“Glory be the castle that refuses to burn.”
Check out this stunning new poem from Arati Warrier & Ariana Brown, performing for UT Austin at the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational.
“Glory be the castle that refuses to burn.”
Check out this stunning new poem from Arati Warrier & Ariana Brown, performing for UT Austin at the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational.
It’s been another great week in the world of poetry, and it just keeps getting better! Take a gander at some of these links to kick off your summery weekend.
Small Press Distribution Staff Picks – Button author Jacqui Germain’s new release, When the Ghosts Come Ashore, was selected by Small Press Distribution for their recommended books. Included is a review by Janice Worthen. Check it out, and then order yourself a copy from our online store!
BeHeard Team Send-Off Show, June 17th – For our local fans, BeHeard is the Twin Cities’ own youth slam team, and they are ridiculously talented. They are gearing up to head to the Brave New Voices national youth slam competition and festival in Washington D.C. and this is your chance to send them off right!
Maps For Teeth Submissions –If you’ve been jotting down pretty lines and are looking for an online home for them, Maps For Teeth has a solution for you! Submissions for this online literary magazine are open for one more week. Join the ranks of poets such as Melissa Newman-Evans, Adam Tedesco, and Noel Quinones.
Jamila Woods Gives Us #BlackGirlMagic Anthem – Jamila Woods is a member of the Dark Noise collective, and her work spans poetry and music. She recently released the video for her song “Blk Girl Soldier,” and the good folks over at the Black Youth Project did a brief write-up on the video, including links to other songs by Woods and an interview with her in Complex.
AWP Podcast Series Episode 121 – Recorded at the 2016 Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference in Los Angeles, this podcast features readings from Ross Gay, Tarfia Faizullah, Jamaal May, and others as a part of the 12 year anniversary reading of the Fishouse, an online audio library of emerging poets.
Redbone Stones by Mahogany Browne – Write About Now poetry, a slam and open mic venue in Houston, Texas, and one of our Button Live Supporters, took amazing video of this month’s Button Poetry Live feature and Button Author, Mahogany Browne, reading. So if you missed the livestream on Monday, here’s a chance to get your badass poetry performance fix!
We Need You To Show Up To The Riot, Well Rested
Poet, Activist, Educator, Independent Scholar.
“When you really get at the complicated core or the mediated essence of Ella Baker it really has so much to do with this kind of democratic gratitude of being in a tradition of struggle… You don’t need messianic leadership; you don’t need a revolutionary party; you don’t need professionals and experts coming in from the academy and telling you x,y,and z. You are in conversation with them, but they don’t need to have an elevated status.”
-(p. 96-97 Black Prophetic Fire Dr. Cornel West w/Christina Buschendorf)
In terms of building and cultivating resistance work we can learn a lot from our dreams.
I am not only speaking to the content of our dreams, I am referring to the ways in which they interrupt our lives. They do not wait until we are ready to receive them, nor do they wait for permission from our bodies or our consciousness. They come in full force, and when we wake, we have to figure out, if we have the patience, what to do with the dream work that was just delivered to us.
I believe the same spontaneity and interruptive nature that power dreams can be applied to social justice work and activism.
Dreams are the work we do to build resistance and the dreamer is society, the collective people galvanized to take part in changing their condition. I believe dreams and imagination are knowledge projects that require our interrogation to make sense of the world. Dreams enter our bodies and stir up the subject in spite of our age, ability, class position, nationality, sexual orientation or health status. They perform their duties in delivering us information regardless of our opinions of them. Dreams do not ask for their power; they simply are powerful. We cannot forget in social justice work to be dream–like.
As Angela Davis articulates brilliantly, “Individual memories are not nearly as long as the memories of institutions, and especially repressive institutions.” (Angela Y. Davis at the University of Chicago – May 2013)
This is to say that dreams are impermanent, and rarely do we remember them. It takes mental labor to remember a dream; you have to force yourself, it takes effort. The institutions of which Angela speaks are the American house or American institutions we sleep or participate in. People may come in and throughout the house or the institution. However, the institution has a relationship with the world. The house begins to develop a memory much longer than anyone who dreams or participates in it. Dream–like tendencies are valuable to social justice work because dreams simply “do their work” and so must the people. Often times, we do not tell ourselves to simply do our work, we say wait a minute! Who’s your grant writer? When/Where do you plan to get a permit for this protest? Where are you getting your funding? Where did you graduate? How long have you been an organizer? What non-profit do you represent? It is a regularity of hierarchy to ask for credentials, especially in social justice human service work. Credentials are by–products of authority. This however isn’t to say one should be without standards, it is to say any credentials should be second to standards based on how we as struggling people relate to one another.
