Kent Foreman became the widely recognized elder statesman of poets in Chicago at a critical time, starting in the 1990s and running through the rest of his life. On one hand, he personnified poetry's longstanding connections to jazz culture, and signified this connection to a whole new generation of emerging writers. On the other, he demonstrated the enduring role of performance in contemporary, socially-conscious, and intellectually-driven poetry.
Always generous, always mentoring, he wrote accessibly without pandering; with insight but without speciousness; and from a clear, historically-rooted and often pointed African-American perspective, but without malice. His nature made his life's experiences inclusive. His life spanned 1935 to 2010.
Foreman's work lived brightly in performance. His later readings were occasions; they were not about the curiosity of witnessing a mature man performing his poetry comfortably within the context of a slam poetry venue, although that did happen. Instead, his repeated appearances in the National Poetry Slam underscored the reverence that emerged from witnessing his work. Yet he was no stranger among Beat writers. Foreman's gift to the audience and his peers was in his transcendance. He was a collaborator with jazz musicians Oscar Brown, Jr. and Max Roach. His own Curriculum Vitae reads like a modest pantheon of later 20th Century writing, listing luminaries such as Lorraine Hansberry, Amiri Baraka, Gwendolyn Brooks, and James Baldwin as artists who worked with him. Yet younger writers such as Regie Gibson, Roger Bonair Agard, Kevin Coval, and Marty McConnell personally count him as a mentor. These diverse experiences, not just of Chicago but from New York and Los Angeles, from dramatic stages and television, traveled with him and informed his critique wherever he went.
A tribute to Kent is online at kentforeman.net, maintained by his daughter, Pier Gabrielle Foreman. It features diverse sound and video, and biographical information on the artist. Audio recordings of Kent's performance poetry are available here on the e-poets website, in his Book of Voices feature.
- Kurt Heintz, 2012