Tuesday, December 07, 2010

"i use my mistakes for successes," "it's never too soon!"

and other gem-tastic words of wisdom from one of the most visually stunning poets i've come across. plus his poems got that sweet thick-honey drip.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"Don't suck on your long black braid and weep."

--Marilyn Chin, from "The Survivor," The Phoenix Gone, the Terrace Empty.

Friday, July 23, 2010

honey and sting

this is the summer of the bumble bee. i've been buzzing incessantly, and my little bumble-wings are pooped. i've been spending a lot of time building up my relationships with old (nuclear family, highschool and college friends) and new (organizers and romantic bumble bees) important people in my life; organizing around old (police brutality, accountable development) and new (street harassment and gender violence, food justice) issues; and it's been thoroughly fulfilling, but exhausting. more, i've seemingly lost my ability to pump my bumble-brakes--the honey i've been feasting on has been so delicious! almost to the detriment of my personal health. after something like my tenth consecutive night without sufficient sleep, two things occurred to me:

1. i love sleep. and balance. but i've not been tending to either of those. and my heart and body know it. this hyper-busy lifestyle has got me always playing catch-up, a little on edge, stinger all poised and ready.

2. i haven't taken enough time over the past month to really reflect on my (mostly beautiful, but often trying) experiences, meditate, write consistently, or spend any time with myself. i've just been zooming through, sweet and tired.

so here is where i declare: enough. a friday pledge to more balanced living, to celebrating my own-ness, to more honey, and less sting.

i came across this poem from the devastatingly old-man-beautiful and time-tested derek walcott that made my bumble-brain gleam in anticipation of getting some alone time with myself. enjoy.

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other's welcome

And say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was yourself.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

golden nugget: harryette mullen

one of my favorite things to do is to read aloud and listen to people read aloud. what can i learn from myself when i speak, distinct from what i learn from myself when i think? in what ways might someone else's voice enrich my day, my life, a single moment? the possibilities are increasing, and might never end!

here's a gem from harryette mullen. she's reading a poem called "Dim Lady"

before she reads, she shares with her audience a bit of writer's advice. what makes it golden is that what she shares is really advice for people, everywhere. she says:

"you don't always have to face the blank page; you can start with something already written."

for us writers, who often struggle with the frequently daunting task of beginning a piece, with finding the best way to articulate that exciting idea in our brains, this is good news. but for people, and activists in particular, this might be even better news to zero in on. for the world we're trying to create, for the change we envision and seek to manifest, we don't have to start from scratch. though humans are still relatively young in this world, we have a rich history to draw from!

we can build on the work that's already been done, build on the long trajectory history has offered us of people committed to liberation. in that way, writers and activists, and people of all persuasions can get the strength we need to do the important work we're invested in doing from already existing sources.

viva the wheel! and not reinventing it!

a traveling man, moving through spaces.

june has graciously carried me to new locations both physical and intellectual. i was fortunate enough to be able to spend a week in bermuda at the home of a friend of a friend. while there, i gained much insight about the country's history--of slavery, of colonialism, of tourism, of change and status quo. i played scrabble. i slept late and lovely. i beach-bummed and sun-funned. i also read a lot.

one of the books, consequence: beyond resisting rape by loolwa khazzoom, managed to shift my already radical perspective on the urgency around violence against women. khazzoom discussed the relationship between street harassment, gender violence, and law enforcement. she assesses that relationship as one in which the state--and more specifically the legal system--systematically fails to adequately and appropriately punish street harassment against women, and accurately link street harassment to gender violence. in response to that intentional absence of protection and deterrence, khazzoom suggests that women begin to create consequences for the men who harass us. some are physical consequences (self-defense, and what i'll term proactive self-defense--responding physically to an aggressive verbal threat), and some are social, but all of her ideas (packed snugly inside personal anecdotes) served to begin a conversation on shifting away from a dangerous norm towards women's safety, autonomy, and self-determination.

shortly after returning from bermuda, i spent a week in detroit at the u.s. social forum. the workshops, cultural events, marches, demonstrations, strategy sessions, formal and informal social networking, and the celebrations! that made up the forum were all incredibly inspired. the week was energized and hopeful in the face of the desolation the city of detroit faces--along with far too many other communities of color. we covered damn near every modern and historical problem marginalized folks have ever encountered. we were almost 20,000 deep. and we were solution-oriented.