As I see it, Permission Politics, as it relates to authority, is the halting of direct action, organizing, and resistance work due to the absence of confidence or credentialed authority.
Radical imagination is crucial in social justice work. We need to be able to radically imagine power and authority to not be synonymous. What happens when the organizer(s) becomes another form of authority? Then do we lean away from community being self sufficient, self determined because the community relies on the organizer so much so they are incapable of organizing themselves?
The passage I pulled from speaks volumes to the ways in which Ella Baker as an organizer was exemplary in the way she galvanized community power away from authority. Holding the same community accountable to their own brilliance and possibility as her organization S.N.C.C was collapsing, she said to the young faces staring back at her who wanted authoritative direction, “It’s up to you. It’s all up to you. You all got to work it out.” (West, p. 98) In this we see a potent example of unauthoritative grassroots leadership that truly puts people up to the task of laboring over their dreams. Laboring over the task of deciding who exactly they want to be.
I also feel the need for demystifying conflict as activists; this is also necessary in resistance building. Being that we are living under multiple supremacies, the default of our country is normalized violence and any eradication of that violence, which is the aim of social justice work, has an immediate need for confrontation. This need for demystifying conflict goes beyond what we imagine conflict arising with a police officer may be. It is also necessary in the way we relate to each other as activists and community members. Passive aggressiveness is cruel, immature and substantially counterproductive to activism. We live in a country drenched in it, especially within the work. Frankly we don’t have time. We must get into the practice of leading with love within our communities to address grievances. If this is relational work, let the quality of those relationships be presented by the way we massage and remedy tension. Accountability cannot become a buzzword.
We also need to not let tendencies of capitalism interweave within the work, by which I mean disposability politics. Capitalism turns everything and everyone into an object/thing that has use until it doesn’t. Disagreement is real and differences on how to “properly do the work” tend to emerge when we are passionate; however, we have to urge against purity and dogma, the idea that this particular way of activism is the only way. Often the way we see transforming the world doesn’t immediately come from the consensus of our intellect. We learn, we stumble, we grow. We must give ourselves radical permission to change our minds and be wrong in order to be right, yet if our community disposes of us before we are able to critically develop in our own timeline, we will never be able to live up to the full potential of our contributions. We are athletes in activism—the intellect is a muscle, which we have to exercise and which is also imperfect. This is not to say that we must cater to our offenders’/oppressors’ comfortability or tone police ourselves; I also do not want this to come off as some sort of “keep predators present” rhetoric. The greater goal is always collective safety. I am suggesting a protocol of accountability, cultivating a culture of eye contact and deliberate communication outside of the virtuality of social media.
Within the confines of virtuality, we can stifle our ability to demystify conflict. The landscape of facebook/twitter/instagram allows for inflammatory language that amplifies conflict. Ultimately, social media/virtuality doesn’t hold for a listening or healing space, more so a space to reinforce our own already-established beliefs. Social media, though it can connect us, can also pull us very apart from each other and actually prevent us from holding ourselves truly accountable.
In other world(s) absent of capitalism, we will no longer have “professionals” or “organizers” based out of “authority” and “leadership” whose merit is determined by how much they’re compensated, what degree they managed to obtain or grant they were able to receive; instead, we will have guides who simply help us achieve our full humanistic development. Hierarchy does as capitalism does, which is to disempower and desert human beings. These systems of power and individualism frame success as escapism from hardship rather than collective survival.
“We need you to show up to the riot well rested” – Keno Evol, /picking and digging/
“My work has always been bigger than my job” – Patricia Hill Collins, author Another Kind of Public Education
Permission Politics, I find, also lives within advocating for oneself. Within this work we are constantly digging, getting deeper within ourselves. Self examination, while living under supremacy trying to shift/transform/transport our societies to other worlds, is an exhausting assignment. We must participate in self care and give ourselves permission to do so. In the age of the 24-hour news cycles with journalism that goes for the extravaganza of conflicts, especially with social media, it is easy to get wrapped in the chasm of catastrophe. We must unwind and unwrap. This work creates both exhausting memories and exhausted muscles, and it’s no joke. Especially for those of us who carry black bodies and identify as activists and organizers.
