Night, For Henry Dumas and From Woe to Wonder-Aracelis Girmay

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.

“The Poetesses: An Interview with Lisa Russ Spaar, Aracelis Girmay, and Daisy Fried” By BK Fisher

Night, For Henry Dumas- A. Girmay

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From Woe to Wonder

Zoom Presentations:

Cruz, Esmeralda

DaCosta, Alexander

Ding, Wanchun

Discussion Activity

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.

-Gwendolyn Brooks

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.

15 thoughts on “Night, For Henry Dumas and From Woe to Wonder-Aracelis Girmay”

  1. 2. I think that this quote is supposed to demonstrate the way that history is white washed and made to seem like it was not violent or abusive. Growing up and attending a public school, colonialism and the treatment of the native Americans was explained as a relationship that almost complimented each other. And later with slavery and the reconstruction period, the abuse that was really present during the time is not accurately described.

  2. Poem 1

    This poem is trying to explain how black and brown people are not looked at as equal. White people look down at them not considering them as citizens or “Americans.” This is due to colonialism and white supremacy. Coloniality is present, the same hierarchies continue to succeed and discriminate.

  3. From JOYCE REYES: 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?”

    This line highlights history repeating itself and in society today we see the racial injustice in America. I think it’s important to voice our personal experiences with the experiences of so many others. We help to illustrate the barriers around racial justice.

  4. From Karen Hernandez: Fist quote: “those people”, people who are racists among our people, who don’t accept us do not like the fact that we say that this is our home, this is where we are from, this is where are born. “They say our country is not ours”, meaning that because we are Latino, Black we shouldn’t be calling this country our home because “we don’t belong” as people.

  5. From Kevin Perez: Quote 1 Blacks, Latinos and Asians often have to deal with people telling us that we don’t belong, that we don’t have the right to certain things. To me, this quote reminds me that there are people who don’t want us to live up to our full potential. They want to deprive us of exploring the world and our opportunities.

  6. From Lisette Figueroa: I believe that what is being said in number 5 is that despite all the struggles that blacks and minorities in the general face and have faced, we have to learn and teach our children to be strong. That people who went through hardships came out alive and helped others along the way. People who were in positions that we can’t phantom had the strength to fight for the bit of freedom we enjoy today.

  7. From Alejandro Perez-Leon: “They do not like calling our country ours”- in other words, through this idea of color blindness racist white people fear that they are giving up land and resources, and also this power that has been given to them over other races. They fear that by sharing this country they are risking destroying this hierarchy that has been built, pertaining to the idea of coloniality.

  8. From Mateo Korini: There is a similarity between her quote 5 and Dr. King’s speech “I have a dream,” both thinking of the children and the future that awaits. From the quote, we get a strong sense of surviving and holding strong and proud toward the future while remembering the hardships.

  9. From Christine Miro: 5. It occurs to me that what I want is to equip my kids… Here we see an emphasis on educating children on an elementary level and forward, with facts that relate to their histories so that they are better prepared with “fight and armor” while also being able to find a balance where her children can still be that, children. “I am trying to think like a poet”, here too she is saying that she wants to teach her children in a way that teaches without destroying their hope or discouraging with the blunt hard truths.

  10. From Rosa Tejada: quote 1: I think it refers to Black people reminding people that enslaved Africans built this country, therefore they are entitled to it. White people need to learn how to share their power and land with Blacks, Latinos, and every ethnic group in the U.S.

  11. From Jessica Fontao: Number 1 – “Do not like Black among the colors” clearly shows how the color and symbol of black has always been perceived as negative. So negative that in a way it is portrayed as not part of the colors. Light is perceived as pure and good, while black as evil and darkness. Black market to describe the wrong selling of goods. And many more.

  12. From Celinda Gibbs: Poem number 1 ~ Gwendolyn Brooks explains that racists do not think that Black people belong in a country that they have fought for. This whole poem pertains to brutal discrimination.

  13. From Adrianna: Quote #4: this quote to me is talking about how she wants to teach her kids empowerment and the beauty of black culture. Learning about how the system truly works against them, its important to encourage pride and love towards themselves and black culture in general.

  14. From Yudelka Lopez: The 2nd quote to me is talking about how it is equally important not only for black parents (or parents of color in general) to teach their children about what it means to be black in society but also for white parents to teach their children what it means to be white in society and how their whiteness and perceived superiority in society affects others. In turn, this education will result in a better understanding of both sides as to why situations like George Floyd’s unjust death occurred and how as a society we can all play a part in changing. I would connect this with the Pena article and how she mentions that Latino studies are essential especially in our current situation. Without Latino Studies, we will not be able to educate ourselves and our future children on such issues and thus we will not be able to break the cycle.

  15. From Nichole Gomez: Quote 5.- I want my children to think of not just themselves but the community. To dream up their goals and think of how it might advance the community and to never forget that there were brave ancestors that came before them that dreamt and fought for their future. This reminds me of the first poem by Sandra Maria Esteves that talks about the ancestry and culture that we lost and what it means to build an identity and culture without that knowledge. Here, Gwendolyn Brooks shows that just knowing that our ancestors existed and fought for us gives us the strength to keep on pushing forward.

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