Friday, January 12, 2007

Tema Okun: on White Supremacy

I think you
are perfectly named
if your name means peace
if your name means intention
if your name is the spoken form
of still water moments
of sure growth
of the imperceptible
contribution of paint and grass

i think you are
perfectly named
if your name means
if your name means
if your name is a code word
for let's all embrace into a deep breath

i think you are perfectly named
but maybe that's because
when we speak your name
we mean what you have
already been for us
continue to name yourself

Read Tema's article about the Culture of White Supremacy

And check out her work with the Challenging White Supremacy Workshop

Thursday, January 11, 2007

sheila broderick: DUKE Sexual Assault Support Services

mixed use

they used girls like me
instead of mannequins
in the glass windows
of the Limited Too
at the Fashion Mall
in Plantation, Florida
on weekends

underweight girls like me
they found us
more alive
than plastic

i imagine that sometimes
your weekdays are like
my saturdays were then
a public stillness
breathing disguised as nothing
a mandate (not) to make eye contact
a fear of
a hunger for
the laughter that could make it
all fall apart

they used girls like me
instead of iron
as anchors
on the Paideia High School track team
4 by 4 relay squad
all over Georgia

conveniently black girls like me
they called us
natural talent

i imagine that sometimes
your weekdays are like
my saturdays were then
a chronic inability to stay
between the lines
a dizzy aversion
to running in circles
a tight urge
to steal the baton
and run towards where home might be
forgetting the girls that depend on you

i have no way of knowing
what any day
any week of yours has been
but i want to know
how do you feel

Duke Sexual Assault Support Services

Serena and Caitlin: on the Politics of Sex Work

For Serena and Caitlin

do you know
that you send
bright electric charges
through the air
you move in

i wonder
can you tell?
i see you
narrating what was
the romance between your hand
spirit fingered out of habit
into the thing right beneath that
i see you swallow a vindictive memory
see the bruise
in the inverted nod
of your listening
and i wonder
can you tell?

i see you
punching the matter
of exhale
pushing your voice
as if rhythm could
make your thoughts
into dough
as if heat
would harden your
dreams into bread

and i wonder
can you?
can you tell?
(like right now)
i think

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Kenya Fairley: North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence

I picture your office
as a full place
pressed up unwilling
to a loud-grunting monster with barbed skin

everytime it exhales you
barely escape being crushed
and when it inhales you
breath quicky
and try to get us all to
hold hands
squeeze our eyes open
or sing at a frequenct that will
find the beast a soul

I see your desk
as an inflatable lifeboat
heavy with need
and electronic implements
and that gigantic porcupined colonist in your office
keeps popping new wholes
and you stretch to make it float

and I imagine your face
as a storybook of changes
making sound more various
than sattelite cable
responding to truths
you will never learn
to properly expect

what I am trying to say
is that I am already in awe
i am already over proud
of you for breathing
even before you say
what it is that you do all day

