Below is a journey to—and poetics inquiry of—the Audre Lorde Archive in Berlin.
To quickly explore, click on the links below to read my original goals and intentions for this poetics inquiry and dive into the written and visual outcomes.
- Scope of Inquiry: A Prefigurative Politics and Poetic Vision for Expanding Racial Justice because “Poetry Is Not a Luxury”
- Sharing of a Poetic Vision: Audre Lorde in Berlin: A Poet’s Way Towards Justice
- Transcripts of “Poet as Outsider” and “Black Women Poetry,” and translation context
- Visual Details: Notes and observations on the journey in Berlin
- Interview: Pursuing the Question
This experience would not have happened without the financial generosity of family, friends, and beloved community. I am grateful for each and every conversation that lead to deeper, clearer revisions of this poetics inquiry.
I want to personally acknowledge my twin sister, Hollie, for her catalyzing financial support and unwavering belief in me. A special thank you to Bryan for sharing his home, his savvy translation skills, and time spent unraveling what I had seen and heard.
I want to thank—with all my heart—Dagmar Schultz for creating the archive and the film of Audre’s life in Berlin. Seeing Audre Lorde – The Berlin Years 1984 to 1992 was the origin and inspiration for this adventure.
This poetics inquiry explored Audre Lorde’s articulation of a prefigurative vision of racial justice during her time in Berlin (1984-1992) and her conscious examination of poetics as political practice. It was designed to be an open exploration, an attempt to gather liberation strategies.
I believe Lorde’s structural theory of an erotic prefigurative politics of racial justice— one that centers lesbian women of color—is a graceful transpolitical perspective that can be applied to our practical liberations today.
This personal and poetic exploration of transformative racial justice, by way of studying Lorde’s awareness and commitment to imaginative organizing, is intended to live beyond my interpretations. The creative horizon is flexible and generative.
The ongoing vision is to promote radical racial imaginaries so that we can continue to transform contested territories of difference, decenter whiteness, and broaden our collective racial justice praxis.
As we live within and through racialized cultural moments that beg for elegance and force acknowledgment of complexity, we can do more than imagine electoral formations.
We can proactively invest in visions that break isolation and silence.
We can encourage our need to create and shape an epistemology of appreciating difference as expression, strength, and collective power.
I was in Berlin Oct 16 through Nov 4, 2017.
Influenced posts are tagged under the category: poetics inquiry.
Daily observations from Berlin
(originally published on Instagram)
day one: lost, then found
Audre Lorde reminds us that “you have never been given tools to deal creatively with difference.”
day two: all poetry workshops need a reference to black holes & cosmic energy
“Nothing that you feel is trivial…this is where you assert your humanness…that idea of trivial feelings is another rumor created by city hall to destroy us.” — Audre Lorde (1984)
day three: internalizing the mantra that “poetry is a weapon”
“children come to language like mornings, new” — Audre Lorde (1984)
day four: aesthetics, the outsider, and the importance of developing skills that filter out what is useful and what is not, in a culture defined as white and male, in order to survive
“Understanding is a handmaiden. It waits upon your essential knowledge.” — Audre Lorde (1984)
day five: poets as reflectors of the future
“we bring about change by altering old patterns” — Audre Lorde (1984)
day six: developing personal power, love, cancer as a “political fact”, police brutality, and a beautiful mini-rant about how pink nylon is “the epitome of a-humanness”
“But when people ask what makes you feel unassailable, I have to say in the same way when people say—how could you live in Berlin for three months, it’s so white—and I keep saying you only ask that question because you don’t know what it feels like to live in the United States of America as a Black woman. … I move through my life with a knowledge of the immensity of the contradictions all the time, contradictions in myself personally, contradictions on the street…” — Audre Lorde (1984)
day seven: reinforcing why active examination of your life is the best way to learn and to live ones life
“…it [poetry] helps shape a vision of a future, whether your concept of the future is the same as mine is less important than that we have a concept of the future, and if we are to have that it must be of something that has not yet been, because obviously what has been has not gotten us very far. We are in the most dangerous times in human history, so there must be another way. Poetry begins to construct that out of our dreams, out of our hope, out of our fear.” — Audre Lorde (1984)
day eight: the necessity of self-identification as a source of power, how to build strong bridges across differences, and conscious living as the way forward
“Because whoever is defining you, will define you in terms of their needs not yours. So it is essential that each one of us begin to recognize and to define for ourselves what in fact identity means. And even if, for instance, the external identity may in large appear to be the same as what we ourselves would do, the fact that it comes from outside makes it problematic, makes it dangerous.” — Audre Lorde (1984)
day nine: why experiences (both the poet and the reader) are a poem’s anchor, survival vs. existence, and the difference between despair and cynicism
Regarding making comparisons: “…in the same way that slavery was a lot worse than racism in 1980, this doesn’t work. It doesn’t work to say, well antisemitism was worse during concentration camps than it is now. It does not serve. Those comparisons don’t move us in any way that is useful. What those comparisons do is make us more complacent about the very terrible things that must be changed within our lives. So long as one of us is not free, none of us are. We are merely just more or less removed from being able to see the connections.” — Audre Lorde (1984)
day ten: It’s getting dark earlier—and colder too. These photos were taken right around 5pm.
