August 9, 2014, Michael Brown was killed. No, it was not a natural death or a death by accident. He was deliberately shot and killed. Violence against black men and women, girls and boys is monstrous.
I was in Vermont, at a writers’ conference when it happened: the killing of Michael Brown. When, I returned to Columbia, MO where I am a graduate instructor, life as usual was not possible.
Elizabeth Alexander wrote, “While black literature comes in a full range of flavors, black authors have nonetheless always labored under the demand, implicit or not, that their literature be of service and speak “for the people.”
As a writer, scholar, and teacher, I could not ignore the event: the killing of Michael Brown. Since that day many more, not a few more, many more black and brown people have been killed.
This folio is one of the many ways I am talking back. Writers – Ching-In Chen, Naomi Daugherty, Sheila Maldonado, Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie, Spring Ulmer and M.L Vargas and visual artist – Joel Crooms responded to my call for solidarity.
I asked them: how do you define protest poetry? I know this is the wrong question, the wrong nomenclature, inane, maybe even insane. But I asked anyway. I asked them because of their activism. I am so thankful they responded.
I am sometimes surprised by their answers and always vastly moved by the work they chose to represent their vision. The over-riding tone – balm – is Love. I confess, I am uncomfortable with the sentiment.
Love does not seem that dangerous. Certainly we need something dangerous to change the current state of affairs. Police brutality, economic repression, worldwide inhumanity are dangerous.
What could a poem do – especially a poem about love? Is the poem, the essay, the photo – self indulgent when what we need is something more dangerous… something more equal to the assault against our lives?
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare,” wrote Audre Lorde. These writers are concerned with survival. It’s complicated: personal and polemic.
It’s more than a conversation. It’s a declaration for the end of all wars.
Monica A. Hand
for Michael Brown and too many others
Joel Crooms is a Newark N.J. born artist. Formally educated abandoning academia, he considers himself self-taught with the help of his family and community. Reared in tumultuous times of change in America, he has always been supported by progressive individuals and groups. While offered opportunities by the dominant society/ art world, so far he prefers the fringe. All of his work is political even flowers and trees. Most of it is reflective of the beautiful in the world and how we treat each other. In reference to his work, all he cares is to do and not be constrained by others or himself and to continue to speak to cosmopolitan/ universal issues. Life. The flowers and the babies: Idealistic? Yes!
Click on the images for larger view
Spring Ulmer is the author of 2007 Kore Press First Book Award Benjamin’s Spectacles, and The Age of Virtual Reproduction, published by Essay Press.
In North America, we live in an extension, as Fred Moten words it, of the age of lynching. From 1880 to 1920 someone black was lynched every two days; today someone black is killed by a cop every three to four days. Misogyny, too, insures that every day three women are murdered by their current or former male partners. Rape is an epidemic. Mass shootings are commonplace, and more veterans commit suicide than are killed in battle. We war using drones, cluster bombs, IEDs, and uranium weapons. We torture. In the past ten years, we have killed a very conservative estimate of 200,000 Iraqi, Afghani, and Pakistani civilians, not to mention sickened and made life near impossible for many thousands more in our war on and enactment of terror. We live in a world in which a million persons are born every four days, the climate is changing, and ecocide looms. Poetry?
Poetry is what isn’t afforded. The protest poem comes from the same urge that drives a person to sew his or her lips together, to lie or sit unarmed in the path of those armed and intent on intimidating. It is written on a Styrofoam cup or a rock or the back of scrap paper and then buried or secreted out of wherever it is locked. Or it is told anonymously, the way two-lined landays are spoken among women in Afghanistan.
The protest poem’s eternal subject is the abuse of and the taking back of power. There are Ritsos’, Faiz’s, and Jumah al-Dossari’s poems, written during imprisonment, torture; there is Lorde’s “Power,” and Berry walking winter fields as bombs drop. There is Oppen’s silence, Nina Simone’s defiance. Protest poetry is not rhetoric; it is heart, gut, scream, laughter, blood, water, milk. Is there a just grammar? Celan takes out his pain on the German language, deforming and transforming it in his testimony as a survivor.
The protest poem abides by love—which is always greater than coercion. It illuminates the lies we are told; asks who sickens from what disease and who determines the quality of our health; asks what drives us toward crack deals, why prisons are a multi-billion dollar industry, and how it came to be that capitalist systems currently enslave 27 million people globally. The poem sings in the worst of times. It looks for the good even in the most suspect. If anything, the protest poem hopes against hope and thereby provides asylum.
