The thing I have always found inspiring about Loma’s politics is the tangibility of progress I see in the projects that they undertake. The Undocupoets campaign has successfully prompted prominent contests and opportunities for recognition (like the Yale Younger Series, the Academy of American Poets, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowships) to change their rules to be more inclusive. Moreover, their poetry, their tour, and their work editing Nepantla, a journal for queer poets of color, have been catalysts to wider conversations—both online and on college campuses--about QPOC writing, the importance of having POC editors, and the relationship between queer youth homelessness and mass incarceration in a police state.
During the discussion at Hopkins, they talked about how “as poets, our words are very important because [in addition to being a rehearsal of our desired realities] they create and morph our realities.” They traced this political and artistic lineage to Vanguard, a Pre-Stonewall social and political organization for queer homeless youth who were both artists and activists. In thinking about this in tandem with our reading for this week, I recalled Danez Smith’s poem, “a film for us,” in which he writes about his desired reality when he says:
“let me make us a movie, a home for all of us
to be in love with ourselves. I can make a world
where we know our fathers & our fathers know.
I can edit all the faggots out of their mouths
& away from the flames. I can make us kings.
we don’t have to be the jester or the firewood”
In Smith’s description of his art-making, he becomes the architect of his own reality, “representing [himself] as [the] agent of change” (Worley), like the queer youths in Vanguard.
At the Q&A session following the talk, Loma was asked about what individuals could do to help end queer youth homelessness, and they said “the most radical thing is to redistribute economic resources,” whether that means donating money to the Ali Forney center, or employing or providing housing to queer and trans folk of color. This struck a chord in me, as I’ve been questioning the extent of the role of poetry in activism. This is by no means a criticism of poetry, there is no doubt that poetry and art will continue to be impetuses for radical thought. Perhaps, I’ve just become a little restless, like Loma, “I don’t care if you read [this] work and talk about it with your friends at brunch” (Soto), the next step is radical action. I return to Audre Lorde, who said, “[p]oetry coins the language to express and charter this revolutionary demand, the implementation of that freedom. However, experience has taught us that action in the now is also necessary, always” (Sister Outsider 38). So here goes.
Part of taking this class on the intersections of poetry and social justice has meant unlearning internalized prejudices. Specifically, I am talking about how I am unlearning the privileging of a particular aesthetic over poetry that is explicitly political. This is not only a false dichotomy—one that implies that political poetry cannot occupy any and all aesthetics—but also, one implemented by the white male hegemony. If we don’t read poems by black folk, by women, by LGBTQA folk in classes titled “Introduction to Literary Study” or “Introduction to Poetry,” then it is implied that this work is not worthy of the space as art, as capital P “Poetry,” capital L “Literary”, in the same way as the work by the white straight males that our, white (straight) (male) professors ask us to read.
On this blog and in this class, we are throwing away the aesthetic hierarchy in favor of what is necessary, true, uncomfortable and provocative. But I don’t want this to be unlearned only to be retaught and reinforced in my remaining semesters at Hopkins. This brings me a pressing question, one that was actually brought up in our class discussion with Loma:
Why is it that there are no people of color on the Writing Seminars faculty? Furthermore, why is it that so few of our MFA students, who teach entry-level workshops, are people of color? Hopkins is one of a few creative writing programs for undergraduates out there, and it's shameful that we don't yet have any people of color on faculty.
So, as a use of my anger, as a rehearsal of my desired reality of the importance of including diverse voices and “political” poetry, and as a continuation of our class discussion with Loma who said someone should create a petition, I am doing just that. Hopkins just last semester announced a Faculty Diversity Initiative, so this week, I will be drafting a petition to ask for not only a more diverse faculty, but also more diverse syllabi and course registration options (so we can have more classes like this one). In the meantime, feel free to tweet @TheWritingSems or @JohnsHopkins about why there are no writers of color on faculty.
Lorde, Audre. “Poetry is Not a Luxury.” Sister Outsider. Trumansburg, NY: Crossing Press, 1984. 46-39. Print.
Soto, Christopher. "SAD GURL: The Consumption and Contextualization of POC Pain [by Christopher Soto]." 'The Best American Poetry Blog. The Best American Poetry, 23 Apr. 2015. Web. 13 Mar. 2016.
Worley, Jennifer. "'Street Power’ and the Claiming of Public Space: San Francisco’s Vanguard and Pre-Stonewall Queer Radicalism." Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex. By Eric A. Stanley and Nat Smith. Oakland, CA: AK, 2011. N. pag. Print.