Audre Lorde died twenty-one years ago today. When I first composed this post, I didn't realize the significance of this day. It's not a coincidence, I'm sure. The spiritual connection that allows black women to strengthen each other can't be broken, even in death.
Last month, I got the thrill of a lifetime with the chance to see a documentary film about Audre Lorde, my activist poet queen, at The New Parkway Theater in Oakland. Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years
was playing as the final feature film in the 2013 International Black Women's Film Festival
, an event designed to combat negative stereotyping of black women in the media by giving space for black women to tell our own stories. As soon as I heard the film festival would be playing this film, I knew it was the place for me.
It's just a movie, I know, but as I headed to the theater, I felt the giddiness of preparing to meet my idol in person. It seemed like the closest thing – when Audre Lorde passed away in 1992, I was a child unaware of her existence, and I have rarely seen evidence of her life in any form other than text. This text has felt, to me, like sacred traces of a mystical woman, echoes of divine footsteps that once walked the earth with us mere mortals. As I've read Audre's poetry, essays, and speeches over the years, I've imagined her as such a human being who is so extraordinary, she may not be human at all. In my mind, Audre Lorde has always been a goddess.
It remains true that Audre's spirit is divine and eternal. But the film showed many things, and perhaps most of all, it showed her humanity. Would a goddess walk through parks with friends, or laugh, or dance? Would she face the struggle of a cancer diagnosis? Would she endure the gentle teasing of her loving life partner? Maybe. But it's possible for any person, including me, to experience such things. Any of us could live our lives as she lived hers, with love and poetry as social action, with the capacity to change the world around us.
After the movie ended, I was a blubbering mess of joyful tears, and I didn't have the words to explain why. Maybe the sight of Audre Lorde dancing was something I never knew I needed to see. Maybe I'd been thirsting to hear her speak the words I'd read so many times. Suddenly, she felt more real to me than she ever had before. Maybe I needed to see her in the flesh. Maybe I needed to be seen.
It's strange to think that seeing somebody else on a big screen could help me
feel seen, but it's true. The film chronicles the final years of Audre's life, 1984-1992, when she spent time in Berlin and had a profound impact on the lives of black women there, challenging both black women and white women to think and write about race as they never had before. She mentored black women who had been silenced and isolated from one another, bringing them together to recognize one another and themselves as Afro-Germans. Many of these women testified in interviews that Audre's guidance allowed them to feel proud of who they are, for the first time in their lives.
The film sent me off with the exhilarating, terrifying feeling of seeing myself as Audre Lorde would have seen me. Not the goddess Audre Lorde, mythical creature of my dreams, but Audre Lorde, the human being, who really lived and breathed and saw a magnificent power in every black woman.
Now, I don't have to wonder what it would be like for me to meet Audre Lorde. Now, I know. I wouldn't have to prove my worth to her or ask her permission to step into my power. She would believe in me, simply because she could see me for who I really am.
I got to step into the power of my visibility later that day, when I read my poetry at Hazel Reading Series
, opening my reading with an epigraph by Audre Lorde: "Wherever the bird with no feet flew, she found trees with no limbs." Hazel's all about fostering the visibility of women, featuring women writers who each invite another woman to read at the next installment of the series.
Hazel's next event is today at 5:00 pm, at 1564 Market St. in San Francisco. My invitation to read went to Jezebel Delilah X, another queer black woman writer with divinity in her humanity. I can't wait to witness her sharing of magic through her words, continuing the legacy of resisting invisibility by lifting up our own stories to be seen.
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.
CUAV's Spiderweb of Self-Love
Throughout my quest to get to know my feelings
as part of my healing process, I've managed to get quite cozy with some emotions that seemed terrifying before. I've invited anger
to sit beside me as a partner in my social change work. I've cuddled up with sadness
over a bowl of callaloo soup. But one emotion still beyond my grasp is somewhat surprising to me. I’m having a hard time with pride.