The other night I was having coffee with a friend at a cafe where the chai has gotten me through a lot of emails, and we began to expound on the state of disparities for black residents in Minnesota. While talking, we started to talk about the local history of the Ku Klux Klan, and the lack of education on local white supremacist traditions as well as the whereabouts of the 4 million robes that were stitched in this country for the Klan. It was a very fueling conversation. I left it to attend to another meeting. Once the night concluded, I left activated by the previous conversation. I had a curiosity, wondering why aren’t we invested in conversations that frame the actual positioning of white supremacy? For example, knowing that being accepted into the Klan was to be accepted into what was known as a “prestige organization” at the time. Though I left ignited, triggers and sensors I may not have even been aware of within my body transported themselves into a nightmare I had later that night of the Klan breaking into my apartment. It wasn’t the first time this transference of white supremacy occurred; police brutality, which comes out of the same traditions that birthed the Klan, has also had a transition into my dream spaces. I couldn’t have and don’t have the privilege of having a conversation with a friend on local history without being affected six hours later unbeknownst to me in a dream.
We who are regularly engaged with social ills, who also carry the bodies of those targeted, bring into our dream spaces the luggage created by the consistent engagement with terror and injustice that might not be affecting our allies in the same way.
We do need you to show up to the riot well rested. We need you to show up prepared, beautiful and activated. Preparation is the objective of activism and otherworldly visioning. We have to prepare for when the next officer will take one of our kin as a result of fear and indoctrinated power tripping. We have to prepare for the daily nuanced microaggressions. We need to prepare for the revolution. This preparation is the work of organizing.
Permission Politics as it relates to self care recognizes self preservation not as an allowance to “Bow out gracefully” or “check out” (since in this work, there is none), but rather as an immediate “check in” to a different protest scene, our actual bodies. Me, for example; not wanting to go to the protest, the rally, the meeting, I am not disengaging from organizing, but rather granting myself permission to re-engage with my primary organization and collective, myself. This is in fact anti-capitalist because it steers away from addressing my body as a thing to be used until it can’t. Instead I am allowing my work, which for us is our bodies, to travel outside of the capitalist “workplace”, which again for us is our entire lives. Permission Politics as it relates to self care reconnects the “workplace” to the being who is doing the work. If our bodies are our workplaces, let’s tend to them. Let’s insure they are getting the laughter, joy and pleasure that are necessary ingredients to cultivate happiness in any life, especially a life that is targeted.
Permission Politics recognizes “the work day” as something that is continuous and never ending. Being so, the healing work has to never be under prioritized.
Permission Politics says allow yourself to travel. Too much in activism, we are asked to travel vertically, through lists, bullet points, deadlines, agendas and applications. We must also allow ourselves to travel horizontally, i.e cafes, beaches, vacations, spontaneous walks, spontaneous reading and also interdimensionally within our dreams. We need to get proper rest. Giving ourselves permission to participate in moments of stillness and reciprocity is something that we as activists often don’t indulge in because such a thing would require a check out from “the work”, but again aren’t our hearts, our bodies and our lives our sacred workplaces?
Often we are encouraged to see freedom as a location, i.e the mountaintop, the promised land. I would like us to conceive freedom as a forever transforming and shifting process that is happening in society rather than something that has happened or will happen. I would like us to conceive freedom as something that is and isn’t always happening. I would like us to conceive freedom as a social relationship we have with one another. The notion of freedom as the relational reoccurrences we have within our community. If we are afraid of a police officer or to walk home at night or to walk during the day, aren’t those experiences evidence enough of being unfree? Permission Politics, whether we are talking in relation to authority or self advocacy, is the process of grappling with the long-haul struggle to become more free. The struggle continues because our bodies must continue; with them, let’s carry as much joy as we can memorize. And there is so much joy to memorize.