WHAT HAVE I DONE
What Have I Done Oh Lord,
the name of a Mesopotamian ox,
four-thousand years old.
Let me carry your name, ox,
yoked as I am
to the petrified.
My country is again declaring war—
Reading my father’s writing, I see
how central his conscientious objector status was
to everything he became. I want to start a C.O. folder
for my son—and he is not even my son yet.
I keep thinking of the squirrel my dog shook.
I felt so horrible seeing it lying there, perhaps
just stunned, probably paralysed. It closed
and opened its eyes. I had commanded my dog
not to kill it.
Beyond these confines, there is a world.
There is a world beyond these confines.
I have beat my fists, offered
my breasts to strangers,
only to hear nothing.
I know there is a world beyond
the endless promises, empty communiqués.
If you approach, beware—
You must tell me
when I can see my son,
when I can hold him.
We do not know how to be good.
The gods, too, made errors, were jealous,
threw fits. My dog scratches her belly
and the heater blows cold air.
The need to drive South, sleep
in a truck full of ants
in the middle of Georgia,
of the spirit popping
like a blister
I have no bottom left to
the trap door of my heart.
The turtle beats
its arms and legs and tail
against its shell.
“A few years from now
there aren’t going to be
We rob the land
to attempt a living.
We only make a deading.
Here, let me lie next to you.
There are no more resources.
THE LAST BEAUTIFUL THING
…The walls at Abu Ghraib are the same bicolour tan and white painted block as the walls at the university where I teach.
Chelsea Manning copied her conscience to a CD she labelled “Lady Gaga.”
We, too,must go non-violently rogue.
Bats. Four or more, fly above the dark land in the steel blue morning, pushing off the roof like skateboarders push off the lip of a ramp, barely resting there before swooping, arcing, circling back.
As the sky bleaches, the bats disappear.
… I am not sure how everything sours so quickly, or what makes a particular taste permeate the roof of one’s mouth.
How burst forth we are.
Placed aside a road at night, disturbed by proximity of moon and star, enlightened by anniversaries and time gone by unnoticed until now, I draw a line between the past and a child. I have to step over it before I can dance where I want to dance in this field where the horse blows air from his lips and where we planted flowers back when it was so cold the ground heaved them up.
The wind blows the blades of the unplugged fan.
In Afghanistan opium is cheaper than rice.
…There is a place, Sepheri insists, behind the place of nothingness. He paints a flower’s stem with long thin hands. A patch of light glides to a halt. His scalded pot has boiled dry again. Cuffs rolled. Green sweater, red blouse.He stands, back to Picasso’s Guernica, head in silhouette against the bull’s horns, body blocking the screaming woman from view. He’s grown out his hair, his beard. I look hard at his drawings of trees. They clump together, twisting their trunks toward the light.
Someone said, criticizing his paintings, Beauty is not enough for me.
But twisting trees, like a towering mother figure inciting rag-wearers to revolt, gesture upward, onward.
…These are the backwards days, days a teapot makes an inconceivable beauty out of nothing—steam under a lid.
… Today is the hardest of all. I order my papers. The file is lost. I have to find love.
Mehmedinovic writes that war makes one asexual.
Earlier, I walked through the steelyard where boys were at war—their guns clicking. One stood behind a pile of rock. A black-hooded kid sat up high on top of the rock pile. I imagined a bee-bee wound. I was mad at them for their game when so many are at war actually.
It will snow.
Small invasive sapling.
Snow you can get lost in.
… I stare out the window at the new snow. Even Paul Celanhad a child.
Snowden says, NSA workers are issuing death threats. Someone could poke him in the street, his Russian lawyer said, and he’d be dead.
Mehmedinovic says war gave his work purpose—
… Yesterday there was a shooting at Purdue University. Some professors did not take the warnings seriously. In 2002, I walked into class to have my students inform me that there had been a shooting. Hiding definitely has its value. In this particular instance, the shooter was dead. So were professors. At Purdue, one student entered the room and killed another student.This is America. I am a teacher. A few months ago a bus driver took a bullet and died protecting his bus load of kids.
I speak on the phone with a friend who is a mother who tells me how terrified she is to enrol her children in public school.
Sontag says she would have committed suicide had it not been for her son David.
There’s a kid I love who needs a mother. It’s impossible—
What do you do when someone in a wetsuit and goggles sends you a message that says, I want to internet date you so hard?
If a man these days has to hack a dating website to find 33 dates with people he is actually interested in, I consider myself lucky to once have met an asshole.
