Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Jurina (Love)

for Jurina

nobody writes about air
the way it rocks your body
into belong
flutes your first cry
into song

nobody writes
about air

the way it
breathes your skin
to drunk awake
bubble wrapping each mistake
the way it
tempts you to fall

nobody writes about air
which is not
a height or a place
but instead manifests
a loving pressure
coating your face

air is neither tool nor absence
niether compound nor war zone

air is simply an ally to energy
air is most accurately
a partner
for life

so if i were to write
a poem about air

about something as crucial
as it is soft
about what i need most

this would still
be a poem
about you.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Southerners On New Ground

for SONG

some say
trash talk is instrumental
to team-building

if those theorists
have anything in common
with me and mine
their findings may be skewed

by how marginalization breeds fluency
the way the wounded amass small weapons
and cloak them
sharp in our throats

but this is not
a poem
about objectivity

is an experiment
in love

as long as our pores
remain deep wells of wanting
the cut of our need
is a renewable resource

which means
the genius of fulfillment
is a material cognate
for your capacity to be "full of it"
and proud

so that along with biodiesel
and solar powered skinshine
composted pixie sticks
and boom box energy

we have also
the momentum
the velocity
the volume
the confrontational interia
of discared treasure

so march loud home

Monday, June 18, 2007

Cheryll Y. Greene

for Cheryll

for an adolescent eternity
which might have been a year
my dream
was to be editor
of Essence Magazine

to write in the spirit
of glamour and buffed brownness
to cushion the impossible success
such that soft would not mean empty

i remember sitting on a train
maybe fifteen years old afterschool
and releasing that plan
into tight puffs of change
airborne as the radioactivity of not knowing

and when i let drop that image
of myself
in a suit
holding always glossy pages
and breathed in the possibility that
anything might be waiting
that words had their own story
and black shapes to space looped
a miracle always yet untold

i was having one of the moany
scattering faith moments
that might have made me ready
might have let me deserve
might have helped me want
to know you one day

Marta Esquilin

for Marta

on the curled edge of touch
sits a ribbed smile
a cocked squint
and a question

if i am here
a sigh opens
out of vacuum-packed focus
spoke in the cadence
of notes
pinned to bubble coats
towards fall

this is story
about dandelions
gracing train tracks
and bullies and crushes
sealed in the same lunchable

sketched and shaded with drama
smooth darkenings
the faith of gestures

crooked lovability
lives somewhere in here

like a knock up challenge
peter pan brand temptation
wherever you are
is the curled edge of tough

where i can be anyone
if i fight for it
Marta sustains a livable space called the InterCultural Resource Center at Columbia University.
Read all about it here.

Maura Bairley

for Maura

if days had missions
cloaks, clocks and magic wands
so that peace was
a structured quest into faith

or if those barbed points
of intersection
met a quilted place
a made space
of meant limits
in soil-planted yes
fertile like a subtly voiced spell

and if i came upon this pathway
charted with the markings
of hand after hand
lovingly printed into earth

i would look north
i would look east
i would look west
i would look south

knowing that somehow
you had done this

Maura has built the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Program at Columbia University
out of love and more love.
Read more about the program here

Monday, June 11, 2007

In the First Place (Dannette)

for Dannette

in the first place
your heart sounded polyphonic pixels
and just because traditions
of life giving time

which is to say
your calling
to sun and bass
with stolen chic
designer pluck
badgirl beauty of tough

i knew
in the first place
you were more than enough
to set phone lines shaking
tango wireless
into lifted up nows

because you must have
a sturdy stance
planted in every day
with a spring
that could kick, spin or spray

so what i thank you for
what I watch to know
and count on in your grace
is the high-fidelity structure
of play


for the mothers in UBUNTU

which is the place that screams
above or below
crossed or between
which is the place that glows

radioactive half-lives
split asymmetrical to exit signs
who bleeds brighter
when the power goes out

which is the place that opens
ten times past imagination
which is the place that stretches
widening heart
wrestled hand
wondering mouth

whom is the light that beckons
when is the space that bends
why is the broken branch
none of these lines have question marks

because you

the answer is you
the answer is here
the answer is now

but the awe
for the asking
the what that remains
is how
not which but how
not why but how
not where
warm walls of falling down
but how
and how

Rachael Dee

since the earth hums
mountains and mercury
out of yes

or the sun holds notes
that grow past whole

as the green
of asking
pushes spring boards to wings

and birds wake up ready
to shake a wet everything free

your song is a start
is a swing through the heart
is a smooth tethered table
to healing
to hope and
to home

