Rage and joy with Yolanda Wisher’s ‘Pirate Jenny’

Philly poet laureate Yolanda Wisher. (Photo by Ryan Collerd for the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage.)

Philadelphia’s current poet laureate, Yolanda Wisher, is premiering a show with Intercultural Journeys on November 5 that she hopes “communicates the peculiar mix of rage and joy” that marks her artistic journey.

Wisher’s world-premiere Pirate Jenny’s Conspiracy, which Wisher calls “a poem-song cycle that rails against the forces that would shrink or diminish my blackness and womanhood,” springs from the defiant wedding ballad of Threepenny Opera, about a kitchen maid turned murderous pirate queen. Wisher’s retelling is also inspired by Nina Simone’s 1964 “Pirate Jenny” cover, which takes the song to the American South. The performance is a blend of spoken word and song, alongside Wisher’s husband and frequent onstage collaborator, double bassist Mark Palacio.

Taking over for Sonia Sanchez (2012-2013) and Frank Sherlock (2014-2015), Wisher, who lives in Germantown, is the third artist to carry Philly’s two-year poet laureate mantle. An alum of Lafayette College with her master’s in creative writing and poetry from Temple, Wisher, a Pew Fellow, was the inaugural poet laureate of Montgomery County when she was just 23. Her work over the last several years includes developing a Germantown festival for youth poets and leading and curating many programs with partners like the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Rosenbach Museum and Library, LiveConnections, and more. She’s a magnetic singer: you can hear her with her band, the Afroeaters. Her book of poetry, Monk Eats an Afro, was published in 2014.

She helmed the first-ever pop-up poetry festival in 30th Street Station earlier this year and is also currently the 2017-18 CPCW Fellow in Poetics and Poetic Practice at the University of Pennsylvania.

 “It’s personal and it’s political — let’s just get that out of the way,” Wisher says of her ambitious new show.

Intercultural Journeys presents Yolanda Wisher’s Pirate Jenny’s Conspiracy on Sunday, November 5, at 7pm at International House Philadelphia’s Ibrahim Theatre (3710 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia). Tickets ($10-$20) are available online.