Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind


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Divine Memory and the Laurie Carlos Oracle

Laurie Carlos BlueLast month, as my first public work as Winton Chair at University of Minnesota, I was honored to listen to and love with many people in Laurie Carlos’s community of impact in the Twin Cities. Adriana Foreman made this beautiful video of one piece of that work, a circle called Divine Memory and the Laurie Carlos Oracle.

To open the circle and to deeply invite the gathered community to bring Laurie through I breathed, sang, moved, told and listened in the forms of my own recent ancestors Clyde Gumbs, Joseph McKenzie, Cynthia BrownTawnya Palmer and Chuck Davis.

So much gratitude to Zenzele IsokeSigne HarridayMankwe NdosiShaVunda BrownTalvin WilksJoi D. Lewis, and everyone gathered for embodying the oracle that day. Thank you to so many more for allowing me to listen to you all week. JunaudaErinBeverlyKimShannon, Mire, Eleanor, you were definitely there in spirit. In that mundane classroom on a snowy day, you taught me how deeply, how unconditionally, how beyond death, we are always in the presence of love. The impact of Laurie Carlos is nowhere near over in the Twin Cities and on the planet. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And more soon.

 

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52 of the top 100 reasons I am voting for Pierce Freelon for mayor

20819131_1212073938896803_305772942599286050_oToday early voting starts for the primary for Mayor of Durham and some key city council seats.  I am more excited about this election than I have ever been about any election (national or local) because this year Durham has the opportunity to elect a visionary Black artist and political thinker, an intergenerationally accountable LGBTQ ally, a humble feminist poet to play a key leadership role at a crucial moment in the history of our city.   Throughout his campaign and throughout my collaboration and friendship with Pierce, I have seen him do things that I have never seen any politician do to show his accountability, humility, integrity, character and leadership.   Never has a political campaign spoken so directly to my heart, my dreams and my hope for the city I love.  You can register to vote and vote in the primary at the same time.

Early voting locations:

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Early voting schedule:

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52 of my top 100 reasons to support Pierce Freelon for Mayor

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  1. because Pierce is an artist raised by artists
  2. because Durham needs the self-reflexivity and creativity that artists practice regularly
  3. because Pierce helped us move our awkwardly shaped couch up an uneven number of stairs and through a narrow door
  4. because Durham needs a mayor who is not afraid to do the work that no one else wants to do
  5. because Pierce is a hip hop artist who speaks up as an LGBTQ ally not just at events, not just in interviews but in the actual lyrics of his actual songs
  6. because Durham needs to learn to tell the truth because it is the truth, not only when it is convenient
  7. because i want to live in a city where all the residents are honored because of our existence, not only if we have money or political influence
  8. because when Harriet Tubman needed to get 800 people who had never known freedom off the plantation during the Combahee River raid, she used music
  9. because when Fannie Lou Hamer needed to empower poor black and white people in Mississippi to register to vote even when it meant they would lose their jobs, be evicted from their homes and be shot at that same night, she did it using music
  10. because when Ella Baker wanted to forge lasting relationships across class for freedom she used language arts
  11. because gentrification is a beast
  12. because I love Ras Baraka and Chris Christie hates him
  13. because I know Pierce listens to his ancestors
  14. because I know Pierce listens to his elders
  15. because I know Pierce listens to his sister
  16. because I know Pierce listens to his sistas
  17. because I know Pierce listens to his children
  18. because I know Pierce listens to your children
  19. because I know your children listen to Pierce
  20. because I know Pierce trusts his dreams
  21. because I trust my dreams with Pierce
  22. because Audre Lorde said “where is truth except in the poems”
  23. because June Jordan said “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for” and that seemed to work really well for a different young Black candidate who some people said was inexperienced for a different political position in recent history
  24. because Pierce has built unity all over the world in conditions without clean water
  25. because if you haven’t noticed this is not a time of politics as usual
  26. because Durham is ready for leadership that goes beyond basic into brave
  27. because Pierce is not afraid of complexity
  28. because an apology from Pierce is a real apology, not a public relations band-aid
  29. because Pierce is not afraid to be wrong and listen and then get right
  30. because Pierce still collaborates on a daily basis with people he went to E.K. Powe with
  31. because Pierce gives black feminists credit for their work
  32. because Pierce loves connecting people to their own creativity for its own sake
  33. because Pierce loves connecting people to each other for their own sake
  34. because Pierce knows the poetry of political science
  35. because that same time that Pierce helped us move the couch he also helped us donate the furniture we didn’t need to someone else who needed it
  36. because Durham has to learn to share resources across difference
  37. because there is no reason for Durham’s growth to mean the exclusion of the people who made Durham cool
  38. because everyone knows it’s the artists that made Durham cool enough for people from Brooklyn
  39. because Pierce is one of the people who made Durham cool (but not for the first time)
  40. because Pierce tells people I am one of the people who made Durham cool when I’m not in the room
  41. because Pierce is raised by a Mama who knows how to sing through to more parts of you than your ears
  42. because Pierce is raised by a Daddy who knows how to make dreams into solid structures
  43. because Pierce is raised next to a sister who knows how to make water damage into worlds of possibility
  44. because Pierce is raising children who believe in what they make
  45. because Pierce is married to a woman who supports her mother to explore her dreams
  46. because Granny Franny prophesied this moment I know she did. Wonderful
  47. because people who have never trusted any politician ever trust Pierce
  48. because I may be one of those people
  49. because a good leader knows how to assemble a team
  50. because Durham deserves a leader influenced by almost every city the world
  51. because Durham is not any other city in the world, this is our city
  52. because our dreams can actually come true