Ariana Christine Gumbs

for Ari (My Grown-Up Little Sister)

since reality tv-shows
have better background music
than anything that radio touches

and unknowing, our cities
sing morse code light shows
to the over patient sky

since penguins have wings to stretch
whether or not they choose
to fly

and steel-boned buildings
still somehow learn
to sway

or since cupholders embrace
and sunglasses frame
and coconut milk
sweetens while it tames

if there is such a thing
as my life at all
there must be
there must be

Walidah Imarisha

for Walidah

there's a way that
walls knock aside
or at least take a deep breath in
when you move by

so making way
by any other name
remains shakeable

and stone structures
geometrical or metaphorical
shift to get
shaped down into movement

so this is a warning
to any building bold enough
to imagine it preceeds
or survives you:

bad ass sista
taking place
making room
coming through
brace your stumbling blocks

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Alexis Richardson: Playing Doubles

for Alexis L. Richardson

besides mine
the other family name
on the 16-mile long rock
that we come from
is Richardson

i tell you this
in honor of the doubling effect
that is already
in play

so forgive me
if i crowd you
by imagining your story
as the other a-side
to my own soap opera soundtrack

i wonder if yours
is a version smoother
without the creases
i have made by
folding and refolding
my days

but my guess is
similarly framed
our hands
have faced
the same mess

i can only ask.
but what i do know
already is that
trumping the fantasy
of a parellel life

is this intersection
i mean thank you
for sharing
the universe
with me

among many projects, Alexis is co-founder of Capere an expanding journal for educators.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Nikki Brown: Color (or what it feels like)

for Nikki

what you make
when you set your chin
in the spoke of demand

turns dark rooms
into glow worms
of afternoons
where the sun is extra

into the part of the sermon
when no one can tell

like a churn
into fullness
that's soft
but stays

what you make
gives our hungry eyes
Here is a healing Mandala that Nikki made with the members of the Katrina Neighbors healing circle that she facilitated.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Michelle Lanier: Ribald Farming

for Michelle Lanier

angels stain the air
when you reach for words
made rounder by
the soil you trace
for roots

and birds sound the calling
to splash light
to water what knows
you are home

so i'll curl a streamer
i'll smooth a mound
i'll balance a birthing gourd
meaning I will cultivate grace daily
so they'll know
i heard you

Afiya Carter: Experiment

for Afiya

if a lunge had bells
or if the universe was made
from the bright small buttons
of air popping off
everytime your hand explained

if a house had glass precision walls
saved just for the breeze
and the never-could-be-known
had a pet door to use

if museums
and publicly specialized community
had cheerleaders trained
in the backdrop of threedom

in other words
if this were all
a science project
(so to speak)
an experiment
meant to be lived
I would sit
in a corner of the classroom
where I could watch you
and change my mind

Wahneema Lubiano: All My Affect

for Wahneema

attention gains wings
from the way you listen

like a magnetic lift
a secret spring
that firms eye contact
into a place to be

what was glass ceiling
becomes sturdy
to rest books on
past our reach

or foam legos
get born out
your phrases
placing each into
soft frames for knowing

in other words
i was never going to stay
with one metaphor
so thanks
for building
the slide

Wahneema Lubiano is a Professor of African and African American Studies, Literature and Women's Studies at Duke University. She is also the author and in person speaker of words that will blow your mind everytime. Despite all of this, she is the most generous teacher I have met.

This Survivor: A Spelling Lesson

A Spelling Lesson

for this and every survivor

is a four-letter word
an instruction after catching fire
a movement behind stop
a command we must memorize
and tell ourselves
if we would be safe

is what we do to the kids
at school, at practice, at auntie's
training for a next that will keep them (running)
warning that they will not be at home anywhere
treason required by our other jobs

is what the dj plays
what the hypeman says
the entrance of the beat(ing)
stretching our skin like a place to call
drowning our knees like a new heartbeat

and today
is what my stomach does
is a frame for the rain
is the shape of the blood
that would seek to be the last word
as if we weren't students as well

but we know how to spell

so when i see D-R-O-P
dropped open in front of me
like it was new(s)
all i do is add you
all of bright breaking you
all of impossibly speaking
light leaking

and the next word is yours


love always,

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Tina Campt: Hard Core

for Tina Campt

you make me think
it might be appropriate
to brainstorm with chisels
to rock-climb bare-handed
to say what i mean

when you look up
and nod forward
it's a head-butt to the last thought
and a measured faith in a desired now

as if you intend
abundant stones
to stand on
to test
to break through
to shape down to movement

like spinning a record
but much more
(hard core)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

mama audre: generate (light)

for audre lorde (to be whispered in hurricane season)

mama audre
how did you no
facing gale
force consent

to plant letters
like collard seeds
who new how
to ride wind
dispersing into

who did you
a line less birth
tracing from
to St. Croix
to New Orleans
a bee-line
designed to clog machinge guns
an oracle
fashioned from scraps
of cloth and ink?

