I have to start somewhere and this is a good place to begin. I want this early reflection of my time spent at the William Stafford Archives to be a conscious wandering.
I knew I couldn’t finish. There was too much. I needed a respectable and intuitive pace. I had to make quick and deliberate decisions on what to capture and what to let go — a practiced, indulgent impulse.
“I would like to be known as an action philosopher.”
– Banana Yoshimoto, from the novel Kitchen
I wrote what came to my attention and catalogued patterns — wind, mountains, snow, trees, rocks, and secrets to name the most prominent. It felt the best, and most honest, way to honor Stafford’s daily writing practice. It was what I had learned to do from You Must Revise Your Life and Writing the Australian Crawl: Views on the Writer’s Vocation.
On August 17, 1993, eleven days before he died, he asked:
“What can butterflies do if they get mad at each other? Should they express their anger? Stop and get even? Are these questions about a butterfly trivial? And about you?”
And on May 13, 1951, at the age of 37 [still an unpublished poet], he wrote:
“How do we know our perceptions have the same feel as others’?” (emphasis in original)
Graceful inquiries such as these found their way into Stafford’s daily writings, which also included his dreams remembered in the darkest shadows of morning light. Intimate and rooted in place, Stafford recorded the present in all its creative movements.
I learned how deeply mountains listen when trees and rocks tell their ancient stories.
Stafford’s lifetime dedication to following and listening — carefully — to what wasn’t being said, or said loudly, was powerful to witness. His repetition was seductive. A rhythm visualized into meditative language that demonstrated “…all living things are afraid (June 20, 1975)” and a steady truth that “your hope keeps you awake (May 20, 1975).”
What comes next is unknown and that’s exactly how it is supposed to be.
All those years and I still remember the exquisite details. This specific memory does not have a year attached without much difficulty nor can I remember the time of day it occurred. Yet I can summon the sweet smell of ozone and hold onto the thought of how my own breath, in concert with yours, folded into one timeless moment.
We had pulled off a mostly deserted I-90W to wait out a thunderstorm we had witnessed hours earlier, which we assumed was fleeting from a distance reserved only for endless, empty horizons.
We found temporary refuge in Blue Earth, Minnesota. Waiting in a potholed parking lot bordered by a 55-ft Jolly Green Giant statue and a gas station that sold cheap pizza and cold beer, you read A Ritual to Read to Each Other by William Stafford as rain poured hard and thick from a dark sky.
There was so much we didn’t know about each other or the world, and a sublime anchoring in such fearless truth.
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
This moment, which probably lasted no longer than an hour before we got back on the road, forms the shadowed edges of how I’ve been preparing myself for this upcoming poetics inquiry of William Stafford. I want to be witness to his early morning and honest daily writing practice — his golden thread. I hope to explore how he taught poetry that centered curiosity as a method of facilitating an effective learning experience, his own and his students.
I feel a pull to reference an intention I outlined before I went to the Audre Lorde Archive in Berlin, my first poetics inquiry. This poetics inquiry is also an artistic project, which will explore how lived experiences of the “boundaries of one’s imaginative sympathy line up, again and again, with the lines drawn by power.” I use this quote by Claudia Rankine to bring attention to the phrase: lines drawn by power. This expansion of reference feels necessary in context to what I know about Stafford’s personal history and the now.
For it is important that awake people be awake, or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep; the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe — should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.
At the age of 27, Stafford chose to be a conscience objector when he was drafted into WWII — a few years older than I was during that thunderstorm. He chose not to participate in a war that was framed as moral, just, and unquestionably popular. He served four years in various prison camps for his decision. I want to learn what it means to live a life grounded in a commitment to practice non-competitive creative integrity. A life, like mine, lived when the United States was never not involved in wars and conflicts.
I am reminded that I know only what brought me to today: a poem, a ritual, that has not broken the line.
“As if a tenderness awoke, a tenderness that did not tire, something healing.”
