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.
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.
Friends, I've made it - made it to a Youtube video
that comes with an "explicit language" warning. It's a dream I never knew I had. I couldn't have done it without you. You can watch the video below. It's one of the poems I read for last month's Lit Slam. And I'm mostly kidding about the "explicit language" thing -
I'm proud of that night's reading for many more reasons than that. If you haven't already, check out what I wrote about it: "What I learned from my first lit slam."My next reading is coming up tomorrow night in Berkeley. I'll be helping Lyrics & Dirges celebrate their second anniversary by sharing some poems, along with
Justin Chin, Javier O. Huerta, Tim Kahl, and one of my favorite local literary heroes, Nic Alea. Lyrics & Dirges is a reading series that aims to "spotlight the diverse literary community" of the Bay Area, so as always, this is a dynamic line-up of readers, and I'm really looking forward to being part of it. The show is hosted by Sharon Coleman, and it takes place at Pegasus Books in downtown Berkeley, at 7:30 pm. Wheelchair accessible, refreshments served. Visit the website for more details. Advertisement over. Now, I sell myself in video form:
The concept of change from within
continues to touch my writing these days. And I'm thinking not just about change from within my own body, but also from within the communities who need it most. So often, we see it happen the opposite
way – change taking place as outsiders see fit, without consideration of the community's voices
speaking to what's best for their own lives. And usually, this kind of change follows certain patterns. Out with the liquor stores, and in with the wine bars. Out with the graffiti, in with the art galleries. And, of course, out with the low-income people of color, and in with those who can afford to live in the more expensive, new and "improved" version of the neighborhood. At the July Lit Slam, the stupendous featured poet, Danez Smith
, read a poem he'd written from the perspective of a prostitute witnessing gentrification in her neighborhood. "My pussy got a Whole Foods," he read. The poem was a comically clever, making me laugh and making me reflect on the neighborhood where I grew up. It's still Whole Foods-free, and without gentrification, that land is sort of sacred ground.
And I know it may seem somewhat strange, to celebrate the preservation of conditions that are awful in so many ways. I'm from Stockton, California, a place that usually goes unrecognized unless it's at the top of a list measuring something like rates of crime, or unemployment, or overall misery
. The parks near my old house host more drug deals and gun fights than picnics or barbeques. Recently, Stockton has made international news
for the way it's worsened in the economic downturn. The news doesn't seem to indicate that Stockton will improve any time soon.
So as I watch, I wonder where things will go from here. Will Stockton communities continue to experience award-winning misery? Or will they see positive change, as some believe
? If so, my hope is for the people of Stockton to be able to feel safe and thrive, rather than being displaced by some new wave of privileged folk who decide that change is worth it because they've moved in.
You know me – I find hope in poetry, in the telling of stories from the voices of the people. So With Our Words
, a Stockton-based organization promoting youth development and leadership through literary and creative arts, is on my radar. Here's a video of Stockton youth competing in a poetry slam, with a piece that draws attention to the measures some take to find hope for change under dreary conditions.
In elementary school, they have you write an essay on what you did over the summer. I don't know why nobody has you write one on your first lit slam
what I call learning outside the classroom (Seriously, check out The Lit Slam
. I'll definitely be going back for more). So here's my essay.
My First Lit Slam
At my first lit slam, I learned
the importance of things like volume and clarity. Not just so the audience could hear me, but so I could hear myself. So I could find a spot at the back of the room and pretend I was standing there watching, in awe of the bravery on stage, because that's where I'd usually be at a poetry slam. I learned to look at my own foolish bravery as something beautiful.
At my first lit slam, I learned that I suck at competition. Because isn't the whole point to be better than the other competitors? I tried rooting against them, to see how that felt. When one guy took to the stage with a particularly confident stage presence, I let the intimidation sink in my stomach and thought, God, I hope he sucks.
And I don't know if it was the guilt of thinking such a mean thing or the troubling eloquence of his poem's first line, but I took it back immediately. And I cheered for him, as if he wasn't just the competition, but also the bearer of damn good poetry, because he was. At my first lit slam, I learned that some people are brave enough to love me ugly. That after the shimmer of gloss has faded to the flat, dark brown of my lips, some are strong enough to name my beauty in the vulnerability of speaking my truth. The kind of truth that hurts a little on the way out. At my first lit slam, I learned to make it to the final round. And to come in last place among the first places. And, even without any bullshit like "everybody's a winner," I learned
how it can truly be an honor to lose, standing among such exhilarating talent. At my first lit slam, I learned why people take part in the madness of competitive performance poetry. Not to try to be better than everyone else, but to try to be the best version of myself. I learned to push for more. I learned to want more. And I learned how to get what I want.
It's almost eerie, the way I can revisit Audre Lorde's work again and again, and always find that she seems to be speaking directly to the questions I'm grappling with at the moment. It's one of the reasons I count her as one of my mentors, in spite of the fact that this mentorship began long after she passed away.
Have you ever had a mentor like that? Here's a passage I came across while
rereading her work for school. From her essay "Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power:"For as we begin to recognize our deepest feelings, we begin to give up, of necessity, being satisfied with suffering and self-negation, and with the numbness which so often seems like their only alternative in our society. Our acts against oppression become integral with self, motivated and empowered from within.
These are meaningful words, and timely, for everything I've been exploring lately about getting in touch with my feelings
and creating change from within
. Thanks for the affirmation, Audre.
So. On with the newness. Here's one change that's happening for me: I'm no longer part of the Matrices Press anthology I was helping put together to gather voices that challenge oppression and silencing. Since I'm feeling open to change, it feels right to move on. Hopefully soon I'll be able to focus on my own project in support of my vision for lifting silenced voices. Big thanks to all of the talented writers who submitted their work! If you'd like to keep up on what's next for Matrices, visit the website
And something new that I'm trying: tonight I'm going to try participating in a special show called The Lit Slam. The Lit Slam is a monthly performance poetry event based on competition for a shot at publication in an annual print journal.
I've never competed in a poetry slam before, and I'm a little nervous about going up against some seasoned pros, but I am on the lookout for submission opportunities
, and since I'm trying new things, I thought I might as well. The last time I participated in a writers' competition, Portuguese Artists Colony, it turned out pretty well for me
. And if nothing else, I know that tonight I'll have fun, which is really my main goal.
This month's feature is slam champion Danez Smith
. I've just spent way too much time on Youtube falling in love with his poetry. I'll never get that time back, but it was so worth it. Here's one of his pieces. If you want to hear him read live, come out to Viracocha
tonight at 8 pm, and for more about The Lit Slam, see their website