My Poetry Corner February 2021 features the poem “Islands” from the poetry collection, The Arrivants: A New World Trilogy, by the Caribbean poet and historian Edward Kamau Brathwaite (1930-2020). Born in Bridgetown, Barbados, into a middle-class family, he won a British scholarship to Pembroke College, Cambridge. There he earned a bachelor’s degree in history in 1953 and gained a diploma in education the following year.
Brathwaite’s illusions of regarding himself as a British citizen were shattered on arrival in the Mother Country. He felt “rootless” and, like other British colonial West Indians of the time, he was ready to become an “Afro-Saxon.” This changed when he took a job as an Education Officer in Ghana, then the West African colony of the Gold Coast. For him, it was a spiritual homecoming. The eight years (1955 to 1962) that he spent travelling to villages across the country also expanded his thinking about history, culture, and ways of perceiving the world.
On returning to the Caribbean, he held teaching posts at the University of the West Indies, first in St. Lucia, and then in Kingston, Jamaica. While working in Jamaica, he began writing Rights of Passage, his first poetry collection, later published in 1967. Set in the Caribbean, the collection traces the movement of the black people’s dispossession of their African homeland, the sufferings of the Middle Passage and slavery, and struggle to find their footing in the new world and beyond. The people lament in “New World A-Comin’”:
It will be a long time before we see
this land again, these trees
again, drifting inland with the sound
of surf, smoke risingIt will be a long time before we see
these farms again, soft wet slow green
again: Aburi, Akwamu,
My Poetry Corner January 2021 features the poem “No Island Is an Island, & So Forth” from the poetry collection As One Fire Consumes Another (2019) by John Sibley Williams, an award-winning poet, educator, and literary agent. Born in 1978 in Massachusetts, Williams earned his bachelor’s degree at the University at Albany in New York in 2003. Then in 2005, he received a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Rivier University in New Hampshire. He moved to Portland, Oregon, in 2009 where he earned a Master of Arts in Book Publishing from Portland State University. He lives in Portland with his partner and twin toddlers.
Williams’ poetry collection As One Fire Consumes Another comes at a critical time in American history with the empowerment of white supremacist and white nationalist groups. Framing his poems in column-like boxes, resembling coffins, the poet confronts the violent side of American history and bears witness as one fire consumes an unending series of fires in our homeland, on our southern border, and in distant lands. In an interview with Jeanne Huff of Idaho Press, Williams confessed that he struggled in exploring the extent of his “personal privilege as a white, CIS, able-bodied male whose labors and strains are so trifling compared to others.”
In the poem, “Everything Must Go,” a house is portrayed with ghost-white covering sheets and that new coffin smell. Its mossed gables are weighed down by a full century. Out-of-synch always with the dark drift of history, and hopeful that these are not self-repeating tragedies, the poet proposes that we must sell off what we fear owning. To remain silent is not atonement for our dark history.
We have become so numb to the cruelty we inflict on others with our unending wars that nothing stirs the / birds from our oak when we learn that six children were killed in Kabul, the poet observes in “When instinct matures into will.” The horizon sits / precisely where we left it. Fat with / faith. Fat, faithful, choosing what to / feel, feeling nothing.
Fire also rages in the homeland. The poem “A Gift of Violence,” in memory of the Charlottesville riots in August 2017, speaks of the racist hatred still alive across generations.
Memories of burning buildings raw
& righteous. A grandfather’s flames
passed down, undimmed. A full set
of knives in the drawer without time
to blunt from underuse. A city never
quite white enough. A city furiously
lit by misremembered histories…
Even Noah’s ark would not be big enough to un- / ruin, no flood more violent than our / own, the poet laments in “Dear Noah.” Like a ghost haunted by itself, / we move along old scars terrified of / what would happen if left to heal.
As a nation, we remain disunited and self-destructive. Call it by its true name: schism, the poet declares in “The Bones of Us.” Before we were a country of / burning buildings & protest & want, / we were the same. A shining city on / a shining hill raised on the silenced / bones of others.