— Sylvia Plath, from The Collected Poems; “Three Women,” (1962)
I was born into an isolated, literal Evangelical culture. A place where time was on always on trial and faith was righteous as pride. Our promised future had already been written. We were urgent. The rapture was due.
All of us who knew even a fraction of the story internalized why Jesus hadn’t returned. Acts of a vengeful god are common and welcomed in this scenario. It was also true when you knew the ending tipped in your favor, knowledge became seductive. A blessing disguised.
To have learned about the world this way feels like a subtle theft. Trauma works that way too. False recognitions bound to real sounds, smells, touch, twists of phrases, and, if lucky, fading re-creations. A true con.
Decades later, I am still carving an existence that is receptive to invitation. There are no answers inside all these non-moments of relentless judgement. That clarity is its own rushed reality. Adapting gracefully to change is an ancient sermon. This is a map to all this undoing.
I’ve never had the same address for long. My current streak is seven years. I’ve far exceeded all prior knowledge of living in one place. I am as far west as I’ve ever been, which means my reverence for home has changed. Somewhere between this nostalgia and the truth is the hard edge of acceptance.
In all this stillness, I forgot how to let go.
So I start over.
As a habit, writing is its own method of reckoning. An ecstatic attention to spirit. A positive deviance. Specifically, I want to create a feeling of communion. I want this feeling in spite of its dominant religious significations.
The concept and practice of being “reborn” was an early fascination. I’d watch my father make his way to the front of the church and confess his weaknesses. Our sins were made public. We wanted to believe, as much as he did, that each confession was his last. His liberation bound so tightly to our survival.
I choose to keep these collective epiphanies to remember how far from home I am.
*horizon note = the beat or pulse underlying the whole of the poem (Denise Levertov)
“…I believe our survival demands revolution, both cultural and political. If we are to survive the disasters that threaten, and survive our own struggle to make it new—a struggle I believe we have no choice but to commit ourselves to—we need tremendous transfusions of imaginative energy.”
—Denise Levertov, from her essay “Great Possessions,” January 1970
It is February. I think about ruts carved into thawing prairie soil—how violence echoes. I pull your sleeves right side out every time I do the laundry. Shapes of familiar ceremony.
In March, rusted satellites fall to the ground. I find the ocean, again. A litany of land and shoreline.
Then May repeats to the present day. Silver glints from in-flight airplanes catch the attention of wandering minds. Our elegies no longer unconscious prayers.
“Most of the time, I think we’re embodied because we are supposed to be. I don’t think the goal is to leave our bodies behind, despite what many major religions tell us.” — Dana Levin
things that are abundant
have less value,
A cheap cadence
mutated and wound
around a swelling chorus.
Shut tight. Loud as bodies.
Imagine if we answered
all those blushed curious inquiries
and followed constellations
to rewrite retrogrades.
Speaking softly enough to
understand its sacred feedback.
title is William Stafford’s reference to “that feeling you have when you go along accepting what occurs to you and finding your way out somewhere to the rim where you are ready to abandon that sequence and come back and start all over again” (Writing the Australian Crawl)
We used to think that if we knew one, we knew two, because one and one are two. We are finding that we must learn a great deal more about “and.” — Sir Arthur Eddington
I. virtual systems
we have learned to covet reflective virtual objects
on occasion, we can still recall vibrations of analog sounds
in a digital world fueled by fossils & compounded fabrications
I wrap my arms around you as car alarms blare songs of protection
II. echo as residue
our preferences fill shapes generated by algorithms gone wild
authenticated searches find radical stability
a looped sacred ceremony
corn, cowboys, & cattle
[classed units of measurement or why it matters I want the horizon to never end]
I get nervous when people start talking about wanting to own things:
land, houses, ideas.
This present moment feels like freedom,
a highly volatile state.
In my dream, I walked US-Highway 12.
I passed community banks flush with bartered dreams
and gas stations promising consistently low prices when paying with cash.