"i wish
you were living

(up the road)"

Basic information on Audre Lorde

Loving Audre

Born in June

to June (Jordan)

either the accident of my birth
starts in the miracle of your name
or the intention my word
lives in the groove of the same


and else you brave vulnerability
leaves me soaking in salt
then each essay builds trapeezes
for my heart to sing

and again you
shake your head

thus from an honest body
choosing anything now
light define of alive

i say "yes"
and know

Studying June

Phillis Wheatley: Something Like Seance

The Difficult Miracle (where June Jordan meets Phillis Wheatley)

"the girls" @ rendezvous

for "the girls" @ rendezvous bay hotel

the first time
i heard it
i thought
sucking your teeth
was practice for wrappers
training for candy
calling for sweet

but i quickly learned
the taste of my mother's hand
that learning too well
her disappointment
reflecting too eagerly
her pain
was punishable
by force

so i readied my mouth
for the audacity of this day
with silent preparations
on indented pens

but now
i think i may
have been righter
the first time

in the lips of some
in the mid-afternoon
that selfsame sound
in surreal slow motion
zips the air out of place
shreds rank into streamers
and tears open the veil
between this world
and the one
we'd rather have anyway

The Scene

Emma and Aiden: "That Whole Drag Queen Thing..."

for Aiden and Emma

if i could make a hammock
out of round shrugs and hat brims
i would snuggle into hands-free salute
heads up to lay down
smooth burdens of afternoon

or if i could fit a bridge
of sanded growth
into the spiraling knarl of always
i would shift there now
so you could stand

but since you give me
a stomach light
with loosened ribbon
open with escaping breeze

since you give me
a life-line for unraveling
right from the base
of my hair trees

i will send electric curves
into space around
so air can hug you
if i am far away

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Farah Jasmine Griffin: Visionary Tendencies

for Farah Jasmine Griffin

it could be
that bright paper
intentional folds
and stolen staples
are deceptively long term
propellers that
wing awake in our chests

it could be
that sound has its own
sweepstake calculus
that listening is the prize
when our eyes

it could be
that teaching is a faith
in rebirth
not through a doctrine
of more selves
but in rays of growth
frames of reflection

it could be
that I had
already known
all of these things

but it is
to say it

it is crucial
to say

that the first time
i heard
and recognized
each of those

it was you
who was speaking

Ileana Mendez-Penate: Relational

for Ily

they say
that the poet
writes only of herself
reflected back
in moments of watching

how much more true then
when the one beheld
is related
through intentional
made coincident
in institutional predicaments
of discovery and costume

you have
made believable
a practice
of expression
where every possibility
has a landing
of embrace

you justify
a refashioning a faith
that even i
could make sense
or be clothed
or even maybe
as myself

Paula Ximena Rojas-Urrutia: Acrobatic Doula

for Paula

if every word ended
with the letter "a"
(or at least all the
important ones)
i might assume
that it had been
by your design

i imagine
that its part
of your strategy
to leave us
with our mouths open
facing each other

or maybe part of the plan
is to make us
more likely to exhale
ready to let go
the knowledge
that keeps our faces

because a sigh
is not a scream
is not an
but you may already believe
that how we say
will be various

so i think
you have made
and earned
and required
a choir
where love
sounds like

See the beautiful work of SistaIISista (an organization that Paula helped to found)

Deborah Small: Break the Chains

for Deborah

like rubber-souled
or gavels with ridges
your voice builds
thick enough
for rollerskates

and in rhythm
with the last sigh
of the first bus home
your hand pulls
the seal
off the waiting punch-line
for the joke we're living

as a curled up
surprise for a
world in the wings
and a secret passageway
to the part of the story
when all the walls fall down

i know what happens
when a link bursts open
and steel reveals
its internal edges

i can see
the mosaic
of rubble painted clear
so I know what it means
the Deborah is here

every break
every chip
every slip
and mistake

gets a new life
and smoothed space
to grow

Learn more about Deborah's organization Break the Chains (

Monica Miller: (Not) A Moment of Arrival

for Monica Miller

imagine landing
through some accidental decisions
on a ground of blossoms
dispersed upward in peals

