Enkare, Patriarchal Power, Friends with Roses

On 10 June 2018, the 13-member team of Enkare Review, a literary journal, published a statement detailing a pattern of patriarchal abuse of power by…
On 10 June 2018, the 13-member team of Enkare Review, a literary journal, published a statement detailing a pattern of patriarchal abuse of power by a former member of the team, Troy Onyango. This statement comes at a historical moment when abuses of patriarchal power are being detailed. Also at a moment when the system of patriarchy is protecting the men named as abusers. (Yes, I know it’s redundant to write “patriarchal abuse of power,” but I fear we’ve forgotten the feminist critique that terms like “patriarchy” and “patriarchal power” carry.) The statement was published on Brittle Paper and, on that space, something very familiar happened. Here’s the Brittle Paper stance: I paused over that first clause: "The literary space in Africa is one still developing." The development imaginary strikes again. Why frame the events at Enkare through "development"? Is the claim that the… Read More...

Pose

Now we think as we fuck this nut might kill us. —Essex Hemphill, “Now We Think” For a range of reasons—taste, aptitude, exposure, politics—my academic…
Now we think as we fuck this nut might kill us. —Essex Hemphill, "Now We Think" For a range of reasons—taste, aptitude, exposure, politics—my academic work has focused on the period from 1885 to 1940. It is where I feel most at home and, honestly, I prefer working on dead people. A recent invitation from a mentor—I accept very few invitations—spurred me to think of how I would approach the 1980s and early 1990s, from the moment when AIDS emerged in the U.S. to the moment when an effective treatment regimen was identified in 1996, roughly, from 1981 to 1995. I returned to some familiar thinkers and terms: Douglas Crimp, promiscuity in an epidemic; Paula Treichler, AIDS as an epidemic of signification; Leo Bersani, the rectum as a grave; Cindy Patton, sex and germs; Samuel Delany, the tale of plague… Read More...

black (beyond negation)

I am uninterested in investigating, documenting, theorizing, and inhabiting my own negation—black negation.
I wanted to stay in the wake to sound an ordinary note of care.—Christina Sharpe, In the Wake And while “we are constituted through and by continued vulnerability to this overwhelming force, we are not only known to ourselves and to each other by that force.”—Christina Sharpe, In the Wake Care pays attention to how we are known to ourselves and to each other. Care lingers at the ordinary: notices it, names it, creates it, inhabits it, pursues it, practices it. There might be something theoretically uninteresting about care. It is feminized work, so devalued. It is also, frequently, tedious, repetitive, unglamorous work: feeding the vulnerable, cleaning up shit and puke, washing bedpans, changing nappies, cooking, cleaning, medicating. Repeat. And repeat. Erotic vomiting sounds more theoretically interesting than regular, repeated vomiting. Or diarrhea. I am not the first to ask… Read More...

“the work”

What is "the work"?
a note: Because I am woman, because I am Black, because I am lesbian, because I am myself — a Black woman warrior poet doing my work — come to ask you, are you doing yours? —Audre Lorde,  "The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action" I have been confused by multiple claims about "doing the work." Those making those claims seem so sure about the work. So sure that I have tended to refrain from asking what the work is. I am asking. What is the work? What is the relation between my work and your work? What is the relation between my work and the work? What is the relation between your work and the work? What is the relation among my work, your work, and the work? I am asking. Read More...

Survival in Audre Lorde

The word “survival” felt bone-deep familiar when I encountered it in Audre Lorde’s writing
In my practice in Poetry I have tried to produce a grammar in which Black existence might be the thought and not the unthought; might be. —Dionne Brand, “An Ars Poetica From the Blue Clerk” So we are here in the weather, here in the singularity. Here there is disaster and possibility. And while “we are constituted through and by continued vulnerability to this overwhelming force, we are not only known to ourselves and to each other by that force.” —Christina Sharpe, In The Wake: On Blackness and Being Sometimes I take Audre Lorde’s poetry books from my shelf and put them nearby. I move with them from room to room, needing their presence. I rarely open them. I simply need them close to me. Sometimes I imagine that something radiates from them, a sense of a life being lived,… Read More...

breath.aspirate.ether

"What is the word for keeping and putting breath back in the body?" - Christina Sharpe
i. As always, because Wambui Mwangi teaches me, I start from where I am. A sister with asthma. An inhaler. 6 years separate us. I am spared the worst of her struggles. Was I 11 when my father’s lung collapsed? A doctor, he taught me how to administer a modified form of CPR, so he could breathe. An oxygen tank became part of the furniture. My mother installed a bell—an annoying bird—that he’d press when he couldn’t breathe. When I needed to turn on the oxygen tank. Bell. Tank. Breath. Bell. Tank. Breath. Bell. Tank. Breath. A voice struggling to say oxygen, saying air, because it’s shorter. air air air the breath to say, “I can’t breathe.” ii. air: Air is an object held in common, an object that we come to know through a collective participation within it as… Read More...