… Don’t tell me to go online. I grew up in the fucking backwoods. In the ’90s I wrote code and was courted by a gaming company. I was 21. I told them, No. I had ethics. I had balls.
How exactly the system fucks you—fucks you and fucks you and fucks you and fucks you, and says, Don’t you enjoy it?
… Too much system, no people, no real bodies.
… Forget my folders and papers. School has become corporate. Finance lingo.
… At the dog park, a boy’s birth-marked face. Snow buttons on a tree. Trees grow them, you know, I said, referring to the sticks the kid was trying to glue back onto the tree with snow. The sticks kept falling. The boy made a face out of the buttons. Totems, he called them. One face was awkward, he said. His father didn’t agree. The stick arms were useless. It’s the law of the fulcrum, the father said. It’s called gravity, dad, said the boy.
… The boys threw the snow ball and, knowing they’d hit me (my white truck), ran—six of them or so behind the library.
Outside the yelling continues. An upside down sickle moon. Iraqis say, You can’t go out alone day or night. I am not speaking of me, but of all mothers, Leila says, head covered.
The translator’s face is bone beautiful, as if sculpted from marble.
I feel something let loose inside me. Who are we muscling our shadows through muck?
More snow for Monday. I was ready for it to unstick.
The snow is deep. My dog Oph and I pass the wet trunks. The arches of my feet ache as ice melts. Oph scares a girl inside a snow fort. We are suspicious travellers in snow.
The Iraqi woman tells me her brother has to check his car before he enters it—for bombs.
If I have no child, I would like a horse.
Weather too precarious.
I am on the list for a boy. The referral should come this year. No promises.
Do you know how to awaken after this deep night?
… Mask-like face of a dog, red under-eyes, a bleeding paw, ice where others have stepped along this path through the steel mill yard. No one here today. No boys with bee-bee guns and hoods up on the rocks. Just one hawk over the Schuylkill. Some rare birds, Anuj writes to me, are frequenting Dehli—voted #1 most polluted city in the world. Sparrows left, but eagles arrive in droves. Here the old mill where they once made canons is too expensive to clean up and turn over for profit. Instead, this bit of abandoned land becomes a refuge for the dog and me.
… The man died who lived near the Schuylkill in the woods. The pizza man, whose birthday is March 20, told me. Oph and I were walking and he was splitting wood for the pizza oven. A stroke, cerebral. Could have happened, the pizza man said, anywhere. He had given it all up. Bad break up, hard family life.
I remember the man who died sitting up in the park gazebo charging his phone, so he could watch black and white movies in his shack by the river. He said you guys talked, the pizza man said.
… I sold my soul to get a kid I didn’t get. She loves me. I regret not having sold it sooner.
I was mother for a day when I went to visit her in October.
The road in the dark—how many people were out in dark so dark? People’s tired faces in bus light.
… I open the windows.
I lie down in the mostly snow covered parking lot of the closed park (storm damage) and listen.
I think of Ahad on the rock, balancing above the earth between shoulders of mountains—Ahad, cross-legged, arms wide.
I need to dance.
My father falls face first into the snow, my mother unable to lift him.
I do not know how we can find our way back.
… Outside, spring begins to leave its trail like a snail—the ground mucus.
I am angry at the self who is stuck at the abandoned moment—as if in a photograph.
… There was the way sunlight smeared the wire cage of the post office gate we leaned against. How blinded I was by Tim’s patience, waiting for me to cross the wash. My throne. He said he was my throne. We went to the park and I sat in his lap and watched the sun set.
Perhaps sadness has seen itself in the mirror.
… There is nothing that ends us.
I retain nothing. It all flies to the wind—
… Viruses, I read, spread from bats to people as humans encroach upon bats’ territories.
Fruit bats are immune to many diseases. They are the only mammals that fly, and flying significantly raises their body temperature. When inoculated with bacteria that cause other mammals to run fevers, bats grow colder. Bats might be able to repair their DNA more swiftly than other mammals because they are so old and have had aeons to learn to live with pathogens. But now there is a fungus that eats a bat’s nose, ears, wings, turning them white. It’s killing millions. Bats only have one pup per year. Their population doesn’t fluctuate. Where I live their numbers have decreased eighty percent.
The Kurdish child who could be blind and is paralysed on one-side of his body was left in the desert to die. The Siberian girl, lost in the wilderness for seven days, curls up in the grasses. The girl I know who suffers from HIV is bright. When I think of her, fire enters.
