Since my last post
about measures of success for a political poet, I've had several fruitful conversations about the potential of poetry to create positive changes in the world. Thank you for reading, and for sharing your perspectives to affirm my work and the transformative work of the artists I admire.
Recently, I've also had a couple of publications include my words in their projects to lift voices for social change.
The Everyday Abolition/Abolition Every Day Project
is producing a zine all about our creativity and collective power to resist the prison industrial complex. Everyday Abolition
is "an international political art collaboration between Chanelle Gallant and Lisa Marie Alatorre, collecting stories, art, and interviews highlighting the ways PIC abolitionists practice, and live PIC abolition in our work, organizing, and personal lives."
So for the rest of 2013, Everyday Abolition is posting stories and words about what it means to live abolition, everyday. A print version of the zine will follow, and until then, you can read the posts online. So far, pieces include The Creative Spark of Injustice
, my response to the acquittal of Travyon Martin's murderer, and Isolation Cannot Heal Isolation: One Survivor's Response to Sexual Assault
, a beautiful, brave post about healing, safety, and accountability, written by Blyth Barnow, a woman I'm proud to call my friend.
Read these posts and more on Everyday Abolition/Abolition Every Day.
My words also appeared last month in an article by Andrea Abi-Karam, published on openDemocracy's Transformation: Where love meets social justice
. The article, "Political Poetry Does Not Ask Permission,"
includes interviews with me and two other political poets, Jacqueline Frost and Wendy Trevino, on the transformative power of political poetry.
This piece begins: We long for the time when we took to the streets. But now, we take those words from the streets and transform our post-occupy political daze into poetry.
Poetry’s evasion of mainstream capitalism gives it a unique, charged voice for political expression in the public sphere. Compared to other art forms, books collect dust on shelves while gallery pieces sell for thousands. Poetry’s existence outside of “economic desire” gives it the power of a voice that doesn’t seek to please anyone.
“I feel like one thing that makes political poetry so impactful is that it doesn’t ask permission,” says Bay Area poet and activist Maisha Johnson. She continues: “A lot of political poetry says: ‘This is my truth, I’m not going to wait for anybody to allow me to speak my truth. This is what I need to say – I’m going to say it.’”
Read the rest of the article and watch videos of the poets on the Transfomation website.
Okay, here it is. My Miley Cyrus post.
I wasn't going to do this. Not because I've been living under a rock, unaware of the pop star's recent antics, but because I've been hoping that she'll just go away. I've kept track of conversations about her, with people like Tressie McMillan Cottom
, Syreeta McFadden
, and Big Freedia
expressing how I've felt about Miley's choices much more eloquently than I could (seriously, click those links. They're essential reading). And, after so many mic-dropping moments of brilliant commentary, I really hoped Miley would just get the message, hang up her own microphone, and fade away from the center of pop culture attention.
But no. We're still talking
about Miley. Only now, much of the conversation
is about Miley's sexual expression and whether or not we should be encouraging her to put on more clothing
. And I'll be honest. In the grand scheme of things, considering the current degradation
and the historical exploitation framing the context of what's been happening with Miley, I really could not care less about what Miley chooses to do with her own body.
So, even though I'm well aware that there are plenty of issues
more important than Miley Cyrus, I've taken a moment to write about Miley. Because these conversations touch on issues that go far beyond the power of a half-naked pop star, and to me, it's important that my perspective isn't forgotten. That's why I'm sharing this poem, which I wrote in response to a Saturday Night Special
prompt of "wiggle." Read on to find the wiggle, and see if you can hear why on some level, while I hate to admit it, Miley matters to me. miley and me
Here I am, blogging and apologizing. Saying, I'm sorry I haven't been blogging more often. Here I am falling back on the excuse that I've been busy. Busy, busy, busy. Here I am claiming that being busy keeps me connected, keeps me aware, makes me feel like I'm contributing to life around me and weaving a thread between my own heartbeat and the drumming that makes the world go 'round.
And here I am admitting that it's not (always) true. That sometimes, it's quite the opposite – staying
busy helps me disconnect, helps me keep moving without pausing to consider how I'm moving, or why. It helps me feel productive, which can seem fulfilling when I convince myself that I value productivity more than being in touch with the fullness of my reality, including any uncomfortable feelings I'd rather avoid.
For me, working and creating with dignity means being mindful about the work I'm doing, and being aware of all of my needs, even those I might be neglecting in any given moment by staying so busy. I'm thinking about what bell hooks wrote in Sisters of the Yam: Black Women and Self-Recovery:
"[t]he practice of 'right livelihood' invites us to become more fully aware of our reality, of the labor we do and the way we do it."
So here I am, pausing. Practicing "right livelihood" by taking a moment to think about how I can align my busy life with my dignity.
We all deserve to work with dignity, which is one of the reasons I'll be marching tomorrow for May Day, also known as International Workers' Day. It's a day for uniting in solidarity with immigrant workers, to stand up for human rights and say no to criminalization. CUAV's contingent will be part of San Francisco's march, walking together as LGBTQ survivors and our allies. Join us
, or find May Day events in your area
What does working with dignity mean to you?
How strange, this business of writing.
On one hand, it's very personal for me. It's just me and the page, journeying through thoughts and memories that exist nowhere else but within my own mind. You may have noticed that lately my blog has focused a lot on my emotions and my healing, and my creative writing has also been taking an inward turn. I've been looking at the possibility of social change through the lens of inner change, exploring how tending to my needs as a survivor connects with creating the change necessary to counteract the broader impact of oppression.
And on the other hand, writing can be all about connection. It's an odd combination of stories both personal and shared, as the words that once hid in my darkest places make their way into the daylight for anyone listening to hear.
Like so many others, I began my day today with the impact of violence weighing on my heart, as I woke to news reports of the mass shooting in Colorado
. I'm praying for the victims and the survivors. I'm thinking about what it means to witness and survive violence, as so many of us in oppressed communities do each day, as we watch others fall to the violence we face.
In moments like these, I feel the need for connection. If only to know that others are surviving, and to learn how they're doing so. So today I'm turning to Dangerous Sweetness
, "an online collection of poems by queer & trans* poets responding with love & rage to the violence committed against those in their queer & trans* communities." It's a powerful, meaningful, necessary collection of words by remarkable artists, including some I've been honored to connect with personally. Poet Meg Day, whose work I've shared on this blog before,
writes of her need to collect these poems for those who have lost lives and livelihoods to violence, including those whose stories we haven't seen in the news, saying, "We honor them with our grief, our fury, our love, our words, & our lives."
There's something about connecting in this way that offers a glimmer of hope on dark days. This post was supposed to be about Bitchez Brew Revue
, the event where I'm reading tomorrow. Obviously, today's news of violence took my thoughts in a different direction, but this feels like an appropriate time to reflect on what connection means to me. Tomorrow, as I share some of my most personal poems with a crowd mixed with friends and strangers, I'll be thinking about what it means to share those stories that once were secrets, and are now acts of resistance against the forces that bring suffering. Event details:
Bitchez Brew RevueJuly 21, 20127:00 pm Awaken Cafe
1429 Broadway, OaklandFeaturing MG Roberts, Sean Labrador y Manzano, Cassandra Dallett, John Panzer, Jason Scheinheit, and Maisha Z. Johnson, with music by Brooke D.
Here's today's song for survival - Asha Ali's "In This World."
This morning I tuned my radio to KPOO
, a local station I love because of the way it lifts up the power of the people, moving away from the usual misrepresentation in the mainstream media to address complex issues. My reasons for listening today were quite simple, though - KPOO was playing the blues. And I sure am grateful for music that moves with the hard times. I'm thinking about that old saying, when it rains, it pours, because that's kind of how my life feels at the moment. Only in San Francisco, the rain is different. Sometimes, like this morning, when it rains, it mists. The water doesn't fall to the ground, but lingers in tiny droplets around you. You're not sure if you can really call it rain, and sometimes you start to wonder if it's raining at all or if it's just in your head. That is, until you get inside, to someplace warm and dry, and you realize your clothes are all wet and your skin is slick with something that's not your sweat. That works a little better as an analogy for my life right now. It feels like things have been trickling in, little by little, and I didn't really notice how much it was all building up until I felt soaked in my skin.
And now, I believe I'm slipping into a bit of a funk. Last Monday was The Siwe Project's No Shame Day,
aimed to encourage folks to talk about mental illness and break through some of the stigma
that often holds black folks back from seeking mental health treatment. Poet and Siwe Project founder Bassey Ikpi said, “We’re encouraging people to tend to their mental health that day without shame."So that's one of the reasons I'm trying to keep writing, without being ashamed of how I feel. Usually, a funk affects my writing in one of two ways. I might feel paralyzed, unable to create, and then I hate myself for it, sinking deeper into that bluesy feeling. Or I use the funk as fuel, writing my way through it. I'm trying my best to do the latter this time, to tend to my wellness by honoring how I'm feeling.
My hope is that someone else can get some wellness out of it, too. It works that way for me as a reader, at least. Just like I sometimes need to hear the blues, at times I need to read about how others are struggling. I can find hope in happy resources like the Happy Black Woman blog
, but personally, I wouldn't feel honest if I wrote about my healing
without also acknowledging the hard things I'm struggling to heal from. So I hope I can add to those stories, like the ones from No Shame Day
, which help us to feel not so alone. Writing keeps me grounded. It weaves some invisible thread through me and back to the earth. I can write to get perspective on the bigger picture. I can write to feel like somebody else cares, even if it's only my notebook listening. Without writing, I don't know what I'd do. I might just tune into the blues and out of the world, taking flight like a bird and forgetting that there are reasons to come back down. Here's one of my all-time favorite blues singers, Bessie Smith, singing "Backwater Blues."
She was one fierce artist, known as "Empress of the Blues,"
who certainly had no shame in her struggles.
Black folk don't blog. No, we keep our business to ourselves. If we share it with anyone, it's family. Black folk don't write. Just look at the widely accepted U.S. literary canon
and you know a young black woman like me has no business trying to be a writer. Also, black folk don't talk about things like violence
, survival or healing
. We survive, wordlessly, and go on with our lives. Okay, so clearly it's not that simple. I do all of the above. But it's amazing what it can to do to a person, the amount of hesitation or fear or self-doubt that can sneak in when I feel compelled to do something after hearing that "black folk don't."The idea behind the documentary web series "Black Folk Don't" is to
have conversations about those activities that often complete the statement "black folk don't..." Series creator Angela Tucker talks to folks who show that there are exceptions to every rule, and also some history, some pain, some shame and some humor behind each one. It makes for a very insightful show. In an interview just published on The Root
, Tucker chats about season one of "Black Folk Don't," as well as the upcoming second season.Let's see, what else don't black people do? Black folk don't identify as queer. If we do lean that way, we certainly keep it to ourselves. Oh, and black folk don't get tattoos. Black folk don't listen to white folks' music.
And black folk don't love animals. We certainly don't occasionally refer to our cats as "soulmates." And if we did, we certainly wouldn't admit to it on a public blog.Let's talk about
what we do and don't, and why. It seems like a good step toward understanding one another, beyond the limits that sometimes hold us back.
Coming soon on Inkblot:
- Recaps on recent events, including The Color of My Spirit and Harlem's Poetic Rebellion.
- Exciting updates on upcoming events.
- A creative non-fiction piece inspired by Memorial Day.
- An update on my progress in the Pacific University MFA program, as my second semester comes to a close.
I've been getting hearing some really great feedback from folks who have read some of my recent posts (thanks, y'all!), and who are also awaiting more, so I just wanted to let you know that there's plenty more on the way. Also know that I'm always open to feedback, and to suggestions if you come across anything you think I'd like to blog about. It's not just my work that keeps this blog alive - I wouldn't be able to do it without your support!Here's some entertainment to hold you in the meantime.