In the featured poem, “No Island Is an Island, & So Forth,” the poet calls on white Americans to consider the role they all play in the hate and violence permeating our society. Holding on to illusions of bygone glories serve only to sever our body politic.
Sign your name to ruined Civil War
forts. Next time, use a Sharpie when
listing your demands to god. Instead
of touching forehead to ground as if
in supplication/ecstasy/grief, set fire
to the old battlefield & let the winds
unsever your strings to the past. In
dust & degrees, redraw boundaries.
This is what happened & this might
be what we let happen again…
When Williams penned these words, did he envisage white insurrectionists carrying the Confederate Flag while they stormed Capitol Hill on January 6, 2021? They fashioned their strings to the past into a Jim Crow-styled noose to hang our Vice President who, they believed, had sold out their cause to hold onto political power.
No island is an island; no body just a
body, & so forth. When the South
rises again, carry your father with the
rebel flag tattoo to the window to
watch the burning. Let the world
laugh at itself. Break from tradition.
To men who want & want & want,
admit you’ve tried so hard not to be
one of them.
Emboldened and incited by their leader in the White House, white supremacists and white nationalists among us have risen to prominence. To men who want & want & want there is no end to the burning. Fire consumes lives and livelihoods—black, brown, and white alike. No island is an island; no body just a / body, & so forth.
Only we can set ourselves free from the coffins, filled with hate and fear, that imprison our bodies and souls. Are we up to the task?
To read the complete featured poem, “No Island Is an Island, & So Forth,” and learn more about the work of the poet John Sibley Williams, go to my Poetry Corner January 2021.
My Poetry Corner December 2020, featuring the poem “Poema de Natal” (Christmas Poem) by Brazilian poet and lyricist Vinicius de Moraes (1913-1980), is dedicated to those among us who have lost a loved one this year to COVID-19.
Born in the city of Rio de Janeiro, in Southeast Brazil, Vinicius de Moraes is the poet of love and passion. At twenty years old, he published his first book of poetry. Two years later, his second collection won Brazil’s National Poetry Award. He served as a diplomat during the period 1946 to 1969. His first diplomatic post was as Vice-Consul in Los Angeles (1946-1950) where he immersed himself in North American cinema and jazz.
His featured poem, “Christmas Poem,” written in 1946, appears unconnected with the Christmas story of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem in Judea. Instead, as the title suggests, the poem is more like reflections on the passing year. The poet ponders over death and what is truly essential to our lives. Why such somber thoughts during the Christmas festivities? Had the sudden death of a great friend, the year before, unsettled his life? The loss of a loved one has a way of giving us a new perspective of human existence.
My Poetry Corner November 2020 features the poem “Mother, the Great Stones Got to Move” from the 1995 poetry collection, To Us, All Flowers Are Roses, by Jamaica’s second Poet Laureate Lorna Goodison (2017-2020) and the first female to receive this honor. The eight of nine children, six boys and three girls, she was born in 1947 in Kingston, capital of the Caribbean island nation of Jamaica. She grew up in a lower-middle-class family on a noisy street with concrete yards. No roses grew in the neighborhood gardens of potted plants, so the people gave the name roses to all their flowers.
The hymns the young Lorna sang during Sunday Mass at the Anglican Church laid the foundation for her poetry. In her interview with Pádraig Ó Tuama for the Image Journal, Goodison recalled that her mother sung hymns as she did her household chores. “In the Jamaica I grew up in,” she told him, “it seemed to me that women sang hymns all the time—washing, doing chores, working—so it was all around me, that language.”
That language of the great composers of Anglican hymns shines through in the opening poem of her third book of poetry, Heartease (1988), in which the persona declares:
I shall light a candle of understanding in thine heartwhich shall not be put out.[…]By the illumination of that candleexit death and fear and doubthere love and possibilitywithin a lit heart, shining out.
Goodison’s trips in her youth to the lush rural landscapes, to visit her extended family, shaped her imagination for the rest of her life. Though she began writing poems from seven or eight years old, she kept them a secret. Growing up in the shadow of her oldest sister who excelled in writing, she questioned her poetic gift and opted instead to focus on painting, her other passion. Then, at fifteen years old, tragedy struck. Her father, who had brought humor and laughter into their lives, passed away.
