TBT: in a daze

I wrote the following post October 12, 2010, while I was a doctoral student teaching Professional Writing at University of South Florida, Tampa.

*     *     *

I remember working at FAMU’S Writing Center, when one of my most stern, yet caring, English professors shared with me her frustration regarding a student’s desire to argue with her about a grade he DESERVED in her class. As she was reflecting on this event, hergrades are terrible image demeanor was one of defeat, exasperation, disbelief, and hurt. The idea that a student would quarrel with her about a grade was perhaps more baffling than the quarrel itself.  I believe my professor was surprised that this student would have the gall (as well as the lack of compassion and truth) to approach her in a tone that suggested she was an inadequate and unfair teacher.  He–-if I can make up this word–-deteacherized her. And she was in such a daze after this student’s assault, that my professor gave him whatever grade he wanted.

I experienced that daze this morning as a student “fought” me for a grade she believed she deserved. This student called me unfair and inconsiderate. She questioned my teaching method, my homework assignment, and my authority. And she told me that I don’t listen.

I am thankful for Parker Palmer, Alice Walker and bell hooks, Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dali Lama, and don Miguel Ruiz–-philosophers and master teachers who have been instructing me on the compassionate classroom. For the ten or so years that I have been teaching students, I have tried my best to be honest and fair; to be compassionate and understanding; to be mindful and patient. But this morning, as I sat through that student’s rant, endured her belligerence, and received her lambasting, I questioned my being:

Why am I a teacher in a system that has encouraged students to compete and fight for grades? Why am I working on a dissertation encouraging contemplative writing practices where students prefer my voice and thought over their own? Why am I trying to create a community in a classroom of individuals who do not feel their responsibility to one another? Why do I build classroom relationships with students who do not acknowledge me on campus? Why am I called “professor” if my professions are going to criticized in a tone that is meant to dehumanize?  

This morning I am questioning my being an instructor. I am reflecting on my methods, my intentions, my desires. I am reflecting on my theories–-on my way of moving and BEing in the world. There is obviously a lesson the Universe is trying to teach me here.  And I am listening.

Unlike my FAMU professor, however, I will not throw in my towel (at least not today). I will neither give up nor give into that student’s “desires” nor her characterizations of me. Instead, I will stand still and strong on my integrity. And with my integrity, I will continue to serve her and her classmates, truthfully. One day she will understand. It won’t be today, and maybe not tomorrow, but one day, she will get all that I have been trying to profess. After all says Soren Kierkegaard, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forward.”

Moving on.

FAMU just tried it w/its Blue Lives Matter talk

Florida A&M University (who, by the way, Wendy Williams, graduated Wimbledon’s first Black woman’s single crown winner, Althea Gibson; acclaimeFullSizeRender(1)d cancer surgeon Dr. LaSalle Leffall; congresswoman Carrie Meek; singer/actress Anika Noni Rose; & screenwriter/director Dee Rees to name a few) is holding a university-wide conversation this afternoon that its organizers have titled: “Healing Voices: Black and Blue Lives Matter | A Conversation.”

What. thee. hell?

With the exception of a few poems I’ve written & paintings I’ve created, I have not publicly engaged conversations re: America’s current climate. While I have discussed, with a few friends, my concerns re: modern movements & offered my theories for proactivity–most of which are grounded in a Sankofa spirit–I have chosen to distance myself from what feels like disoriented ranting about racism, police brutality, & the human condition. However, as trivial as this may be, I could not keep quiet about FAMU’s contribution to minimizing the “Black Lives Matter” movement, its mantra, & its affirmation re: black people, black bodies, & black genius.

