Poet Aracelis Girmay is of Eritrean, African American, and Puerto Rican heritage. She earned a BA at Connecticut College and an MFA from New York University. Her poems trace the connections of transformation and loss across cities and bodies. Her poetry collections include Teeth (2007), Kingdom Animalia (2011), and The Black Maria (2016).
Questions surface: what poems or voices are lost because editors are predominantly male or white or on the East Coast? Other questions: What ideals or aesthetics are these organizations and institutions shaping? Who or what is wildly, meaningfully creating and shaping new spaces? What kinds of calls (for submissions or collaborations) can help foster new ways of thinking both about and against these constructions, structures, ways of seeing, and identifying and signifying?
I am interested in finding ways to talk about the things we read. The ways we read. Text as body and body as text, among other things. I’m interested in finding ways to surprise myself into new territory and thinking about how play and experiments with “form” can be ways to surprise myself, my relationships to language.
In groups or individually pick ONE of the following quotes and “translate” it into your own words and perspective. Trace a connection with one of the previous readings.
1. Those people
do not like Black among the colors.
They do not like our
calling our country ours.
They say our country is not ours.
2. When a White person with a White child points to my child, even lovingly, as an example of a Black life who matters, I would also like that person to teach their White child about White life and history, and about how they are going to have to work really hard to make sure that they are not taking up more air, more space, more sidewalk because they have been taught wrongly that the world is more theirs. I would like to give my five-year-old words so that when he is told “George Floyd was killed because his skin was brown,” he is able to say something like, “Well, actually, there is an idea called Whiteness. Some people think that they are better and deserve more of everything because they are White and their ancestors are from Europe. Their ancestors hurt people and hurt the land to get the power that they gave to their children and that their children keep keeping, and keep using to hurt, even today. Isn’t that terrible?”
3. This year we go to the marsh. It is cold and so windy that almost no one else is out there, so we take off our masks and turn our backs to the wind. What was here before us? Who was here? What is here still though we maybe cannot see it? We are teaching the children to ask. This is Lenni Lenape land. There was a wilderness once. When the Dutch arrived in the seventeenth century, they began their colonial project by waging war with the land and its people. The tide is high, and we do not see the crabs or clams or snails, but we know that they are there.
4. Whenever it is that my partner and I begin to teach our children about the brutality, by design, of this moment and this country, the continuum of catastrophe we are alive and loving and breathing in, I know now that a vital part of what we teach them must have to do with the beauty and power of the imaginative strategies of Black people everywhere. Maroons planting cassava and sweet potato, easily hidden, growing secret in the ground. My best friend’s godsister, Brandy, who, when we were small, knew how to disappear into thin air by opening a book. Tegadelti freedom fighters on the front lines in Eritrea, making pigment out of flower petals, to paint. Palestinians who, when Israeli forces criminalized the carrying of the Palestinian flag in 1967, raised the watermelons up as their flags. Red, black, white, green. The mind that attempts, and attempts again, to find a way out of no way.
5. It occurs to me that what I right now want for my children is to equip them with fight and armor and space for dreaming in the long, constant work of our trying to get free. I am trying to think like a poet, like a maroon—to tell our children that there were people who, even while under the most unimaginable duress, had the mind to find and keep refuge in the trees.