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.
Today's a big day for me! The autumnal equinox is here
, ushering in fall, my favorite season of the year. I can tell just by looking out my window, where I see, instead of late summer sunshine madness, the familiar calm, gray sky of the Bay Area's characteristic overcast weather. I feel ready to welcome any changes this autumn brings.
Especially because the first change is this: I am now the proud author of my first chapbook, Split Ears.
And today is my big launch!Split Ears
is the result of a collaborative project that's been brewing for the past couple of months. As writer-in-residence at West Oakland's Aggregate Space art gallery
, I've been writing on conversation with artist Christopher Burch
's exhibition, The Missed-Adventures of Br'er Rabbit and Br'er Death in the Land of Shadows.
What does it mean to be a writer-in-residence? Well, to put it simply, it means that I've been on an adventure of my own. I've had the chance to use words to play with the incredible multi-media experience of taking in Christopher's work, an installation and and graphic narrative that includes floor-to-ceiling illustrations, found art objects, and a documentary film. The exhibit examines the folktale character of Br'er Rabbit
, and focuses on Christopher's own reimagined character of Br'er Death, whose presence reveals a darker side of Br'er Rabbit's antics, the subversive resistance within his comedic gestures.
The work is stunning, but don't take my word for it – you'd really have to see it yourself to believe the whole truth of it. And today is your last day to do so, as the gallery closes the exhibit with the Featherboard Reading Series, also known as the moment of take-off for my chapbook. I cannot even begin to capture Christopher Burch's work on the page, but I stepped up to the challenge by incorporating what I already knew of trickster figures and the legends of resistance. The poems in Split Ears are like none I've written before, influenced by blues music, oral storytelling, and mythology of Native American, African American, and Trinidadian cultures. The title of this post comes from one of my Split Ears poem titles, and similarly, I feel a certain overlap between my chapbook and other areas of my life – the need to speak my truth, to remember my communities' shared histories, and to be unafraid of embracing my own subversive side, to walk in my own land of shadows.
You can read more about the Featherboard Reading Series writer-in-residence project in the San Francisco Chronicle
(yes, that's me in the Chronicle!), more about Christopher Burch's exhibition on Oakland Art Enthusiast
, and more about Aggregate Space on SFAQ Online
And don't miss my chapbook launch tonight at Featherboard Reading Series! Today, September 21, 2013 at 5:00 pm. Aggregate Space, 801 W. Grand Ave (entrace on West), in Oakland, CA. Also featuring readings by Cedar Sigo and Mary Burger.
Catch up on my events page
for other opportunities to hear my read from my new chapbook, and if you can't make it to a reading but you'd like a copy of Split Ears, get in touch!
Thank y0u, thank you, thank you, for all of the inspiration and support.
Sassiness at The Lit Slam
The last time I participated in the competitive poetry show The Lit Slam
, I made it to the final round, and left pumped with adrenaline, infused with excitement, and promising to return. Well, it took a shamefully long time for me to return, but I finally made it back. Last time, I wrote about what I learned
from my first experience in a poetry slam. This time, I get to write about what I won.
That's right – I won a poetry slam! This is a first for me. And technically, what I won is purely self-serving: I won bragging rights, and something to add to my bio, mostly for the sake of telling myself that there are people out there who have heard my poetry, and they don't think I'm crazy for writing it. I won a place in The Lit Slam's journal, Tandem Vol. 2
, along with some of my literary heroes, which just makes me think, again, that this all comes down to bragging rights. You better bet that I'm going to perfect the art of name-dropping once I'm published alongside those legends.
And speaking of name-dropping, I got to connect with the extraordinary Ryka Aoki
, the show's featured writer. In doing so, I won the invaluable prize of encouragement from another woman of color artist, one who fully embodies what it means to create visibility for queer and transgender people.
