythm), former President Bill Clinton play the saxophone and now President Obama sing. Where would we be without music and dance?

And where would we be without a little poetry in our lives? The rappers would surely be lost or perhaps nonexistent. Appreciating the art form is the city of Philadelphia, which crowned Sonia Sanchez the first poet laureate of the city.

Sanchez was honored during the Artivist Film Festival held at Columbia University at the screening of her biographical documentary, "Shake Loose Memories." The film's director, Jamal Joseph, former chair of the Graduate Film School at Columbia University and founder of the Jamal Joseph Dance Troupe, led a group of invited community leaders in a panel discussion following the screening, as Sanchez has been a well-recognized activist as well as a poet for many, many years.

The film was made by Joseph with executive producers Voza Rivers and Afeni Shakur (Tupak's mother), producer Rachel Watanabe-Batton and director of photography Robert Shepard. It features Amiri Baraka, Toshi Regan, T.C. Carson and Oscar Brown Jr., who is famous for his song, "Baby Won't You Shake My Tree," among other things.

Sanchez, who has been the recipient of numerous awards, is most often associated with the Black Arts Movement and was the first presidential fellow at Temple University. Sanchez has been praised by the queen of poetry, Maya Angelou, who stated, "Sonia Sanchez is a lion in literature's forest...This world is a better place because of Sonia Sanchez: more livable, more laughable, more manageable. I wish millions of people knew that some of the joy in their lives comes from the fact that Sonia Sanchez is writing poetry."

There are those from the school of thought who ponder: Which came first, the poem or the folk song as a means of passing on stories and telling tales within, amongst and about different cultures, long before television, radio, Internet and iPhones?

History tells us that the oldest surviving epic poem is the "Epic of Gilgamesh," from the third millennium BCE in Sumer, Mesopotamia, which is now Iraq! It was written in cuneiform script on clay tablets and, later, papyrus, which today we know as paper. Other ancient epic poetry includes the Greek epics "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey"; the Iranian books "The Gathic Avesta" and "Yasna"; the Roman national epic, Virgil's "Aeneid"; and the Indian epics "Ramayana" and "Mahabharata." That is your history lesson for today.