left copped out coopted by right1
let our children play out the folly of our plight
mindful eyes shut to keep out the light
shall we just play peekaboo with night?
The difference between poetry and rhetoric
is being ready to kill
instead of your children.
Audre Lorde, Power
1. “Right coopted Left copped out” – Coined by my friend Faraz Hussain while discussing how adept the mainstream is in appropriating all progressive talk and defanging it of radical potential.
When rain falls with conviction
I ask the woman,
“would you like to buy the sky?”
“No need as dying is near impossible.”
makes sense as death is a triangle
two sides in want of the third –
When there is no rain or when
when conviction fails, the
woman is silent, sky is up
For sale & death has no neighbor knocking
on its door asking, “is there a
song we can borrow for the night?”
Within each one of us there is some piece of humanness that knows we are not being served by the machine which orchestrates crisis after crisis and is grinding all our futures into dust…In what way do I contribute to the subjugation of any part of those who I define as my people? Insight must illuminate the particulars of our lives: who labors to make the bread we waste, or the energy it takes to make nuclear poisons which will not biodegrade for one thousand years; or who goes blind assembling the microtransistors in our inexpensive calculators?
– Audre Lorde, “Learning from the 60s”.
It took an hour
to make song another hour
for stone the river
& stone are conjugate verbs
to make the verdict of song
“I have always had the sense of Armageddon and it was much stronger in those days, the sense of living on the edge of chaos. Not just personally, but on the world level. That we were dying, that we were killing our world — that sense had always been with me. That whatever I was doing, whatever we were doing that was creative and right, functioned to hold us from going over the edge. That this was the most we could do while we constructed some saner future.” – Audre Lorde recalling when she had heard of Martin Luther King’s killing.
“I am deliberate
An act of will that
weaves magic –
– Quoted words from “New Year’s Day” by Audre Lorde
“Green essence pooled again in my eyes, which paint the grass, which will later bloom in the memories of animals.”
I as earth
I as animal
woke as essence of green –
– Quoted words by Alejandra Pizarnik
Poet as difference
wrungtooth, it keeps us in guess
deference to differ
earthsweat, as blade wishes blood
rain – the differed
skyrust, as air as parch as wet as pain
that deep inner place where we have been taught to fear all difference—to kill it or ignore it
When I speak of the Tao, I know not
but vaguely I
speak of Lorde the fruit of my wis-
dom is twenty
inches too far from soul, twenty
years too large, twenty
something, perhaps more maybe
When I speak of the Tao, I speak of Lorde
for it is through poetry that we give name to those ideas which are — until the poem — nameless and formless, about to be birthed, but already felt
— Audre Lorde, “Poetry is not a luxury”
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”