Why do “blue lives” have to be an integral part of this current discussion? Why do we–any of us, black, white, Latina/o folk–have to over explain the significance of affirming “black lives matter”? Why can’t “black lives matter” be an unapologetic proclamation that doesn’t require “all lives” “blue lives” or “white lives” in order to exist in the love & truth that grounds its definition? While I am the biggest advocate of King’s beloved community, enuf is enuf already! Got damnit! Love begins with the self. We need to unapologetically exist in the “‘Say it out loud! I’m black & I’m proud!’ ‘Black power!’ ‘Black is beautiful!’ ‘To be young, gifted, & black.’ ‘The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice.’ ‘The blacker the college, the sweeter the knowledge'” language that affirms our being, for no such affirmation denies the other her or his humanity–& it definitely does not affect the humanity of black people.

Black people are the most huemane creatures to walk this earth. Our black grandmothers nursed white babies. Our black teachers built HBCUs that never denied any person a right to education. Our black civil rights activists–including Malcolm X–advocated justice for all human beings. Our black poets, painters, & philosophers imagined humanity in inhumane situations. & our researchers, inventors, scientists, & doctors promoted safety & well being for all people by way of gas masks, blood banks, traffic signals, & open heart surgeries. Aaaaaand, moreover, from Mamie Till to Cameron Sterling, the mothers, fathers, & children of our murdered brothers & sisters maintain (& publicly promote) peace & non-violence despite the violent nature of their losses. Hell, African-American people civilize the world. No one has to tell us that “all lives” matter.

So, stop it, FAMU! You are one of the top HBCUs in the nation whose mission claims to serve the “underrepresented and underprivileged.” Shame on you, first, for not having a university-wide conversation re: our current climate long before five Dallas policemen were murdered. While their deaths are an unfortunate result of one man’s understandable rage, their deaths should not have been the slingshot that hurled your call-to-action. & secondly, shame on you for terming a university-wide conversation that decenters black people & the “black lives matter” movement, “healing.” (& it doesn’t help that your flier includes an illustration of a white police officer.) “Excellence with caring” begins at home, with the self. So stop it. Get off of that media inspirited bandwagon that maintains black servility & second-class citizenship.

I ain’t going.

 

Madea Comes to FAMU

Recently, I sat on a discussion panel in Florida A&M University’s Writing Resource Center where three other colleagues of mine & I were invited to discuss our literary contributions to the English department’s required Freshman Communicative Skills II reader, Writing from the Hill. The custom text, which includes an anthology of poems, short stories, creative non-fiction, visuals, & a play, reflects a literary genius that the department expects will foster the creative genius in our predominantly Black learners. The reader also includes one sample text of each genre (sans the play) from faculty members so that students can relate to their teachers as writers, too. Contributing teacher-writers include: short story writer, Melanie A. Rawls; poet, Kristine Snodgrass; creative non-fiction writer, Rick Campbell; & me, visual artist, Kendra N. Bryant.

During our discussion on Melanie A. Rawls’ excerpt of her short story, “Who You Love . . .,” one of my students claimed that Rawls’ main character, Cherokee, reminds him of Tyler Perry. More specifically, Cherokee–who protects herself from rape by holding her aggressor at gunpoint (a shot gun, actually) & then keeping him tied to a chair until her husband & sons come home, at which point, they all have dinner together–mirrors Tyler Perry’s Madea. My student didn’t think of Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, or his own grandmother; but he thought of Madea–our 21st century minstrel in drag.

Now, I totally understand that Tyler Perry serves as a point of departure for many students’ experiences with film & popular culture. I also understand that Madea is seemingly emblematic of an aggressively strong, gun carrying Black woman who goes to all lengths to protect herself & her loved ones. & I understand that despite her hyperbolic, vindictive nature, apparently, many of her fans view Madea as a more satirical character than the clown I think she is. I totally get it: Madea has become Black folk’s cultural heroin–oops. I mean, “heroine.”

Although I was surprised that my student compared Cherokee to Madea, I understood his comparison. I would even support his decision to write a thorough essay titled, “The Madea in Cherokee.” Yet, despite the clear relationship between Cherokee & Madea, Madea’s invitation into our panel discussion still bothers me. Let me explain.