Since I hope to integrate my writing with the work it takes to create an impact in social justice movements, I like to think it's all a little bigger than me. So here's what else I won, broken down by the pieces I read in each round.
imprison her or love her or love her or love
- Round 1: I read a poem called "alternatives to sentencing." I won a moment on stage to honor some of the inspiring young people I met in writing workshops at juvenile hall, through The Beat Within. Through art, I won the chance to show that there are always alternatives to our criminal legal system.
who does she think she is?
- Round 2: My poem was one of a series I call "the people say." These poems focus on one black woman doing what black women supposedly don't do. In this piece, I won the opportunity for confession, to admit that I am a black woman who does yoga, in spite of the common thought that yoga is for middle-class white women. To admit that I feel privileged when I can pause to stretch and breathe deeply, while others who look like me only have time to hold their breath and survive.
but i just thought i'd finish our chapter with something familiar: the way this pussy won't fall to you.
- Round 3: My final poem, "the power you left." I won the chance to say the word "pussy" eleven times on stage, and get nothing but respect for it. No, really. And with that, I won the right to have attitude, to emerge from the meek exterior I tend to hide behind, to laugh, to show anger and pride and self-assurance. I can think of times when I've been abused, objectified, or broken-hearted, and I can assure you, that confident attitude was surely a victory for me.
And in a space like The Lit Slam, surrounded by air electric with competition and encouragement and community, I won a boost to better myself as an artist. Not to feel superior or merely to brag, but to honor my fellow writers by recognizing that their art invigorates me to strive to be the best I can be. Especially with the knowledge that my victory can be for more than me.
Much love to Tatyana Brown
, the whole Lit Slam crew, and everyone who was part of that thrilling night. Look out for videos, publication, and name-dropping, coming soon.
Artist: Amaryllis DeJesus Moleski
I'm still brimming with emotion triggered by the court's acquittal of Trayvon Martin's murderer
, but I haven't given up hope. Oftentimes, the most hopeless moments are those that inspire us to look most deeply within ourselves and our own communities, and we discover, perhaps with surprise, that we're the ones with the answers we've been hoping to find. I've been coming across answers infused with creativity ever since I asked the question of "What will we do?"
The thing is, I'm not seeking answers from the criminal justice system. I already know that what I'm searching for can't be found in courts or prisons or police departments. Mia Murietta wrote an insightful piece entitled "Justice for Trayvon Martin: Why Punishing His Killer Isn't Enough
," posted on the Ella Baker Center's blog, Ella's Voice. As she pointed out, "Our 'justice' system doesn’t deliver justice. It enforces laws. It is a legal system that creates and perpetuates the kind of structural racism and devaluing of black lives that lead to killings like Trayvon’s, Oscar Grant’s, and so many other unarmed, young Black men
." The George Zimmerman case doesn't highlight some previously undiscovered flaw in our legal system. It sheds light on what many of us already knew – that when the criminal justice system operates as it's designed, it bolsters systems of oppression and continues to harm those who have been degraded for centuries. People of color know this. Low-income people know this. Queer and trans people know this, as demonstrated in
Toshio Meronek's Advocate article, in which he frames the choices of LGBT people of color facing violent situations as "Be Killed or Be Caged?" For those of us who aren't white or upper class or straight, it's no surprise that justice for Trayvon does not exist in a courtroom. So, how can we assure our minds to believe that Trayvon can rest in peace? How can we comfort one another in these times of fear, knowing that
any one of us could be the next one murdered in a violent act ruled "justifiable"? How can we hope for change, when every arrest, lack of arrest, or verdict contributes to our loss of faith? I still don't have all the answers, but as people are gathering together to help one another through this difficult time, I'm gathering more clues as to where the answers are for me. And for me, all answers point to creativity. With creativity defined as the use of imagination
or original ideas, it's no wonder that this is the source of hope for me right now. Justice for Trayvon doesn't exist in preexisting systems, so now is the time for our imagination to come to life. I see examples in the city of Oakland, where I live. Betti Ono Gallery has been offering safe space
for folks to come together in reflection and solidarity, to have dialogue about the verdict and the kind of change it calls for. Down the street, Solespace
has had Art 4 Justice workshops
to give those who are emotionally impacted by the verdict some time and space to express themselves. And I also see examples from around the world. The #blacklivesmatter hashtag
has spread throughout the internet to show that we value black lives, even if the courts don't. New pieces of art are coming into existence every day, to mourn for Trayvon
and to depict alternatives to the systems
that allowed Zimmerman to murder him without consequence. Writers are sharing their words of reaction, hurt, and healing – Vanessa Huang included my words in this found poem
, "a living monument of love." Stevie Wonder announced
that he refuses to perform in Florida while the state's Stand Your Ground is in place, and other artists are beginning to follow his lead
You see my point. When we feel lost without hope, we've got artists, musicians, and innovators to create hope for us. On the side of those who want to uphold oppressive systems as they are, they've got badges, uniforms, and gavels. That's a lot of power. It can feel like a losing fight. But then again, another definition of creativity
says that creativity is "marked by the ability or power to create, to bring into existence, to invest with a new form, to produce through imaginative skill, to make or bring into existence something new."
