Here are poetic tangents – mine with Lorde’s and Rukeyser’s – to a podcast I heard last night: a tribute paid to Eqbal Ahmad by his friend, Edward Said. Said contrasted his personal ‘filiation’ with his ‘affiliation’ in relation to Ahmad and the world of idea(l)s, Ahmad’s unceasing commitment to the creative versus mere politics, his fiery exhortations rooted in peace, and the sacrifice one has to make in pursuit of love (justice by any other name).
To engage what is true with what is most
It's the moor to an unhandsome
it's the moor to loveless anchor blanched in
out of tune
It’s compensation for kin with what is most
"I say across the waves of the air
today once more
I will try to be
non-violent one more day this morning, waking the world
away in the
To once more blur imagination with what is most
"Disrobed need shrieks through the nearby
a brown sloe-eyed
boy picks blotches
from his face, eyes my purse shivering
white dust a holy
fire in his blood"2
1. from “Waking This Morning” – Muriel Rukeyser
2. from “The Politics of Addiction” – Audre Lorde
I have taken the liberty of changing the line breaks in the two excerpts above.
I have long been entertaining the possibility of somehow tying together the three areas: poems, social justice and data visualization. It has been tricky, but here is my first attempt.
The 10 poems by Audre Lorde and Muriel Rukeyser (wellsprings of poetic sensibility) are intended to provide context for the accompanying data visualization on gender (using data from genderstats.un.org). This is intended in a tangential and somewhat disruptive way. Data for indicators in the development world is mostly presented in a cut and dried way. Add to that their lumping together in neat categories and the bobbing up and down of pretty graphs and charts, and you end up euphemizing the underlying reality. The technical brilliance on display then serves as spectacle. That of course does not take away from the fact that the underlying numbers have been painstakingly collected and systematically organized. And these numbers are pretty much the only authoritative ones that map the reality that social activists use to change the world.
Hence the poems as corrective.
“This first bright day has broken
the back of winter” (1)
As you will it, as you make day beckon its
wince, its sense of pay
“it does not pay to cherish symbols
when the substance
lies so close at hand” (2)
at hand is metal
it is shunned by pieces of,
remnants of burnt life
“my shoulders are dead leaves
waiting to be burned
to life” (3)
leaves welled up as tears are
torn again with the grind of
spade another morning, an
other funnel of seedless faith
“I do not know when
we shall laugh again
but next week
we will spade up another plot
for this spring’s seeding.” (4)
And I know not when your
sun will drown this
piece of land, this need &
dare yours, mine.
1-4: from Audre Lorde’s poem, “Walking our Boundaries”
speak! as the soul wins
over the tranformative
mixups, the brazen fouls,
the unanticipations; speak!
when the round etches wilt
each hymn around the bell
of winter, when the curbs &
bevels mix unintended; speak!
“Because the machine will try to grind you into dust anyway, whether or not we speak. We can sit in our corners mute forever while our sisters and our selves are wasted, while our children are distorted and destroyed, while our earth is poisoned; we can sit in our safe corners mute as bottles, and we will still be no less afraid.
Each of us is here now because in one way or another we share a commitment to language and to the power of language, and to the reclaiming of that language which has been made to work against us. In the transformation of silence into language and action, it is vitally necessary for each one of us to establish or examine her function in that transformation and to recognize her role as vital within that transformation.”
And I remind myself all the time now that if I were to have been born mute, or had maintained an oath of silence my whole life long for safety, I would still have suffered, and I would still die. It is very good for establishing perspective.”
We can learn to work and speak when we are afraid in the same way we have learned to work and speak when we are tired. For we have been socialized to respect fear more than our own needs for language and definition, and while we wait in silence for that final luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that silence will choke us.
for it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence. And there are so many silences to be broken.”
– Audre Lorde, “The transformation of silence into language and action”
The list of the risen sea is fallen
This moot of all mootships has nulled
Its beak now;
The Seventh Sense – Audre Lorde
who build nations
who build nations
building sand castles
by the rising sea.
Look, in the world – Basavanna
Look, the world, in a swell
of waves, is beating upon my face.
Why should it rise to my heart,
O tell me, why is it
rising now to my throat?
how can I tell you anything
when it is risen high
over my head
listen to my cries
O lord of the meeting rivers
“Any real change implies the breakup of the world as one has always known it, the loss of all that gave one an identity, the end of safety” – James Baldwin
The image of change is that of dying
Soft life wants fire
The brush on each woman’s guilt is
Tied to man and woman
Seeks fire; the guild of women strikes
Stone and three wonders
Cry a lone dream to sleep; we wonder
Who dies & whose knife
Cuts through night.
Dreams Bite by Audre Lorde
Dreamer and legend
at the edge of purpose
I see the people of winter
put off their masks
to stain the earth red with blood
and on the outer edges of sleep
the people of sun
are carving their own children
When I am absolute
with the black earth
I make my now
and power is spoken
and hungry means never
I shall love
when I am obsolete.
My dream was full of women in strange situations, trying to be courageous. In one part of the dream there was a wedding in which a girl was wearing a tight sherwani with a dupatta accessory to cover her front which was choking her and her face had to be covered by it, like a sehra. So she was a bride dressed like a man, yet veiled. Even had a turban on her head. So a bunch of her cousins and friends got her to take everything off in a huge tent like traditional Swati smock and go get a coffee away from the wedding madness. One of my friends from grade school was one of them. Then there was trouble. Suddenly a group of plundering men descended on the village and set everything on fire, and one by one the women found themselves in the same spot on a roof, looking around them to find escape but then their dupattas or clothes caught fire. And one by one they all got burnt and disappeared. The last girl was another childhood classmate of mine. And I felt her desperation and confusion and mindlessness as if she were me. And then she/I jumped off, still on fire. And then in my dream I went off into a reverie about whether it was better to die crushed on the ground after falling from a height, or burning to death.
You mark this song, this horror
Of syllable as eye
Witness to impalpable harm, ex
Nihilo crucible of
Further waste - turn now, read
The shades of hade
He is forever trapped
who suffers his own waste.
Rain leaching the earth for lack
of roots to hold it
and children who are murdered
before their lives begin.
– Audre Lorde
Whatever cries and changes, lives and reaches
Across the threshold of sense; I know the piercing name;
– Muriel Rukeyser