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Outlasting Everything: Breathing Affirmation in the Wake of Hurricane Harvey

pedagogies-picLast week during Brilliance Remastered‘s  When Wind and Water Got You Online Intensive, the seven of us who gathered and the nine of us who held the space had no idea what wind and water would do in the next few days.  As we closed the session and I packed to fly to Texas, I certainly didn’t know.   As we logged in from our various locations we noticed wind and rain communicating with us.  We noticed patterns from our past coming full circle.  We noticed the transformations we had dreamed of and worked for coming to fruition.  We noticed that we had new and deepened ways to describe where we had been and what had gotten us through.

Drawing on a poetic intergenerational map of Anguilla I made for the current issue of Ecotone, we created a sacred circle that allowed us to imagine a decolonial reclaiming of space, a space sacred enough that we could be in place without being entrapped in capitalist narratives, a circle wide enough to include named and unnamed ancestors, a circle deep enough to birth futures.

At the end of our time together we created a poem in honor of that which outlasts empires and lies.   We want to offer this closing poem to those whose lives are being most impacted by Hurricane Harvey (one of the names for what is happening).  We know that those most impacted are those people who we are accountable to, whose access to stability, shelter and safety is already undercut by the daily practices of the state.  We are dedicating this to ourselves and other survivors for whom each so-called natural disaster reveals the true costs of the ongoing social disaster that treats us as if we are expendable.   We are not expendable.  The indigenous, immigrant, queer, black, people of color, poor loved ones in Houston and other areas who are navigating this storm and the resulting floods are necessary.  We offer this as a mantra and a chant to honor the part of them and each of us that capitalism and doppler cannot see.  This is for the eternal in you.  Outlasting everything.

 

Outlasting Everything

 

by the participants in Brilliance Remastered’s When Wind and Water Got You Intensive

 

“there was us. there was only us. meaning water and blood and bone and stone and sun and change and we remain. outlasting everything.”

-from “Map of Anguilla” by Alexis Pauline Gumbs (in Ecotone 23)

 

spirit.

outlasting everything.

ancestral brilliance.

outlasting everything.

intergenerational love.

outlasting everything.

revolutionary commitment.

outlasting everything.

determination.

outlasting everything.

iridescence.

outlasting everything.

healing.

outlasting everything.

resilience.

outlasting everything.

expansion.

outlasting everything.

blueprints of wind and water.

outlasting everything.

positivity.

outlasting everything.

breath.

outlasting everything.

heart.

outlasting everything.

community.

outlasting everything.

spirit.

outlasting everything.