the issue-based intellectual work i did at the forum was ultimately not as important to me as the personal work i ended up engaging in. specifically, in addition to all the bonding and deepening of friendships that occurred, i had an emotional (and principled!) conversation that epitomized ideological struggle around the definitions and manifestations of sexism, patriarchy, and male privilege with a male comrade. even though he left the conversation with pretty much the same perspective he had come into it with (that men can be the targets of sexism in a patriarchal society), it was fulfilling for me because of the tedious, exhausting, but committed way! we were able to dialogue with one another.ultimately i think what mattered was the way we were both invested in listening to and understanding one another. i'm positive that the ability to engage in that way--patiently and lovingly--with each other is one of the first steps to building a new society that redefines the way power works.

my journeys have treated me well. and finally, i'm home, with no complaints. but i have a friend who is currently embarking on a road trip from detroit to oakland. from what i understand, his trip thus far has been adventure-heavy and first day of summer sweet. he's been kind enough to keep me updated on his travels and send me the occasional sunset.


missouri! --->

so to him, and to travelers and people everywhere who believe in the power we have to create a new and beautiful world with love and committment, i'm dedicating this poem by harryette mullen:

for J.R.

She wants a man she can just
unfold when she needs him
then fold him up again
like those 50 cent raincoats
women carry in their purses
in case they get caught in stormy weather.

This one has her thumb out
for a man who's going her way.
She'll hitch with him awhile,
let him take her down the road
for a piece.

But I want to take you where you're going,
I'm unfolding for you
like a roadmap you can never again fold up
exactly the same as before.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Monday, June 14, 2010

practice practitioner

last year, i completed an organizing fellowship that, among other things, equipped new paid organizers with practical and time-tested skills central to effective organizing. we learned about various methods of outreach, different styles of doing one-on-ones, various aspects of campaign and leadership development, various methods of centering, and on and on. all of these intensive trainings were always infused with a focus on intentional practice. intentional practice is what we constantly focused on, as distinct from default practice. the difference here is not a shocker: default practices are what we do without thinking--deep-rooted behaviors that we rely on and rarely question--while intentional practices are what we do when we make conscious informed decisions about the way we want to think, act, and engage with the world.

here's an excerpt from an article one of the organizing trainers wrote on practice:
"When we begin to look at our own practices and then practice on purpose, the first thing we want to ask ourselves is: “What matters to me?” “What do I care about? “What am I committed to?” The answers to these questions become the guide for taking on new practices."
--Ng’ethe Maina and Staci Haines
"The Transformative Power of Practice"

so it should come as no surprise that i've been thinking a lot about my personal practices, both the ones already embedded in me as well as the ones i'd like to pick up. in the latter category, i've been making some progress with daily practices of stretching, meditating, and writing. one i'd like to get in the practice of is:

reading beautiful shit aloud

maybe out a window, maybe in the morning, or before i go to bed at night. but there's definitely something affirming and enriching about having feel-good words roll off the tongue. hearing your own voice repeat sounds so well-crafted and enjoyable to say, they make you tingle--creating a new space in the universe filled with positive, aurally incredible speech. that matters to me. a small intentional counter to all of the negative words, music, and sounds i'll likely come into contact with throughout the day.

let's practice! here's a little piece of rbsa from arundhati roy's the god of small things:

suddenly the skyblue plymouth looked absurdly opulent on the narrow, pitted road. like a wide lady squeezing down a narrow corridor...within minutes, the road was swamped by thousands of marching people. automobile islands in a river of people...the sound of a thousand voices spread over the frozen traffic like a noise umbrella.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

found poem

yesterday i rode my bike to a birthday dinner for my uncle and upon my arrival, my father realized--much to his dismay-- that i hadn't worn a helmet. today, he sent me the most beautiful email, conceived in concern and executed with love. i've set it up for you below.

as a refresher, poets.org describes "found poetry" in the following way:

"Found poems take existing texts and refashion them, reorder them, and present them as poems. The literary equivalent of a collage, found poetry is often made from newspaper articles, street signs, graffiti, speeches, letters, or even other poems.

