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...

African Poetry: Ngwatilo Mawiyoo

Image| Jerry Riley | http://www.jerryrileyphotography.com Dagoretti Corner begins as “the dust that has no place” and ends with “a glimmer train / of bioluminescence.” The…
Dagoretti Corner begins as “the dust that has no place” and ends with “a glimmer train / of bioluminescence.” The restless land meets the restless ocean. These images are particular and grounded—even grounding. Ngwatilo Mawiyoo writes a poetry of place. M. NourbeSe Philip explains, I think if you write from place, the writing will be about place. . . . [S]o much of the writing, especially by people who aren’t from that place, is about the place, without engaging with and emphasizing the deep, and often dangerous, currents and contradictions that any place or person has. For me . . . writing from means that I am always trying to stand on that place when I write about it; while physical distance is often necessary to get a perspective on a place or event, emotionally there is a desire to… Read More...

African Poetry: Introduction

Everything queer about me is troubled by this frame of generations.
By now it is a generally accepted fiction that we are in the third generation of African fiction written in European languages. In that strange way that Africa distorts temporality, the first generation stretches at least from Leo Africanus (1494-1554?), if not Augustine of Hippo (354-430), includes J.E. Casely Hayford, and nestles comfortably against Cyprian Ekwensi, Flora Nwapa, Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, and Ngugi wa Thiong’o. This group includes ethnographic novels, urban novels, been-to novels, anti-colonial novels, and nationalist novels. Broadly speaking, all these novels grapple with the ravages of Afro-modernity, though, surely all African fiction in European languages grapples with Afro-modernity. I’ve never quite figured out when the second generation of African writing starts. It is dominated by women writers—Ama Ata Aidoo, Mariama Bâ, Rebeka Njau, Bessie Head—most of whom are contemporaries of the first generation of writers. I’m… Read More...

Toward Freedom

What kind of knowledge is freedom-building, freedom-creating, freedom-pursuing, freedom-sustaining?
Wiathi began with a word my mother gave me, a word that taught me how to imagine and desire a livable and shareable world. Wiathi is a grounded word, though it lives in that “leap of invention” Fanon writes about. It’s a word that my mother learned when her father was arrested by the British in 1952, her family home bulldozed by colonial forces, and her family forced into a colonial village. I think it’s the word my mother learned to chant when she sold sweet potatoes to train passengers to raise school fees. It’s the word that allowed her to survive when colonial officers laid out dead bodies in front of her school and taunted her to check whether her father was among them. It’s the word she held on to when her grandmother handed her packages of food… Read More...

Staff at Wits University Threatened

We now work in a condition of occupation.--Wits University Staff
Dear academic colleagues We are writing to ask for you to take a moment to respond to a grave threat that has been issued against academic staff at Wits University in Johannesburg: a threat which sets a worrying trend for times to come for all of us who teach at universities. The backdrop is the militarisation of our university in the last few days in response to student protest. Private security forces which by appearance earn the label paramilitary have been brought onto our campus under undisclosed contracts and terms of engagement, in order to quell the sorts of protests that led successfully last year to a national agreement not to increase student fees for 2016. The South African student movement continues to fight for a fully publicly funded higher education system, but this year their planned protests have been… Read More...