or try
pushing yourself forward
finding that doorways
have names and gifts
that unstring
the need for striving

or maybe
there is a sharp
upward note
asymptote of conclusion
that when projected
with a hand to frame
wins everything
before wanting

what i mean to say is
when i wrote this
i was sitting
in the place i sat
at the moment
i decided
to go to the school
where i never knew
i would meet you

so therefore

Aurelia Sands Belle: Durham Crisis Response Center

i think your
voice box must be
a sand dollar
thin solid patterns
fluting your name
in chorus

so when i think
of your desk
i think it should be
somehow coastal
strung with chimes
out of doors
and always spring

but even i
don't expect this
to be true
so my second place vison
(no contest)
for your seat of influence
is through a door
which leads through
another door
which lads to a room
with a small window
and unchosen orange
and leather worn from
various listenings

it occurs to me
that every building
is inadequate
to the delicacy
of your work
and no hourglass
contains the urgency
of your days
and no existing outfit
is appropriate to your task

or even my imagination
blown as it is into
stained glass visions
of guessing
cannot do (you) justice

Durham Crisis Response Center

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Alisha Gaines: Shuck n Strategy

for Alisha


some of us
were made
for TV

some of us
can animate
the mundane

some of us
speak flat spaces
into declarative
remixing ruts
into interrogatives

some of us
open our hands
so minstrel spirits
fall through
and recolor
the everyday making
of same

at least one us

Treva Lindsey: Historicizing Creativity (and recreating History)

for Treva

has a code
like morse

like the bottom
of a hard-spoken

fortifies itself
with costumes
such that
the visual
beomes lyrical

to the song
yet to be

or the dance
we should be
stretching for

all ready

Monday, February 12, 2007

Aisha Peay: A Critical Attitude

for Aisha

i think you carve

your statements

into iron

round and solid

sounds of knowing

or maybe you shake

sand and gravel

through hardcover wings

firmly out towards yes

i would call you

a subtle detective

or a calm and self-sufficient

rescue mission

looking for what

i believe

we all


bravery supplements (shortwave listenings Feb 2007)

Jennifer Brody (Northwestern)
Cynthia Brown (Greensboro TRC)
Sharon Holland (Northwestern)
Fred Moten (USC)
Aishah Simmons
Monica Dillon
Johnetta Cole (Bennett)
Valerie Kaalund (Bennett)
Marianne Hirsch (Columbia)
Wahneema Lubiano (Duke)
Mark Anthony Neal (Duke)
Charles Piot (Duke)
Pedro Lasch (Duke)
Diane Nelson (Duke)
Maurice Wallace (Duke)

So the English Department has just had a search for senior African Americanists. This is a very very good thing, not just because it would be great to have more people in our department who are absolutely brilliant about my interest, but also because it provided me the opportunity to listen to Jennifer Brody, Sharon Holland and Fred Moten explain and demonstrate their approaches to African American Studies at exactly the moment (my exams are in 1 month!) that I am thinking hardest about what kind of scholar I want to be. In addition, the African and African American Studies Department held a a town hall meeting entitled "Shut Up and Teach?" in response to the hateful threats that faculty members at Duke have been getting due to their stances against sexism, racism, sexual violence, and oppression more generally during the increased visibility brought on by the Lacross team scandal.

So I get the message. Now (as always) is the time for me to think and rethink and be accountable for my relationship to the Universe(city) (a formulation that I first saw...after writing it...on the cover of re)magazine @ Columbia..but which Fred Moten also deployed in a conversation last week). The general message is this: Alexis BE as BRAVE as YOU ARE!

So Jennifer Brody in the first of these talks seemed to be about as brave as I already am. Her talk was affirming in that she (see my earlier shortwave listening comments about Judith Butler and the scene of address) took care to directly address her audience..and seemed to be a very good reader of us, and of what may have been socially expected at her (though when I asked her about her process of reading us..she avoided the question). Witnessing J-Bro's constant and prodigious and almost unbelievable social readings and the resultsit produced makes me think about my own practice of social reading. Do I want to by the type of reader that shape-shifts to fit into the ways that I am interpellated within a university or departmental context? Do I need to strategically cheerlead the existing process into which I may be assimilable? Or do I want to reflect those expectations in a different and more risky way? Does the practice of reading my environment need to be a reproductive act in that I give the image back to the giver and name myself into the family line or is there a way to read and be responsible to every environment while still making and empahsizing the more multi-sited approach that I have (developed the difference I want to make)?