A pure found poem consists exclusively of outside texts: the words of the poem remain as they were found, with few additions or omissions. Decisions of form, such as where to break a line, are left to the poet."

subject: bicycle helmet

zakia, though i know you are grown and can do any darn thing you want to.

that notwithstanding,

you have a responsibility

to stay around as long as you can to share

the awesome gifts you have.

though there is no particular value

in longevity, i think the intensity

of one's sharing of gifts

one has been born with and honed

is what counts. but why chance

shortening the time one can share

for no good reason? surely following

the police around, organizing

and struggling for change

have their dangers,

but those are chances worth taking.

riding without a helmet

is just exposing yourself

to unreasonable risk

for no good reason.

please don’t! love, daddy.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

on passion

more than ever, i'm in the practice of constantly considering how i can engage each of my passions equally, simultaneously, and meaningfully. my two passions, only slightly distinct from the subtitle of this blog, are:
  1. poetry, and
  2. liberation of all oppressed people, with a particular focus on blacks, women, and queers :)
i'll be starting an MFA in creative writing in the fall while attempting to continue to develop professionally in the field of paid community organizing. in the meantime-in-between time, i'm trying to immerse myself in both liberation struggles and poetry on a daily basis.

through my job and my volunteer organizing, i'm a part of the take back the land (tbtl) movement. it's a coalition of community based organizations and individuals from across the country who believe that housing is a human right that should be granted by any means necessary--but mostly through direct action and civil disobedience. given the reality of the homelessness epidemic, the foreclosure crisis, the gentrification boom--including the unprecedented number of luxury condos emerging in low-income communities, and the national attack on public housing, the logic behind the movement is simple:

people don't have permanent housing--distinct here from simply shelter-- not because they're poor or because they're unemployed or fell behind on their mortgage payments or because they spent all their money on their drug or alcohol addiction or got sick or have bad credit. people don't have permanent housing because in our society, housing is a commodity, not guaranteed as a human right. period. the people and entities who own the land and the housing--mainly cities, banks, and developers--would rather make a profit than provide a place to live to everyone who needs one. more than this being simply a sad capitalist fact, this is a human rights injustice.

one of the guiding tenets of the take back the land movement is borrowed from the civil rights movement: when a policy is unjust, it's the responsibility of the people to change it. so when the south was desegregated because all those beautiful courageous folks decided to sit at those lunch counters and ride those buses in a humane way, it certainly set a precedent.

the point is, i was in the bronx two weeks ago, participating in a three-pronged direct action event with tbtl-affiliated organization picture the homeless. i was utterly immersed in the scene as a part of the security contingent. by all accounts, it was a successful action but by the end, i began to feel guilty for not having once distinctly thought about poetry. where was my poetry? where did it fit?

it was everywhere. the poem was happening and it was up to me to capture it's necessity, it's urgency, to bring awareness to it, to prove it. then i considered that age-old question: if a poem occurs on a bronx spring day, but no one is there to name it, did it ever really happen?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

legacy and lorraine in the closet

"love's the only engine of survival"
-leonard cohen

my parents, in their infinite and beautiful wisdom, named me after a woman who had real jewels for a brain. in addition to being the first black woman playwright, creating work that would have resonance for blacks and humans decades later, and being incredibly thoughtful and critical and beautifully articulate about it, she was bisexual.

i discovered this last fact only recently and the news left a residue of gloom and hopelessness in me. it's painful to come to terms with the reality that one of my heroines thought it best--and likely, safest--to remain publicly closeted for her entirely too brief 34 years.

imagine what more she could've done had she been able to be her full self--her best self-- all the time!

her era and it's people failed her--shirked their responsibility to her to allow her the space to be her best self.

and how much further along are we, as a community of thinkers and women and men and humans today?

enter gloom.

also, enter soapbox.

queer people of color in communities of color continue to be under attack within their communities. it's disheartening to be engaged in the same conversation today that people have been engaged in for the past fifty years. what's different?

what's different when two black men jump out of an SUV in the hood in brooklyn because they see two latino men holding onto each other and assume they're gay? what's different when they scream homophobic and anti-immigrant epithets while beating the two brothers, beating one of them to death? what, when the black men are sent to prison, but not for a hate crime?

what if we had allowed the sucuzhanay brothers to be their whole and best selves? what if hakim and keith were taught to be their whole and best selves? their loving selves? what if we all began to take responsibility for one another, for the type of world we're creating with our interactions?

what then?