North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Kenya was supposed to me my first listening session, but we never actually met up. The collage I made for her remains open at the opening of my rap-book. This is probably the loudest message that I need to hear: crisis response work and pre-arranged appointments are not particularly compatible. At all. Lesson 1: there is nothing to say that wouldn’t be redundant when someone who works in crisis response calls you to cancel because of a....crisis. Lesson 2: when someone who works in crisis response calls you a week before your appointment and says she can meet then...Go!
This starcrossed exercise in listening to air, through cell phone towers and email reminds me of what a major stream of this project is about the balance between sustainable nurturing long-term poetic creation of community and IMMEDIATE RESPONSE. In other words....though I made a collage that I love for Kenya and wrote the best poem that I’d written in a while with the possibility of knowing her in mind, I completely failed to live into her context. I completely failed to make my response immediate, a fact that is amplified by the fact that may never know what her in-person response to my art towards her was or will be. (I have since emailed her both the collage and the poem because it seems that I will ultimately be meeting with a less busy representative of North Carolina Coaltion Against Domestic Violence. How mediated is that?)
So there are two things that I want to focus on here. First the ramifications of the term that stands out to me most in the NCCADV name: domestic, and second (a concern that I will come back to) what does it mean to respond immediately to a pervasive something. In a paradigmatically violent society, what does it mean to be responsible for violence?
The collage that I made features an archival photograph of a first nations person in Canada in front of a Teepee in what we are meant to understand as traditional (very heavy-looking) garb glaring into a camera, a red arrow against a black background facing down, a pair of sign language hands spelling something that I don’t know, and some visibly black people carrying their belongings in garbage bags and leaving New Orleans, maybe forever. I’m going to go through this backwards (as a process that leads from visual art to poem to “interview” and ends with questions might imply already.) What does the term domestic imply when George Bush II persists in calling New Orleans “this part of the world”, when many people (myself included) made the mistake of calling people escaping disaster in the Gulf Coast refugees, as if they were not citizens and residents of the United States, as if the violence that they experienced was not so definitively domestic? And in blocking access to goods coming from to the Gulf via it’s neighboring Caribbean Sea from Cuba to people struggling to survive, escape, breath, save each other in the Gulf Coast how does the United States government (and the story we tell that keeps us from overthrowing it) both disavow and enforce the domestic violence.
In a nation transubstantiated out of a settler colony can the domestic ever have anything to do with the indigenous? It seems, of course, that idigeneity and domesticity imply very different relationships to land, on characterized by dynamic relation and a responsibility (response-ability) to the land and the other characterized by enforced boundaries, predictable expulsions, constant policing, delayed, delinquent or with-held responses. It seems to me that the word “domestic” is continually seeking to colonize the concept of “home” while only really BEING at home when pushed up next to the word “violence”. This seems to me to be the place where the word domestic belongs. (It occurs to me tangentially that the words “public” and “housing” have a different but related relationship...something like an unhappy arranged marriage or the abusive result of another ironically compatible pair of words “shotgun wedding”.)
But what gets silenced and is not translated in this discourse of the domestic? What allows us to believe that citizenship exists? What prevents us, the literate, the literary, and those of us who are making our lives out of intersection, “those of us who live at the crossroads”, those of us in crisis (work) to be able to really speak what we mean? I mean to say what does it mean to be “against domestic violence”? I think that in one sense being “against” domestic violence very accurately describes our position, at least my position...uncomfortably close to domestic violence, like a rush-hour number train through Times Square, a relationship characterized by too much pushing, trying to get somewhere...but when do we acknowledge that if get anywhere we will be getting there together....that we might want to practice what that place might look like or feel talk honestly about what defense can ever do, how we would have to shift to embrace each other in the ways that we want to be embraced...which brings me to the red arrow. What is the direction we have in mind? Knowing that violence is never linear, but rather explosive and unpredictable in its traumatic ramifications and collateral damages means that responding cannot be a linear movement either...even in the direction that tries to be named in the word “against”. So immediate response seems to me to be relenting (i almost said relentless) invocation of now and of you and of me and of now and of you. I started out knowing that it had something to do with listening, and i definitely think it has something to do with speaking, with holding, with releasing. Immediate response seems to me to have to be as much an engagement with land(ing) or with environment as it is a matter of being present with people.
And somehow all this from the loss of missing a chance to listen....

Kriti Sharma: Everyday Ethics

For Kriti

sometimes you hold words
suspended between your hands
like a transplanted honeysuckle
sprouting invisible routes
back to your throat

sometimes you toss words
high with your eyes
light like ping-pong
magnetic to clouds
and everyone waits for them
to fall in into the telekenetic place
you're conjuring with the rest
of your face

and sometimes you catch words
low in those blooming hands
steadied to your focused chin
and safe in your open mind

what I mean to say is
you make language
you make us
you make listening
into a shrine
to growth
to anticipation
to the miracle of response