I know this because I've had a few reasons to be proud of myself lately. After graduating from my MFA program
in June, I've written a chapbook
, won a lit slam
, and had my work published in a few journals. And even listing those accomplishments, I cringe a little, not wanting to seem too full of myself.
See, I know that pride has an ugly side, and if I found myself on that side, I might see my accomplishments as all my own, instead of acknowledging the mentors, community members, and historical heroes who have made all of my achievements possible. I don't want to do that, and I know that's part of why I find it so difficult to sit with pride.
I also know that, as a survivor of violence, pride isn't something I'm used to. I'm more accustomed to shame and self-doubt. I'm used to dismissing my achievements as not good enough, or as simple strokes of luck.
And so, with this in mind, I see that a necessary step in my healing journey is to practice letting pride in. I'm going to practice looking at what I've done and saying, Damn. I did good,
and sitting with the discomfort of how that feels to me, until it gets more comfortable. I'm grateful for everyone who has helped me get to where I am, which must also mean that I'm grateful for myself.
For me, it's all about the practice of self-love. This year at CUAV, we're closing the year with three months focusing on self-love, and last week's awe-inspiring performance event, Color of My Spirit
, was the perfect way to kick it off. Together, our members and the event's attendees created a Spiderweb of Self-Love, with messages of love to ourselves and our communities. My message said, "We are strong." "We." I guess that means me, too.
So, here I am being proud of myself – I’m published in Eleven Eleven Journal! Eleven Eleven is a highly-respected literary journal, and the latest issue includes my work alongside heroes including badass poet LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, my professor from San Francisco State Toni Mirosevich, members of my community including Portuguese Artists Colony's Caitlin Myer, and Evan Karp, who edits the journal that accepted my first published poem. In other words, this is big for me, and the perfect opportunity to practice feeling proud. You can celebrate with me at the Eleven Eleven Issue 15 Reading/Release Party, happening at 7:30 pm tomorrow, October 9, at the CCA MFA Writing Studio in San Francisco. Check out the details of that and other upcoming events on my events page. I also have a new page here, just in time to remind me of my reasons to be proud. On my new publications page, you'll find some of the places where my work has appeared, in print and online. You'll also find a link to purchase my new chapbook, Split Ears. You can get it for a low price, because really I just want to share it with you, and by purchasing it, you'll be encouraging me to practice self-love, so I'll owe you one.
What do you have to be proud of? I know you've got something. Sit with that feeling today, and show yourself some well-deserved love.
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?
Mr. Invisible Doesn't Like Rain
by Candace Fowler
I'm realizing I spend a lot of time trying to shake off the good things that come my way. I dismiss compliments to my work as exaggerations of my talent, shaking my head rather than letting the words stick. If I read the poem and the audience applauds, I try to let the sound fly off me like a dog shimmying water off its coat, instead of letting the praise sink in. And recently, upon reading a particularly glowing review of my poetry, I seriously considered the possibility that the reviewer was uncharacteristically drunk when she read my work. But I guess that's not likely.
Can anybody relate? Why do we do this? I guess I can see why people of color, or women, or queer people get used to the idea that we're not good enough, not deserving of good things, so it's easier to attribute our successes to other sources than to believe that we're really the ones who created something of value. After surviving abuse and oppression, I can understand why someone like me would have a hard time accepting that she's worthy of praise.
Today's practice is not one in humility. Today, I'm practicing saying something new - "I deserve this."
Recently, I've read my work as part of some truly magnificent events
, and poems of mine have been published in some compelling journals. It feels both humbling and empowering to share my work among such talent, and instead of asking, "What the hell am I
doing here?" I'm taking a breath and sitting with the feeling. And I'm saying, "I deserve this."
Try it out when good things come your way. Let me know how it goes.
And for one of those compelling journals in which I'm honored to have my work published, check out last December's issue of Blackberry: A Magazine.