lorraine's legacy is newly bittersweet. one that both inspires and cautions. while she publicly championed civil rights and self-determination for blacks in the political and cultural spheres, she felt that she could only anonymously champion the rights of women and gays. she was forced to siphon off her identity into digestable and acceptable pieces in order to survive. her complex analysis of the way sexist and homophobic oppression are linked was by all accounts visionary, and years ahead of her time. it's phenomenal that despite the climate of homophobia she lived in, she found a way to communicate her analysis and concern. but it's heartbreaking that her contributions to such a radical, accurate, and useful gender analysis have been largely ignored, along with her sexual identity altogether.

finally, lorraine hansberry and malcolm x share the same birthday, may 19th. though malcolm was five years her senior, they both died in 1965, a month apart.

what types of lessons about legacy does history want to teach us with these two?

was malcolm allowed to be his full and best self in ways that lorraine wasn't?


should some new-age, technologically savvy lorraine and malcolm emerge from these times, how might we treat them differently, here in the future? to what new heights might they travel, and how might we all benefit?

Monday, April 26, 2010

dance dance dance!

rita d. drops knowledge on craft:

"Poetry is a kind of dance already. Technically, there's the play of contemporary speech against the bass-line of the iambic, but there's also the expression of desire that is continually restrained by the limits of the page, the breath, the very architecture of the language--just as dance is limited by the capabilities of our physical bodies as well as by gravity. A dancer toils in order to skim the surface of the floor, she develops muscles most of us don't even know we have; but the goal is to appear weightless. A poet struggles to render into words that which is unsayable--the ineffable, that which is deeper than language--in the hopes that whatever words make the final cut will, in turn, strike the reader speechless."

rita dove on post-racial literature

there are a few different ways to complicate this, though i identify with the heart of what she's saying. while it would certainly be easier if black reference points were universally understood and valued and the notion of "mainstream" was expanded to include all types of references, there's definitely something valuable in writing from a culturally distinct standpoint. more than simply insisting upon their presence, i think black arts movement writers did invaluable and necessary work to affirm a black aesthetic at a historically critical point.

its frustrating to me that she finds it frustrating to have to explain black reference points in a poem, and even more frustrating that she thinks she has to explain them in the first place.

when it comes to writing--our love work-- easier can't be the goal. instead, work that's informed by honesty, whatever that truth ends up being, is the only way forward.

and, co-sign: of course "we" haven't had the conversations about race and privilege. i'll take her "we" to be a "they," and what they look like, crazy? they definitely aren't tryna undo all this on GP. even when there exist such flowery phrases as "post-racial," freddie d's wisdom still stands: power concedes nothing without a demand.

june jordan throwbacks

from "white english/black english: the politics of translation," 1972 in civil wars:

"I am one among a growing number of Black poets and writers dedicated to the preservation of Black language within our lives, and dedicated to the health of our children as they prepare themselves for life within this standard, white America which has despised even our speech and our prayers and our love. As long as we shall survive, Black, in white America, we, and our children, require and deserve the power of Black language, Black history, Black literature, as well as the power of standard English, standard history, and standard literature. To the extent that Black survival fails on these terms, it will be a political failure: it will be the result of our not recognizing and not revolting against the political use of language, to extinguish the people we want to be and the people we have been. Politics is power. Language is political. And language, its reward, currency, punishment, and/or eradication--is political in its meaning and in its consequence."

bed-stuy's standard for a poet-activist gets her shine on.

here's the bangin audio of "A Poem about Intelligence for My Brothers and Sisters"

A Poem about Intelligence for My Brothers and Sisters

A few years back and they told me Black
means a hole where other folks
got brain/it was like the cells in the heads
of Black children was out to every hour on the hour naps
Scientists called the phenomenon the Notorious
Jensen Lapse, remember?
Anyway I was thinking
about how to devise
a test for the wise
like a Stanford-Binet
for the C.I.A.
you know?
Take Einstein
being the most the unquestionable the outstanding
the maximal mind of the century
And I’m struggling against this lapse leftover
from my Black childhood to fathom why
anybody should say so:
E=mc squared?
I try that on this old lady live on my block:
She sweeping away Saturday night from the stoop
and mad as can be because some absolute
jackass have left a kingsize mattress where
she have to sweep around it stains and all she
don’t want to know nothing about in the first place
“Mrs. Johnson!” I say, leaning on the gate
between us: “What you think about somebody come up
with an E equals M C 2?
“How you doin,” she answer me, sideways, like she don’t
want to let on she know I ain’
combed my hair yet and here it is
Sunday morning but still I have the nerve
to be bothering serious work with these crazy
questions about
E equals what you say again, dear?”
Then I tell her, “Well
also this same guy? I think
he was undisputed Father of the Atom Bomb!”
“That right.” She mumbles or grumbles, not too politely
“And dint remember to wear socks when he put on
his shoes!” I add on (getting desperate)
at which point Mrs. Johnson take herself and her broom
a very big step down the stoop away from me
“And never did nothing for nobody in particular
lessen it was a committee
used to say, ‘What time is it?’
you’d say, ‘Six o’clock.’
he’d say, ‘Day or night?’
and he never made nobody a cup a tea
in his whole brilliant life!
[my voice rises slightly]
he dint never boogie neither: never!”

“Well,” say Mrs. Johnson, “Well, honey,
I do guess
that’s genius for you.”

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

“The only thing that can save the world is the reclaiming of the awareness of the world. That's what poetry does.”

--allen ginsberg

so poets are superheroes after all, just as i suspected.

and its our month!

so there is much to celebrate!

including the fact that it's spring even though winter tried to suck all the juices from us.

i feel pretty good that i get april to formally celebrate my identity as a poet, and february cuz i'm black (too black too strong) and march cuz i'm a G.

just kidding, i celebrate every month.


won't you celebrate with me

by Lucille Clifton

won't you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.

a real G!

i was recently forced to move from my beloved apartment of two years due to some excessive slumlording conditions that came to a head. over our heads. look for the post about hundreds of dollars worth of water-damaged books, no heat, and no electricity in january coming soon. but the beauty in that misfortune, aside from the oodles of natural light streaming through my new living room, is the rinky dink library i moved next door to.

the brower branch of the brooklyn public library system is a goldmine, precisely because it's a one-story building with seating for 38 adults and 20 children.

their poetry collection is bananas, literally overflowing with black classics!
they had two copies of a wreath for emmett till. one in hardcover!

i found my girl gwen breezy in there, chillin. shinin. delightin and crowd excitin.

so, here's my birthday present to you:
excerpted from mama gwendolyn brooks' "the third sermon on the warpland" in to disembark:

West Madison Street
In "Jessie's Kitchen"
nobody's eating Jessie's Perfect Food.
Crazy flowers
cry up across the sky, spreading
and hissing This is

The young men run.

They will not steal Bing Crosby but will steal
Melvin Van Peebles who made Lillie
a thing of Zampoughi a thing of red wiggles and trebles
(and I know there are twenty wire stalks sticking out of her head
as her underfed haunches jerk jazz).

A clean riot is not one in which little rioters
long-stomped, long-straddled, BEANLESS
but knowing no Why
go steal in hell
a radio, sit to hear James Brown
and Mingus, Young-Holt, Coleman, John, on V.O.N.,
and sun themselves in Sin.

However, what
is going on
is going on.

That is their way of lighting candles in the darkness.
A White Philosopher said
"It is better to light one candle than curse the darkness."
These candles curse—
inverting the deeps of the darkness.

The young men run.
The children in ritual chatter
scatter upon
their Own and old geography.

The Law comes sirening across the town.

Monday, April 05, 2010

here comes the sun

a few weeks ago, i was fortunate enough to travel to new orleans for a few days of patois: the 7th annual new orleans international human rights film festival. i sat on a panel about housing and displacement with staff and members from my job, and other housing activists from miami and new orleans. the festival was phenomenal, and i learned a lot about the specifics of state-sanctioned displacement and gentrification in new orleans.

it was worse than i suspected.

to make a long, awful, though resistance-laden story short, new orleans' city council voted to destroy virtually all of the city's public housing before katrina even hit. months after the storm, when many public housing residents hadn't yet returned, all of the public housing developments were boarded up and since then, all but one has been destroyed. even the ones that hadn't suffered any damage from the storm--which was the majority of them. what this effectively did was ensure that even if those low-income, primarily of color, displaced new orleanians made it back to new orleans, they would literally have no place to live.

despite the grim outlook, there was some sunny business:

1. mayday new orleans rocks. they're one of the kick-ass organizations down there doing amazing work to prevent the demolition of the last public housing development. bonus: the head of that org's name is samuel l. jackson. and he's the best kind of local celebrity.

2. sunni patterson. she functions as the cultural mouthpiece of nola. born and raised in new orleans public housing, she's one of the most respected spoken word poets up in that piece. i got a chance to see her perform and she killed it! or, brought it back to life. she's also mad fly and super pretty. black girls keep rockin it...