Although I am a classroom teacher who believes that I should meet my students where they are, that class assignments should reflect their experiences, that I should communicate instruction in a language they understand, & that I should provide lessons that help them make meaning of their own lives, I am a bit overwhelmed–even drained–by my teacherly responsibilities, which seems to grow larger & wider as a result of popular culture’s irresponsible behaviors.

While I often bring popular culture into classroom discussion in order to assist with student comprehension, I am saddened that so many of my University students seemingly don’t have (or care to mention) any other references outside of the ones reflected via popular culture. If popular culture–particularly ideas that are not critically analyzed–is my students’ only point of reference, then the 21st century White patriarchy is just as successful at brainwashing Blacks as the mythical Willie Lynch.

In other words, popular culture (mainstream TV, radio, film) is predominantly controlled by Whites–& when it’s not (like Oprah’s OWN), it definitely is White-influenced. (Note: Some folks believe Bill Cosby was publicly lynched because he was promising to purchase NBC. Ijs. Read CNN’s article here.) Anyway, although most of us choose what information we allow to penetrate our minds & hearts, media control is out of our control, unless we opt for a monastic or Amish lifestyle. Undoubtedly, Tyler Perry, whose birth name is Emmitt, by the way, is a great example of this penetrating–of the media’s control over our thinking.

Tyler Perry’s Madea has starred in nine plays, eight Box Office films, & an animated film; has made guest appearances in two television series (Love Thy Neighbor & House of Payne), while mentioned in Meet the Browns; and has “authored” a book, Don’t Make A Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings, 2006. Her Wikipedia page is just as long as Harriet Tubman’s, Sojourner Truth’s, & Rosa Park’s, & she’s been parodied in both South Park & Saturday Night Live. Wait. Madea has a Wikipedia page? Not even fictional characters like Morrison’s Sula, Jack Hill’s Foxy Brown, nor Alice Walker’s Sophia–from whom Madea borrows the line, “All my life I had to fight”–has her own Wikipedia page. Argh! Nevertheless, because Tyler Perry’s Madea character dominates popular culture, the dominion minimizes (damn near erases) other literary, historical, & even familial references that are just as significant to Black culture–if not more than–Perry’s Madea.

Now, to be fair, a day after the panel discussion, I did ask other students how they felt about their classmate’s Madea comparison. While they claim they were indifferent, after some probing, one student did say he saw Walker’s Sophia in Cherokee; another said she thought of Harriet Tubman, & another expressed remembering her own grandmother as shared thru her mother’s story-telling. Of course, none of these students mentioned any of those comparisons during the panel discussion. As a result, their silence more or less invited Madea to further penetrate & govern another predominantly Black space. Why are we giving Tyler Perry & Madea so much of our energy? Ugh! I’ll stop my own energizing now.

*      *     *

Neither one person nor one system is to blame for students’ limited knowledge re: self, history, religion, law, literature & the like. & I am specifically referring to the African American Millennial student & the basic knowledge bank that (I think) s/he should carry with her/him into a University. While I am not much of a conspiracy theorist, I am under the impression that superstructures (as Karl Marx defines them) are used to maintain White power & privilege, & therefore, Tyler Perry & Madea are mere pawns in a bigger scheme to keep Black folk on a short leash.

While students have more access to information than any other generation before them, they still know (or remember or are interested in) very little beyond the popular culture that pervades their daily lives. For instance, to date, as a post secondary English teacher at a historically Black university, I’ve had a student tell me that Martin Luther King led the 1995 Million Man March & another define “apartheid” as “apartment.” Other students have mindlessly claimed racism & segregation occurred “back in the day,” while a few complained that the Civil Rights Movement is boring. I’ve had one student insist that Beyoncé is life, while another argued that Lil Wayne shouldn’t have been criticized for his derogatory reference to Emmett Till because it educated listeners on the 15-year-old Chicagoan who was brutally murdered in Mississippi for allegedly whistling at a White woman. & this semester, aside from Madea entering a literary discussion, many of my students confessed that they never realized the negative connotations associated with the word “black.”

From the looks of it, popular culture is, indeed, Willie Lynching our 21st century students. Alas, until more of our main stream entertainers insist on releasing works that do more than depict Black folks as shuckers & jivers, as superficial reality stars, as gang banging thugs, & as violently profane World Stars Hip Hoppers, the job of the classroom teacher to enlighten & restore her students’ humanity will continue to be an uphill battle.

#eachoneteachone.

rEVOLution Haikus: A Class Assignment

If I could, I would teach a poetry class.  Although I have a certificate in creative writing, I cannot teach poetry because academy culture prefers I teach within my discipline: rhetoric & composition.  It’s like checking a box named “African American” when you are also Native American & Hispanic.  I’m light-weight trapped.  Anyway, if I could, I would teach a poetry class.  & today, I did.

While grading resumes for my Improving Writing students, I discovered a poet in the midst.  A particular student currently has poems published in various spaces, & I wanted to share her with the rest of her classmates.  So, I did.  I required her to write a haiku to share w/her classmates.  Reluctantly, she did.  & after her brief presentation (for the haiku is a brief three-lined poem with 17 syllables), I required each student to write a haiku on the topic REVOLUTION.

Why REVOLUTION?

Well, at FAMU, students are engaged in SGA elections (& my FAMU alumn know how theatrical & fantastical this occasion is.) Anyway, two of my male students (who are/were members of the FAMU Court) were dressed in black suits w/a REVOLUTION campaign shirt.  The campaign is light-weight amazing, specifically because students are standing on the genius of civil rights activists.  Their entire campaign is the epitome of throwback.  I dig it–so much so that REVOLUTION became the topic of our haiku writing exercise.

Below, find the two haikus–well, I actually wrote one & provided two different last lines–that I wrote w/my students.  Each of their haikus should be available in my comments below.

rEVOLution

Can you see the love

hidden in revolution

like abstract notions?

*     *     *

Can you see the love

hidden in revolution

like it hides in us?

Freewriting about God (with my Improving Writing Students)

This Fall 2013 semester I find myself teaching a group of Improving Writing students who are adamant about God’s existence.  Students refer to God as “He.”  They seem to believe “He” lives in the sky–in heaven.  And although I haven’t asked them yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if they imagine God a white man . . . with dirty blonde hair, blue eyes, and doves flying around “His” head–maybe even a glowing halo.  I’m not trippin’ though.  That’s the God I use to know.  “He’s” the God I prayed to at night–when I use to get down on my knees in prayer.  (I haven’t done that in 11 years though–since my father passed.  I prayed to God to give me the strength to accept “His” will.)  But that God I use to gaze at every Sunday morning on my church walls was white–white skin, white gown, white cherubs.  But I see God so differently now–and I think only because I was reared to believe in God is my mind still attached to God’s existence–in the institutionalized ideology of God’s being.  I mean, I know there is a higher power–& maybe that power’s name is God.  But since reading Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, Sue Monk Kidd’s Dance of the Dissident Daughter, along with various texts by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh and Pema Chödrön, I prefer to call God “Universe” or “Love.”  Such renaming allows me to detach from the idea that God is outside of me, that God is a white man–a member of a group of people who have historically enslaved, dehumanized, and degraded African American people–and that God is some power I will meet only after I die.

But my students think I don’t believe in “God,” cause I don’t believe in their “God.” And ohhhmyyyyyGOD, they become judgmental about my disbelief.  Lol.  But isn’t that what happens when human beings get attached to certain ideas?  If others don’t prescribe to particular beliefs, they are “othered” and pushed to the margins.  Blackballed.  Blacklisted.  Blacksheeped.

In The Color Purple, Shug Avery (the blacksheep character, of sorts) taught Celie to see God beyond her image of a white man.  Shug told Celie that God is everywhere–in the trees, in the gardens, in love making.  She taught Celie that we are not separate from God or each other, human and non-human. If a tree gets cut, her arm will bleed, she says.  Shug claims that God lives inside of us and that we manifest God in our ability to create, to love, to forgive, and to understand ourselves and each other.  How awesome is that?  Isn’t that God–which Shug calls “It”–actually ALL mighty? ALL knowing?  ALL powerful?

Composing for Martin Luther King

This semester I’ve integrated visual arts, poetry, and technology in my composition classroom by way of Creative Composition assignments that require writing students to explicate their understanding of Martin Luther King’s rhetoric and philosophy.  Students are given creative allowance, and therefore, can choose their medium.  Below are some examples of my students’ creative compositions, and here is my own, (A Poem for MLK), which I wrote at the bequest of a male student who has decided to drop out of school to sit by a lake and think.

Mr. Drummond's King Image

Goldwire's Collage

Goldwire's Collage 2

On FAMU Students Sharing Their Poverty

I cried today.  And although I often cry, I have never cried in front of the students I teach.  But today I cried—for them.  For their experiences.  For their struggles.  For their triumphs.  Today I cried in honor of and respect for their personhood.

Today students silently read Jo Goodwin Parker’s 1971 essay “What Is Poverty?” They were required to engage in a 10-minute freewrite response after their reading, and then each were asked to orally share a synopsis of his and her responses.  I listened wholeheartedly to each of their experiences, and as I sat on top of the desk at the head of the classroom, I became absolutely overwhelmed with both gratitude and sadness.  Sitting there as the head (and at the head of) about 25 college students, I listened to them share their own experiences with poverty, and with each story told, I struggled to deter my tears.  My face flushed, my throat tightened, and my heart bashed against my chest walls.  “Don’t cry, Kendra,” I repeated to myself.  “Do not cry in front of these students.”  But with the passing of each students’ story, my emotions overpowered my cerebral demands.

*              *              *

“I didn’t grow up in poverty,” said one student, “but the author reminds me of myself and my children.  I went hungry many nights in order to ensure that my children could eat.  And like the author’s children, my kids often took cold baths with no soap, and I had to wash our clothes by hand because I couldn’t afford to go to the laundry mat.”

“I remember being left at my aunt’s house,” said another student. “I told her I was hungry, and so, she told me to go get some cereal.  When I opened the cereal box, a bunch of roaches came running out of it.”

Then another student said, “This story reminded me of my mother and made me appreciate her more. I remember wanting markers when I was a little girl.  Although markers are not that big of a deal, my mother had to struggle to buy them for me.  I was so happy to have those markers that I carried them everywhere I went.  I even slept with them.”

“I grew up in Nigeria, and the poverty I experienced there doesn’t compare to what I’ve seen,” said another.  “Dead people live in the street gutters and people just walk by them regularly like it’s normal. My grandmother’s bathroom has no walls, so the bathtub literally sits open on the outside.

*              *              *

While I am fully aware that 99% of FAMU students are on financial aid and that FAMU was founded particularly for the underprivileged and under-represented, I am always taken aback—far, far back—by  students’ stories of poverty and homelessness.  Their experiences sadden me. Disappoint me. They frustrate and sicken me.  How does anyone—myself included—lavishly live in the midst of those suffering in and with poverty?  Where is peace and freedom in a world that is fully aware of the poverty that embodies other human beings, but doesn’t do everything in its power to eliminate it?

According to actionagainsthunger.org, global hunger afflicts nearly a billion people worldwide, and every year nearly 3.5 million children die from malnutrition-related causes.  And according to trickleup.org, 1.4 billion people live in poverty.  In America alone, reports the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 16% of the population is living in poverty—a 2% increase from 2009.  And in 2013, child poverty reached record highs with 16.7 million children living in famished households.   Also, according to sunshinestatenews.com, Florida is the third poorest state in the nation, with 1 in every 5 Floridians living in poverty; about twenty-two percent of them in Leon County are living in poverty (indexmundi.com).  And in my Improving Writing classrooms at Florida A&M University, roughly 98% of students either lived in or experienced some kind of impoverished environment.