Often, I feel like a burned bowl. Salt glazes and extreme temperatures form me into such a hollow.
The bats were out this morning at 5:45. Ophelia and I walked through their flyway as they ducked and curved, their quirky movements part of some larger crepuscular language.
…We are shocked out of our longing, we are made bare before vultures, we succumb to the grand narrative that is myth. The only narrative there is death. We dangle in front of its gaping mouth. It wants to tell us what to say. Its molars sound like morals. We scream and kick and deny that it has us in its grasp. What would be the point, we hiss. There is such thing as love, and in the moments when a sun ray kisses, when a dog’s breath comforts, when the tea finds its perfect pitch of nutty brown infusion, we rise to the occasion that travels beyond memory, beyond those childhood roads, beyond even the death we’ve witnessed that demands we live. In these moments (and they are often quiet) there is the taste of almond, the hush of a motor being started in the early morning, curbside. The glow of a rock, the thirst of a plant, all of it commends the one truth: that we will die, that there is such certainty, and in this knowing, all there is to continue to march toward certainty, arms outstretched, loving what we love.
Ching-In Chen is the author of The Heart’s Traffic and co-editor of The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities. A Kundiman, Lambda and Callaloo Fellow, they are part of the Macondo and Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation writing communities. They have also been awarded fellowships from Can Serrat, Millay Colony for the Arts, the Norman Mailer Center and Imagining America. Their work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Best American Experimental Writing, The &NOW Awards 3: The Best Innovative Writing, and Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics. They are a senior editor of The Conversant. www.chinginchen.com
These poems are from Recombinant, a hybrid creative project which investigates female and gender queer lineage in the context of labour smuggling and trafficking. In particular, juxtaposed to the historical materials of Asian immigrants to the United states, the narrative speculates about the origins of a snake head matriarch in a shiny city of the future and her relationship to her gender-non-conforming child. Examining the challenges of reconfiguring communal history and memory, the work juxtaposes voices (and other kinds of evidence) from various communities. These voices simultaneously inhabit their own spaces and make alternate meanings by sharing pathways across sections through the manipulation of white space.
Click here to read poems by Ching-In Chen
Naomi S. Daugherty is a poet and activist from Chicago who promotes and practices militant compassion and radical self-love. At the University of Missouri, Naomi graduated with a BA after studying Communication, Women and Gender Studies, and Creative Writing. At Mizzou, Naomi founded SPEAK Community Theater, a mentorship organization that prompts youth to use the creative arts as an instrument for social change. In spring of 2012, Naomi was selected to have seven of her poems published in the MU collection We are the Word We Write. In the summer of 2014, Naomi had her audio poem titled, “I hate being called a lesbian,” published by Blackberry A Magazine. Naomi was awarded the Dr. Nikki Giovanni Renaissance Woman Award by the Epsilon Psi Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta for her activism in the community displayed through poetry, education, performance, mentorship, and a deep desire to see oppressed groups receive justice. Currently, Naomi resides in New Orleans, LA where she teaches English at the high school level.
I AM NOT YOUR RESPECTABLE NEGRO
some cracked brown mouths
slip on narrow ice-
and ramp round those white men
with the cod coloured scales
benching their black iridescent bones
on worn thin air,
complacent in their small lives and bleached homes
the free ones have gone
somewhere off the edge
with their breasts hauling
a music of fiery proud hands
clappin’ up to god in strike
demanding this white man god,
come down with whole waters
drenched with a long sorry
the praying golden comfort hands hum sweet
come here melodic cries to god, with thirst
pulsing from their swollen shut throats
kicking over bloody populous trees.
magnolia hushed coloured rainbows
on bended knee, the baddest black gospel
womyn. one day the seeds will know the wombs
that birthed their life into pastures of free
endless autumns. they’ll hold freedom tightly
around their bellies, forging blistered mouths
into hopeful entrenched liberation.
Sheila Maldonado is the author of one-bedroom solo (Fly by Night Press, 2011), her first book of poems. Along with Nelly Rosario and Macarena Hernandez, she is part of collective of writers engaged in visual conversation, Desveladas. She was born and raised in New York City. Her family hails from Honduras.
ALL OUR POLICE STATES
I was a teenager in the ‘80s when Iran-Contra put my family’s homeland, Honduras in the news for the first time that I remember, as the place from which the U.S. backed war against Nicaragua, recently free of dictatorship. Learning that I was from some kind of “secret Vietnam,” as Roberto Bolaño once described Latin America, was the real root of my activism.