Sharon Holland is braver and more brazen that I am. She is comfortable with the shared and exchangeable terms that the academy values. Even though it's Jennifer Brody's talk that was actually about a sculptor (afro-native woman loving Edmonia Lewis)Holland seemed to actual perform some kind of dexterous ability to manipulate a wide range of ideas with a passion that I found contagious. She made me want to be braver and more confident in my ideas.

Fred Moten (if this is all relational...which it is) reminded me of some of the content that resonates with that bravery for me. And it is interesting that I use the word content because for me theoretical bravery has a lot to do with form...with a poetic approach to theorization that actually dwells in the literature it engages in and experiments with the language in which it is and is not possible to describe the logics we live. Something, in other words. Something far beyond the expectations of simple argument and persuasion and mastery that I cannot afford (because of the mastery and enslavement that it reproduces). And it is important to note that this is not only an approach to words themselves (though of course Moten i a noted poet) it is also an approach to the structure of the Universe(city) which hE acknowledges as appropriated resources that belong to the people...and we are the leaks through which they get the power of these resources back.

And of course the AAS faculty and African Americanist English Faculty that is at Duke already attracted and selected these thinkers in the first place. Which reminds me that though I look for unscholarly refuge (say by listeningto former councilwoman and member of the Greensboro Truth and Reconcilation Council responding to the racist murders of community organizers, there is ample bravery to be found (so ironically as I mentioned to Kriti this week) in this unlikely and strangely seductive yet barely tolerable place called the university.

Wahneema Lubiano almost brought me to tears during the shut up and teach session with her passionate reminders of our successes. Of the fact that we don't need to look to the media for what our success is...because they will not represent it...because it is just THAT powerful. In Wahneema's definition BlackStudies (oneword...i'd like to the title of Audre Lorde's poem) is homeless and Moten affirms this. BlackStudies is never complete and was created by students and is and must be always critical. (Citing Bambara and Spillers among others). It is clear to me that Wahneema creates the context in which creative critique is (to also paraphrase Bambara) irresistible.

*here i should note that this past thursday i...along with the rest of the artistic response crew spent a miraculous day at Bennett College while they hosted Aishah Simmons and Monica Dillon. Aishah Simmons (besides her gracious shout out of UBUNTU) also mentioned that Audre Lorde (through spirit and poetry) and Toni Cade Bambara (in person) were the women who let her know her brilliance and means. So it is infinitely appropriate that we performed an arrangement of Lorde's Litany for Survival and it is is appropriate that Wahneema calls on Bambara's words and style to create the space and the demand for critique and community building in the academy.

So Charles Piot gave a reflection of the blog of one particular vector of hate towards the 88 faculty member who spoke out in support of students andagainst the repression and silencing of issues of sexual violence. Mark Anthony created a genalogy of black public intellectuals (co-produced by each other and the times in which they lived) who will use alterntive and mass media forms to "fight fire with fire."

Pedro Lasch and Diane Nelson peformed the relationships that they envisioned. Lasch created a series of questions about power, knowledge, fear and love that he hopes will generate more questions (and if the Q&A session which lasted almost an hour is any evidence his performance was effective) and Nelson solicited audience participation to read about the repression of intellectuals during the CIA sponsored Civil War in Guatamala and performend interconnection by having some of her graduate students give loops of string to people of the audience. The point is that our connection to each other is dangerous, embattled, and necessary.

*Nelson's presentation which looked at the terms "articulate" "disarticulate" and "inarticulate" to investigate the politics of speech in resistance also connected to a (anthro department sponsored) talk by Columbia University's Mariane Hirsch who writes about the transmission of holocaust survivor memories across generations (her generation is self-identified as the "hinge" generation).

Maurice Wallace got specific about the types of connections that we need in a very author as producer kind of way, pointing out the participation of professors in the service economy of alienated laborin the university..the excesses of which are constantly policed through a process that includes divisions between support staff, faculty and students. He also presented brilliant anaylsis (alongside Mark Anthony Neal's emphasis of the multiple publics that black intellectuals speak into)of the ways in which we are constituted by and IN public...the ways in which our race, gender and sexuality are already public issues. So what would it mean if we did NOT speak in public about public issues?