Sounds like a lot of power to me. Where injustice currently exists, we have the power to create something new.
As you probably heard last month
, political exile Assata Shakur has been added to the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorist List. This is huge, not only because they doubled the reward for her capture to $2 million, and not only because she's the first woman to be added to the list, but because the U.S. government is sending a message that reaches beyond Assata's ears. This message reaches me, and of course, anyone like me, merging the word "revolutionary" with the word "terrorist"
to call those of us who resist, who challenge injustice, enemies.
Like many others, I've been searching for a way to respond to this attack on political activists. And, like I usually do, I've been searching especially for a way to respond through art.
So of course, I'm so glad that such an opportunity has emerged. Poet, artist, and cultural organizer Vanessa Huang
has written a poem for Assata, and she's invited all of us to be part of amplifying "our liberation love frequency" by sharing these words. Hearing about the poem, I knew already that I believed in its power, and all the more so when I heard of its sources of inspiration - Assata's poem "I believe in living,"
Audre Lorde's poem "For Assata"
and essay "Poetry is Not a Luxury,"
Cheryl Clarke's poem "wearing my cap backwards,"
and Morgan Bassichis' play "The Witch House."
The convergence of such artistic power can only mean magic is taking place, so it's only fitting that the invitation is to help "cast a spell"
for Assata by helping the support for her spread and grow.
Visit this project's campaign page at www.igg.me/at/poemforassata to read Vanessa's poem and to learn about how you can help share the poem, get a print for yourself, and do more help bring love and liberation to Assata. We, the change-makers following in Assata's revolutionary footsteps, can have our say - Hands Off Assata!
Want to change the world? Join a non-profit agency! At an organization full of compassionate visionaries dedicated to making the world a better place, nothing could possibly go wrong – right?
Okay, so nobody’s perfect, and no non-profit is the perfect agent for change. As you may know, some aspects of non-profits can be stressful, challenging, and even counter-productive to the ultimate goals of social change work. And that can be hard for me to hold, knowing that even people with the best intentions can contribute to creating obstacles in the way of true liberation.
Luckily, we now have some courageous folks to help us name what goes on in the wacky world of non-profits, through a new activist-artist group called Peacock Rebellion. And they’re doing it all with fun and sass, as well as a deep sense of hope in the power of true activism.
Peacock Rebellion is centered around queer and trans people of color, and the artists craft their work through lenses of intersectionality, interconnection, interdependence and transnationalism. These artists aren’t afraid to speak the truth about the dangers of a non-profit industrial complex that upholds problematic patterns and stifles activists' dreams.
The truth is, we don’t have to accept the problems of the non-profit world, even with the best intentions. As Peacock Rebellion founder Manish Vaidya says, “we can dream bigger.”
