Death of a Discipline, Gayatri Spivak, 2002
Small arguments, Souvankam Thammavongsa, 2004
The True Blue of Islands, Pamela Mordecai, 2005
Fool-Fool Rose is Leaving Waiting in Vain Savannah, Lorna Goodison, 2005
blood.claat, d'bi young, 2005
Consensual Genocide, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, 2006
Demonic Grounds: Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle, Katherine McKittrick, 2006
Growing Up Girl, ed Michelle Sewell, 2006
Even though NPR news is playing (evidently even Massachusetts is considering banning gay marriage), even though a frustrating racist academic encounter is still replaying in my head...I am going to write about these texts based on the place that they put me (wonder) and the place that I read them, the fragile refuge of my mother's rented house.
I went home for a booksigning at Charis Bookstore (home) the feminist bookstore where my writerself grew up, the place that arranged a public reading and booksigning for me when i was nineteen and selling collage-poetic chapbooks to raise the money i needed to go to Brazil...the first place that put something i wrote in a frame on a wall when I was fifteen....home. Growing Up Girl is a miraculous and necessary book that I am proud to be part of with 89 other women writers. 5 of us wee at this last Atlanta booksigning and to be mis-called "rising rockstar" next to these brave stories (a 14 year old girl writing about a pregnancy scare, a disabled woman writing her mother's prayers against her falling, a 30 something woman writing a nursery rhyme to release the abuse of her late father, a 16 year old girl writing against suicide, a teacher writing a tribute to an 8th grade girl-student of her's), and to be there with the full row that is my family, including Jurina. Wonder.
I notice the preponderance of numbers in that paragraph above. And use it as a cheap and quick excuse to move to Souvankam Thammavongsa's Small Arguments, a small grey book that I almost didn't see in the Toronto Women's Bookstore. Through this series of poems about small things that seem natural (an orange, dragonfuit, a dragonfly, a firefly) Thammavongsa delicately and beautifully (without over-anthromorphizing) suggest different ways of looking at "how small a choice can be" through the bee-sting or what bruises mean through a blood orange. This book is so beautiful that I want to give it to my (also beautiful and somewhat small, but not at all gray) biologist-philospher-activist friend Kriti...but I left it (oh the peril of small books) at "home".
Speaking of the transitivity/fragility of home and the plight and light of small books, the reason Thammavongsa's name caught me (mild silver over a gray background in the back corner poetry section of the bookstore is beacuse she (with Una Lee and Sheila Sampath) created the small zine Big Boots that I wrote my senior thesis on (next to kitchen table press). Big Boots is small and great because they think closely about ancestry and food, and displacement and the possibility of queer brown sister homes. In fact...when they decided to make their mission not only explicitly women of colour-centric but also explicitly queer friendly they published a short and compelling poem (crazy girl on a red bike) by queer Sri Lankan slam poet (see diasporaflow.org) Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. And in that same corner guess whose bright colorful poetry book, cover designed by co-founder of diasporaflow Chamindika, I saw!? Leah Lakshmi's of course! Consensual Genocide is an irresitable title. If I've consented to all this...how can I refuse this bright book of queer honest, celebratory deviance, memorial reverence and a brave intimate stand against violence against women within 'conscious' poetic communities of color. I cannot. I say yes when she reminds me of the landmine in my heart and and I say no when she says that this is not the time to only remember the good things about the people we've loved who have hurt us the most. And I can finally comply with her advice not to "fuck anyone you wouldn't want to be". Because I am/in love with a black woman goddess healer artist spiritual force embodied who I said yes over all night long. So yes. Not to genocide but to this Suheir Hammad diaspora-flow-making-mango-collective-knowing-queer-youth-writing-workshop-leading-big-boots-published sista. Yes.