I don’t think I can (or even want to) teach another writing class that is not centered on social action.  While I have not experienced—ever in my life—hunger and homelessness—I entered into each of my students’ narratives and witnessed their pangs.  And it all hurt.  Through personal story telling, my students forced me to question my integrity and purpose as a classroom teacher, scholar, and human being.  Surely, teaching the research paper, the business proposal, resume, and personal statement—teaching the rules to MLA style and documentation—all have their places in academia and corporate America.  But, there’s grace, I think, and loving-kindness, and freedom, and humanity in approaching writing instruction via social action projects.

I wanna save the world.  And maybe my effort at doing so is giving students the skill and space to enter into the humanity of themselves and others.

Contemplating Dying: My Apologies to Natalie Goldberg, For I Found Myself Wanting Death

A Note to Readers: The blog entry below is a response to Natalie Goldberg’s writing prompt “Die” taken from Old Friend from Far Away:The Practice of Writing Memoir.  Improving Writing students were rquired to spend 10 minutes of non-stop writing in reponse to a prompt of their choice; I blogged with them. After class, students were required to re-read their freewrites–to thoughtfully examine their content–and then to rewrite (or type) their responses in a blog.  The link below provides readers my 10-minute in-class freewrite. The blog that follows became something much different.  

10-Minute Freewrite on Goldberg’s “Die” 030113

Lately, I have not been afraid to die.  As a matter of fact, last night I invited death into my bedroom–to take me while I was asleep.  I mighta even begged it to.  That way, I wouldn’t be in pain.  There’d be no mess.  No theatrics.  My dogs would be left alone, however.  Having to pee.  Wanting to go outside.  Wanting me to greet them with my usual kisses on their foreheads. How would they know that I would never come down the steps to relieve them? To greet them?  To give them kisses all over their faces? Would they miss me?  Would my body quickly decay in the 79 degrees of heat that warms my living space? Would my neighbors eventually smell me–or hear the dogs barking–as I suspect they eventually would.  Would the maintenance man enter my home and discover my dead body–sans pajama bottoms–in my bed?  Would he reach for my cell phone to call for help and find, it, too, is dead.  (Because the only two people in my life who call me on a daily basis has called me incessantly, thus killing the battery.) My mother wouldn’t even know I am dead.  She only calls every now and then, which doesn’t bother me–really.  But maybe my Ruzzle friends and my Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram friends would realize my failure to post–to reach out into cyberspace in search of a connected space–and realize I’ve been disconnected.  Maybe they will connect with each other in trying to reconnect with me and realize I am missing.  How long would I lay there, dead, before the world notices I have left it?

Last night I wanted to die cause I found myself reattached to memories that keep me in static places.  Tibetan Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön calls it “stuckness.”  She says our mind has the tendency to stay stuck in dis-ease that mindfulness practices, like loving meditation, can free our minds from.  But, last night I found myself stuck on a memory that cripples me, and I wanted to die–because death is a freedom that requires no practice.

I just wanted to be over it already.  To forget her.  To not feel her.  Miss her.  Want her.  To not be reminded of every single event that made me feel worthless, insecure, and empty.  How can one person have so much power over another’s selfworth?  How could I have given her so much of that power?  I wanted to die last night cause I wanted to stop remembering.  For, remembering sticks me up and keeps me in a stuckness; and I feel so uneasy.  I imagine that stuckness looks like Jocko Graves, who spent hours in cold winter air waiting for General George Washington, until he froze; he–stuck, upright, holding a got damn horse and a lantern.  His dying was his freedom–freed from slavery, oppression, and dehumanization.  And now, centuries later, Jocko’s more alive standing erect as a statue dorning white folks’ lawns then he was a black boy living in America.  Will she remember me like that when I die?  Will the paintings, poems, and postcards I gifted her be the memorabilia that makes me more alive to her when I am dead than I am right now as a living, breathing human being?