Our big dreams take center stage at Agen(c)y: Nonprofit Dreams + Disaster
, Peacock Rebellion’s first cabaret. Twelve queer and trans people of color use comedy, film, burlesque and more to critique the current state of social change, and to share their freedom dreams. The tremendously talented performers include Lambda Literary Award winner Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Deep Dickollective founder Juba Kalamka, and Mia McKenzie, of the revolutionary blog Black Girl Dangerous. In addition to the all-star performers and curators (Maya Chapina and Manish Vaidya), there’s an all-star line up of sponsors: INCITE, Mangos with Chili, POOR Magazine/Prensa POBRE, Queer Rebels, and QWOCMAP. In other words, a whole lot of fierceness has gone into this show.
Agen(c)y: Nonprofit Dreams + Disaster premiered last night to a packed house at La Peña Cultural Center, and tonight’s show is nearly sold out, so it may be too late to see it on this run. But don’t worry! We’ll be seeing much more of Peacock Rebellion’s amazing work. To find out more, you can visit their website
or their Facebook page
, and to offer your support, visit the Indiegogo page
Each day, I search for something new. A new image, or a new idea, or a new way of seeing the world. It's important to me to be open to change.
That much may be obvious. If you're reading my blog you might know I'm looking to explore the relationship between writing and social change. But this time, I'm not really talking about creating change outside of myself. I'm thinking about the changes unfolding within me.
I keep writing and reflecting on new practices
, because I'm generally being good to myself
these days, which is fairly new to me. So while I do have some beliefs and ways that I staunchly believe in, I generally like to approach the world open to the possibility of new light in my life. As far as being good to myself goes, I'm still learning a little more each day about what that means.
Newness is the stuff of growth and change. It's the spirit of creativity, and innovation. So being open to newness means just about everything to me as an artist.
Another reason I like to be open to change? There was once a time when I was stuck. Stuck in an abusive relationship. Domestic violence survivor advocates often describe domestic violence
as a pattern of power and control
, and I was trapped in that pattern.
That pattern means there was no one moment when it all went wrong. There was no one point when I should've walked away, in spite of all the time I've spent wondering. I was stuck in a pattern, and it was going to take a change
to break the cycle.
So, as a survivor, I like to keep my arms open to the ever-present possibility of new healing. That doesn't mean I won't settle into new patterns, get comfortable until they become old ones. But now I want to try nurturing the patterns that have good roots. If I'm open to new beginnings, from places that are good for me, I'll wander into my own healing path.
And this change might begin inside me, but, as I know from being in community with survivors, those who share their stories also spark new cycles of healing in the air around them.
Speaking of trying new things, here's the trailer for Season 2 of that web series I like
, "Black Folk Don't." The show is in a new location, and it looks like they're taking on some interesting and important topics for the new season. The first couple of episodes are out, and you can watch them on the "Black Folk Don't" website
The beach in Seaside, Oregon,
where our Pacific University
winter residency was held
Do you ever deal with those, the uncontrollable factors? How have you dealt with them? I ask because I assume you have the answers. And maybe those answers aren't right for me, but surely you've figured out what works for your life. We're constantly teetering around trying to find some sense of balance, and the balance I'm trying to find right now is between absorbing the wisdom from the brilliant minds around me and trusting that I know what's best for myself. For instance, recently I went to my winter residency
for Pacific University's MFA program. I shared about my experiences there last June
, and I'll soon share some of my insights from this trip, too. Surrounded by faculty as accomplished as Marvin Bell, Kwame Dawes and Tayari Jones, I feel quite humbled. At times during the residency, my voice vanished,
and I felt that all I could do was learn all I could by listening. But wait - what becomes of a writer without her voice?
At some point, I had to realize that their wisdom was available to guide me, of course, but not to create my words. I have to do that part on my own. And creating my own art means trusting in my ability to do so.
At CUAV's Wellness Wednesdays
, we've been talking about intuition, that feeling you get in your gut when you just know
something. It's the feeling that makes you the expert in your own life. Some would say that creativity is inherently intuitive
. And you could say a lot
about the relationship between writing and intuition. If I write this way, I may come up with some work that feels pretty raw
. But I took in some important lessons about revision at the winter residency, and it reminded me that I can always go back and take another look, make another draft. Always trusting that my voice can create the right words for my own blank page.
