Well here’s me, adding some queer voice of color to this conversation.
Being dangerous isn’t something I’m consciously aiming for when I’m writing, but for me just making art is knowing I might ruffle some feathers. Even if my art focuses only on my own experience, I would have to make a deliberate effort to speak to my experience as a black queer woman without challenging someone’s view of the world. I could delete any references to anything political or controversial, take out anything that addresses abuse or addiction, avoid mentioning oppression, remove the religious themes and of course I couldn’t talk about sex, and then what would I have left? Still – I could write the world “black” on a page and call it a poem, and coming from me there would be plenty of danger to find.
Timothy Faust asks a great question: “Can any of us feel dangerous if we don’t feel like we’re in danger?” I’ll admit something – I never feel safe. I mean I can find my places of comfort, sure, but when I’m writing and sharing my work, trying to be a part of the “literary world” (or any part of the world, really, that’s usually dominated by white men), I’m constantly feeling like I’m fighting my way in, finding a place for my voice where there was none before, putting myself in a vulnerable place where my belonging might be challenged. And still, after this time has passed, what will history tell us? How many times have “dangerous” voices made themselves heard, only to be erased when it came time to mark their place in history? If what I write is dangerous now, does that mean it will be remembered later? Or does it just increase the chance that it will be forgotten? Can we find these voices by opening a history book, or do we have to go grave-digging long after they’ve gone away to find them again?
We all have dangerous stories to tell, anything we’re not “supposed” to be talking about. To be dangerous is to remind the world of what our humanity means to us, rather than allowing everyone to settle into complacency. To challenge us to dig deeper into reflecting on our lives, instead of just accepting what we’re told about what means what to us. At one point in the discussion, Jennifer Barone made a comment I agree with, that to be dangerous a poet must “upset the current world order.” She also made a point that made me think – is being a subversive poet in a place like San Francisco preaching to the choir? Have people here already heard (and understood) enough of voices like mine?
I’d answer that question, for my personal story, with no. Partly because while I, like many others, fled to San Francisco believing it to be the one place that would embrace me for who I am, I found that in many ways, people like me still struggle here. And while people here may accept or tolerate those who challenge the current world order, many are still willing to be comfortable and hesitate to challenge it themselves.
I don’t know if you can call it dangerous. But I can sure as hell make people uncomfortable (just ask my family).
And it’s not just me. I don’t think you have to be a queer black female poet in San Francisco or otherwise in order to be subversive. As Charles Kruger says, “Nothing is more dangerous to ‘power over others’…than individuals who own their own souls.” That’s us, the poets and artists who, whether we go about it deliberately or not, share the stories of becoming one’s own person and claiming power in a world that may not otherwise grant it to us.
This is everything I love about art. And I never really thought about it as “danger” before, but I guess that’s what it is, because it’s challenging everything you know to be true, it’s coming toward you, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.