And d'bi young...i heard about this "blood.claat" play months ago while in Ottawa and said this i must see and then I left Toronto mere days before she performed it again. A Jamaican woman playing (biomythographically) all of the characters in a play about her girl self growing up and suffering through sexual abuse and a fear of blood (and a need for blood and the use of blood) while being raised by her grandmother and aunt in Jamaica (and being abused by her uncle). Blood becomes something else, something magical in this play...but what? A matrilineal reverence for bloodline protests something but produces something that I wonder if I can depend on. Enter to this mix the complication of translation by a Costa Rican sister whose translation is helped by the fact that Jamaican culture is "similar (if not the same)" --her parenthetical--- as Costa Rican (but does blood.claat=sangre...really?). Add the Klive Walker's suggestion that she carries the tradition of dub poets into womanism and the assertion that this play takes place exclusively in Jamaica even though it includes a scene of the mothers inTERRORgation by a Canadian immigration official ...this short play is doing a lot of diasporic connective work. More than blood should or can do I think (especially when relative rape and distance is so long).
It bolsters my heart to falling apart that women of color are writing poetry that says no, we will not be silent about the violence that we experience and witness in our communities and not it does not make us traitors. In the True Blue of Islands Pamela Mordecai calls out a "great writer" who beats his wife and prays for no more great writers if that is what it is going to mean. Let the commonwealth prize be damned if we can't think about the violence that the commonwealth means for the women that get beaten in common. And Mordecai does this in the same moment that she mourns the violent death of her younger brother who was shot in the Jamaican countryside as the true blue, naming authenticity as this need to speak against violence holistically, the true blue meaning to not sacrifice and breathing beloved one of us under some myth of greatness or nature.
Goodison's most recent book of short stories, also set in Jamaica or with diasporic Jamaicans calls out the "fellow comrades in three piece suits" from the perspective of a militant who is rotting away in jail, but still uses the possibility, probability, fictional ritual of marriage to frame almost every story. I am interested in what that means, what the possibility and complicatons of romantic and familial love have to do with the representation of the troubled nation. I wonder further because of her development of a beat of maternal love that goes all the way back to Africa in the story Temple Service where the spirit for an alternative community resides, is gleaned from...is got.
And now...for the critical work. I wonder if I will one day somehow be so interested in the academic space as a field of inquiry that I will be able to describe the contours of it as expertly as these feminist scholars do...not that I will ever be as expert at anything (including the calling out of privileged white people and my priviliged black self) as Spivak is. Ever. But Death of a Discipline is about an opening up and a calling out a recognition that (like Erna Brodber says) translation is the embodiment of thinking of the thoughtification of embodied experience or is more simply life and that reading is always the interpretation of dark figure that haunt us because we think we know what they mean. Use haunt to slip to McKittrick's Demonic Grounds.... (while I wonder why Spivak doesn't engage Wynter...they seem engaged in similar projects....)
McKittrick's (who I also met in Toronto...making useful comments about the difficulty of wrting an encyclopedia entry entitled "diaspora", of disavowing the impulse to make diaspora into a geographic mode through which space is organized and made ownable instead of a conceptual push that dissolves that tendency) book is the book that I have been looking for...in fact it is almost the book that I intend to write...except that it is a geography. Who else is writing about Dionne Brand and Sylvia Wynter with Edouard Glissant and the Combahee River Collective and Barbara Christian and the potential of interactive theater through Robbie McCauley. Her bibliography alone makes me possible. Her book pushes me to think about the spatial concerns of my project, on the ways that the women I am writing about/working with create spaces, create art as a three dimensional geographic concept, appropriate geographic meanings...remappp. She makes me wonder what it means for Dionne Brand in No Language is Neutral to love Trinidad in the form of "this is you girl" loving the Caribbean place as a woman (as reflection?) as a lesbian non procreative love...is this something to add to McKittrick's point that black women are invested in space because we have been marginalized by traditional geographies and the geographies that conceal them, but that we are not interested in owning that space...in relating to it through domination...(we are not interested in reproducing it? we are interested in a reproduction that doesn't mean ownership?) She makes me wonder what is geographical about the ritual that I'm trusting with my sistas in Greensboro tomorrow night...some unleashing, releasing fabric ritual (a strip dance in the most sacred sense) that allows me to unleash the silence of my assaulted body into a cloak for the planet's yes.