Indulge in Kriti's generous wisdoms

Marquetta Dupree: Dancing for Peace

For Marquetta

if i could put laws
like ribbons in your hands
i would

ask you to shake them out
write a new ceiling
with their remains
i would

do it
spell peace with your arms
and move sure into anywhere
and bless this
tangled world
past mayday

and groove
this liquid world to ease
girl please

Check out how Marquetta makes choreomusicalpoetic peace with Flow N' Motion

Kara and Janelle: SistaGirlFriends

I hear us talking
a never-ending phrase
we swallow all commas
twist them sideways in our throats
and give them back
like belched birthday gifts

celebrating this day
by invoking that day
infusing everyday
with the virtuoistic craft
of turning air and accidents
into things to be shared

i see our words
filling out inro
neon rounded "open" signs
and scrolling marquees
starting and ending with a promise
that this joy will be here
when i need it most
so tell it again

International Black Youth Summit: Gift to the World

Ebony Noelle Golden: A Poetics of Community Engagment

For Ebony

i hear your voice
as a raised key melody
calling for deep strings
of cool breathing

i see your face
as a nursery for pleasures
and a front porch for always understandings
at once

i watch your hands
like a metaphysical
flashing light of
dottedn highway instructions
or an invisible piano
made grand

i think that if
i could paint
at all
i could draw you from memory
sketch your outline accidentally
because knowing you
is weaved through creation
in my soul

Ebony is more than a poet/performer. Ebony is a movement.

Bonita Walker: Filmaker, Lust-Dealer, Web-Designer

For Bonita

there is a soft buzz
a langorous grace
an open ease

like intention
with a beret
shadowing her eyes

like power
on promenade
amused knowledge
and playful faith

there is a deep cushion
in your throat
supporting some words
that just woke up

and found themselves

Causal Explosion

I want the first word of that essay title to look like its cousin-word casual while it really says causal (like that thing that makes us alternately pause and move...for the cause), but I don't want you to know that ( i want it). Bonita causes without even looking like she's finished blinking. I have been blessed to know Bonita for what feels like 20 years but can only technically be going on 7 years. I met Bonita at the same moment that I fell in love with the International Black Youth Summit in Memphis Tennessee. One or the other was a bonus, because at some points Bonita has herself been the IBYS, has generated it like she was a less dangerous Dr. Frankenstein or a more dangers EMT Specialist. Bonita now forever retired from the lame game of advertising after a 5 month purgatory stint is about to go back to school at the Clinton School of Public Service in Arkansas. This listening session with Bonita came at the end of a training retreat for the new leadership of the IBYS and exploded into a three at once listening session to some other divas that I should schedule listening sessions with soon: Deborah Thomas, founder of Break the Chains and Adrienne Coddett, co-founder of Three Dreads and Baldhead. Power.
So some of the words on the collage then came from Bonita and some of them came from Deborah and some of them came from Adrienne perfectly exemplifying the way that these three women have gotten far beyond ownership in their complimentary and often collaborative (with each other and with lucky lucky me) uses of self/community expression. So there was food, there were dreadlocks in rollers, there was a bathrobe, there were more than two conversations happening at any given time and there was me scribbling, eavesdropping and asking questions.
The litany of phrases that I want to emphsize are:
"You shouldn't have a hard time..."
"I want you to just hear where I'm coming from" (both written on a library reciept for pedro almodovar's Bad Education)
"There's what we like to do and then there's what people actually need"
"I see the freedom in it but I also see...
"well I think the ones YOU hang out with are not dumb...
"which is empowerment through laughter..."
"Why does that fly... (all written on a yellow "statement" reciept)
"a hustler. if you could see this woman you would not be surprised" (on a movie stub from the pursuit of happiness."
Also framing the background for this conversation is the jacket from an airplane ticket that reads "forget your playlist. put your passport on shuffle." and a postcard for Alissa Hinton's series of collages and composites entitled "art of transformation". This is all appropriate (and will all be appropriated into the psuedo theory of what I am about to say next) because Bonita is a woman who makes beauty, art and contagious transformation out of whatever is lying around...and makes lying around into a seductive dance of its own most days. What I learned from listeningn in Harlem on that Sunday evening before catching a plane home is that words, like the women who use them best (!) will not be captured, will only be held when they want to be held, will not hold back and will paint everything that moves into their presence with their asking tone of more making. They speak possibility into each other, they ask why not something else and they predict some knowing, they predict unpredictable response they conjure and conjure an impossible readiness.
So what I learned in this listening is something else of needing more and something unpredictable, like "i am ready."