The ghosts all drove cars and didn’t bother me.
Lucid, I believed I was back in Berlin. I was brave.
I woke to trees taller than houses.
And then will come my turn toward considering the poem as a set of strategies.
— William Stafford, You Must Revise Your Life
My aesthetic genealogy is borrowed from a working poetics. A magpie practice of creative slanted interruptions. One of my favorite writing habits is to post on Sundays. Years ago I discovered this practice as a way to reclaim time lost to benign neglect and take back a day formerly dedicated to church services that framed ideal bodies as those willing to give up their souls.
Forgive this brief editorializing break. I’ve wandered to the edge of today’s subject.
It is safe to assume the forensics of great writers are investments in process.
For the last twelve and a half years, I have traced the shapes of memory — collective and personal — in this wide open space. I have anchored active examination into subtitled weekly posts. I curated evidence of expansion through parallel interpretations and feel for traction inside line breaks weighted by punctuation’s invitation to pause. I am aligned when tone reflects visual structure.
This time last year I was organizing myself to study Audre Lorde’s time in Berlin. Today I want to capture my emerging intention to study William Stafford this fall. The boundaries of this poetics inquiry are a promise to continue to carve out curious time. It is an extension of how conscious practice cleaves to the promise of honoring spirit. I aim to explore and investigate Stafford’s pacifist approaches — specifically conscientious objector — to writing poetry, his teaching methods of writing poetry, and his graceful rejection of competition.
Our days are urgent as parents wait for children to find them. Climate and change are conjoined into violent denials. Stafford practiced creative resistance strategies during WWII and the Vietnam War.
What might we borrow to alter our endangered lives?
“with the evolution of awareness came the possibility that existence could be more than survival, or that survival could be more than a response to fear, and could include the encompassing of joy” — Jeremy Wolff, excerpt from the essay Thots on Pot
Northern Plains’ cottonwoods spread their seeds this time of year
thick as snow their white progeny coat lawns and 4×4 pickup trucks
a soft blizzard similar to the way Saharan dust reached Texas this week
both are dramatic
all that settling
(it’s probably nothing)
this feeling of apocalypse came on swift
like bad news
when adoration and permissions share the same open mouth of devotion
it is recommended that you consult your prophesies to justify blanket explanations
transpose unknowing into thoughts and prayers
a crash disrupts into eventual silence
“writing…is a process of relying on immediate pervasive feelings, not an escape from them…” — William Stafford, Writing the Australian Crawl. pg. 88
I haven’t found a way to say I love you that isn’t complicated, so I practice loving you every day. Sounds of terrorized children broke through all those hours of visual noise. Hope is a map. A place to begin.
The distance of decades doesn’t always make things quieter. Calendars are more form than function. I learned early and repeatedly that love must be earned, and value is measured by others. An intimacy of detachment.
Addicted to seeking approval is one way of saying yes unconditionally. Instead, imagine a private collection of silent hymns. These days, I take care to mend memories as a way to create acceptance. A public chorus swelled.
Broken into speculative practices, writing things down reinforces pleasure and importance in tandem. Together, through famine and fortune, what stands out is love. An oxygen where sacrifice is not born from competition.
“When someone tells us something, we don’t know how many versions they have tried out inside before the one we hear.” — William Stafford, You Must Revise Your Life
It was nothing but ordinary how the day started. The sun crept above the horizon like any weekday likes to unfold. Yesterday a seismic shift happened — two degrees right to the center. Trees noticed the ambient vibrations immediately, then the birds. No one noticed the subtle ways computer grids had wiped clean negative balances and dropped zeros while spinning out complex equations for how to love beyond reflex.
It took seventeen years for scientists to confirm the shift occurred. Pundits had convinced the public that such a change could not occur simply because they had no imagination to the contrary. Scattered conversations slowly and remotely extended what had been idle reservations around the basics of grace as understood as time. It was a dramatic revolution. Men were not brave. We found their excuses strapped to the back of westbound bus seats.