What indeed? Thank the universe(city) for making it possible for me to hear my name called so variously and with with such grace.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Kai Lumumba Barrow: Nomad Approaches

(for Kai)
if fun house mirrors
and loose sunk chains
could speak out loud
and scratch toward move

if curled archives
stacked under urgency
colored in spilled desire
were on display

if brown maps
stretched directions
of more than now
of sticky lifting
left calling cards

if revolution
had a whole car tag
a muralled rush

i could hear that
i could see it
i could recognize all of it
trained in the practice
of knowing you


Critical Resistance
is one of the many places that Kai makes revolution.

Nia/Mama Nancy

(for Mama Nancy)

your face is a playground
for things that grow
or that want to
your hands are gardens
for all that flies

your cheekbones are support beams
for everything fierce
everything wild
that tends toward love

i think your arms
must be passageways
to homes thought impossible
to marooned desires

i think your skin shares
a freckled map
of endless mines
of water prepped
for communal baptism

Nancy is Director of SpiritHouse

Zelda Lockhart: LeVenson Press

for Zelda
there shines an opening
there wakes an up
the way you listen
towards projectile laughter

there rings a grace
there steps a peace
the way you walk
towards a world
that pushes description
that requires us all

there sighs a simplicity
there holds a growing
the way you build
a today and a today and a today

there hands a warning
there ices a blessing
the way you carve out
grooves and sweaters for love


Learn more about Zelda and LaVenson Press here

Karla Holloway

(for Karla Holloway)

if hope made fabric
like its own style of weaving
like the thick strength of soft
you'd be wearing it

if grace published dance steps
like shoeprints to keep going
like a sure turn to here
you'd be walking it

if beauty released a soundtrack
like bone structured bass-line
or a stretched sketch in ink
you'd be humming it

if bright put on a light show
with a symphony of leaves
and a resevoir of stays
i'd guess that you had
composed it.

Nana Nantambu

for Mama Nana

there is an open hand
waking a stretched goatskin
to the pulse of a
braceletted writst somewhere

there is a woven melody
a taut stability in
the wandering confidence
of a frictioned sole somewhere

there is a strained pattern
and a round stregnth
a holding quality
in a crafted connection somewhere

and rich spilling
a well arriving
a deep blessing
right here now

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Shortwave Listenings: January 2007

Alondra Nelson (The Factness of Diaspora)
Nalo Hopkinson (The New Moon's Arms)
Kamari Clarke (Victim and Perpetrator)
Sekou Sundiata (51st Dream State(meant))
Judith Butler (Disciplinarity and Critique)
Fredric Jameson (Comment After Butler)
Henry "Poison" Gattis (Black Panther Party Chicago)
Ahmed Robin (Black Panther Party Detroit)
Jose "Cha Cha" Jimenez (Young Lords Party Lincoln Park)
Denise Oliver (Young Lords Party/Black Panther Party NYC)
Kathleen Cleaver (Black Panther Party Oakland)
Miquel "Mickey" Melendez (Young Lords Party NYC)
Tim Lenoir (Planning Our Intellectual Futures)
Karla Holloway (This is Not About Lacrosse/Glacial Change)
Della Pollock (Planning Our Intellectual Futures)
Lewis Gordon (Violent Non-Violence?)
Maurice Wallace (Political Theology)
Irene Silverblatt (Spanish Inquisition?)

So what happens when I get the chance to listen to some amazing brilliant people and I haven't made a collage in advance and they are talking to more people than just me oh my me? Shorwave listening! Kin to the reading essays on, these will be essays about the many talks/panels that I may have listened to in a given week/ish period. This week I listened to all of these people (and they might not even know it!) at the Radicals in Black and Brown panel accompanying an exhibit about the Black Panther Party and the Young Lords Party @ the Stone Center @ UNC and at the Collapse of Traditional Knowledges Conference thrown by the Lit Program at Duke and at two of the job talks that the cultural anthropology department had (in order to try to replace Deb Thomas and John Jackson). Oh and Nalo Hopkinson happened to be hosted by the NC State Creative Writing Program. What can I say? It's been an intercolliegiate week.

First I have to say, with the exception of the Nalo Hopkinson reading (she's dropping a new book called The New Moon's Arms about sea people and a sunken slave ship..which if anyone is cross referencing my blogs besides the weirdo named Gregory whose been sending me important for me this week. I am listening to Glissant long distance. Anyway with the exception of my question about Hopkinson's relationship to history (which I must say came after the very boring standard.."how did you become a writer?" "what is hard about writing?" questions) I didn't ask anybody anything. I can call myself being a good listener (or make excuses about how I really shouldn't take up time with my concerns in another department's hiring meetings) I was really just afraid. I haven't really been in this academic setting with other academic people for a few months. I was embarassed about asking a question like..."how do you know?" or "tell me about your mother.." or "what about rape? what do you have to say about that?" So I just did my best to channel some questions into other psuedo open minds and write down my own daydreams.

