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.
It’s hard to find a measure of success for a political poet. I’m thinking about success now especially because of I’ve just received an amazing honor – my poem “island’s daughter,” which appeared in the latest issue of Eleven Eleven Journal
, has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize! And, in the spirit of my practice of feeling proud, I’ll just leave that honor there, without dismissal. What happens next? Life goes on.
What would success look like for a political poet? Like publication? Like winning an award? Those are great accomplishments, but in the grand scheme of trying to make an impact on social issues, it can feel like there’s still much more to be done. Sometimes, I feel restless trying to sit with the joy of good things, even the best of things
, while outside of the bubble of my poetry world, life goes on.
Yesterday brought an example of this dilemma. I was at home, delighted about the publication of three of my poems in the online journal aaduna
, when I heard a commotion outside. I looked out my window, and for the next couple of hours, I witnessed a mob of police officers aggressively pursuing and arresting a man of color.
With what I know about the alarming rates
at which people of color are being incarcerated, and about the school-to-prison pipeline
making their incarceration inevitable, I knew I was seeing just a small piece of a much larger, completely disheartening puzzle. And suddenly, publishing a poem called “Emmett Till Cry”
didn’t feel like something to rejoice about. I feel grateful for the publication, sure, for the sake of fostering conversations about systematic violence against black boys and men. But it’s hard to celebrate, knowing that this scene will repeat itself again and again. Knowing that life goes on.
I do believe in art as social action, though, so I believe these poems are worth writing, even as life goes on. As I read a piece like “alternatives to sentencing”
(see video below), I know the incarcerated youth I write about sit in their cells, unaware of and unmoved by my poem. But I feel that, by sharing that poem, I can offer a drop in the river flowing to create alternatives to incarcerating young people
. Let’s create something new with youth, I say. Let’s help them build other options for their paths. Let’s try anything but locking them up until their own minds turn against them as they suffer through trauma
that no young person should ever have to struggle to recover from.
I bring up this example because I need your help in getting this poem published. It was one of three poems I performed to win The Lit Slam in August (remember that? that was fun
). That means it'll appear in Tandem Volume 2
, along with such luminaries as Saeed Jones, Sam Sax, and Daphne Gottlieb. I’m just beside myself with the honor of being published alongside these poets, who all create work that touches on some of the most pressing issues of our time. For me, this is not just about the success of publication – it’s about the importance of these words and the conversations they create as life goes on.
So, I humbly ask you to pre-order your copy of Tandem Vol. 2 now by backing The Lit Slam’s Kickstarter campaign
, helping to bring this incredible collection to bookshelves all over the country.
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.
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.
The post below is cross-posted from the CUAV e-news. I wrote it to address S-Comm, the harmful program that has law enforcement and ICE officials collaborating to hold people in jail, with no regard for the basic principle of due process. Anyone, regardless of immigration status, can be detained on an immigration hold, even without charges against them. That means this program affects everyone, including people of color, LGBTQ people, and survivors of violence.
To help say no to S-Comm and yes to Due Process for All, come out to San Francisco City Hall tomorrow, Thursday September 5th at 11:45 am, and add your name to this growing list of voices. "What is a witch if not a woman blind to all except surviving?"
- Gale P. Jackson
What might someone find if they burst into your home today? Would they hear the stories the walls have been holding for years?
When I was growing up, my father told me about immigrating to the United States from the islands of Trinidad & Tobago at the age of seventeen. He told stories about two families sharing a one-bedroom apartment. Stories about my grandmother separating from her family, hoping to support her children by working tirelessly in domestic work. And some of my favorite stories came from Trinidadian folklore, such as the tales of black magic women called soucouyants. It seems like every culture has its own witch stories.
These are the stories the police would have unearthed if they had raided my father's home back then. And if the police came to my home today, answering a call for help, or seeing my dark skin and profiling me as a criminal, they would find the altar I've built to honor my grandmother, who passed away one year ago
. They would see a photograph of me with an old, wise woman, alongside candles, stones, and a small replica of a steel pan, an instrument created to celebrate the survival of Trinidadians
And what would they think? Would I be the witch, the danger to society? Would they confine me to the custody of immigration officials, just in case?
I don't want warnings of witch hunts to become part of my family stories, or the stories of my communities.
What I want is what we deserve, due process for all, so I'll be showing up to San Francisco City Hall on September 5 at noon
, to help make sure the board of supervisors votes to restore the rights we all deserve. Can we count on you to be there? Will you help turn the story of S-Comm into our story of survival?
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.
Me & my shiny new degree
School's out! One week ago, I graduated with my MFA in Poetry from Pacific University. It's hard to believe that my first residency there was already two years ago
, and now, my turn to walk across the stage as a graduate has already come and gone. Tonight, I'm showing off what I learned at Oakland's Beast Crawl, not by reading poems from my MFA thesis, but
by reading brand new work, all about vengeful sex. What can I say? I guess I needed some kind of release. If you can, come hear me read during leg 3 of Beast Crawl at Anger Management & Revenge: Dirty Trixxx
.I do have plenty of reflections about what my new degree means for my life and writing moving forward, though. I'll have lots more time now for sharing about this life here on the blog, but for now I'll leave you with
this – a version of the graduate presentation I gave at my last MFA residency. It's edited to remove the poems I included (gotta keep those to myself for now, in case of publication), and it doesn't quite carry the full effect of me delivering all this truth-telling in a little chapel hall full of people, of all places, but you'll get the idea of my journey through all of the learnings of the last couple of years. Click below to read more.
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!
by Charles Bibbs
Sometimes, when I think of divinity, I think of something bigger than this world, something so far outside of myself that perhaps I'll never reach it.
Then there are the times when I see divinity in the eyes of another black woman. I guess that's the difference between thinking
about divinity and feeling
the spirit of the divine, through contact with a black woman who has struggled and survived. And in turn, I suppose that means seeing divinity in my own eyes. I've got to stop and absorb that for a moment, because the transformation from struggling to sense an ounce of worth in my dark skin
to seeing myself as embodying the divine feels like a miracle.
Black women's voices lifted up our divinity at last weekend's Black Women From the Future
event. It really enriched my soul to be part of
such a powerful reading, and I'm feeling an immense amount of gratitude for everyone who was part of the show, and who came out to see it, and who watched online via livestream. Be on the lookout for video from the event soon, and for more from Black Futurists Speak
And in the meantime, let's continue on with the inspirational divinity of black women with The Black Woman is God, a living altar art exhibition showing now at the African American Art & Culture Complex in San Francisco. From the program description
: The Black woman’s contribution in the society has been devalued. She has been viewed as second-class citizen, relegated to the dresser draws of history. However, she has shaped and changed the world in social and political spheres. These influences of change are reflected in the art world, however, dominated by white male patriarchy. This exhibition will challenge the limited artistic space deemed appropriated for black women to occupy and question when black women create are they God. It is explosive because the images of God have on the most part been white and male until recently.Wow.
I can't wait to see this exhibition, and to hear from the participating artists at tomorrow night's reception - see details for that event on Facebook
. And for a start, listen to an important discussion between the artists in the videos below, and see what you get out of it. The message I got? I am more than a healer. I am healing.