 

To stay updated on Brilliance Remastered’s online and in person intensives join our email list


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What Rain Can Do: Becoming Turquoise

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Photo by Michelle Lanier

Happy Anna Julia Cooper Day everyone!! This past Sunday, not so far from Anna Julia Cooper’s birthplace we gathered for a Sunday dinner celebration of intergenerational wisdom.  Of the blues, and growth and overcoming.   We ate ancestrally-sourced, and newly invented recipes with local and far-flung ingredients.   Special shout out to Mariel Eaves for a delicious vegan mango cake!!!!  We blessed the food with an original blessing song by Sangodare/ Julia Roxanne Wallace.

The theme text for our gathering was my poem “Xiuhatl or Becoming Turquoise” recently published in the anthology Imaniman: Poets Writing in the Anzalduan Borderlands.

Turquoise is created over centuries of interaction with groundwater, copper, iron and calcites and is sacred to many groups of people.  In Navajo tradition it is about communication with the rain maker (a key connection in the desert).  When my grandmother passed away, I was given her turquoise necklace, she was not Navajo (her indigenous ancestry is Algonquin, Shinnecock specifically) but was she was believed to be able to cause rain on the (at the time) drought beset island of Anguilla where she and my grandfather participated in the 1967 revolution.  (My grandmother designed the revolutionary Anguillian flag.

When my grandmother passed away I began to wear her jewelry as a way of keeping her close to me and in order to continue our conversation.  Her guidance is an important part of my daily life.   I especially wear the turquoise necklace an as any one who knows me has seen, it has had a decisive impact on my wardrobe.  I wear the color turquoise almost every day and my grandmother continues to have a healing impact on my life, supporting my commitment to use my voice as a portal for generations of love and to support other people in trusting their inner voices.

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Photo by Sangodare (Julia Roxanne Wallace)

On Sunday our conversation led us to think about how rain transforms us, and how the blues in our lives are related to our growth.   My grandmother, permanently impacted by her mother and sister’s struggles with mental health and their institutionalization in asylums, was committed to raising her voice and breaking the silence about mental health in West Indian communities.  She was a founder of the Caribbean Mental Health Association.   And at the same time that she worked to expose the underside of cultural silences and the locking away of women in order to keep up appearances, she also took a stand for beauty.  She founded the Anguilla Beautification Club, an organization devoted to growing beautiful flowers all over an island with hardly any rain.

On Sunday we talked about the connection between our blues, our loss and longing and the possibility of growth, even when it seems unlikely.  We talked about our grief.  Those people who we are missing, those experiences from the past that we long for, those necessary spaces and resources that are missing from our lives and the lives of those we love.   We sat with our loss and the ways that it opens us.

What are your blues right now? What have you lost?

We also talked about what we are growing our healing, our homes, our truth and our poems, our abundance and independence and peace.   We noticed that the longing, loss and lessons we experience also offer us clarity and urgency when it comes to our creative dreams.  We shared how the suffering of our ancestors inspires us to reclaim our pleasure.

What are you longing for? What are you growing? What are you reclaiming?

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Photo by Sangodare (Julia Roxanne Wallace)

We blessed a special carnelian stone for Eden who is on her way this coming week to her new educational journey at NC Science and Math.  We offered congratulations and comfort for her proud mama Michelle Lanier who held her in her body and in her home and is now supporting her to move out into the larger world.     At the prompting of our youngest participant Ananda who sang “Hiyayaya” as her mama Courtney Woods rocked her to sleep, we listened to the Clark Sisters song in honor of the wisdom of the church mothers.  We sang along and recognized this sound as an intergenerational sound of overcoming and elevating.  And Sangodare/Julia recruited us to create an ecumenical Clark Sisters Cover Band beyond religion.

Feel free to respond with what you are blue for, what you are growing, what you are singing, what instrument you want to play in the band and more.