Difference: An Audre Lorde Archive

"It is within our differences that we are both most powerful and most vulnerable"--Audre Lorde
Something Like an Introduction: I tend to think with and through keywords, terms that recur in a writer's body of work and words that appear rarely, even once. I am interested in mapping how words accumulate and remain isolated. I have been trying to think with Audre Lorde's work, to identify certain keywords. Difference is one, survival is another. Related to those is distortion. And the erotic. Sustained thinking begins with creating an archive, gathering material with which to think. Writers often hide this gathering, as we are supposed to make public our engagement with texts and objects and situations in a digested form. To the extent that I can, I want to make the act of gathering as public as possible. That might do some work. * Difference As they become known to and accepted by us, our feelings… Read More...

black . . . gay

“black . . . gay” attempts to name and inhabit the possibilities of the ellipses
What are the words you do not yet have? —Audre Lorde No. Can’t write it out. Not now. —Samuel Delany Richard Bruce Nugent was the most famous . . . of the Harlem Renaissance. He wrote “Smoke, Lilies, and Jade,” considered the first . . . of the Harlem Renaissance. The story opens, He wanted to do something. . . to write or draw . . . or something . . . but it was so comfortable just to lay there on the bed . . . his shoes off . . . and think . . . think of everything . . . short disconnected thoughts . . . to wonder . . . to remember . . . to think and smoke . . . why wasn’t he worried that he had no money . . . he… Read More...

The Development Imaginary: Tracks*

something like an introduction: This record is incomplete. It is missing deleted emails that shaped these ideas; the bibliography of documents–academic articles, development plans (especially…
something like an introduction: This record is incomplete. It is missing deleted emails that shaped these ideas; the bibliography of documents--academic articles, development plans (especially Vision 2030), state policies and laws, newspaper articles, art for development projects, and the many people I subtweeted--that subtend this thinking. Let me supply a few guiding notes. Kenya enters independence alongside and through the development imaginary. I quote myself: On October 3, 1963, Kenya’s then Minister of Justice, Tom Mboya, delivered a speech, “The Future of Kenya.” Anticipating independence, Mboya argued, “We are quite convinced that if independence is going to mean anything, it must bring with it tangible, material improvement for all our people. It must bring with it the removal gradually, and we hope speedily, of poverty and the improvement in the health and educational services throughout the country.” Mboya’s focus on… Read More...

African Poetry: Safia Elhillo

We shall not always mourn feels like an impossible promise—bloodwork.
I am writing this—I am starting this writing—while sitting in the International Lounge of the hospital. It’s business comfortable, and it reminds me of the international students’ office in which I spent much of my undergrad—an assortment of flags, accents, body vernaculars, anxieties, hopes. Official translators help patients navigate hospital bureaucracy, trying to translate the most difficult of sentences—it’s terminal, you have months left, prepare yourself, it will take a long time, you will need to be on medication for the rest of your life, your loved one will need care forever—into feeling and understanding. Translation is this impossible necessity. * Translation is at the heart of Safia Elhillo’s Asmarani, a work that moves between how words are written and how words sound, as in the first poem, “Vocabulary”: * * Translation is also the relationship between script and knowledge—I… Read More...

African Poetry: Kayombo Chingonyi

"Since I’m remembering this, or making it up"--Kayombo Chingonyi
Since I’m remembering this, or making it up, there is only darkness; our bodies speaking. Eat, your pelvis tells me. I eat—savoring your aftertaste: tart but sweet, the inside of a cheek, cured meat, a local delicacy. --“In Defense of Darkness” I come to this erotic image in at least three ways. First, thinking about the tradition of the blazon in poetry (as dismembered flesh and heraldic marking, as Lili Loofbourow reminds me), and the broader trope of men consuming women. Second, as a stubborn, fighting-for-survival, working-through-disidentification queer undergrad (a residual self) who insisted that the absence of obvious gendered designations created a queer opening. Today, having learned from trans activists and thinkers, I would say that even the appearance of standard gendered pronouns creates queer openings. Finally, I’d juxtapose this image alongside Nyachiro Lydia Kasese’s poems to ask how… Read More...

