Today is the last day of Women's History Month
. How did you celebrate?Here's a poem from a woman who's an important part of my history, Gwendolyn Brooks, the first
black woman to hold the position of poetry consultant to the Library of Congress. A poem rich with history. Who are your favorite female poets?to the Diaspora
you did not know you were Afrika
When you set out for Afrika
you did not know you were going.
you did not know you were Afrika.
You did not know the Black continent
that had to be reached
I could not have told you then that some sun
somewhere over the road,
would come evoking the diamonds
of you, the Black continent--
somewhere over the road.
You would not have believed my mouth.
When I told you, meeting you somewhere close
to the heat and youth of the road,
liking my loyalty, liking belief,
you smiled and you thanked me but very little believed me.
Here is some sun. Some.
Now off into the places rough to reach.
Though dry, though drowsy, all unwillingly a-wobble,
into the dissonant and dangerous crescendo.
Your work, that was done, to be done to be done to be done. -Gwendolyn Brooks
It can feel pretty hopeless sometimes, fighting against such forces as the prison industrial complex
. Facing a system that brings more and more people
every year, particularly young people of color, into the prisons that call for their return as soon as they leave. So yesterday I was glad for the opportunity to tag along with The Beat Within on a trip to San Francisco's Juvenile Justice Center. What is The Beat Within?
It's a an organization that helps incarcerated youth find hope through writing. Every week, facilitators go into youth detention facilities all over the Bay Area, where the group began, and now throughout California, Washington, D.C., Arizona and Miami. In guided writing workshops, the youth get a chance to reflect on their lives and express themselves in healthy ways. Their pieces are then printed in a publication that reaches folks from all over. And suddenly, these young people, who often feel as if nobody in the world listens to or cares about what they have to say, discover that each of them has a voice. It's a powerful process, and I was glad to play a small part in it yesterday. Listening to everyone from the girl who couldn't wait to escape the uniforms and feel feminine again to the boy who would give anything for his parents' forgiveness to the detention center employees who expressed their thanks for this important work gave me a glimpse of what The Beat means, to so many people. I'll stop rambling about it though, and let you watch this video, "The Story of The Beat Within," by Kayla Hilton of San Francisco State University. But you should know that they're seeking volunteers for typing, editing, fundraising and facilitating.
So if these stories inspire you to be a part of The Beat Within, contact Inga Buchbinder at firstname.lastname@example.orgAnd check back here for more from me about these experiences, as well as an interview with founder David Inocencio.
I. Love. This film. "Walking Home" is a a short, experimental film by Nuala Cabral, who uses images, poetry and music to address street harassment against women. She speaks to the truth of all women who have to worry that simply walking down the street could mean the risk of harassment, violence and blame for anything hurled their way.
The film gives voices and names
back to women who are reduced to body parts and sexualized slurs. I really appreciate its message. Walk on.
It's almost that time
of year again!
That's why today's Friday Friends are my friends from all week (and year!) round, Community United Against Violence (CUAV
). In three short weeks, the organization will be putting on the second annual Safetyfest, a festival of events meant to build safety, community and power for queer and trans folks in the Bay Area.
All of the events are totally free, and they include workshops, celebrations and performances, with topics ranging from self-defense to BDSM to, you guessed it, writing. At last year's Safetyfest, I facilitated "Let Our Words Be Heard," a writing workshop and open mic that exceeded even my wildest expectations of how inspiring and empowering it can be to share stories with others in LGBTQ communities. So I'm really excited to return this year with "Notes from Our Underground,"
a writing workshop based on transformative, liberatory approaches to writing. You'll have two chances to participate this time, once on Friday, April 15 at 1:30 pm, co-facilitated by the fabulous Jen Cross
, and again at 10:30 am on Saturday, April 16, co-facilitated by my favorite Sam Sax
. All levels of writing experience are welcome.I absolutely cannot wait. Want more information?
- Visit the Safetyfest website for a full calendar of events, including locations, and all of your Safetyfest needs.
- My words can't begin to grasp the wonder that was Safetyfest 2010, so I'll let this video glimpse of what happened speak for itself. It includes a peek at some of last year's events, with clips of Jen Cross and I reading at "Let Our Words Be Heard."
- And here's another great video to get you excited for Safetyfest 2011, with some sneak peaks of what makes this year's event so special and how you can be a part of it.
- And speaking of your part in this, besides bringing your beautiful self to Safetyfest, here's another way you can be a part of it and support the important work of CUAV. Visit the Safetyfest Indiegogo page, where you can learn about how to donate, how to claim some wonderful perks in exchange for your donation, and how your donation will help -- namely, by ensuring that Safetyfest can be FREE for all participants, so that any money raised during the events can go directly to supporting queer and trans survivors of violence.
And remember, CUAV is always around if you're in need of support in dealing with violence. Visit the website
I'm dedicating today's poem to the good people of POWER
, who, rather than staying hushed, are speaking up. They're spending the morning calling for accountability from the City of San Francisco and fighting for justice for low-income people of color. Read details here
of the legal showdown over health concerns surrounding the construction in the Bayview-Hunter's Point area of the city.Go POWER!Here's a rough poem I've been piecing together. hush
here is where we learn to hush:
at mama’s bedside
to sleep, she needs the silence
of secrets submerged
below soft voices
here is where we learn to hush:
before the pulpit
voices may boom from behind it
but from where we sit,
not a word of the pain resting in the pew
not a word
here is where we learn to hush:
where words don’t come from live voices
where words are set it stone
we learn to keep our voices scattered
never gather enough sound at one time
for it’s always time to hush, now,
so silent before we shout Maisha Z. Johnson
I'm deep in happy anticipation these days, for things like grad school and upcoming readings (details to come). And at the moment I'm feeling grateful for this digital age in which
I can share my life and experiences, even with those who are far away. As I mentioned yesterday, I have a new video page with clips from some of my readings.
I've added these videos
, broken into two parts, from my most recent reading
at New Poetry Mission. The reading includes some of my most recent poems, some older poems, a shout-out to my first internet hate and more.
I'd love to include you, blog family, as part of my audience.
Reading taped by my brother, Darius Johnson.
Today is International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. According to the UN
, we observe it on this day as the anniversary of March 21, 1966
, when police in South Africa opened fire on peaceful black protesters, killing 69 of them. Since then, of course, apartheid has fallen in South Africa, but all around the world, examples of racial discrimination continue today. This great video shows how music, dance and theater was used as black people in South Africa coped with the oppressive conditions of apartheid. See anything that inspires you to take action today?
And speaking of videos, you may have noticed a slight change in the format of my website, complete with a homepage
now and a page for videos
. I'm trying to make navigation easier, and it may just be temporary. What do you think?
So I've been cheating with my Friday Friends
. At first I was using Friday posts to highlight fabulous blogs, but last week's Friday Friends were Planned Parenthood
, and this week it's not a blog either. So I'll adjust the rules of my Friday Friends (who's making these rules, anyway?) to highlighting blogs when I can, or whoever is in need of attention at the moment.
At this moment, the friends in need are the good people of Modern Times Bookstore
Modern Times has come up on my blog before, though maybe not explicitly. I tend to link to it when I mention things like having a "nerdy bookgasm"
upon discovering that a bookstore offers selections for people of color, queer folks and anyone else looking for something more than the small scope of literature offered in mainstream bookstores. The store also hosts some fantastic events, including the writing workshop and open mic I led as part of CUAV's Safetyfest
I'd love to make this all about me, seeing as Modern Times is one of my absolute favorite places and preserving it is vital to my own happiness, but this is definitely about more than me. This beloved bookstore has done so much for the communities they serve, and now they need our help
in return. Unfortunately, they have to vacate their space, and they're in need of our support during this time. They've made the details of the move, as well as ways you can help, available here
on their website. But I might as well spread the word by helping ways to post here. Feel free to steal from me and help spread the word, too! The best ways to help Modern Times Bookstore…
- Buy Books! Starting Wednesday March 16th we will be having a STORE WIDE SALE. Most NEW books @ 20% off & USED books @ 50% off. This sale will not apply to certain items such as special orders, coursebooks and event books. The more we sell now, the less we’ll all have to carry over to the new space!
- Come to our Events! We have exciting events scheduled through April including a ‘Goodbye to 888 Valencia’ Party on Saturday April 23rd. check out MTBS.com for more details!
- Look for updates about our move. As soon as we know more about our new location and how you can help move us there, we will post it in our window at 888 Valencia as well as on our website and facebook page.
Okay, so this is all about me again -- please support Modern Times or I'll be very sad. Long live independent bookstores!
has its parts
like a body has its parts
there are holes
to help you breathe
there are pockets
what you can’t
in your small hands
i’ve collected its parts to find
i’ve lost some parts
does this loss, then,
have its parts, too?
Are there right and wrong reasons to write? I've been thinking of this question lately, as I consider MFA programs, and come upon the realization that there are, certainly, right and wrong reasons for doing an MFA program. I suppose I'm on the right track, because the closer it gets, the more sure I am that this will be a good thing for my writing, and that alone is reason for me to do it.
But then there's a matter of my writing, and why I do that. I could go on for days about why I write
, but today I'm looking to someone else's wisdom. Charles Bukowski
once wrote in a letter as he was quitting his post office job to write full-time, "I have one of two choices — stay in the post office and go crazy...or stay out here and play at writer and starve. I have decided to starve." Bukowski's poem "so you want to be a writer?" is printed here
, and I believe it was written for moments like these.
The poem's conclusion? If you're meant to write, there is no other way. and there never was.