Today I finished listening to the complete Black Women Poetry seminar. That one seminar (10 sessions at around 90 mins each) nearly filled my second notebook cover to cover and beyond its predetermined lines. The connections with the other two seminars wove a commitment around continued exploration to “see racism in living context inside your living here, now.”
Audre ended the class with the following quote…”I wish you good luck in your living. I wish you power in your lives.” — Audre Lorde (July 26, 1984)
day eleven: Catching the last light home after going through two deep boxes of correspondence, some of which included edited German translations of Audre Lorde’s poems and beautiful personal letters from Audre and Dagmar Shultz (founder of the archive and filmmaker of the must-watch film, Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years 1984-1992).
One gem of significance was the original invite from Dagmar to Audre inviting her to Berlin to teach at the Freien Universität Berlin, which started the whole magical chain of events I’ve been deeply privileged to experience. Be still my curious heart!
I was also witness to an incredible time capsule of Audre Lorde’s transnational legacy through international obituaries.
I had the personal pleasure of feeling silky smooth paper of original faxes from the early 90s as well.
This quote is pulled from a piece entitled “Audre Lorde Memorial Celebration” and is in reference to Audre’s impact by way of her direct questions: “Are you willing to use the power that you have in the service of what you say you believe?” — source: Women’s Theological Center Newsletter, March/93
day twelve: The final day. Time moves so quickly when you are doing something you love. It melts into production and feelings of usefulness. In many ways it was a risk to come here. I delayed job prospecting, which for a person raised working poor is often equated with a particular kind of stupidity. It is certainly branded as selfish to pursue knowledge for the thrill of it, and for no monetary gain. I found more than I was hoping for and take pride in the 70 hours I committed to the first phase of this work. What comes next is unknown and that continues to feel just right to me.
To pull on the thread from yesterday: “The recognition of privilege is the first step in making it available for wider use. That means we do not shrink from who we are. We do not deny who we are. We learn to use our power in the service of what we say we believe in.” — Audre Lorde, Third International Book Fair speech
Audre Lorde in Berlin: A Poet’s Way Towards Justice
In a complex world, we often discount simplicity. Sharing thoughts and experiences through poetry—phrases, images, and language charged with emotion—can create bridges that gap gender, race, class, sexuality, even across continents. These connections are critical truths we can reclaim each and every morning we wake.
Audre Lorde named a “poet’s way” as an evocation and a method to examine feelings and honor personal experience. The poet’s way is an elegant poetic vision of justice, a creative strategy for resistance, and a consistent practice of self-efficacy.
In the last weeks of October, I traveled to Berlin to better understand Audre Lorde’s legacy of creatively bridging differences. I wanted to better understand, as a working poet and intersectional feminist, how Lorde’s poetics could broaden a collective racial justice praxis, in addition to continuing to transform contested cultural territories of difference. When I began this poetics journey, I knew at least three things: having a writing practice saved my life; poems are creative structures where desire meets an experience that shows effort; and I write because I love.
In Berlin, I discovered poetic strategies for extending the boundaries of revolution.
Mayra A. Rodriguez Castro also worked with the materials in the Audre Lorde Archive at the Free University of Berlin.
Maya transcribed the audio recordings of Audre Lorde’s seminars, interviews as well as readings and discussions after readings, and other documents curated in the Archive.
Most importantly, Audre Lorde: Dream of Europe includes the poems Audre taught in her Black Women’s Poetry Seminar and Poet as Outsider, as well as the student’s voice (an incredible and comprehensive addition to my transcripts above). You can also read the letter written by Dagmar Schultz to Audre in 1981 asking her to teach in Berlin.
Consider pairing the book with Audre Lorde in Berlin: An Online Journey to hear Audre’s voice, and her laughter, in order to have an immersive experience like being at the Archive.