Much love,

Lex

P.S.  Do you need space like this in your life? Next week is the last Brilliance Remastered Q&A. Sign up here if you want to participate.  And sign up closes a week from tomorrow for the last online intensive of the summer: When Wind and Water Got You: Place, Purpose, Past and Presence sign up or find out more here.

 

 


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M: Message from the Trees

A giant Tulip Poplar tree in Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest

 

Tomorrow (Thursday July, 27th) an important event will be happening here in Durham.  Check out Stories Happen in Forests at Motorco at 6pm. (Scroll down for details or click here.)  In honor of this event and with apologies for the fact that I will not be able to attend, I am posting an excerpt from my forthcoming book M Archive: After the End of the World that is in the voice of the trees.

excerpt from M Archive: After the End of the World

(forthcoming from Duke University Press 2018)

 

when they cut us down they found our layers, obvious as orbit. there was the year with the blood in the groundwater. there was the year of the sulfur in the sky. there was the year of bark turned blue with freezing (in the middle) in the middle of july. there was the time we focused on waiting. there was the time we warned them with lines. there was the season of not enough ozone and way too much sunshine.

when they cut us down they found us open to what they easily could have known if they had paid attention to any one of those seasons through which we had grown. we offered ourselves to their breathing. we offered ourselves to their homes. we offered ourselves to their dull admiration, their need for protection, their forehead intuition, the walks they walked thinking they were alone.   we chipped into pieces to soften their playgrounds, we bent in strips to ferment their drink. we made every component of their housing except the kitchen sink.

we watched and grew thick with the knowing, we bent with the load of their love. it’s not easy to be resilient when you feel from below and you see from above. we broke in the middle so often we thought we’d evolve past hearts. and we’d offer ourselves for release (but we want to see the next part.)

 

 

[i]“Trees remember and will whisper remembrances in your ear if you stay still and listen.”  Jacqui Alexander in “Remembering This Bridge Called My Back, Remembering Ourselves” 

 

STORIES HAPPEN IN FORESTS: A LIVE STORYTELLING EVENT

Stories Happen in Forests: A Live Storytelling Event

Join Dogwood Alliance at Motorco on July 27th, for an evening of storytelling and community-building in the spirit of forest protection and community justice. The night will feature 10 LIVE true, personal stories.

Our standing forests are awe-inspiring, critical for our well-being and survival, and hold an untold number of tales. Come listen to inspiring storytellers discuss forest protection, community action, and human connection to wild places.

For all you wanderers of the forests, stargazers, lovers of wild places, forest defenders, and folks that speak up for your community, this night is for you.

Tickets will be a suggested donation at the door for $10.
Donate $10/month for a special “Forest Defenders” t-shirt and membership.

Visionary storytellers include:
– Gary Phillips, poet laureate of Carrboro
– TC Muhammad, Hip Hop Caucus
– Dr. Thomas Easley, Forestry professor and Center for Diversity at NCSU
– Reverend Leo Woodberry
– Danna Smith, Dogwood Alliance
– Jodi Lasseter, Climate Justice Program Director, NC LCV
– Cole Rasenberger, youth activist
– BJ McManama, the Indigenous Environmental Network
– Margaux Escutin, Bear Afficionado and Durham Activist


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Accountable to You: A Cosmic Commitment Poem

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Yesterday was the first day of this month’s online intensive Becoming Turquoise: On Intergenerational Accountability.  We created an altar that transcends space and time, we reclaimed and renamed who we are and what and who has shaped/is shaping us.  We wrote, we laughed, we remembered.  We taught each other about our ancestors given and chosen.  We playfully called to the future.  We drew on the wisdom of generations of texts by women of color . We theorized the embodied and non-binary work of the word “her.”  We activated the oracle.  We looked in the mirror.   We learned new words and honored the power and pull of what we don’t know.   And together, we wrote this expansive poem about our accountability to give an account to you.   Enjoy.  Again it is best read aloud and even more divinely read together.

