I’m way late with this, but a few weeks ago I submitted my latest post to the Anti-Racist Parent
blog site. It was posted on Wednesday, January 17. Check it out if you want to read me explaining (yet again) about white privilege, defending Angelina Jolie (say-it-aint-so!), and pondering child-parent hate-love relationships (yes, I meant to put “hate” first). I should have a new post in a couple of weeks (I will, dammit!)
On to other things: I’ve been going through a crisis of sorts lately. I didn’t really realize how bad it was until I caught myself at AAI the other day, bangin’ up Gayle’s ears, rambling on-and-on about what I see wrong with spoken word poetry, the so-called spoken word poetry community, blah blah blah. We met for, like, 2 ½ hours, and I was still . . . frustrated. Not with Gayle or AAI but with poetry, with myself. Am I still a poet?
It’s funny that I’m going through this crisis b/c, at work, I’m leading a poetry workshop. I have about 6-7 students right now. Most of them are young, looking for a place to talk about being a writer, a place where they can get some support. I asked them, “Do you consider yourself ‘a poet’?” And I listened to their answers, and what was interesting is that many of them are still trying to figure out what poetry is, and if they think that they ARE a poet, they wonder just how it is working in their lives. What’s funny about it is that no matter how far you come with poetry—no matter how “established” you are as a poet (assuming that I’ve achieved that “established” level to some degree), those questions don’t go away. If anything, “Am I poet?”—at least for myself—gets harder and harder to answer.
Maybe the difficulty I’m having is that I have a different kind of life than some people—I’m not fully devoted to one thing: I’m teaching at a community college, working at a community non-profit org, trying to stay up with the poetry, taking care of my kids, maintaining happiness with my husband, writing posts for 2 blogs, negotiating bookings for poetry shows, etc etc etc. I wouldn’t have it any other way b/c there’s so much I feel have to do in my goal to make the world a better place (that’s not a joke) that I try to be a part of many different projects. But maybe this makes my attempts weaker.
Recently, I’ve been wondering what I should give up. What could I possibly stop doing that wouldn’t be missed or needed in the grand scheme of things? Maybe some folks would be surprised to hear that I’ve been thinking about giving up poetry. Well, when I say “giving up poetry” I mean giving up Yellow Rage and going out and performing and all that. I could never completely give up poetry—I will always be writing something. But sometimes I wonder what am I really accomplishing with the poetry? I don’t really “see” it changing the world—not like the other work I do where I “see” people learning how to write essays or people being helped in their communities through SEAMAAC.
Not too long ago I was in my car listening to the radio, and Eve’s “Love is Blind” came on. I hadn’t heard it in so long; I turned it up and started singing. By the end of the song, I was crying. I had forgotten how powerful that song could be, especially if you’re a woman who’s ever been in—or know someone else who’s been in—an abusive relationship with a man. The song captures the anger and the pain and the powerlessness and the excuses—and the people left behind. It was a song by an artist who could have really changed Hip Hop. But Eve went on to other things in her career, and now (with Lauryn Hill mostly out-of-the-picture too) there’s a real void for female MCs with skills in mainstream/commercial Hip Hop—for female MCs giving a legitimate and empowering female perspective to counter all the negative and tired junk being put out over-and-over by some of the fellas.
Honestly, hearing that song has kept me in poetry for the time being. I conjure that moment in my car and the feelings the song evoked in me. And that song has put me in a place where I’m still willing to deal with my frustrations with spoken word and the poetry “community.” Because I’m not a poet for them—I do it for the people who listen and love. Maybe I’m not “seeing” the changes, but I gotta hope that someone out there is listening to our poetry, and maybe crying b/c they forgot how powerful words could be. Maybe there are some young women out there starting their own “Yellow Rage” (happy happy joy joy). And maybe spoken word isn’t killing poetry, but helping people connect to it and find ways to make this world a better place for themselves and others. As long as I can believe that, then I am a poet still.
P.S. Eventually, I want to do my own entry about the Edison show back in January (and the Minneapolis show way back in September), but I wanted to make sure I thanked Catzie’s friend Niki for the gift—it was very sweet and thoughtful. Thanks also for being such a big supporter.