I've written about Writing Ourselves Whole
before, but that was a while ago
, and anything that brings transformative healing into survivors' lives is worth mentioning again and again. There's no better time to mention this precious work than now, on the eve of Fierce Hunger
, Writing Ourselves Whole's 10th anniversary celebration. For the past ten years, founder and facilitator Jen Cross has been helping survivors write at the intersection of a trauma and desire. And what a liberating place to write from
from – I'd know, as I've personally spent time in some Writing Ourselves Whole workshops, and I have Jen to thank for so much of the courage I've found to write my truth. And now, I also have Jen to thank for my latest publication credit. She's included my poetry in the Fierce Hunger chapbook
, alongside the work of many of the brave and talented Writing Ourselves Whole participants from the last ten years. I'm thrilled to be included, and by association, to take part in tomorrow's Fierce Hunger celebration. The event sounds like so much fun! The night will include dancing,
a silent auction and a raffle with some fabulous items available, and readings by Carol Queen, Jacks McNamara, and more. All proceeds benefit the Writing Ourselves Whole scholarship fund, to give more survivors the gift of transformative writing workshops. You can find more details on the event, on the prizes available, and on how to donate to the fund on the Fierce Hunger tumblr
I'm glad that my words will be at Fierce Hunger, so I'll attend in spirit, since I can't be there in person. I'll be reading at the Bernal Yoga Literary Series
, which is happening the same night, in an unfortunate coincidence in scheduling. I must say, I'm a little blown away by the list of the other writers who'll be sharing the stage (studio floor?) at Bernal Yoga Studio tomorrow night. The lineup includes Joshua Mohr, Aimee Phan, and Phil Lumsden. I'm trying not to shake in my boots over here. Here are the details for that event: Bernal Yoga Literary SeriesMarch 2, 2013
, 8:00 pm
908 Cortland Ave in San Francisco
I hope to see you there, but you won't hurt my feelings if you show up at Fierce Hunger instead. I'm looking over the details for that below, and I know it's hard to miss!
Valentine's Day came and went again this year, along with its usual...challenges
. You know I'm all about the self-love
when it comes to these kinds of holidays, because if nothing else, it can be a good time to remind ourselves that we're worth loving even if we don't have the types of relationships or lives deemed perfect by the mainstream media's standards. But one of the great things that came out of this year's Valentine's Day was more about coming together than being alone. It was One Billion Rising,
a global campaign to end violence against women. People all around the world united in the most wonderful way – by dancing. Anti-violence action and
dance? You know I love it! Taking a stand to say we all deserve to live without violence – in the end, that comes down to self-love, too, doesn't it? For me, one of the most inspiring results of the One Billion Rising campaign comes out of the San Francisco jails, with those who participated there. Maybe I love it so much because I'm connected to these folks through my life and work, but I think this action also spreads a moving message that's important for all of us to hear. Watch "Inmates Rising" below, to see why the inmates danced, and why it was such a special experience for them. This video reminds me of the work of the formerly incarcerated poet Reginald Dwayne Betts. If you're not familiar with his work, I'd recommend getting to know him. Here's a taste, one love-centric poem of his:
"For you: anthophilous, lover of flowers"by Reginald Dwayne Betts
For you: anthophilous, lover of flowers,
green roses, chrysanthemums, lilies: retrophilia,
philocaly, philomath, sarcophilous—all this love,
of the past, of beauty, of knowledge, of flesh; this is
counter: philalethist, negrophile, neophile.
A negro man walks down the street, taps Newport
out against a brick wall &
stares at you. Love
that: lygophilia, lithophilous. Be amongst stones,
amongst darkness. We are glass house. Philopornist,
philotechnical. Why not worship the demimonde?
Love that—a corner room, whatever is not there,
all the clutter you keep secret. Palaeophile,
ornithophilous: you, antiquarian, pollinated by birds.
All this a way to dream green rose petals on the bed you love;
petrophilous, stigmatophilia: live near rocks, tattoo hurt;
for you topophilia: what place do you love? All these words
for love (for you), all these ways to say believe
in symphily, to say let us live near each other.
