Reflections on #BlackPoetsSpeakOut and other things

Reflections on #BlackPoetsSpeakOut and other things

Eternal Graffiti

 

Throughout history poets have been used as council when leaders, theologians, politicians, etc., needed to understand complex issues, issues of life and death of love and war. In times of conflict the thoughts and reasoning of poets were often times sought out. In more recent history poets have been sought out to speak at large scale events, to lead movements, to be at the front of the pact and activate the people.

But what about today? What about our subculture? that of performance poets and page poets alike. When it comes time to reach out to poets, as thought leaders, to make sense of things I found myself wondering whose phone would ring.

“A good poem helps to change the shape and significance of the universe,
helps to extend everyone’s knowledge of himself and the world around him.”
Dylan Thomas

When we started this blog we had some granular ideas, as well as some really big high concept ideas. We knew that along with a profusion of other things we wanted to capture the conversation of our subculture in real time.

We believe that some of the most brilliant minds around are here & they are being underutilized. Because who has the time….because have you seen the rent in Brooklyn….because two jobs at minimum wage barely allows you to support yourself…or allows you to let your art breathe.

I believe that we have the collective power to change that, and that the time is now. I have seen the pendulum start to swing in the other direction. And if I was not already convicted in my assumptions, it was made painfully evident by the individuals and leadership behind the #BlackPoetsSpeakOut campaign that my assumptions were correct.

This is why we made the decision early on to dedicate a week to highlighting what was going on, to highlight the conversation in real time.

I want to personally thank the people that followed along, and will continue to follow along as we raise the visibility of spoken word. As we highlight the thought leaders of our generation.

As we let our art — breathe

-Mike Simms

#BlackPoetsSpeakOut | Miesha ‘Ocean’ on B. Sharise Moore

#BlackPoetsSpeakOut | Miesha ‘Ocean’ on B. Sharise Moore

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In an effort to further the awareness of and involvement in the #BlackPoetsSpeakOutCampaign, all of our posts this week will be of poets championing other poets who have posted videos in support of the movement. To read a brief introduction from Mahogany Browne, one of the campaign’s co-creators, click here. To see the tumblr page with all of the video contributions, click here.

Today’s post was written by Miesha Ocean in reflection of B. Sharise Moore reading of her own poem “The Script Given to Grieving Mothers.”

 

There isn’t enough imagination in the day for me to fathom the feeling of losing a child. The fruit of your womb six feet beneath the ground, rotting instead of flourishing, decaying instead of maturing, ceasing instead of moving…their breath forever absent from this Earth. I cannot imagine it, but when I attempt to wrap my head around the idea it usually ends with anger and frustration. I’m usually overwhelmed by fear and sadness. The questions are never ending and all of the answers leave me with an insatiable thirst for more.

More than “I’m sorry” or “Its not about race” or “all lives matter” or “get over it”…more than stop black on black crime first. More than a skim for a solution.

Everyday my daughters wake up to a world where the odds are stacked against them, they breathe the air of a world who has yet to mend historical wounds. I always wonder what can I do to give them ammunition. What truths do I hold on to, which ones do I share to ensure they’re not blindly existing?

The war against injustice is real. The anger behind the fight is real. And for some reason we are being hushed, fettered to fear; we are given scraps of excuses and expected to be “ok”. Even in our protest we are judged and chastised. Being made to feel ashamed of our behavior when the offenders carry no remorse.

As a mother, I thought there would be solace in silence…you know, dodging the questions, being evasive when the subject arises at play group, monitoring the likes of related articles and statuses in Facebook and keeping the channel on Disney Jr. It was exhausting and artificial. I have learned to be composed amongst mixed company, but the lioness reverts to her primal instincts when the blood of her cubs is being aimlessly shed. The hair on our necks rise in preparation for the fight. We unfold our bended knees, straighten our cowering spines, and the mourning is over…we band in solidarity; the frontline to the barrage of bullets against brown people.