I was very active in protest then, a marching New York City teenager, attending pro-choice rallies, listening to Rigoberta Menchú speak for a lefty Central American committee my brother was part of at Hunter College, and attending the meetings of Children for Worldwide Peace, a group of sweet, elite hippie kids who met in Quaker private schools to discuss and take action against the world’s ills. I was a scholarship kid from ghetto Brooklyn, a product of the ills. Learning the hard history of all the places I was from both connected and separated me from those students.
They were people looking in on disenfranchised worlds from outside, I was looking at them from inside out. I understood that they wanted my perspective and was glad to provide it but it was a role that over time, through high school and college, exhausted me. I couldn’t always dwell in the difficulty. There seemed to be a certain story people were seeking that I eventually could not provide, a set narrative that wasn’t totally true to what I knew or who I was, and didn’t let me live.
I thought if I just spoke the only way I could, from left field with a sense of myself, some humour, some reality, I could change that noise, but that narrative is still alive. Read Honduras’s murder report here.
War and fear and Honduras are all synonymous well into my adulthood. Cold war to drug war, it is a ghetto, a barrio, a forgotten outpost, a place of dead bodies and crying women, in the middle of the Americas. It is the murder capital of the world, its children clamouring at the U.S. border, decontextualized, voiceless. Mainstream reporting leaving out history and policy, the role of the U.S. in making both there.
The arrows of the map in the video don’t point further north to our land of drug demand. The people in the video barely speak. Why would they talk to a reporter there for a story he wrote before he arrived?
I made these videos because friends, writers, daughters with many roots in this hemisphere, wanted to know from me, not CNN, what it is to actually be in Honduras, a place they might never visit. I can’t provide the whole picture, I’m not always there, but I do provide another one. I will never claim it is the only one. It should be one of many. There are still not enough pictures from there and all the peripheral American places.
Note: All the videos are silent except for “retiring in the murder capital of the world.” Please adjust volume for sound there.
DOCUMENTS IN DISORDER
ABANDONING THE CITIES (AGAIN)
RETIRING IN THE MURDER CAPITAL OF THE WORLD
M.L Vargas is a writer, educator and serves as poetry editor for Aster(ix) Journal. She was appointed poet in residence for the Montclair Art Museum (MAM) in 2014 and sits on the board of Sharron Miller’s Academy for the Performing Arts (SMAPA), N. J. Her work has appeared in various journals and anthologies, most recently The Lake Rises: poems to & for our bodies of water. She holds an MFA in poetry from Drew University and lives in New Jersey.
ASLEEP IN CAPILLA EL DORADO
Resin pellets spark
clouds inside the airport chapel
& a priest marks time,
swinging the copal boat’s chain.
Inside me, a baby.
We’ve fallen into a void so I count.
Coin droppings in the rusted box & jet
roars gage how long. A yellow-black & red-
toothed woman hobbles
up & down pews selling grilled
cobs & smiles. I hide from the shrine’s
balcony where the close-eyed faithful
pray in delirium.
The aromatic fog doesn’t insulate
shapes pushing through chapel doors
& we’re found.
Born on Day of the Dead, my mother remains mostly questions, my desperate
demystification. The Singer nods in agreement.
She lines her perpetual stare in the darkest coal. April 9th, 1948,
her first memory. The urban poor shout
Gaitán, Gaitán. People rolled by tanks. Bottles, bullets hurled as Bogotá burns.
Her nine year old hands take home flint scooped off
the backs of the dead. Some call history knowing what happened when to whom
and some keep looking to know something for true.
What might this mean? How would victory look? I spend childhood waiting for her
to remember more or to forget, to eventually tunnel back to me.
She tells her story
refracts her mind, the way leaves
print daydreams, or whisper
between streams. Curse the blood.
This thing called memory rocks the blood
and swings her story
in the whisper
among the leaves.
She takes leaves
for messengers like blood
she says, which grow strong, waken her story.
She turns to the moonlight,
the memory of his back,
belt buckle hitting the floor, her back
pressed against the floor, windows plastered in leaves,
her breath dry, the lack of light,
the faint smell of urine mixed with blood.
She never tells this story
because, she whispers,
say, Don’t. But can they pierce the mind back
to before story,
she asks. And I wouldn’t mind. Say it leaves,
carries my body, the blood,
his body, she says, her voice light
and sure. She gropes for the light
switch, to convince the whispers.