Alondra Nelson was a complete surprise. I realize now that it may have been the rhyme of her title with Brent Edwards' The Practice of Diaspora that got me into the room, but whatever it was was meant to be. The way that she is framing herself in relation to critical black diaspora studies and narratives of population genetics is very exciting. She is also full of stories and interesting to listen to. The lesson that I learn from her is that positioning myself in relationship to theory that I'm talking about is crucial and can allow me to do all the storytelling that I want to do.

Kamari Clarke started with story telling and is clearly brilliant. Her work on the specter of African victimhood/criminality as a reinscription of colonialism in an information moment through the international court system is so necessary. What I learned from her is that if I every want a job (that's really an if) I need to prepare a job talk just for the job. This is the second time that I've seen a job talk seem rushed and nervous because of the difficulty of condensing a chapter of your book into a short talk outloud.

Then again maybe I should just get the whole job search committee to create a performance off the cuff. Sekou Sundiata opened up the session that he did for/at the Durham Literacy Center with some interesting meditations on dreaming and on the word American. Though a member of my eventual breakout group and even more eventual impromtu dance company said that the word "American" left an acid taste in his mouth, Sundiata seemed to embrace the word itself, seemed interested in reclaiming an "american tradition" of protest and revolutionary action through langauge...I'm not so sure. However I am attracted to his idea about the whole world being dreamed inside of America...not wistfully...but critically. To what extent is there a (Dionne Brand would say filmic?) an idea of the world being produced in the united states that is effecting us all? And in what place does that put mother/country radicals and those of use who see ourselves as thirdworldwithin type rebels in what Denise Oliver called the "belly of the beast". What is the technology of dreaming? I don't know...but it may be related to other technologies that we used that the beautiful process of creating a conversation between strangers into a collaborative performance to share. With some people I didn't know until now (all teachers it seems...including one of my unnamed heroes from the ethnic studies hunger strikes in 1996 @ columbia) i danced the pain of the American dream and a vision of what communal education could look like. Damn. Fast results and the presence of love. I mean it...this is something that I need more of. I wonder how willing the folks in my academic setting would be to get up and dance with me. The most academic seeming breakout group at this session protested the assignment. Sigh.

The question that I just asked appears again. How seriously are any of us living in and off of the university willing to take Judith Butler's attractive claims that we are inside undone, opaque and related as people. Would we dance that together? Would we write with hammers on the walls of these buildings. Would we let go of the departments or the parts that we seem to want to play over and over again with different words. Would we relinquish all credit (i mean this word credit in the transnational economic sense) for how smart we sound?

What Jameson asks of us through his reading of Butler is the bravery to confront the violence in our community specifically in terms of the lacross team rape violence, or the false innocence that is being defended with all the strategies of capitalism itself. As if capitalism itself is at stake...and I think it is. In fact I think that is the reason for him to say that. I heard his statement (while literally holed up in the back corner of the standing only room) as a completely unexpected blessing. I felt something like love and something like a gratitude that I am afraid to have for the person I am supposed to think that he is.

Speaking of capitalism itself...the so necessary, so affirming black panther/young lords panel at UNC was moderated (rather rudely i must say) by an old unfriend of mine (Columbia resurfaces in Durham) anyway this woman was a grad school member of the International Socialist Organizaton Columbia Chapter. I hope this organization has completely changed, but when I showed up at the first meeting it was group of white folks and this one sista ready to co-opt all things colored and tell me what to do. I said point blank that if i wanted some white guys to tell me what to do (and to pay the party to do it at that) then I would just go to the usual. When I told this sista about the art for social change stuff i was doing with the so-called lumpenproleteriat she said that if i didn't buy a membership to the ISO I "wasn't really an activist". Right. Evidently I listened to that, and I remember that...but I didn't learn that. Evidently neither of us have learned...I'm still trying to explain the creative process of revolution and she's still trying to stifle activists (but now it's Kathleen Cleaver lookin at her like she's crazy and about to get slapped.)

Runaway star of the Black Panther/Young Lords panel, Denise Oliver (Jurina's favorite) who was a member of both parties...and who was the first woman on the central committee of the young lords. She got off to a beautiful start when Micky Melendez explained something about an "all male reading group" and she interrupted "hello? I was there...Marlene was there...." This woman will not be invisible even while continuing to represent a movement that keeps invisiblilizing women's leadership. Kathleen Cleaver presented an alternative narrative to the one I just presented...a narrative that i want to believe that the urban warrio woman actions of the panthers were illegible to the public because of the public's narrow views of what women could be. i want to belive that. Anyway the most important thing about Denise Oliver is the fact that she says "We could do this today!" refusing to sit proud of a glamourous radical history and insisting on the possibility of what we (and the people younger than me) can do now.