I’m finally back to blogging! Sorry for the extended break, and thanks for sticking with me. What have I been doing during all this time off, you ask? Keeping busy. Here are a few highlights – more on the resulting insights later.
- I made a big move, crossing the Bay to move from San Francisco to Oakland. It feels a little like hooking up (and shacking up) with the person I’ve been crushing on for a long time, and it’s been really good for me so far.
- I attended my second-to-last residency for my MFA program at Pacific University. Spent most of my time there feeling floored by the fact that the time has passed so quickly, but I had a great time. One of the big high points – Kaffir Boy author Mark Mathabane as a guest speaker, calling us to be a “courageous, humanitarian generation of writers” who write with the spirit of Ubuntu, that which makes us human.
- On the school note, I’m now in my final semester of my MFA program, which means I’m putting together my thesis, a manuscript of poems. It’s an exhilarating, excruciating process that feels a little like killing my darlings and giving birth to new ones every day. So exhausting and so rewarding, to say the least.
- I’ve been booking reading gigs, and I’ll have details on those soon!
- And I’ve been taking good care of myself, which totally counts as a thing to include among this list of life achievements. Because it’s necessary. It’s revolutionary. It’s love.
But okay, I would be lying if I pretended I’ve been only triumphant in my time away. I’ve also been feeling the pressure of what Jay Smooth calls “the little hater,” which said that when I finally got back to blogging, my return would have to be GLORIOUS. Well, this is my return, and it might not be so glorious, but the important thing is that I’m back.
I encourage you to watch this video, and to beat your own little hater by getting back to doing something you love. Let me know how it goes. *Shout out to Sugarcane
, the LGBTQ of color writing workshop that brought this video into my life and helped me beat my little hater*
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!
(the real thing)
I got down in the kitchen recently. I love to cook, so I do it fairly often, but there’s a difference between throwing dinner together for myself and getting down in the kitchen. It was a whole Caribbean-inspired feast – seafood sizzling in lemon juice, veggies coated in curry, cornbread sweetened with honey.
It was all for my grandmother, who just passed away. Or, as I like to think of it, she just found peace, after fighting many battles. One of her most recent battles was with Alzheimer’s disease. Another was her effort to live out her final days in her home country of Trinidad. In that fight, she claimed victory.
Now, I say that the food I cooked was “Caribbean-inspired,” because it was not quite authentically Caribbean. Cooking here in the U.S., I didn’t have the ingredients to make the dishes just right. I didn’t have the wise guidance of somebody like my grandmother, who could’ve helped me craft the meal like they do in Trinidad. So I had to substitute ingredients, and find my own path to the flavors I sought.
The most obvious of this inauthenticity was the callaloo soup. Callaloo is a popular dish in Trinidad, a green puree of delightful flavors, made with vegetables, coconut milk, and many times, crabmeat. I had to substitute leafy greens found in Trinidad for those at my local market, and I left out the crabmeat. In the end, my soup was more yellow than green, and considered callaloo by name only. It was delicious, and completely inspired by the real thing, but my soup was not real callaloo.
Sometimes I feel that my writing process is similar to this cooking endeavor. Lately, I’ve been feeling all kinds of things that exist beyond my grasp of words – grief, love, passion. For a moment there, these things threatened to shut me down with a bit of writer’s block. I mean, what could I really say about feelings that burst through the containers of the words we try to give them? Is it even worth the effort, when I’ll always fall short of capturing what I really want to say?
A moment in Trinidad
Well, the food was worth the effort, despite the flaws. It filled my home with an irresistible aroma, filled my mouth with delectable flavors, and fed a few people I really care about. And it also gave me a chance to honor and celebrate my grandmother, to send her off with a tribute to her life. I don’t have the right words for this, and I couldn’t find the exact flavors for it, either. But it feels good to create something that represents, in a way, my search for an expression of all I want to say.
A poem I wrote in 2010 for my grandmother: