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...