Jacqui Germain is a poet, writer and student organizer currently living in St. Louis, MO. She has featured at Young Chicago Authors in Chicago, IL, at the #BlackPoetsSpeakOut event in St. Louis and several other venues around St. Louis. Her work has been published in Muzzle Magazine, Anti-, Rattle, as well as other publications. She has represented Washington University in St. Louis on four national teams at the college and adult level, and was their representative at WOWPS in 2013. In Spring of 2014, she was chosen for the Katherine Dunham Fellowship with the St. Louis Regional Arts Commission and nominated for a Pushcart Poetry Prize later that year. She enjoys studying the histories of people of color, fighting oppressive political structures and generally having little to no chill.
There has been so much greatness in poetry this week, and we are bringing you the best from our hotel at the Rustbelt Regional Poetry Slam. We can’t wait to share some of the poems we’ve been filming this weekend, but in the meantime, check out the links below!
Volume I Issue II from Black Napkin Press – This issue features work from a plethora of talented writers, including Siaara Freeman, whom you might know from the video of her poem, “The Drug Dealer’s Daughter.” Siaara has an incredibly strong voice, wielding her vulnerability with impeccable skill. “My father is dead / at my wedding. / He is a slow dance of bullets/.”
“Reasons It’s Important to Rest” by Franny Choi – Poem by Franny, video by Tess Brown-Lavoie. Some poems are best experienced in video form, but not the traditional shot of a poet behind a microphone. This is a poem like that, with a beautiful video to match its changing structure and natural movement.
7 More Dope Black Women Poets You Need to Know –This incredible list from Black Girl with Long Hair briefly introduces you to seven amazing black female poets currently putting in work and putting out beautiful pieces. Included is Aja Monet, the finals stage feature form College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational in 2015.
How Saul Williams Found Courage by Scott Timberg – In the history of poetry slams, Saul Williams is one of the most important and influential names around. In addition to being a poet and spoken word artist, Saul is a rapper and musician. Here is an excellent interview about his new song “Think Like They Book Say,” in which he talks about his own experience of sexuality, and some of his influences.
English Teacher Re-Titles Classic Poems as Clickbait… – When I first started attending poetry slams, I thought I could never like “classic” poems, and so I didn’t give them a chance, until college literature classes made me. Then I realized my mistake. In an effort to help some students do the same, one teacher came up with pretty hilarious titles for poems by Emily Dickinson, William Carlos Williams, and more. Take a look and see if you think the titles change your perception!
Summer Online Writer’s Workshop from Winter Tangerine Applications close on June 15th for this incredible workshop opportunity. With a focus on getting past your internal editor and writing boldly, this workshop provides a more affordable and travel-free alternative to writing retreats. Some of the guest facilitators include Button author Hanif Abdurraqib, Dark Noise collective member Franny Choi, and prize-winning author Safia Elhillo. Get those applications in!
Conversation with Adrian Matejka
First, I want to thank you for agreeing to do this. As you know, Button Poetry has become the premier source of spoken word and slam poetry videos on the Internet. How do you think the Internet and social media has affected our relationship with poetry and art in general?
Thanks for taking the time to get at me. I’m a big fan of the work Button Poetry is doing. It’s a vital platform for so many diverse voices and I think it’s one of the rare literary entities that maximizes digital possibilities without sacrificing the three-dimensional muscle of books and performance.
The combination of the internet and social media is the great equalizer in poetry, really. The two come together to open up spaces for writers from a range of cultural and social scenes that have traditionally been marginalized. Nobody (in America, at least) can clamp down on the internet completely, so there’s a nonstop forum for dialogue through social media if writers are willing to do the work.
There’s also the access to information that social media has opened up for us. That’s big. Immediate information is a wonderful thing for poetry and so necessary in the face of our assortment of systemic oppressions.
You’re a really accomplished writer. What about the writing and editing process has changed for you over the years? Who workshops poems by National Book Award finalists?
Well, I’ve been really lucky that people have taken the time to read and support my work. I can’t stress that enough. There are much more talented and accomplished writers than I am who never find an audience so I’m grateful that I found one.
The main thing that’s changed for me the past few years has been my urgency. Not urgency in the writing itself because that remains among my first couple of thoughts in the morning and the last few before I crash. But the way I approach getting the work into to the world has a different kind of urgency than it used to.
Early on, I was filling envelopes with poems and sending them to journals before the ink was dry on the first draft. 99.5% of those poems got sent back to me with a big, red REJECTED stamp on them. And they deserved to be rejected because the poems hadn’t grown up yet. They needed more time. But I kept aggressively submitting that way for a long time because I believed I needed to get my words out in as many places as possible to be a writer.
That’s not true. You don’t become a writer because you submit to magazines. You become a writer because you write. I feel more comfortable with that now, laying in the cut and letting the poems grow at their own pace. I’ve learned there is no need to rush a poem. In fact, it’s a bad idea to rush a poem. The poem will let you know when it’s ready for the world.
It’s been nearly three years since your third poetry collection, The Big Smoke, was released. Did you learn anything while writing The Big Smoke that you’ve carried over into other projects?
For me, starting a new book is basically learning to write poetry again. I spent 8 years working on The Big Smoke and trying to find the right language for Jack Johnson and the various historical figures involved. Once I was finished with the book, I had to re-learn how to write poems in my own voice. Or more accurately, I had to figure out what my voice sounds like today in 2016, which is different than it sounded in 2015 or 2009.
But that makes sense, right? If we are evolving as world citizens—and hopefully we all are—then our poetry should naturally evolve along with us. So if I’ve learned anything, it’s that I’m still learning how to write poetry because I’m still learning how to be in the world.
In an interview with the National Book Foundation, you mentioned that you were working on a book about astronomy. Can you give us an update on that project?
The project turned into a book called Collectable Blacks that will be out next year—April 2017. It’s about the Voyager space mission, racism, Basquiat, growing up broke, Sun Ra, migration, early rap music—it’s about a lot of things and I hope that all of the various threads come together to tell a story. The book is almost finished. I hope.
During the National Book Foundation interview, you said you weren’t in control of the astronomy project yet. What does it mean to you to be in control of a project?
I’m not sure we can ever control a poem completely, never mind a project. I’m also not sure if we should be in control of a poem. If you already know what the thing is going to look like, why write it?
But in the case of Collectable Blacks, I was just coming off of writing The Big Smoke which required a kind of narrative and factual control that none of my other projects needed. Most of the poems in the book are based on real events and involve actual people and out of respect to them, I tried to stay as close to the facts as possible.
When I did that interview, I was still learning how to write the poems in Collectable Blacks, which is only partially grounded in fact. I was trying to figure out the music and the mayhem while still thinking about issues of craft and poetic tradition.
Who are you reading right now?
I’m reading a gorgeous new book that just came out from Alice James called Thief in the Interior by Phillip B. Williams and another stunner that Third Man Books is publishing this year, Kendra DeColo’s My Dinner with Ron Jeremy.
There are so many poets putting in unexpected work right now. It’s wonderful to see and it’s also a great reminder that hustling is paramount. There are a lot of poets who need to eat.
Do you have any advice for poets who are working on their first collections?
It’s familiar, maybe, but just keep grinding. After empathy and a delicate ear, the greatest skill a poet can have is tenacity. It takes a while to find equilibrium on the page. And like I said, there are a gang of poets out there doing big things, so competition for space in journals and on stages is substantial. But if poetry were easy, it would be called something other than poetry. So keep pushing.
Okay, it’s time for a hard-hitting question. It’s pretty well known that Hip Hop is one of the things that got you into poetry. Do you still listen to Hip Hop? If so, what are you listening to now? Who are your top 5 rappers: dead or alive?
Ah, man. Yes! I listen to rap nonstop: Backspin Radio on my XM Radio, Run The Jewels everyplace else. The music has evolved so much since I got my first Run DMC cassette in 1984. It’s a dynamic genre and it’s primarily for the young. I’m starting to sound like a dad right now, but it’s OK because I am one. I’m just going to pull my Dockers and get after it.
I came up with dense rappers—emcees like Rakim, Chuck D, Nas, and Biggie—who wrote lyrics like poems. These days, delivery and performance are valued more than dense lyricism, so emcees push a lot of epistrophe and antanaclasis where there used to be simile, allusion, and variations of rhyme. It’s a different kind of linguistic text now, one that’s maybe more suited for the way we communicate with a limited numbers of characters.
So it makes sense that my top 5 is backward leaning: Rakim, Biggie, Q-Tip, DOOM, and pre-Kingdom Come Jay Z. I’d throw Chuck D and pre-Relapse Eminem in there someplace, too, if I had space.
What they all have in common is they rep like poets in one way or another. Emcees are poets, really, and some of them are aware of it. Like Nas said, “Poetry, that’s a part of me.”