Nelly Furtado's music video for "Big Hoops (Bigger the Better)"
includes influences from Native American dancers. That alone is nothing new for mainstream artists, of course, but check out Adrienne K's review on her Native Appropriations blog
, where she discusses why she's so glad to see a mainstream artist including Indigenous dancing in a way that shows respect and avoids cultural appropriation. Do you think this can influence other artists to do the same? Enjoy the video!
I’m getting back on that submission train. It’s been a little while since I’ve submitted creative work for publication. I guess there are a few reasons for that, but I’m glad to say that fear of rejection isn’t one of them.
No, rejection and I are old friends. It might even be nice to reunite. I’ve gotten so many rejection letters now that I’ve come to appreciate what I can learn from them. I’ve learned the logistical things, of course, about formatting and guidelines and making sure the piece is a good fit for the publication.
But here’s the most valuable thing I’ve learned from rejection: I have to stay true to my own voice, regardless of where it’s accepted. Somewhere in me is a fear
that my work won’t be read, especially when I read about the exclusion
of women, people of color and queer folks from many mainstream literary spaces
. Then again, as I’ve pursued my true intentions for writing, I’ve found that many of the spaces that find me irrelevant are irrelevant to me, too. I have my own story to tell, in my own way, and when it comes to an audience, what matters most is reaching those who find it meaningful.
I was searching for an old post
I wrote, which led me to my old blog. I noticed my old blog used to be more fun than this one. A little less professional, maybe, but that’s because I used to write about whatever the hell I wanted, no matter how wacky
it was, so I came across as my authentic self. The voice of that weirdo loner writer rang true.
I think I’ve grown in my writing since then, which is a good thing, sure. I’m more focused, more mindful. I’m trying to make this blog less like my personal diary and more of something that can be useful for other people to read. I just hope I’m not censoring myself. After all, today’s rejection could make room in my life for tomorrow’s most meaningful connection, a connection between my authentic self and someone who feels that my voice matters to them.
1938 Disney rejection letter
Sometimes there are no words. The anger, the sadness, and the longing for justice come too late to hope for one young man to ever take another breath again. 17 year old Trayvon Martin was unarmed, carrying only a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea when a man who deemed him "suspicious" shot and killed him. That man has not been arrested for taking Trayvon's life. Those are the facts.
Rest in peace, Trayvon
And this is the boy we've lost. I'm joining in today's blog-in for Trayvon
, but just to be clear, this blog post itself isn't for the sake of bringing Trayvon justice. No, these are just words, and at the moment they feel like just that, only words
. Here, I can honor Trayvon's memory. But to take action, we must do more. Information from forharriet.com: Sign the petition
at Change.org to prosecute the killer of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin
Contact Bill Lee, Chief of Police
Sanford Police Department
815 W. 13th Street
Sanford , Florida 32771
Contact Norman Wolfinger, Florida's 18th District State's Attorney
State Attorney's Office
Criminal Justice Center
101 Bush Boulevard
PO Box 8006
Sanford, Florida 32772-8006
This has been out for a while, so you've probably seen it before, but here's Chimamanda Adichie's TED talk
, "The Danger of a Single Story." It came to mind recently as the Kony 2012 campaign video
has swept through social media, showing the potential power of speaking up for social change on the world wide web. This campaign has been the target of some criticism
, about the validity of the video
, its claims, and whether or not those who are taking up the cause of spreading it are creating social change. This conversation has me thinking about who's telling the story in this case, and perhaps more importantly, whose voice is being left out. It also brings up questions about the ease of attempting to create social change through social media. It's an ease that can both raise hope and risk carelessness and danger. As someone
who blogs, networks through Facebook, and occasionally tweets
as part of my work, I find this to be an essential discussion. It's also a complicated matter. I'll share some more thoughts on it later. For now, I'll leave you with these wise words by writer Chimamanda Adichie.