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.
It's time for a cheesy reader appreciation post. So if receiving appreciations makes you squirm, you've been warned. And if you enjoy reading about how awesome you are, then please, read on.
I've been blogging for over two years now, and I am just full of gratitude for everyone who reads what I write here. That includes newcomers just stumbling by, as well as everyone who's been with me since the beginning
, and all of you who joined this journey somewhere in the middle.
You've read while I rant and ramble about anything remotely related to the arts and social change, everything from the big picture of justice work
to the smaller frame of the happenings around me
to the most intimate inner workings within my own body
. You've read my self-indulgent posts about my own readings and my fangirl raves about the artists whose work I admire. You've read while my blog has shifted focus, as I grow in my own healing work and learn more about how that growth connects with nurturing my world. This blog, which
began as a somewhat random, experimental project, has become very important to me. As an outlet for writing about many of the subjects I hold closest to my heart, this blog reminds me that I deserve to have time and space for what matters to me most. And knowing you're reading reminds me that I'm not alone in caring about transforming injustice into liberation through creativity.I'm feeling especially thankful for my readers these days, since I've been posting on a somewhat slow, irregular schedule lately. And yet, every time I think you must have all given up on me, I come back to find so many people still visiting this site, and apparently sharing it, too, with more folks reading now than ever before. This is the time of year when I tend to slow down a bit on new posts. This year should be no different, as I'm currently in the process of finishing the third semester of my MFA program,
as well as moving to a new city (still in the Bay Area, don't worry), and keeping up with work and the other details of my life. So new posts might be a bit sparse for the time being, but I want you to know that I'm thinking of you.
Your comments and emails help me find hope and remember the power of community, as I'm never alone in the fight for change, no matter how far my fellow warriors are from me. So feel free to speak up in comments or messages, even on old posts, even just to disagree with me and start a discussion, or even just to share your own work with me so that I don't feel like the only self-indulgent one around. I'd love to hear from you, for many reasons, but mostly because, as I said before, you are awesome. And not just because you read my blog. Mostly because, in your own unique way, your life is art. And your art is helping to change the world. Thank you for reading!
Women prisoners have been on my mind all week.
Maybe it's because it's now October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month
. And there's a tragic connection
between violence against women and the incarceration of women. The vast majority of incarcerated women have experienced violence throughout their lives, and many of them are serving time in prison for the very acts of self-defense that they had to use to stay alive. So when I think of raising awareness about domestic violence, I have to consider the ways we might shatter the myth that women's prisons are full of villains who deserve to be locked up – No. Women's prisons are full of survivors, who deserve freedom from the violence in their lives. So today, my Friday Friends are the fierce women of Fired Up! Fired Up! is
"a grassroots network of people who have been or are currently, behind the walls of SF County Jail building community with others who are committed to breaking down the barriers those walls produce." Every week, the Fired Up! women gather to grow together, heal together, and share the strength it takes to survive the system that continues to traumatize and dehumanize them.
I know from personal experience that the vibrant energy of this community of women can add a dash of hope to a dreary place. A few weeks ago, they invited a co-worker and I to visit the group as guests from CUAV, and even within the jail's cold, concrete walls, we found laughter, joy, and the undeniable spirit of resiliency. Visit the Fired Up! blog
to read more about what happened when CUAV and Fired Up! joined forces. You can also help celebrate the one-year anniversary of Fired Up! at a screening of the film Still Time, which tells the story of
LaKeisha Burton as she rebuilds her life after twenty years in prison. That screening will take place on October 20, and it will include snacks, a raffle, and a discussion with the filmmaker and with LaKeisha. You can find details about the event on the Fired Up! blog
as well. Fired Up! meetings began
with members of the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP). To learn more about incarcerated women and how you can support the vision of liberation and healing from violence, visit the CCWP website
And if you have twenty minutes to spare, watch "Strength of a Woman" below. It's a documentary "created by the Violence Against Women Committee of the Coalition For Women Prisoners and filmmaker Allison Caviness about the experiences, resilience, and strength of formerly incarcerated domestic violence survivors and the devastating impact that the criminal justice system can have on women's lives." These are heartbreaking stories, but the fact that someone is telling them offers some hope for change.
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.
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!
As I wrote in yesterday's post
about getting back on that submission train, my writing these days is less about trying to find what others want from me and more about creating a room of my own
for my own voice. At least, that's my hope and intention. But as I focus again on the intention of trying to get work published, I'm remembering why it's still important to talk about what it means to feel barriers blocking some writers. Earlier this year, VIDA released their 2011 count, comparing the numbers of male and female writers in major publications.
The results showed that the men were published way more frequently than the women. It's not much of a change since VIDA began the count in 2009, after the Publishers' Weekly list of the year's best books appeared without any books by women. Read more
about how the VIDA count is changing the conversation about publishing, and about how important
this conversation is. As Roxane Gay writes
, "I have to believe we continue having these conversations so someday there is nothing left to talk about but the joy and complexity of the stories we write and read. I want that joy to be the only thing that matters.