Runners up for the position of "star" are Micky Melendez who presenced the poets and leaders from the Young Lord Party who are now in the space of ancestors. His invocations were timely and sacred (even though homegirl tried to cut him off). and Poison spoke about his love for Fred Hampton in a way that was almost lust using the exact phrase "testicular fortitude" to explain how Fred convinced him to join the party. The question that I take from the session is the question that the panthers posed to the Young Lords when they were a gang. "Why are you fearless when it comes to gang violence and scared when it comes to the police?" How to change that question seemed their structural goal and that need for a critical relationship to violence and power remains.

The relationship to power that I want to embody is Karla Holloway's. Her beautiful last owrds for the Collapse conference "this is not about lacrosse" alonside a description of glacial islands moving south and academic institutions catching up with some kind way to break off from the culture of violence was what I would have been saying if I could ever know how. As usual. I have a lot more listening to do.

Michelle Johnson: Orange County Rape Crisis Center

for Michelle


through a veil of absent orchards
and television gloss
i look towards you

and imagine you climbing
up a route made of chain mail
the inside of an armor
that cannot fit growth
your fingers not small enough
to hold

i imagine that your days
are not made
of bright material
not sheltered in draped silk

i imagine that your everyday
is woven in dull silvers
and worn with leaks
shaped like protection
with holes
practiced endurance

so that light slips through
and recolors your face
with and unflinching warmth
so that light slips

Orange County Rape Crisis Center

Jan and Jen: Triangle Community Works and the Gay and Lesbian Helpline

for Jan and Jen

i picture you both
wearing pails of water
standing on slanted ground
pop-up pyramid stories
and strained leg muscles

or i see you in a field
emptied of color
and peppered with buildings
trees like footstools
and a gray that could be
green, blue or neither

i think you would be
brightly dressed
and my eyes watching you
take turns switching you each
alternating in the foreground

and you two try
to let your smiles spill
to watercolor the whole scene
to radiate a saving light


Queen Precious Jewel: Embrace

For Queen Precious Jewel Zabriski

It's officially carnival
when you show up
and as if wearing secret
service earphones
we all comply

there is suddenly room
to (un)wind
and jump and wave
there is more than space
to laugh, clap hands
be seen
fall apart

the streets become clear places
to stand down fear
to dance with ancestors
to paint our bodies
bright excess of peace

everything shines
when you come through

Mandy Carter: Out Southern Black Lesbian Social Justice Activist for Peace!

for Mandy

like a readying breath
for a worldwide corset
you make the impossible beautiful
you break revolution down
into free gifts and short stories

i imagine your days
as a mosaic of boarding passes
an archive where the artifacts
are themselves
for full air technologies
the quality of seeing through smoke
the superpower of listening past tolerance

like a penciled reminder of possibility
you hold the luxury of yes
you trace the footpaths to "we"
as the windbreaker against no itself

yours is a tale for roadtrips
a beat for banjos
through bright lenses of salt
yours is a story of move meant

Mandy is one of the founders of Southerners on New Ground (SONG)

Monday, January 22, 2007

Pauline Ann McKenzie: Momma Pajama

(i am)

if i were slicing a mural
with every rubber-souled scuff mark
on your or someone elses
clean floor

if i were melting a painting
with every tear
evaporated into the air of an art gallery
or sunk into a movie theater cushion

if i were mixing a soundtrack
with the first note
of every question
every statement
of every no and yes
and amen

if i were keeping an archive
of every warm surface
every deep smoothness
every electric reflection
i glimpsed passing

if i was writing a poem
with the extra cradles
made from your brown arms
in embrace

it would all
every mural
every painting
every song
every library
every poem
every outfit
every outburst
every project
every event
every performance
every accident
every essay
every miracle
every sigh
would all be
to you

and I am.

Linda Bryant: Heart of Charis

for Linda

if home could be light
the weight of static attraction
the soft embrace of hair
tucked toward a shoulder

if home could be listening
your voicebox a doorbell
playing high notes of recognition
and low afffirmations
of specific me
being anyone

if home could be open
like warm brewezes
and free tea

than home may be
exactly what
you make
for me

Charis Circle