African Poetry: Nyachiro Lydia Kasese

Nyachiro Lydia Kasese’s chapbook, Paper Dolls, is filled with scenes of smoking.
Nyachiro Lydia Kasese’s Paper Dolls is filled with scenes of smoking, which are also scenes of gendering, degendering, and engendering. These scenes are often breezy, I met a boy once in Dodoma who asked me, “Why do you smoke? Are you addicted?” I met another boy at a bus stand who told me, “I like girls who smoke, do you want to go out with me?” (“Ancient”) If you’re familiar with histories of modern women, you’ll recognise this image of the young smoking woman: across multiple geohistories, she incarnates modernity. In the opening lines to the poem, she is policed in the name of manners (“good women don’t smoke”), health (“women who care about their health don’t smoke”), and appetite (“women who know how to control themselves don’t get addictions”). These very same absences mark the modern woman as available… Read More...

African Poetry: D.M. Aderibigbe

D.M. Aderibigbe’s poetry is scandalous.
Day One 1. Now that I have no other place to go, I’ll go into my grandmother’s fingers, wrap myself with her blanket, pick a sheet of paper and a pen, and I’ll rewrite my childhood, amputating my father’s hands and legs with ink, like rebels crop innocuous civilizations, by God. My childhood will lack nothing. Nothing at all. * The English major in me jumps to Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy,” a poem that spoke to even those of us who had pleasant relations with our fathers. When I encountered “Daddy” my first year in university, it was a scandal. Sure, like all young people I had directed unfocused rage at my father--for being sick when I needed him and for dying before my rage could bloom into full rebellion--but such rage was not public. One might discuss it with siblings… Read More...

African Poetry: Chielezona Eze

I linger at the quotidian to insist that the African imagination considers livability and shareability.
When I started reading poetry scholarship as an undergraduate, I struggled to figure out how critics were doing what they were doing. My initial training surveyed the classics, from Beowulf to Eliot. One professor spent about three weeks on Alexander Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock”; for another, I wrote on Edmund Spenser’s “Colin Clouts Come Home Againe”; and, yes, I read “The Wanderer” (translated into modern English). It’s not until I took a class in U.S. literature that I wrote the first paper I was really proud of, an analysis of black women’s poetry of the Harlem Renaissance, based on Maureen Honey’s Shadowed Dreams. The book had not been assigned for the class—I don’t think we read any poetry by women of the Harlem Renaissance in that class—but, as would become a habit, I asked the professor if I… Read More...

African Poetry: Hope Wabuke

Black poetries seek and create forms to imagine and render dispossession.
The Table of Contents to Hope Wabuke’s The Leaving anatomizes: the first poem is titled “Mind” and the final word in the last poem’s title is “Hips.” Between the two, readers encounter “Mouth” (poem 4), “Breath” (poem 5), “The Nerve” (poem 8), “Skin” (first word in poem 10), “Spine” (poem 14), and “Belly” (poem 15). As a student of the black diaspora and of poetry, I am intrigued by how these titles map and re-map the black woman’s body—a body I approach through the poet’s gendered signature. Within histories of poetry, the blazon is the privileged form that anatomizes women. We know it most famously from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130: My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun; Coral is far more red than her lips’ red; If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun; If hairs be wires,… Read More...

African Poetry: Gbenga Adesina

"This is how you love in war"--Gbenga Adesina
form(alism) Writing about Ngwatilo Mawiyoo’s poetry was easy: I’ve been reading her work for close to ten years and she’s a friend. I might not know the Kenya she writes about so expansively—I haven’t traveled as much within Kenya—but I know the vernaculars of travel and the habits of hospitality she describes. Ngwatilo and I are Nairobians with complicated relations to the geohistories we traverse, from the ruralities that ostensibly ground us to the abroadness that supposedly deracinates us.We have forged our language practices as we cross time zones and encounter borders. Such intimacies shape interpretive practices; at the very least, they provide access, if not complete understanding. Writing about Gbenga Adesina’s poetry is less easy. I find myself wondering what kind of tools are available. As always, I ask myself, “what do I need to know to write about… Read More...