The collective cries mothers will be the sound that ripples beneath the ocean and splits the Earth in two. Are they ready for the backlash?

Entry inspired by “B. Sharise Moore reads “The Standard Script Given to the Grieving Mother Whose Child Has Been Murdered by Police” ”

 

#BlackPoetsSpeakOut | Michael Simms on Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib

#BlackPoetsSpeakOut | Michael Simms on Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib

In an effort to further the awareness of and involvement in the #BlackPoetsSpeakOut campaign, all of our posts this week will be of poets championing other poets who have posted videos in support of the movement. To read a brief introduction from Mahogany Browne, one of the campaign’s co-creators, click here. To see the tumblr page with all of the video contributions, click here.

Today’s post was written by Michael Simms in reflection of Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib reading of his own poem “Maybe None of Us are From Anywhere”

Through this whole campaign I have listened to a ton of poems but one I keep coming back to is “Maybe None of Us are Actually From Anywhere” by Hanif. This poems has so many layers, and builds so well. It is brutal and soft at the same time. I have seen SO many conversations on black folks this week. Everyone has an opinion on how and where we fit, on how and where we should fit, on violence, and resistance and passivity. There are some hard hitting direct to the gut poems posted from this campaign, but this poem speaks to a ton of the aforementioned elements that I have seen all over social media but it does it in such a fresh high concept way.

The way Hanif closes the poem is absolutely gorgeous

“I’m glad you have a black friend
I’m sorry your black friend may die soon
and then there will only be me”

Hanif’s words are a thunderstorm in a calm room, I listened to this poems a dozen times, I encourage you to check it out and continue supporting the #BlackPoetsSpeakOut campaign.

#BlackPoetsSpeakOut | Jamila Reddy on Marcus Wicker reading Ross Gay

#BlackPoetsSpeakOut | Jamila Reddy on Marcus Wicker reading Ross Gay

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In an effort to further the awareness of and involvement in the #BlackPoetsSpeakOut campaign, all of our posts this week will be of poets championing other poets who have posted videos in support of the movement. To read a brief introduction from Mahogany Browne, one of the campaign’s co-creators, click here. To see the tumblr page with all of the video contributions, click here.

Today’s post was written by Jamila Reddy in reflection of Marcus Wicker reading Ross Gay (below).

 

What struck me the most about this poem is how brilliantly Gay captures the full-body experience of terror. I keep returning to the word terror, not only to describe the actual fear I feel occupying this body these days, but because the brutality directed at Black bodies is best described as terrorism.

I pride myself on being a writer who resists the cliché of explicitly defining terms, but language—specifically the naming of things—is crucial here. Terrorism is defined as “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.” In the context of recent events (the countless murders of Black people at the hands of White officers and vigilantes), I cannot help but rely on the word terrorism to understand what’s happening in our country.

(The word genocide is also appropriate here, and it is not lost on me that the lack of intervention from national and international governments is connected to this word’s absence from the conversation.)

The opening of Gay’s poem describes the journey of terror through the body:

the quakes
emerge, sometimes just the knees,
but, at worst, through hips, chest, neck,
until, like a virus, slipping inside the lungs
and pulse, every ounce of strength tapped
to squeeze words from my taut lips

His assessment of rage “like a virus” is critical, and helps us understand the relationship between the body and mind. James Baldwin explains, “to be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious, is to be in a rage almost all the time. So that the first problem is how to control that rage so that it won’t destroy you.”

Rage in your body can, and will, destroy you if you let it. The mirrored deaths of Black men at the hands of police officers and the recurring failure of our justice system is psychological warfare—a systemic attempt to crush our hope, to extinguish our spirit’s fire.

(Since language is the point, psychological warfare: intended to demoralize the enemy, to break his will to fight or resist, and sometimes to render him favorably disposed to one’s position.)

They are using the body to target the mind.

As African slaves were treated as three-fifths human, the violence against Black Americans is mental slavery, intended to reduce us to less-than-human by compelling us to live small, half-lives.