I've been taking a long break from the blog, as I attempt to get some life business in order. There are some things I've been able to control and put into place exactly as I'd like them. And for some other things, I've managed to do nothing more than realize I've got to give up control and let them happen as they will.
Around this time last year, I began posting about Good for the World holiday shopping
. The truth is, I absolutely hate shopping around holiday time. There are plenty of reasons for this, plenty having to do with crowds and greed and anti-gratitude and the larger picture of how consumerism hurts the world, but really for me it all comes down to this - Christmas is no longer as magical as it was when I was a child, and I bitterly blame every holiday Wal-Mart commercial for this fact. Never mind that whole growing up thing. How can one believe in magic with the message that we can only be happy if we add the season's must-have material item
to our collection of...stuff?But I believe
it's not too late to get the magic back. Or, at least we can create a new version of the magic. We don't have to buy into the idea that we must gain material things to celebrate one another. We can hang on to the more real, less tangible things that make life worth celebrating.
So, my first suggestion for Good for the World holiday shopping is to participate in Buy Nothing Day
. You can participate today, or tomorrow, or hell, you can make it a whole Buy Nothing holiday season if you want. Instead of shopping this weekend, why not make an extra effort to spend time with loved ones, or to relax alone? And if you feel like you're falling behind in the season of gift-giving, why not spend the day creating something new? Personally, I'd prefer a thoughtful, handmade gift to one purchased at Wal-Mart. Know anyone in your life who may feel the same?Buying nothing doesn't mean we have to do nothing. It means we can take a moment to remember that the true value of things isn't determined by how much they contribute to our credit card debt. Our most precious gifts are our hearts, bodies and minds. At least, those are the holidays as I remember them.
Has it really already been a month since Safetyfest? My, how time flies. And I've had time to reflect not only on the fantastic weekend that was Safetyfest, but also on the transformative power it's shown since. So, though I usually look elsewhere for my Friday Friends posts, this week I need to look no further than
you and me to find inspirational stories of what we can do, using only our bodies, our hearts and our minds. Safetyfest is CUAV's annual festival celebrating queer and trans power to respond to and heal from violence. Here are some of the ways I witnessed the
transformative power of art during Safetyfest:
- Performance pieces by everyone from the luscious ladies of GlitterAction, the Radical Queerlesque Cabaret, to the youth of Ourspace, Hayward's LGBTQ youth community center. These fierce performers showed how they love themselves and create change by inspiring others to love themselves, too.
Celeste Chan's beautiful
return to ballet
- On a related note, the energizing power of dance was present throughout the festival. I was truly moved watching Sheena Johnson move across the stage, and of course it's always lovely to watch Celeste Chan perform. And everyone got a chance to show off their moves at the Ferocity closing party, coming together to dance to the jams of DJ Bootyklap, Micah Tron, Tru Bloo and more.
- I have no words for the power of film demonstrated by Kyisha Williams' Red Lips [Cages for Black Girls]. Approaching the issue of violence against women from the perspective of an unabashedly honest queer femme black woman. Just. Incredible.
- We saw plenty of visual art as well, including a mural that allowed everyone to come together to share their own vision of what queer and trans safety looks like.
- I'm so grateful for the photography that captured it all. Check out the photos here, by photography genius Kelly Puleio (the photos on this post were taken by yours truly, not quite so genius).
- And finally, of course, there was the power of written words. Participants blew me away with their strength and generosity in the writing workshops I co-facilitated with Jen Cross and Sam Sax. Other folks, including Yosimar Reyes and Joshua Merchant, laid it down onstage with their amazing poems.
And I had the unbelievable experience of closing out the incredible Queer Rebellion show, which meant I was not just on stage with my own words, but riding the tide of the performers who came before me, including Fayza Bundalli and Redwolf Painter
, Urban Prodigy
and the El/La Program Para Trans Latinas
It. Was. Powerful. And all of this power came from within our own bodies. Isn't that amazing?
What kind of power lies within you?