P.S. Don’t forget to send your questions and or sign up for tomorrow’s Q&A for Current and Future Grad Students!  You can get your questions answered even if you can’t log on tomorrow night.  Sign up here:  https://www.eventbrite.com/e/because-brillianceremastered-qa-for-current-and-future-grad-students-tickets-34931279397

 

accountable to you

 

by the participants in Becoming Turquoise: Intergenerational Accountability

 

accountable to the oceans

accountable to the sea snails

accountable to horses

accountable to trees

 

accountable to night

accountable to moonlight

accountable to breathing

accountable to being

 

accountable to the moment

accountable to this moment

accountable to the bigger mysteries you will never fully understand

accountable to little mysteries

accountable to the land

 

accountable to Elders

accountable to truth-telling

accountable to the little people

accountable to ancient transformers

 

accountable to those who died in revolutionary struggle

accountable to the smiles of all the children

accountable to petals

accountable to rain

 

accountable to heartbeat

accountable to the places where turquoise happens

accountable to stewards of the land

accountable to the beauty and silence and wisdom of caves

 

accountable to dolphins

accountable to whales

accountable to coral

accountable to birds

 

accountable to chasms

accountable to wind

accountable to salt

and all other crystals

 

accountable to the not-yet-born who are waiting

accountable to dreams

accountable to you


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that is all: final words from the beginning

tyson-mic-dropLast month’s cosmic online Brilliance Remastered Intensive “Begin: Seven Possible Futures for the Black Feminist Artist” was on some Alpha and Omega intensity.  Yes.  Because of the Solstice.  Yes. Because it was during Octavia Butler’s birthday.  Yes. Because it invoked the recent afro-futurist issue of Obsidian. And also because we committed to be reborn and renewed.  We created a chorus of affirmations for each other out of our deepest and most nagging fears. And we emerged from the intensive with some clarity we want to share with you.   So we are offering our final poem to you.   Once again, it works best out-loud. It works even better out-loud with a group of people repeating the refrain.   But if it’s the middle of the week and you are already ready to drop the mic, this is the poem for you either way.

P.S. Sign up closes FRIDAY for next week’s online intensive “Become Turquoise: Intergenerational Accountability” you can find out more or sign up here.

that is all

by the participants in Begin: Seven Possible Futures for the Black Feminist Artist

“it meant that life was precious and could spill. it meant spirit was sticky and could stay.

and actually that was all i was trying to say.”

-from “Seven Possible Futures for the Black Feminist Artist” by Alexis Pauline Gumbs in Obsidian Vol 42 Speculating Futures

that is all

by the participants in Begin: Seven Possible Futures for the Black Feminist Artist

let play move through you like prayer

that is all i was trying to say

all truth comes out in the cipher

that is all i was trying to say

we didn’t arrive here all greedy

that is all i was trying to say

we have three billion years of knowing in our bones

that is all i was trying to say

the function of all our organs is love

that is all i was trying to say

water your spirit regularly

that is all i was trying to say

trust your heart

that is all i was trying to say

you always get to keep yourself

that is all i was trying to say

redevelopment for whom?

that is all i was trying to say

home is where the homies are

that is all i was trying to say

the ancestors have instructions for revolutionary social change

that is all i was trying to say

love is the reason and the remedy

that is all i was trying to say

love wins

that is all i was trying to say

magic momentum movement manifestation

that is all i was trying to say

black feminism lives

that is all i was trying to say

black girls keep making art even when no one gets it

that is all i was trying to say

listen to sly and the family stone and all will be revealed

that is all i was trying to say

you already earned the stars

that is all i was trying to say

if you allowed your brilliance to shine it would power the world

that is all i was trying to say

Mama Octavia said “but there are other suns”

that is all i was trying to say

we can’t not deal with emotions in trying to make a revolution

that is all i was trying to say

there is so much more beneath the commodification

that is all i was trying to say

vanilla, sugar, rice and breathing are brown

that is all i was trying to say

poems and pyrex are both containers. fill them up. pass them around.

that is all i was trying to say

there is enough food and poetry for everyone

that is all i was trying to say

let prayer move through you like play

that is all i was trying to say