“It was terrible watching him die of stomach cancer, and maybe brought on a loss of faith, but that was when I really turned to painting and reading and writing poetry,” Goodison told Tuama. “So I guess the arts became my religion, and I’d consider that good religion because I felt connected, I felt cleansed and healed by poetry and painting and music.”
On completing high school, she worked for a year as a bookmobile trainee librarian with the Jamaica Library Service. She traveled deep into rural areas, where small humble places like Heartease, became mythic and real, strengthening her connection with place that runs through her poetry. Deciding to pursue a career in art, she studied painting at the Jamaica School of Art (1967-1968), and then moved to New York City to attend the Art Students’ League (1968-1969).
Her poem “Who Was the Mother of Jamaican Art?” from her 2005 poetry collection, Controlling the Silver, was inspired by an article about enslaved women making carvings of human figures representing their children sold to other plantation slave owners.
She was the first nameless woman who createdimages of her children sold away from her.She suspended those wood babies from a roperound her neck, before she ate she fed them,touched bits of pounded yam and plantainsto sealed lips; always urged them to sip water.She carved them of heartwood, teeth and nailswere her first tools, later she wielded a blunt blade.Her spit cleaned face and limbs, the pitch oilof her skin burnished. When the woodwormsbored into their bellies, she warmed castor oil;they purged. She learned her art by breakinghard rockstones. She did not sign her work.
While Goodison considered herself as an artist, she never stopped writing poetry. But poetry chose her. “It’s a dominating, intrusive tyrant,” she said in an interview for the Guardian newspaper, as quoted in The Walrus Magazine. “It’s something I have to do—a wicked force.”
Many of Goodison’s poems speak of ordinary women, their struggles and the many roles they play. Her country’s traumatic past of colonialism and slavery permeates the people and the landscape. The featured poem “Mother, the Great Stones Got to Move” addresses Jamaica’s violence and poverty, legacy of empire. In the first of her six-stanza poem, the poet invokes the untold stories of slavery, kept hidden by empire, that need to be told.
Mother, one stone is wedged across the hole in our historyand sealed with blood wax.In this hole is our side of the story, exact figures,headcounts, burial artifacts, documents, lists, mapsshowing our way up through the stars; lockets of brasscontaining all textures of hair clippings.It is the half that has never been told,and some of us must tell it.
These untold stories, she writes in the second stanza, live on through generations, like the stone on the hearts of some women and men, preventing the small / dreamers of this earth from healing. But there is yet another obstacle destroying their future, raised in the third stanza, that mothers want removed as we think of our children and the stones upon their future. In the following fourth stanza, the poet describes the poisonous stone, born of hunger, that drives the violence in their communities and kill their children.
For the year going out came in fat at firstbut toward the harvest it grew lean,and many mouth corners gathered whiteand another kind of poison, powdered whitewas brought in to replace what was green,And death sells it with one handand with the other death palms a gunthen death gets death’s picturein the paper’s asking“where does all this death come from?”
Driven by the drug trade, death comes to a people already broken by the legacy of slavery and colonialism. As the poet notes in the fifth stanza, narcotics become the soup and meat for its users, leaving the homeless to sleep on concrete sheets. In her call to action in the final stanza, the poet links the great stones of the past with the present and the future.
Mother, the great stones over mankind got to move,It’s been ten thousand years we’ve been watching them nowfrom various points in the universe.From the time of our birth as points of lightin the eternal coiled workings of the cosmos.Roll away stone of poisoned powders cometo blot out the hope of our young.Move stones of the sacrificial lives we breedto feed to suicide god of tribalism.From across the pathway to mount morningsite of the rose quartz fountainbrimming anise and star waterbright fragrant for our children’s futureMother these great stones got to move.
Poverty, drug addiction, gang violence, and homelessness are not just the scourges of the Jamaican people. They afflict all humans worldwide. For the sake of our children’s future, mothers must remain vigilant and work tirelessly to remove these scourges from our communities.
My Poetry Corner October 2020 features the poem “Going Out of Business” from the poetry collection Inside the Money Machine (2011) by Minnie Bruce Pratt, a lesbian-feminist award-winning poet, educator, and activist. The following excerpts of poems are all sourced from this collection. Born in 1946 in Selma, Alabama, Pratt grew up in Centreville. She earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of Alabama in 1968, where she met her ex-husband. In 1979, she took her Ph.D. in English Literature at the University of North Carolina.
After her ten-year-old marriage, Pratt divorced her husband in 1975 to live as a lesbian, upending her life as a privileged white heterosexual woman. Living in Fayetteville, North Carolina, at the time, she lost custody of her two sons under the state’s “Crime Against Nature” law. Her loss and grief shaped her morality and led her to a life of activism for women’s rights and specifically lesbian rights. When she shared her emotional journey through shame and anger in her poetry collection, Crime Against Nature, published in 1990, her sons were too old for their father or the law to prevent them from being a part of her life.
After thirty years of adjunct teaching, punctuated by several stints of standing in unemployment lines, Pratt joined the faculty of New York’s Syracuse University in 2005 where she played a key role in launching their LGBT Studies Program. She retired in February 2015.
My Poetry Corner September 2020 features the poem “Begin Again” (Recomece) from the poetry collection Poetry that Transforms (Poesia que Transforma) by Bráulio Bessa, a Brazilian poet and motivational speaker. The poet was born in 1985 in Alto Santo, a city of an estimated 17,000 people located in the semi-arid interior region of the State of Ceará in Northeast Brazil.
At fourteen years old, Bráulio began writing poetry in high school after learning about the work of Patativa do Assaré (1909-2002), a popular oral poet and son of poor peasant farmers who were also from Ceará’s impoverished hinterlands.
“When I had contact with [Patativa’s] poetry, I perceived that a poet with very simple language was capable of speaking about that which is most complex in the world, of passion, and of forgiveness,” Bráulio Bessa told Katy Navarro during an interview on TV Brasil in August 2019. “I put it in my head that I wanted to be a poet and started writing. The most beautiful thing in this was to feel the transforming power of literature, education, and art in my life. I realized that it was possible to also be an agent of transformation in the lives of other people.”
“Living in a small city, I had this sensibility of understanding that a popular Northeastern poet generally goes to the local city market to recite poems as loud as possible to get people’s attention, and I looked at the Internet and said: This here is the world’s largest market, with all kinds of people, never closes, and doesn’t have borders. I began recording videos of poems, covering such themes as fear, prejudice, love, depression, and identity, and published them on the Internet.”
In 2012, Bessa’s videos gained national attention with over 250 million views. His “Northeast Nation,” launched on Facebook, promoting the culture of Brazil’s Northeast Region, has more than a million fans, earning him the nickname “Ambassador of the Northeast.” With his trademark Cearense accent and inseparable hat, and down-to-earth poetry, he enchanted the hearts of viewers.
The poet’s Facebook fame caught the attention of TV Globo, Brazil’s largest television network. Beginning in 2015, Bessa became a weekly participant on their TV program Encontro com Fátima Bernardes to speak about Brazil’s Northeast Culture with a poetic outlook.
The featured poem “Begin Again” is probably Bessa’s best-known poem. Inspiration for this nine-verse poem came from the tragic story of Laura Beatriz. In 2010, at eight years old, Laura lost her entire family in a landslide in Niterói, Rio de Janeiro. He speaks to her about hope, faith, and strength to begin again despite her adverse situation.
Every day is a day to begin again, no matter the magnitude of our problem. Cited below are verses 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, and 9 from Bessa’s poem “Begin Again.”
When life hits hard
and your soul bleeds,when this overbearing worldhurts you, crushes you…It is time to start over.Begin TO FIGHT again.When everything is darkand nothing illuminates,when everything is uncertainand you only have doubts…
It is time to start over.Begin TO BELIEVE again.[…]When evil is evident
and love conceals itself,when the heart is empty,when the hug is missing…It is time to start over.Begin TO LOVE again.When you fall
and no one catches you,
when the force of what is bad
succeeds in knocking you down…
It is time to start over.
Begin TO RISE again.When hopelessness
decides to whip you,
if everything that is real
is hard to bear…
It is time to start over.
Begin TO DREAM again.[…]Begin again, redo yourself,remember what was good,rebuild each dream,rediscover some talent,relearn when you make mistakes,shake the hips when dancing,and if one day, way ahead,
life gives a reverse,recover your faith
and BEGIN AGAIN anew.
My Poetry Corner August 2020 features the poem “The Punt Trench” from the first poetry collection, Unfathomable And Other Poems (2020), by Guyanese-Canadian author Ken Puddicombe. Since retiring from his accounting work, Puddicombe has been pursuing his love of writing. To date, he has published two novels and a short story collection.
His poetry collection is filled with nostalgia of his boyhood days in Guyana. As an immigrant living in Canada since 1971, he writes in “Nostalgic”:
As they grow older, the yearning
For a return to the old country increases.
Memories plague them, of a childhood in a familiar spot.
Any little incident will send their senses reeling and take
them back in time and place.
The punt trench is a recurring memory in Puddicombe’s poems. For readers unfamiliar with Guyana’s coastal lowlands of sugar cane fields crisscrossed by canals or trenches, a legacy of Dutch colonizers (1648-1814), a punt or cane-punt is a flat-bottomed iron barge for transporting harvested canes along the system of canals or punt trenches from field to factory. About 20 feet long, 8 feet wide, and 3 or 4 feet deep, the punt is drawn by a mule (in the early days) or tractor, attached by a long chain, moving along the punt-trench earth dam or unsurfaced road. The punt trench also serves as a drainage canal during low tides and periods of flooding, controlled by kokers or sluices.
Puddicombe’s memories of the punt trench are somber and haunting. The title poem, “Unfathomable,” the longest narrative poem with seventeen stanzas, recounts the tale of the unfathomable death of his playful and daring friend—crushed between two punts moving along in a convoy on their way to the sugar factory.
The punts in the mule-train linked
With short lengths of chain hooked
Into metal clasps welded at the front
And rear of each craft. Six mules up front
Kept the convoy moving, each animal
Bound to a punt by a length of chain.Lincoln was clinging to the connecting
Chain between two punts in the middle
Of the convoy, hanging on for a ride,
When the distance narrowed swiftly
Between the punts.
“Drowning” describes the time the author/poet almost lost his life in the cocoa-brown waters of the punt trench. Though he could not swim like the older boys, he plunged into the deep / Murky, swirling pit of the Punt Trench, made murkier still when his feet stirred up the mud and silt at the bottom of the trench.
On his first return visit to Guyana in 1987 after a sixteen-year absence, Puddicombe questions whether one could ever really go back to a time and place long gone. In his poem, “Middle Road,” the street where he had once lived, he finds The bridge over the Punt Trench where / I fell into the water now collapsed, the Trench / Filled in with debris.
In the featured poem, “The Punt Trench,” he reflects on the changes over time in four stanzas, each beginning with a different theme: Memory,Despair, Change, and Hope. His Memory of the punt trench as Fast moving torrential / Waves flashing through / The Koker to the raging Atlantic is no more. Instead, he feels only despair.
Despair.The Punt Trench is a dumping
Ground filled with debris and
Castoffs. Empty shell of a car.
Rusting frame of a bicycle. Bags of
Garbage piled in mounds. A dog’s bloated
Carcass. Tall paragrass and wild eddo bush
Reaching to the sky.
The punt trench, once a haunting memory of youthful joy and dread, is now a symbol of the decay of a neighborhood and of a nation; of promises not yet realized. It is not the change promised by the founding leaders of the independent nation.
Change.From the Koker in Public Road
All the way to the Backdam
The Punt Trench is now Independence
Boulevard. Every time the breeze zips
Across from the north-east,
It reeks and fills my
Only birdsong brings the poet Hope that Life goes on!
As the author and poet acknowledges in “You Can Never Go Back,” the final poem in the collection, the places of his idyllic youth have changed or no longer exist. People are no longer the same. Yet…some among us grasp a dream of returning to a time we consider our days of glory. Life goes on, for better or for worse, with or without us.
To read the complete featured poem, “The Punt Trench,” and learn more about the work of Ken Puddicombe, go to my Poetry Corner August 2020.
My Poetry Corner July 2020 features sonnet 13 from the poetry collection American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin (2018) by African American poet Terrance Hayes. (Note: The following excerpts of poems are all sourced from this collection.) Born in 1971 in Columbia, South Carolina, Hayes is a national award-winning poet and university professor. After receiving his MFA from the University of Pittsburgh in 1997, he taught in Japan, Ohio, and Louisiana before returning to the University of Pittsburgh where he worked for several years. In Pittsburgh, he gained local fame as co-director of the Center for African American Poetry and Poetics.
Hayes moved on to New York University to take up his current post of Professor of English. In 2017, he was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and now serves as an ex-officio member of the Academy’s Board of Directors. The divorced father of two children resides in New York City.
Hayes’ featured sonnet 13 is one of seventy freestyle sonnets, all bearing the same title and length of fourteen lines required for the poetic form. Written during the first two hundred days of the Trump presidency, the sonnets in this poetry collection are mostly political poems about life, love, and death of black men—haunted and hunted by violent racism.
In his 2018 interview for the Poets & Writers Magazine, Hayes tells interviewer Hanif Abdurraqib why he chose the sonnet: “How can I write a traditional love poem to someone or something I don’t deem worthy of my love? I just don’t know what other form would be able to hold this particular moment.”
He further expands on his poetic choice during his interview for The White Review Magazine in January 2019. In trying to express all the complications of love and politics, “I have to change my mind, because it’s a sonnet, because of the volta,” he tells interviewer Rachel Long. “Otherwise, it’s just a box. Something has to give. So whatever I go in with, I have to come out with something new.”
In sonnet 7, the poet alerts (lines 1/2//13/14):
I lock you in an American sonnet that is part prison,
Part panic closet, a little room in a house set aflame.
Voltas of acoustics, instincts & metaphor. It is not enough
To love you. It is not enough to want you destroyed.
In the following eight sonnet, the poet pour[s] a pinch of serious poison and merciful panic into [the] river for assassins like James Earl Ray, Dylann Roof, and others named in the poem. On the volta (lines 11-14), he then affirms:
Love trumps power or blood to trump power
Beauty trumps power or blood to trump power
The names alive are like the names in the graves
In the featured thirteenth sonnet on my Poetry Corner July 2020, Hayes describes all the ways in which the black male is silenced and erased by violent racism.
The earth of my nigga eyes are assassinated.
The deep well of my nigga throat is assassinated.
The tender bells of my nigga testicles are gone.
You assassinate the sound of our bullshit & blissfulness.
Hayes commentary on Trump’s rise to the presidency in sonnet 26 (lines 1-4) resounds loudly today:
America, you just wanted change is all, a return
To the kind of awe experienced after beholding a reign
Of gold. A leader whose metallic narcissism is a reflection
Of your own…
He asks in sonnet 30 (lines 4-6):
Is this a mandate for whiteness, virility, sovereignty,
Stupidity, an idiot’s threats & gangsta narcissisms threading
Every shabby sentence his trumpet constructs?
“…I ain’t mad at you, / Assassin,”Hayes writes in sonnet 53 (lines 12-14). “It’snot the bad people who are brave / I fear, it’s the good people who are afraid.” (Emphasis mine)
To read the complete featured thirteenth sonnet, “American Sonnet for My Past and Future Assassin,” and learn more about the work of the poet Terrance Hayes, go to my Poetry Corner July 2020.
My Poetry Corner June 2020 features the poem “Negridians” (Negridianos) from the poetry collection Currents and other marine studies (Correntezas e outros estudos marinhos) by Lívia Natália de Souza, an Afro-Brazilian poet and university professor. Born in 1979 in Salvador, Bahia, Northeast Brazil, Lívia Natália earned her Bachelor’s degree in Literature at the Federal University of Bahia in 2002. She further earned a Master’s degree (2005) and Doctorate (2008) in Theories and Criticism of Literature and Culture at the same institution where she lectures in Literary Theory. She also coordinates and teaches Literary Creation Workshops and works in projects for children at risk.
Lívia Natália’s debut poetry collection, Black water (Água negra), published in Salvador in 2011, received the Capital Bank Culture and Art-Poetry Award. In her poem “Asé” from that collection, the poet describes herself in terms of her African roots and connection with the natural world.
I am a black tree of gnarled root. I am a river of muddy and calm profundity. I am the arrow and its range before the scream. And also the fire, the salt of the waters, the storm and the iron of the weapons.
During the poet’s 2016 interview with SciELO, a São Paulo-based online forum, Lívia Natália admitted that racism influenced her work. “Racism in [Brazil], which calls itself a racial democracy, structures all relationships,” she said. “When I enter a room, not just a woman enters, a black woman enters and people read me with the racism machine assembled, even if that person is not a racist.” She added: “Racism is present from the moment I open my eyes to the moment that I close them. And…it’s present in my dreams, my nightmares.”
When speaking about violence in Brazil, the poet noted: “A black man or a black woman has to be in a combat position 24 hours a day, because when we sleep, the racist who lives inside people appears to accuse us of something.”
The poet shared her own experience with Bahia’s military police (MP) in February 2016 when they censored her short poem, “Quadrilha,” selected for the project “Poetry in the Streets” and featured on a billboard in Ilhéus—a city in Bahia’s southern coastal region popular with tourists for its cultural heritage and beaches. Bahia’s Police Association called for its removal for “inciting prejudices and intolerance against the military police.” When news spread among the police force nationwide, the poet received rape and death threats.
Maria did not love João. Only worshipped his dark feet. When João died, murdered by the MP, Maria kept all his shoes.
In killing João, the police did not only take João’s life. They also destroyed Maria’s hoped-for relationship with her beloved, leaving her only with memories of times spent together square dancing.
In the featured poem, “Negridians,” the poet explores the black and white divide that, far too often, ends in lives interrupted by police brutality. The poet describes this global divide—a meridian she calls negridian—in the first stanza.
There is an invisible line, raging twilight dividing the current. Something that distinguishes my blackness from your white flesh on a map where I do not have dominion.
As a black woman, the poet has no power over the space the dominant white population has assigned her and other blacks. She expands on the effects of the imposed confinement and oppression in the second stanza.
My negritude navigates in the riffraff, in the shadows where light does not wander, and the line imposes itself powerful, oppressing my black soul, curly with folds.
The spaces in which blacks are forced to live are not conducive for developing their full potential as human beings. Though she does not mention the police, their powerful role of control can be inferred in the third verse.
In the third and final stanza, Lívia Natália notes that, while the negridianal meridian is invisible, blacks feel in the flesh the consequences of overstepping the boundaries imposed by the dominant white elite. Pain is interwoven between the verses. And anger, too.
There is a negridianal meridian in our lives, destroying them in a treacherous manner, the line is indeed invisible: but burns on the backs in blood-red tracks, the track-blade of these absurd lines that you draw while I don’t see them.
To read the featured poem in its original Portuguese and to learn more about the work of Lívia Natália de Souza, go to my Poetry Corner June 2020.
My Poetry Corner May 2020 features the poem “for the mothers who did the best they could” from the poetry collection, My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter (USA, 2017), by Caribbean-American poet Aja Monet. Born in 1987 in Brooklyn, New York, to Cuban and Jamaican immigrants, Monet is a cofounder of Smoke Signals Studio, a political safe-haven for artists and organizers in Little Haiti, Miami. She facilitates a workshop “Voices: Poetry for the People” in collaboration with Community Justice Project and Dream Defenders. She currently lives in Miami, Florida.
Monet’s mother raised her and two siblings with little help from their absentee father. In the “Author’s Note” of her poetry collection, Monet notes: My mother was a freedom fighter and so were her mother and her mother’s mother. I witness their movements in this world and it informs my own, their labor to love and live freely, their joy and their pain, the magic and madness… I dream of a world where no mother regrets, no mother resents, no mother buries her child.Continue reading →