We considered multiple ways to drown ourselves in the meanings of what we had known and what was now. Immediate and sharp like a broken tooth, we rejected regressive poetic frames. In some places, it became fashionable to sell boredom while others practiced local rituals that buried light. By all accounts, we now live immoral lives. Only the youngest birds have yet to learn not to take from the most fragmented rumors to make their shelters.
I am moved by fancies that are curled
Around these images, and cling:
The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering thing.
T.S. Eliot, from ‘Preludes (IV)’, The Waste Land and Other Poems
concerts of effort
sounds better inside a fragment
forgive that this starts out so slow
posting at me to me with me
I’m casual to realize
to follow that, your, our vision
is to be organized into spacial moments — threads
a witness of curation
the: father son and holy spirit
faith is within your standing
some think it is earned
as for me I was taught to be innocent
later learning curiosity had its own beneficiaries
a lesson on just how few original ideas are assigned majestic
fueling dark appreciations for wild abstractions
until it is as uncommon as creating reminders to breathe
I know this all sounds strange
you can call it: new wave vengeance
born from a place stubborn as time
untamable as the patience of trees
a place whose history begins with land stolen then plowed
now transformed to weed-filled lawns anchored by rusted swing sets
as early-to-open Main Street bars drown committed repentance
a place where there’s nothing left to let go
where abandonment is a reluctant hero
& stacked clouds convert prayers into myths
like there can be no forgiveness for sins
we commit against ourselves
Our inherited risks are not equal. This is an urgent incantation.
As visceral affect, I want to disembody and divest.
My father tracked weather patterns in free pocket-sized bank calendars.
Constrained, he archived basic data (temperature and precipitation)
occasionally punctuated with significance: two daughters born June 8th;
weight and height nearly identical.
His daily notes arranged into a practical devotion bound by time and repetition.
For point of reference, children and livestock born in storms were not isolated incidents. Shaping a landscape absent of variables, his pattern recognition became a survivor’s catalog.
Our futures signal forced reliance, an intimate risk. This is an urgent incantation.
As righteous affect, I want to feel god everywhere.
“the first 50 hours of resurrection are beautiful,”
says the man holding the door
–Tongo Eisen-Martin, excerpt from remove my heart racing, and babylon is fine
we learn to trust wars: trade, sex, cold. as acceptance forms rules, we smooth out the most deprived ideas and prioritize all threats as urgent. in theatres of conflict, repetition is grandeur. this translation officially makes mob landscapes familiar.
that’s why when your hands brushed against my sharpest edges: my heart, my gaze, my inordinate sense of danger; I felt intimacy performed as spacial intervention, an interlude. your fingers interrogated and found hard answers wrapped around tender legacy. we became undone. mapping unearned dreams onto each other’s gravitational pull, an attraction, we made our own stars.
future philosophers will discover these tensions and name them holy
all this absence, in the space of starting over, forms my backbone
i wish i could claim something useful here, like emotional resilience
or self-efficacy managed beyond the flutter of obscene distractions
structurally, skin has the capacity to absorb 1000 strikes soft as fur
before bruising, blue then purple then finally breaking open red
bold as light leaks found in the silenced literacy of family photos
this spread of truth tight and shallow in surrendering
what survives in me
i still suspect.
–Sonia Sanchez, “Fragment 1”
time signatures bridge memories spread wide, open as my early childhood landscapes
we moved most often when work got too hard or you simply wanted a change of scenery
self-destruction a competitive pursuit, or why my syntax lacks a particular kind of self-love
I found an aesthetic: beg
more of a grasp than a hold
& I define how tight
shattered pieces create the best whole
naked sounds vibrate the loudest
most thoughts end
The past is a space of eternal occupation, a place to shout violent things and lust for an afterlife. The present is active and in transit. What was is now future. For today focus on the perceived differences of a winter sun, how dedication can become a shroud, and the way throats absorb sound. Traces of a map, a line to pursue. Such directional shifts define evolutions of time. As the ocean laps shorelines, patterns artificial as intelligence bind like curses. Our days flare dandelion sunlight.
I have no body; the “I” writing this has no body: not in the old way. Zones. Pressures. Here a structured tension there an underlying ache. Vital signs. Phases of disquiet not clearly demarcated from areas of peace.
— Laura Mullen, “Spectograms (projected autobiography),” Complicated Grief
Revolutions are frenetic desires. Seams stretch tight.
familiar stimulation: swelled power and impulse
Violence precedes peace when knowledge becomes ransom.
negative space: culture is public negotiation
Men speak in abstraction. Their distancing performative.
economies of scale: underwhelming demands for mass hysteria
“And whereas one of my students asks a visiting poet about education vaguely getting at what is worth pursuing? The poet suggests looking at whatever is/was missing in one’s life and begin there. So many nods in the room around that table they acknowledge it too. In the missing: power.
— Layli Long Soldier, Whereas (page 67)
The day Ronald Reagan died – June 5, 2004 – I absorbed the news of his death with reverie as his life was exalted by talking heads and famed acquaintances. Their rhetoric ultimately resting within that exclusive canon reserved only for legends. Crowds swarmed to pay their respects to an American actor.
In another breaking newsfeed, and still witness to a grand spectacle of publicized grief, I was transfixed as a captured tiger dangled from a helicopter high above Santa Monica, California. The majestic predator swung inside a canvas sling that looked more like a collective omen akin to a nursery-rhyme cradle.
The events were not related according to the news, yet the Overton window had widened just enough to propagate rumors into exaggerated false equivalencies. After all, time had shifted in unexplainable ways that leap year. Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” had convinced many that something had happened.
Less than a month later, the spacecraft Cassini reached Saturn (a planet associated with karmic lessons). Some speculate that Reagan’s recently released spirit had guided Cassini as it traveled the critical distance to fulfill its mission. As poetic murmurs, I gather these soft shapes into vivid memories. A gesture of truth.
“But your pleasure understands mine.”
— Clarice Lispector, The Sharing Of Loaves
at 39,000 feet clouds rose like mountains
fading to dark as the blushing sun set
then black as the thinnest winter ice
we learned to turn our wheels into those slick black icy slides
when done correctly, such surrendering was active evidence of a survivor’s effort
in spring, we planted rosemary to remember our deepest buried beliefs
we harvested fresh-picked bundles and revised our most shadowed secrets
like wanting nothing but distant empty horizons and bodies that do not betray
we sculpted altered thoughts and declared them working dreams
trusting that our shared wishes for a braver future were coming true
For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
— T. S. Eliot
2017 notes to 2018 self:
seek light / confront darkness
feeling worthy is a practice
be clear about priorities
inspiration is a higher form of knowledge
“discipline creates spaciousness”*
no matter how deep the ocean is, you will always find sacred land
These are my centerfold memories — the lessons I opened to over and over again. The specifics are tenderized images of evolution unraveled, then a consecration of release. As tipping points and space to witness, revision expanded bravery and abundance shifted structures.
My past experiences have been arranged into possibility bright as desire’s capacity to make power transparent. I exorcised ghosts to bankrupt suffering. I transitioned from shame to justice. I bartered verses delicate as externalized validation. I owned my name and its history.
Absorbing only credible echoes, I dreamt I was safe and expressed joy religiously.
Inflections reflect emphasis, and opening and closings. Some days I think being ___ is the best way to survive. An existence spread. That feels aspirational in vision and phonetically embodied. A form of capacity. Or dispossession. A bridge as much as a boundary.
“The sun and the moon call out, as it were, and the oceans call back. The oceans aren’t passive listeners but partners in an energetic conversation – resonance – that ultimately accentuates or diminishes the tide.” — Jonathan White, Tides: The Science and Spirit of the Ocean
“She’s keeping time with a mystery rhyme.” — Jesus and Mary Chain
I am still learning how to perform quick good-byes.
Never witness to a proper and graceful exit
during my formative years (too young to protest)
we were more often forced to be unreliable hostages.
My history is threaded into core tensions
twisted thick as exploiting hospitality
and deep as ignoring consent. We would wait
silently at the host’s kitchen table in our winter coats
hoping with the start of a new story
that time would naturally come to an end.
Those years I learned how to be quiet enough
holding my breath into
I want to crack open, carefully
pull out ghosts and obsolete angels
examine where sweetness gathers as illicit responses
and rush into and out of why feeling loved is dangerous.
“And is is strange how experiences blend and enhance each other.” — William Stafford
It is not that what I know today is necessarily different from what I knew yesterday, or that I have replaced prior knowledge with a brand new extended spectrum of understanding. It is more subtle than a transaction, more gracefully defined as complexity. This feels like transformation. A shift.
Love fits into this equation as a multiplier. The critical variables that come next are a matter of routine, a particular and conscious genre. A ritual.
An older German man 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?
I am resisting the temptation to neatly capture this first week in Berlin. I confess my vulnerability by way of distance. I am unwilling to decouple place (Berlin by way of California) from the messiness of culture (as a white American woman engaged with a slice of time: West Berlin in spring and summer of 1984).
What follows is an early reflection of my first week of poetics inquiry at the Audre Lorde Archive.
Most of my assumptions of German culture are from a bias of chosen childhood memories. Specifically, my formative connections to Germany were through my step-grandmother. She sprinkled German phrases into her conversations as often as she baked us strudel and kuchen. From what region or context she drew from, I will never know. When I was 7, my grandfather died. My connection to her after that was denied for reasons unclear as a child but strongly enforced. It was a loss of relationship I was not allowed to question.
My perspective is also informed by way of being a temporary guest in Berlin. I own that the edges of this synopsis are both mutable and, at times, concrete.
It is familiar to write from this place of confliction and tension. With discipline, I have weaved disparate experiences and their connections for over a decade. In this way, my writing practice feels as ordinary as a Sunday morning.
Audre Lorde said, “Poetry is a way of life.” I know the intimate truths in her declaration. She continues: the first lesson of being a poet is that you have survived.
Bruised, battered, bent, you have survived. It is now your right to use what you have survived, to learn from, to communicate with, to move beyond. You cannot do that unless you bring it to consciousness, to usefulness. We have survived so much more than we can admit. — Audre Lorde, May 6, 1984, Creative Writing Workshop, Frein Universität Berlin (Audre Lorde Archives)
It is an unapologetic position that requires a method of dealing with difference in a creative way. A way that moves us beyond what we have been taught is possible.
Lorde believed that poets must “evoke past the particular experience [in the poem] to make connection across difference.” An emotional response is an integral purpose of a poem.
The dignity around that exchange is dangerous territory depending on one’s position in patriarchal, racist, heteronormative, and classed cultural systems. As Lorde often said, “Poetry is one of the most subversive uses of language there is.”
The emotional teeth of poetry is, according to Lorde, “to move us to action and living.”
To explore experiences poetically is inherently political. Lorde spoke often of how “socialization robs us of our language.” How the poet makes meaning of their lived experience and that active translation to the reader is the transformative power of poetry. It is why Lorde chose to use poetry as a weapon.
I do not believe either in poetry or in the actual fact of our living..that change occurs externally. I think that it occurs both poetically as well as socially slowly and internally from the inside out so that in fact any larger movement and larger change must happen first of all within the people who are involved.” — Audre Lorde, May 10, 1984, The Poet as Outsider, Frein Universität Berlin (Audre Lorde Archives)
This collectived and creative organizing is now ours to envision and evoke. This is our mutual survival.