Can you just imagine?"I've been following along with one adventure in diversifying the faces of published authors - poet Laura E. Davis has started a group called Submission Bombers. The idea behind Submission Bombers is to
take "action" to increase visibility for writers who often feel silenced. Participants "bomb" a publication with their submissions over a two-week period, and since only consenting publications are selected for bombings, it's like a matchmaking service between writers seeking to be heard and editors looking for writers who don't fit the usual mold of who's being published these days. Read Laura's call for editors and writers to participate, and her blog post on what it means to be a "marginalized" writer. What do you think? Would you participate in a submission bomb? Do you have other ideas for taking action?
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
QWOC Media Wire has a great article on The Lost Bois, a queer music duo that uses hip-hop beats, jazz styles and insightful lyrics to make some powerful music. In their own words, "We write, we sing, we speak for people like us: queers, dykes, black folks, brown folks, to dance, to fuck, to smile, laugh at and along with." Read more: The Lost Bois: Transforming Queer Hip Hop through Black Feminism
The Lost Bois have a dynamic style, so their songs range from fun to thoughtful to sensual, or all of the above. They work hard, so it can take a while to get the full range. I'll just leave these here to get you started. Enjoy.
I'm trying not to feel like a crotchety old woman, getting more and more embittered about certain holidays
as each year goes by. But it can be hard sometimes, when you get to realize what really goes on to maintain some traditions.
Take Valentine's Day. I'm not against celebrating love, of course. No, I'm far from it. The problem I find in Valentine's Day is that it can feel like a cheapening of the true value of love
, reducing it to expectations of material things and the kind of love that fits into a particular picture, one that leaves out many of the bonds that keep us strong, including love for family, for friends, and perhaps the greatest love of all
, love for ourselves. No wonder so many people end up hating this day. So I'm on the lookout this year, for more holistic celebrations. Some fun examples of folks who are celebrating love in their own way are posted on the Occupy Valentine's Day tumblr.
My focus for today is self-love, because I can always use a reminder to love myself, so I might as well turn Valentine's Day into exactly that.
How can art support self-love? Here's a great example - Jackie O'Nappy's written a lovely blog post
about the potential influence of photography. She writes about being photographed by Saddi Khali
, whose photographs of black folks take my breath away, and says, "I fell in love with a woman last week...my reflection in the mirror." It sounds like a transformative experience. Read her post, "Let's see ourselves beautiful again,"
and check out Saddi Khali's photos
. In his own words, Saddi Khali writes:
"Black people need 2 see images of ourselves w/ humanity. women beautiful regardless of size, shape or complexion. men strong, sensitive & loving. parents & children caring & happy. couples in love in warm intimate moments. us as lovers, sensual & sexy but not nasty even when we’re nasty. this is not 2 say that other folks don’t need 2 see themselves in certain ways. but, i don’t know those ways. i DO know how my folks r being fooled by & misrepresented in arts & media. & i DO know how its affecting us. so, all the work i do is in the intention of combating that."
"Praying Mantis" by Saddi Khali
I notice something when I see photos like the ones Saddi Kahli takes - photos of black people, natural and alight with pride. Perhaps it's simply because I'm not used to seeing such images, as they are usually absent from the media, or perhaps it's because some part of me still believes in the message that absence conveys - that my black body isn't beautiful, not if I don't try harder to be thinner, lighter, or whatever else it would take to fit the right image. When I see such photos, I remember that I don't have to look to a figure who's glamorous and perfected to find beauty. I can gaze as far s Jackie O'Nappy can, and simply look in the mirror.
And this beauty isn't purely a physical manifestation - it's the beauty found in strength and spirit, that which sometimes goes beyond words, found only when art speaks.
It's this kind of beauty that's on my mind when I think of Whitney Houston, gone now from our world, leaving behind, as Jamilah King said in this Colorlines article
, twin legacies of beauty and pain. I feel that I don't have the words to honor Whitney, at least not yet, so I've been looking to others. It's hard, though, to get through those pictures painted with a filter of judgment, and misconceptions about addiction, and our human need to illuminate the flaws of others in order to cast a shadow over our own. Stacia L. Brown conveys how I've felt about it, in this hauntingly beautiful post on her blog
When art is unafraid to embrace us in our wholeness, we know that we don't need to erase our scars to be beautiful. Everything about us, from our shadows to our light, creates the spirit that gives us true beauty. For each of us, the one close enough to see all of our darkness and light is the self. So that's where love begins. With compassionate care for one's whole self, inside and out. Looking for a place to celebrate love on Valentine's Day? Join us at CUAV, where all are welcome to attend our monthly membership meeting. We'll talk about what the media says about love, and how we can tell our own stories. Dinner is included! Whose Story? My Story! Our Stories! Tuesday, February 14, 6:30-8:30 pm at CUAV, 427 South Van Ness Ave, in San Francisco. Also, check out CUAV's website for some loving reminders on staying safe on your Valentine's Day date.