Ease your racket, she says. Blood
swells her back
montaged with leaves.
bends the light, tonight, lets the blood
JESTER FROM BLACK VELVET PAINTING
The girl dodges Jester’s mossy legs, all a-shimmer in muscular angular squats. He leaps about, touching everything, naming everything, the peep hole, the chair, the slits for eyes that never blink. A menthol smog swarms the living room where the mustard yellow chair reigns, ash worn & scratchy. Armpit stink wafts from its backrest. She blows desire electric through the fireplace’s chain mail curtain, before the anguish of English scabs her new. She tries to sift words from the voices in the hallway. From the mustard yellow throne Jester holds dominion, stretches pearly roe from himself, smears her lips, both her hands. My fingerprints will never be the same, she thinks, but it’s his tongue that inscribes. It’s with words that I am made, there, on that chair.
November winds roar as the doctor grabs
your belly forcing baby’s turn. Head’s down,
he announces. Again, no warning as he drives
his fist inside you. He spreads his fingers, probes,
and finally pushes baby’s hands off
her ears. Stay still. Her first
admonition. Slowly she flips
and lands feet first. You hear someone
say, Time’s up, you’re going in. Every second
means money when slicing
mothers. Your head bangs. The nurse,
this doctor, nobody hears your riotous
pleas. It must be the metal against metal
coming from your head. You might as well be
etched from sand as you try to rise
to the occasion, negotiate for your body,
for your baby’s body, to hold back
the imminent tide. He’s mentioned Thanksgiving,
how he wants to be home for the holiday.
Face it, your wild animal is snared.
How the body can sway
and buoy then suddenly go quiet.
your spine. You’re rolled
across hospital floors. Your arms are spread
and clamped, your uterus slit and yanked
over your belly. He pulls the baby out.
WOMAN ON THE BANKS OF MAGDALENA RIVER
claims it rains blood here but now it just rains. You can see how the river flows in her, currents unfettered. Here, penetration makes the town. Egrets, cormorants scan murky waters. Where can I deposit my shadow, she asks. If oil is blood the drill kills the mother. With no two rivers alike, she has her body, her names: Yuma, Magdalena, River of Tombs. She has our fate. The river cuts canyons, takes the land and what subtlety turns shade to shadow? Caught in her throat, the river’s backbone.
Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie is the author of Dear Continuum: Letters to a Poet Crafting Liberation (Grand Concourse Press) and Karma’s Footsteps (Flipped Eye). She is the Poetry Editor of the literary magazine African Voices. Her work has been published in North American Review, WSQ: Women’s Studies Quarterly, Black Renaissance Noire, VIDA, Crab Orchard Review, and BOMB. Tallie’s work has been the subject of a short film “I Leave My Colors Everywhere.” Her work “Strut,” a collaboration with photographer Dominique Sindayiganza, deals with body-image, self-acceptance, and investigates the role of capitalism in women’s perceptions about their appearances. Excerpts from the series appear in the most recent issue of Hysteria magazine.
“The reason I do not believe in protest art is because I have no desire to bed down with the status quo nor do I have a desire to be legitimized by the status quo. Instead, my struggle is to change the status quo. For me protest art is not an option precisely because in reality protest art is simply a knock on the door of the big house.”
“We can protest the current conditions and/or we can struggle to envision and create alternatives. We can plead for relief or we can work to inspire and incite our fellow citizens to resist. As artists, we have a choice to make. Indeed, there is always a choice to make.” —KalamuYa Salaam from “I Do Not Protest, I Resist.”
So many things have been working on the way I think about poetry and its role in struggles for social justice. I appreciate writing that tells the truth as the writer sees, knows, and experiences it no matter how the work is categorized (most times the poet is not in charge of this labelling of her/his work as “protest literature” or not). I hope my work is a writing of resistance. I hope it is something that makes people think of ways to work to throw off whatever systems oppress their bodies and souls; I hope it facilitates the creation of spaces, structures, communities, and a vision of a world that is sustainable and based on love instead of greed.
I know poetry can help people envision such a world and I would like for my work to do that. More and more, I find my philosophy about getting my work to an audience is aligned with ideas KalamuYa Salaam puts forth in his essay “I Do Not Protest, I Resist.” No real surprise since I consider myself a child of the Black Arts Movement. This means I’m spending more time working with publishers who do their work against great odds and I’m finding ways to get my work out without a “middle-man.” I think being in charge of our own work’s life (life’s work) and collaborating with like-minded folks to bring our work out is also a form of resistance.
Click here to read poems by Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie