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.
On America’s 244th year of independence, I offer these “rants” from Tom Engelhardt, an American editor, publisher, and author who belongs to the same generation as our 45th president.
That my generation, whether in the form of Donald Trump or Mitch McConnell, would be responsible for turning imperial America into an autocratic-leaning, collapsing semi-democracy, and a first-class world annihilator, I would have found hard to imagine. [In the early 1970s], if you had told me that, half a century into the future, the world’s fate would rest on a presidential election between a genuine madman and something close to a dead man (that, for all we know, may not prove to be an election at all), I would have dismissed you out of hand. And yet that, it seems, is the pandemic legacy of my generation for which we should all be ashamed, even as we watch the young, driven by the insanity and inanity of it all, turning out in our diseased streets to protest a country coming apart at the seams.
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.
In her novel Under the Tamarind Tree, Guyanese-born author Rosaliene Bacchus has spun a fascinating tale of family feuding, personal loss and a longing for love and self-acceptance, all set against the backdrop of crumbling Colonial power in British Guiana during the two-decade period […]
The glorification of one race and the consequent debasement of another—or others—always has been and always will be a recipe for murder. There is no way around this. If one is permitted to treat any group of people with special disfavor because of their race or the color of their skin, there is no limit to what one will force them to endure, and, since the entire race has been mysteriously indicted, no reason not to attempt to destroy it root and branch.
James Baldwin in The Fire Next Time, published by Vintage Books Edition, New York, USA, 1993 (pp 82-83). Originally published by The Dial Press, New York, USA, 1963.
James Baldwin (1924-1987) is an American novelist, playwright, essayist, poet, and activist. He is the author of more than twenty works of fiction and nonfiction. Among the awards he received are a Eugene F. Saxon Memorial Trust Award, a Rosenwald Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Partisan Review Fellowship, and a Ford Foundation grant. He was made a Commander of the Legion of Honor in 1986.
Based on NOAA’s 140-year climate record, 2019 is the second-hottest year on Earth, after 2016. In their book, The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis (Knopf 2020), Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac, architects of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, remind us that we live in a critical decade. If we the people of Earth fail to attain our goal of halving our carbon emissions by 2030, it would be highly unlikely that we will attain net zero emissions by 2050. They invite us “to take part in creating the future of humanity, confident that despite the seemingly daunting nature of the challenge, collectively we have what it takes to address climate change now” (xxi).
To make clear the choices we face, Figueres and Rivett-Carnac devote two chapters to describe two possible worlds in 2050: the one we’re now creating and the one we must create. If we don’t limit our carbon emissions, extreme summer temperatures in the world we’re creating in 2050 force us to stay indoors. Working outdoors is a death sentence. Wearing a proper face mask is not an option, but a necessity for surviving in the hot, toxic air. Food and water shortages cause riots and wars. No wall is high or strong enough to deter the mass migrations worldwide. Economies are in free fall.
On the other hand, if we act now to reduce our carbon emissions to net zero and have avoided heating up our planet to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (34.7 degrees Fahrenheit), the authors note that, in 2050, we’re still dealing with the aftereffects of the record levels of carbon dioxide already in our atmosphere. Glaciers and Arctic ice are still melting. Sea levels are rising. Severe droughts and desertification are still occurring. But we enjoy a stable lifestyle. Our cities are greener and better places to live. Forest cover has expanded 50 percent worldwide. We no longer burn fossil fuels. Our energy now comes from renewable sources like wind, solar, geothermal, and hydro. All homes and buildings produce their own electricity. Food production and procurement become a communal effort.
As is already evident, Earth’s regenerative systems can no longer keep up with humanity’s exploitative mindset and consumption levels. To co-create a better world, the authors argue, we need both a systemic transformation and individual behavioral changes. They believe that this can be achieved with three mindsets: stubborn optimism, endless abundance, and radical regeneration. Considering the immensity of the task ahead of us, they admit that success is not guaranteed. But, for the future of humanity’s survival, failure is unthinkable. Stubborn optimism empowers us to create a new reality and energize all those with the same conviction. Creating endless abundance requires focusing on the benefits of limiting our carbon emissions. Radical regeneration bridges the gap between how nature works and how we humans have used extraction to organize our lives.
To achieve a regenerative future, Figueres and Rivett-Carnac set out ten necessary actions:
Action 1: Let Go of the Old World. We cannot go back to the way of life that created the climate emergency in the first place.
Action 2: Face Your Grief but Hold a Vision of the Future. The pain of loss should spur us to greater action rather than sink us into a pit of blame, despair, or hopelessness. Having a vision is essential to inspire the kind of commitment and energy we will need to get through the difficult years ahead.
Action 3: Defend the Truth. We must free our mind to new ways of thinking and learn to distinguish real science from pseudo-science.