Reader Response Haikus for Improving Writing 2300

After reading Audre Lorde’s “Poetry Is Not A Luxury” and overhearing a student discuss the art and challenge of writing haikus, I challenged my Improved Writing 2300 students to write a haiku in response to any of the readings we have engaged in.  To date, students have read Jo Goodwin Parker’s “What Is Poverty,” Naomi Klein’s “No Logo,” Alice Walker’s Introduction to We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For, Langston Hughes’ “Salvation,” Audre Lorde’s “Poetry Is Not A Luxury,” and my own, “For Me, My Mother, and Those Who Keep Secrets.”

I told students that I, too, would write haikus in response to the literature we’ve read, for the haiku is my favorite poetic form.  My pieces are below.

Remembering Jo Goodwin Parker

I don’t say my grace

without acknowledging those

with no food to eat.

In Response to “No Logo”

Got D&G frames

while the other has no clothes

nor shoes on her feet.

For Langston Hughes

I.

I got salvation

through Celie and Shug Av’ry’s

discussion of God.

II.

Shug say he ain’t He,

but God be fields of purple,

valleys, and mountains.

We Are The Ones We Have Been Waiting For

Waiting on Jesus

to save us from ourselves

is niggard conduct.

Poetry Is Not A Luxury: Thank you, Audre Lorde

I write poetry

‘cause it’s a creative space

for transformation.

Black Women’s Poetic Genius: In Response to Audre Lorde’s “Poetry Is Not A Luxury”

Every time I read Audre Lorde’s “Poetry Is Not A Luxury,” I feel like swallowing Mari Evans’ “Who Can Be Born Black” and throwing it up into the universe—with hopes that none of it hits the ground, but splatters on everybody’s faces.  In her 1970 poem, Evans asks,

Who
can be born black
and not
sing
the wonder of it
the joy
the
challenge
And/to come together
in a coming togetherness
vibrating with the fires of pure knowing
reeling with power
ringing with the sound above sound above sound
to explode/in the majesty of our oneness
our comingtogether
in a comingtogetherness
Who
can be born
black
and not exult!

 

When I read Audre Lorde’s essay, I know that Mari Evans—and many black women poets like her (Angelou, Giovanni, Clifton, Walker, Sanchez, Jordan)— have selflessly composed and shared their poetry as a tool toward liberation.  In other words, these black women poets write poetry as a social action, and therefore, are civil rights activists whose declamations have “la[id] the foundations for a future of change” (38).  And if encouraging others to be the change they want to see in the world isn’t enuf, black women poets have accepted their role as mystics, if you will, who have entered into the silences of themselves and tapped into their creative genius in order to manifest Creator.  And so, black women poets be that divine energy that Lorde claims is “a vital necessity of our existence” (37).  Basically, black women poets have ensured our very humanity; they have allowed human beings to see themselves in other beings, human and non-human; they have offered themselves to the world so that its inhabitants may understand and have compassion for one another.  Undoubtedly, poetry is not a luxury.

 *          *          *

I have been writing poetry since I was in elementary school.  However, it wasn’t until I saw Maya Angelou deliver “On the Pulse of Morning” for President Clinton’s 1993 Inaugural Address that poetry actually crawled up my spine and shook me into a holy ghost.  I was immediately smitten with Angelou, and the same way that Nikki Giovanni’s Flora wanted to be Sheba, I wanted to be Maya Angelou.

I have been following Angelou since I was in the 7th grade.  However, today I want to be like me, who is forever becoming—faithfully, more spirit than ego.  And so, I find myself borrowing from all kinds of poets—black women, Buddhists, Christians, Rastas, white men, lesbians, children, students, the sky, my dogs—in an attempt to explore my own poetic voice.  For, knowing myself is only possible through the eyes of the other.

I am so happy to be black.  To be a black woman. To be a black woman poet.

Thank you Audre Lorde, and others.