Poems, Justice and Data Visualization

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.

so you respond

I shamed my soul, lost heaven’s place,
when I fawned upon the oppressor’s flabby hand.

– Lance Jeffers (from his poem, “And God got down before the fool”)

so you respond
as the poet has to, as the poem
can (should?)      so you despond

as the times
will have you, as this cess is
wont to      so you sit, quiet

arm in bloodied
ink, eye in sullen slight      fire
brewing on the potted page –

an eye sees what the pen holds out as premise
     the field of X      an algebra of
     beginnings

an eye begins what the pen hollows out as seed
     tyranny of X      an unknown of
     fsetting the known

an eye opens what the pen stamps out as possible
     imaginary X      an amalgam of
     steel & need

Poet as anarch

I.
Do your words support this one tradition or
that? did the vault of your craft meek out
yet another salve or did it glare in revulsion to craft? do you
salvage or savage the cow at the altar of the unholy? does
the sacred tempt you to sacrilege or do you bow?

will you pause to recall or
move on? will the line ever reveal
what hides or will it too linger off into
distraction (o the webs to save our
words from being more than what they pretend

to be)? where is beauty in this rubble
in the aftermath of one million six hundred sixty
seven forgettings? what molds the tank of
tumors that five hundred and fifteen
vessels of impunity contend to hide?

this is all within reason   this is all within
sight   and the bugles will sing of your
aftersong   they will burn less brilliant
with each lie unless the count
is singed anew.

II.
Caring is done with mouths / fingers
ink   tub of feel   worded want   it is done without
question   it is done within each ask of want   it
is the want of curbing blood   it is how the hammer
nails your meaning into your skin into your gender into your kin

into each marker of sin   each voice that stuns your station
your reach your win   it is done with mouths / fingers
ink   “I care for our world / if I stop / caring about one
it would be only / a matter of time / before I stop
loving / the other (Pat Parker)”

III.
Something in a poem misses a beat and a river crashes
somewhere   a village whispers the vapor of retreat   a
slur gashes the rainbow as each arrow of harm
is blurred – something in a poem misses a beat and
the heart quickens to mollify the red mishappenings.

witness across the threshold of sense

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

Dispossession

A fear of place, of
breeding to

Haunt the place, of
want and if

Of place, the trove
giving love

Of place, the trove
matching it

And mess of place -

If it is possible to have in language – popular or literary – hooks that thrive on an awe of the hallowed; words, poems, books that convey the sense that the key to this fascinating ineffable lies in somehow giving up your voice in favor of the few who have crossed on to the other side, the side that looks down only to be relieved; does that not goad us in forgetting genocide every took place, and even if it did, what’s the big deal?

This tree will not sound out
Beginnings; it will not prepare
A crowd to tumble the heart’s

Mend to a clearing; more acid
Is the earth’s bile dream believing
Catacombs to be phoenixes, armor

To be insufficient and the roots
Of earth as linking the ends: here
Where it starts and the outmost in

most there.