Listening to Black poets firmly say, “I have a right to be angry,” illuminates the sad truth that we must defend our right to the full range of the human experience. This is psychological warfare at play: we are expected to remain complacent, docile, safe.

Gay’s need to control his rage is an act of survival; he need not confirm what the officer already believes to be true, lest rage be the last emotion he feels.

The line: his eyes scanning my car’s insides, my eyes, reminds me of W.E.B. DuBois’ theory of double consciousness, “the sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others.” This theory feels more relevant now than it ever has been; We see ourselves as we know ourselves, and we see ourselves as we are seen: violent, dangerous, less-than-human.

When Gay says,  

I imagine things I don’t want to
and inside beg this to end
before the shiver catches my
hands, and he sees,
and something happens

He describes the phenomena of Being While Black: existing in the world with a constant awareness of how to survive.

This is the question: how to survive.

I am afraid, these days, for many reasons. I am afraid that if we are not diligent, we may start to see ourselves the way we are seen. Even more so, I am afraid that we might shrink ourselves in order to survive.

In the face of being made to feel small, it is our responsibility to live big, full, lives.

As a Black poet, one way I do this is through my writing. What poetry does is take each small moment from our lives and magnify it—give each of them a name. I rely on language as a source of my strength: a constant reminder that the chaos inside of my head does not belong to me.

Gay’s poem reminds me of this important truth: The law will not protect us; we must protect ourselves. In order to resist rage moving through the body, we must first understand that it does so. In order to understand that it does so, we must first have the language to describe it.

 

#BlackPoetsSpeakOut | Boris “Bluz” Rogers on Scott Woods

#BlackPoetsSpeakOut | Boris “Bluz” Rogers on Scott Woods

 

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In an effort to further the awareness of and involvement in the #BlackPoetsSpeakOut campaign, all of our posts this week will be of poets championing other poets who have posted videos in support of the movement. To read a brief introduction from Mahogany Browne, one of the campaign’s co-creators, click here. To see the tumblr page with all of the video contributions, click here.

Today’s post was written by Boris “Bluz” Rogers in reflection of Scott Woods‘ video (below).

 

With the #blackpoetsspeakout movement picking up speed as more and more poets add their pieces I chose to go back and reflect on one that had a particular affect on me. Scott Woods’ “(ar)rest assured,” a gripping poem read in what I like to consider Scott’s calming demeanor. In fact it’s the lack of “black anger” that drew me in. As most of the poets who participate in the project are asked to say a general yet uniformed opener to their poem, one of the particular lines is “I have a right to be angry”. Woods’ poem starts off with a calm and never rises above it. He runs through the assurances that if he were to be shot by police that he was not angry or being thuggish or being a threat or a problem that needed to be solved by a bullet. All of the problems that seem to draw the attention of police brutality. In fact Woods describes wearing a seatbelt, listening to country music, and not smiling as to not provoke an attack by police. This piece moved me to the thought of how many black men out there shut themselves down in situations where they are stopped by police as to avoid dying. I have had numerous conversation with black men about the the rush of fear that comes over your body when you’re pulled over by police. Especially at night. Especially in the South. Conversations that often end with uncomfortable silence because the truth of that fear that each party shares is almost hard to believe exists. I mean we are grown ass men right? We shouldn’t have shutter in fear every time we see flashing lights or hear a siren behind us? This is America, correct? This poem is such a shout out to the irregular regular black guy. Those of us who actually enjoy the World Cup, your best friend is white or Filipino, you drive a Volvo, listen to Coldplay or Foo Fighters, play tennis, ride your bike to work and recycle everything you can because your green like that. He wants the listener to be assured that he was no threat, non-violent, and “a good boy” yet in spite of that, in spite of the cool, calm, collected voice…he will be shot. All in all one of the dopest in the series by one of the dopest poets in the country.

 

Find all of the videos on the official tumblr for the campaign #BlackPoetsSpeakOut