Two weeks have slid through me.
An older German man at the Audre Lorde Archives likes to greet me by singing his favorite melodies from 1960s American pop songs. Our connection is assumed to be familiar on those grounds.
Other connections have taken longer to root, to find their own casual and wandering paths. Most often I simply smile, to show submission to a foreign tongue, and repeat my English phrases so we can entwine in a hopeful vernacular.
There is a mutual desire to be understood.
Mornings are typically dark and grey, thick with clouds that never leave. There are, of course, exceptions. Some days find swirling pink clouds opening their hearts to promises of illumination. The void of this work has been filled when silence is created from conscious expression. An expression that most days outpaces language’s translation of experience.
This poetic examination of Audre Lorde’s teaching, and by extension her methods of poetic practice, has strengthened the tender edges of my own belief of how change happens – personal, political, and everything in between. I feel marked with new annotations at the outermost areas of my known history. My knowledge is shaped into intentional practices around work, love, and living a conscious life. I have discovered purpose inside complex layers of wanting evolution. I can see, now, how those borders have always been informed by an interior landscape, whether I owned this fact or not.
This is a truth we all share.
The Audre Lorde Archive materials are predominantly audio recordings. Everyone I love is dreaming while I’m awake listening to student’s chairs scraping wood floors, birds chirping in public chorus, and occasionally a truck will rattle the open classroom windows as it barrels down the city streets. The digitized tape recordings also capture nervous laughter when Audre Lorde refuses to center whiteness – and white discomfort – in Black women’s lived experiences.
She asks the students, who are there to learn about poetry written by Black American women, “What is it you want to come from this investment?”
Because “what you want will help influence what you get.”
She names her expectations and her intentions: “What poetry will demand of you…is that you will not do it [experience Black women’s lives] comfortably. You will have to get involved or you will not get anything out of it.”
“I am here because poetry is crucial to me. It’s not merely what I do, it’s a way of living. And I believe it’s a way of living that can strengthen every person who takes part in it. I think that it is a crucial way of living for women and [inaubible]. I think that self-conscious recognition of our feelings are one of the primary ways of making the stuff we need to move through our lives. I think poetry is the visual actual recreation of this stuff in a way that can be shared and used. I’m here because I want to examine this body of literature which is very important, and I feel vital to me, in conjunction with the rest of you. … That’s why I’m here, because I’m greedy, because I’m curious and because I believe I am an endangered species, the same way each one of you is endangered.” — Audre Lorde, 1984, Black Women Poetry, Frein Universität Berlin (Audre Lorde Archives)
Establishing mutual visibility – we are all endangered species – through honoring of complexity creates an awareness, an opening, towards strengthening our respective relational capacities. I learned this personally from two wildly different yet equality vulnerable experiences this past August. What is beyond those lived experiences, and this specific poetics inquiry, is an embodied confrontation of feelings. It is a requirement of authentic participation in any relationship – from self to the project of a just society.
“…personal has become a very negative word for a lot of people…but how do you feel? Do you feel objectively? How is it possible to feel other than personally? You can feel personally about things that are very large and outside of yourself, but is it possible to feel objectively? There’s nothing wrong with the personal but I want to tell you, yes poetry is personal, it must be. It is the first place you start but it does not remain there. We [poets] take what is personal, we take what is experienced and we make a bridge, hopefully, to your experience that is different. That is the magical and wonderful quality of poetry. That it can arc across differences. It’s one of the few ways we have dealing with what is genuinely different between us. One of the key ways of making something creative out of that.” — Audre Lorde, 1984, Black Women Poetry, Frein Universität Berlin (Audre Lorde Archives)
“It is part of my work that I came to do and I don’t have 300 years any more than you have. I am interested in doing my work because it satisfies me on a lot of different levels, and part of my work is coming here saying to you – how are you doing yours? What is this work we are dealing with have to do with your work as a white woman, as a white German woman, as in who you are. … I am not an angel. I cannot descend upon you with a magic wand. I cannot transform you. I can throw out those things I know and invite you to make some connections. I invite you to use them for your life.” — Audre Lorde, 1984, Black Women Poetry, Frein Universität Berlin (Audre Lorde Archives)
The weight of that investment by way of personal invitation is strategic. Her liberation, theirs, and mine cannot be separated. Other class conversations have pivoted on global tensions of climate change, gender-based violence, and nuclear escalation. It is remarkable that our shared reality has us waking up to and living under the same violence today.
Thirty-three years have slipped through us.
What dreams, or as Lorde calls them “emotional blueprints,” must we encourage beyond political formations?
How might you use the weapon of active examination – and poetry specifically – to not only envision what is possible but also perform your and my liberation?