Action 4: See Yourself as a Citizen – Not as a Consumer. Letting go means reclaiming our idea of a good life, becoming a better consumer, and dematerializing.
Action 5: Move Beyond Fossil Fuels. We must let go of the conviction that fossil fuels are necessary for humanity to thrive in the future and stand up for 100 percent renewable energy.
Action 6: Reforest the Earth. The future we must choose will require us to pay more attention to our bond with nature. We must plant trees, boycott products contributing to deforestation, and move to a plant-based diet.
Action 7: Invest in a Clean Economy. We will require a clean economy that operates in harmony with nature, repurposes used resources as much as possible, minimizes waste, and actively replenishes depleted resources.
Action 8: Use Technology Responsibly. We will need to be mindful of investments in AI: what it’s being used for and the regulatory systems in place.
Action 9: Build Gender Equality. Women are better at working collaboratively, with a longer-term perspective—traits essential to responding to the climate crisis.
Action 10: Engage in Politics. We must engage at all levels of government and elect only leaders who see far-reaching action on climate change as their absolute priority. At the same time, we can stop buying stocks, products, and services from corporations that fund and engage in political lobbying against citizen action on climate change.
Figueres and Rivett-Carnac conclude that meeting the challenge of climate change must become part of a new story of human striving and renewal. “This is not the quest of one nation. This time it’s up to all of us, to all the nations and peoples of the world. No matter how complex or deep our differences, we fundamentally share everything that is important: the desire to forge a better world for everyone alive today and all the generations to come” (161).
The time for doing what we can has passed. To survive, each one of us must now do everything that is necessary. Inciting hate, violence, and chaos is not the way forward to creating a better America today, in 2050, and beyond.
Christiana Figueres is a Costa Rican citizen and was the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change from 2010 until 2016. During her tenure at the UNFCCC Ms. Figueres brought together national and sub- national governments, corporations and activists, financial institutions and NGOs to jointly deliver the historic Paris Agreement on climate change, in which 195 sovereign nations agreed on a collaborative path forward to limit future global warming to well below 2C.
Tom Rivett-Carnac is a Founding Partner of Global Optimism and works across the portfolio of engagements and initiatives. He has spent 20 years working at the intersections of international diplomacy, energy policy and climate change in business, non-profit, financial services and international institutions. Learn more at https://globaloptimism.com/about-us/
On this Memorial Day 2020, I reflect on the lives cut short in America’s never-ending wars of terror across the Middle East, following our invasion of Iraq in 2003. I share with you an insightful realization, born of lived experience of war, from the opening chapter of the novel, The Yellow Birds, by Kevin Powers (USA, 2012).
SEPTEMBER 2004 Al Tafar, Nineveh Province, Iraq
The war tried to kill us in the spring…. Then, in summer, the war tried to kill us as the heat blanched all color from the plains…. The war would take what it could get. It was patient. It didn’t care about objectives, or boundaries, whether you were loved by many or not at all. While I slept that summer, the war came to me in my dreams and showed me its sole purpose: to go on, only to go on. And I knew the war would have its way.
Narrative voice of twenty-one-year-old Private John Bartle of the USA Army from the novel, The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers, published by Little, Brown and Company, USA, 2012, pp 3-4.
Described in these terms, humanity’s wars operate much like the deadly COVID-19 let loose among Earth’s populations. What will it take to end the spread of viral human warfare? When will we stop losing our loved ones on the frontlines? When will we stop killing vulnerable civilians—women, children, and the elderly—exposed to the virulence of our wars?
KEVIN POWERS was born and raised in Richmond Virginia, graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University, and holds an MFA from the University of Texas at Austin, where he was a Michener Fellow in Poetry. He served in the U.S. Army in 2004 and 2005 in Iraq, where he was deployed as a machine gunner in Mosul and Tal Afar. The Yellow Birds is his first novel.
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 →
Today marks the fifty-third day of my home isolation under our statewide lockdown to slow the spread of COVID-19. Though I’m used to working at home, the fallout of this global pandemic has unsettled my creative writing process. I can no longer focus. Our federal government’s chaotic mishandling of this health disaster has scrambled my brain cells. Each day brings new shocks that demand processing.
Attempts to write the fourteenth chapter of my third book have proved futile. Instead, I focus on completing the essential research required to add legitimacy and depth to the profiles of women I plan to feature in this book. More than ever, men and women must work together as equal partners to find solutions for the existential crises the human species now face. No more name calling. No more putting down. No more cries to lock her up.
After my initial consideration to postpone the 2020 release of my second novel, The Twisted Circle, I’ve decided to go ahead with its publication. I’m now ticking off each step completed of the process for submission of my complete manuscript from cover to cover. More about the cover art at a future date. Continue reading →