28 February 2022

Dear Everyone:

I want to say something to you all about the invasion of Ukraine currently underway, to acknowledge the sorrow and fury that is immediate to the assault on the people there, and to do so in a way that recognizes the specificity of this iteration of war-making without exceptionalizing it. I don’t want to turn away from all the other intensely difficult conditions — including war but also crushing poverty and other forms of violence — people are and have been living in and through, that are sometimes made the stuff of the evening news or even social media fodder and sometimes altogether absent from public discourse. And I want to acknowledge all this because I know you/we are in different ways affected by some aspects of these conditions, and some quite directly. I find don’t know how to do this except to be this explicit: I’m so sorry you’re confronting so much, living with so much, living through so much. I wish I had wisdom to offer as to how to dwell in and navigate the dissonance between history unfolding and the ordinary expectations of conducting our work as teachers and scholars; instead, as ever, I borrow from poets who, like Harmony Holiday, help us be “present for the cold ache” and apprehend the disassembling nature of doing so; I’m glad to share the full text of the poem from which I draw that line, below.

I’ve been thinking a lot about 9/11 these days — in part prompted by reading Homeland Elegies, by Akhtar Ayed — and remembering that that Tuesday morning, I was teaching the undergrad critical methods course in English at the University of Maryland. Actually, it’s not so much that day in particular but the weeks following that I’ve been thinking about. I remember creating space in the class for students to talk about whatever they wanted, bracketing the syllabus for more immediate urgencies, and most strikingly — and why I’m narrating this here — recalling that they decided instead to focus on the work we were reading — Lucille Clifton‘s Blessing the Boats. For just 75 minutes twice a week, they wanted to be relieved of having to contend with the weight of everything; a temporary refuge for which I was immensely grateful and from which I learned something about the sustaining power of working focusedly and collectively on an idea, a word, an image, a poem.

Perhaps it is that our seminars and gatherings and reading and writing groups can serve in this capacity — not at all as an escape or a turning away from the world, but instead the resting places that make the navigation of the world possible. I suppose this is my wish for us all — that indeed they are at least sometimes when you most need it.

It is along these lines that I offer thanks again to Natasha Ochshorn for organizing last Friday’s Forum which I’m so sad not to have been able to attend, and invite you all warmly to this week’s event (Friday, 4p per usual), featuring Professor Richard Perez. As Nancy Silverman‘s earlier message noted, Professor Perez will be offering a lecture titled “Anti-colonial Inscriptions.” The talk focuses on the presence and function of the face in Latinx writing: “For Latinx authors, the face serves not as a fact of identity, but as a generative, anti-colonial trope reimagined as a shifting form whose malleability incorporates the heterogeneous features of the Americas. Thus, the face offers an interplay of difference, confounding the aberrant binaries of coloniality, while standing in for the (dis)abilities and (bio)diversities that constitute Latinx life. This expressive range allows Latinx authors—from Cecile Pineda to Piri Thomas to Edward Rivera, among others—to delineate a phenomenology of freedom and re-envision a more just, unassimilated, future.” So resonant against the present, when faces are regularly obscured by masks, this lecture could not be more timely in this regard, to say nothing of the ongoing material impact of social difference organized by coloniality. I hope you’ll be able to join us! The event is free and open to the public and registration is required: https://www.gc.cuny.edu/events/anti-colonial-inscriptions-lecture-richard-perez

Abundant well wishes to all,


Do you find it hard to live?

By Harmony Holiday I mean to really live? Kick a spook in the stomach and commit to yourself and not be committed. Sit through another because I got it like that yoga class where a Coldplay soundtrack competes with the upbeat white chick reminding you to be present, to thank yourself for making it to your mat. Point to any place on the map and blow it up. Blow up spots. Why you gotta blow up spots? I loved Lebanon, never quite made it. I spit out the sudden ash with Don Cherry in Marrakech. I lifted one chiseled leg so high over my head Magic City had called and the ATL was ready to blow me up and I said, please. Do I do. What you do. Sing with me. Another shooter made it first and the ACLU was a petty bunch of pseudo-saviors but they blew up spots that one day. So many sad stories you start laughing at the wrong time and you thought yours was one ’til the time working at Ailey with the girl whose mom was killed by her very own daddy in front of the just-say-no rainbow she drew him in class. She wears heavy aquamarine eyeshadow and closes the gap between feeling and being. I’m glad you’re Dorothy Dandridge. Ban on that word, daddy. Banksy sees the zoo in you and cages hisself in bluer notes. I go wild and will, and will. Myth is a special kind of killer and I love her atonal smile. Without her we’d all go bye-bye, point to a place in the rap and make it a black hole, let it suck us in hug the cuckolded sucker emcees and let it hold us against our certain demolition. Without her you would find it hard to live. All the opiates would shrivel into sickle cell and all the blood running through the streets would keep on believing in bodies —  what obsolete machines, the only ones worth saving. Thank yourself for making it     for being present for the cold ache you sit with and rock into situations     for the way you exploded in nuclear winter and thought you had dreamed it     and made a new world bent as your denial     reached forth to caress it all and it shocked your fingertips     this is the bravest numbness

[copied from Poetry Foundation]


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