Tuesday, October 4, 2016

"What is the American Dream of a brown peson, except the dream of America leaving us alone?"


The best part of this poem is the last line, which does what good writing does: makes me look at the world differently. I live with a dog whose owner never never plays with it. It's allowed in the yard to run about and constantly yelled at for barking. And damned if that dog doesn't start barking right as I'm listening to this poem. Of course she barks. I would bark, too.

I first became aware of Danez's work at the 2014 National Poetry Slam in Oakland. Poetry is very important to me, and slam particularly so. I honed my skills as a writer at poetry open mics. A few things I learned:

1. Do not get a festival pass to a slam competition. You will end up hating slam.
2. It serves a unique purpose as far as being hiphop for conscious people. You cannot walk into a poetry slam and say oppressive shit. You will get hated on and shamed. If you're a mainstream rapper, you're encouraged to say such nonsense. Slam poetry is the safe space for outsiders, minorities within minorities.
3. It's not real poetry It's dramatic monologue. I can think of very few slam poems I've heard that would work on the page. I have seen few slam poets pay attention to things like meter, enjambment, all those words that come up in your graduate poetry class. But what's important is that they call it poetry. Stake their claim when they take the name of an art form that is, although a little under the radar, very important to white men. They sure do like their sonnets and villanelles, their Whitmans and Shakespeares and every other way they can say how cultured they are. Appropriation of the word "poetry" for something so formless, something that is straight up not poetry is, for me, an intensely subversive act.
4. Slam, at its best, can move me like no other artform. There have always been elements of slam in my writing. The climactic scene in "The Elvis Room" was written with slam cadence in mind. For me, that cadence almost works the way a song does in a Broadway musical. When my characters go about their lives, things can be minimalist or descriptive. But when they feel strong emotion, it turns into slam.

The Nationals were the first time I've seen Danez' work, and I'm pretty sure he did "Dinosaurs in the Hood." That's the one envisioning a 90s movie about fighting dinosaurs, where the people of color are empowered. It was interesting to later find it on my friend's poetry syllabus for her seventh grade class. I've taught it twice myself. The first time was with seventh graders who came from OUSD schools. The second time was with super rich kids at a private school in Dublin, CA. Both times it worked great. Like, "Can we see it again?" great.

I've seen Danez spit a few times, both solo and with the Dark Noise Collective. I suggest you (all eight of you; I check views like a fiend) go out and watch/read everything he's done. His work speaks directly to the genocide of black people. It's also blatantly fantastic, which is my jam. "Dinosaurs" drew me in by his delving full force into such a creative spec-fic scenario. "Alternate Heaven for Black Boys" works with Christian mythology to address genocide. Its based on the idea of black boys murdered by whites finding a paradise in death, which is profound in itself, but made moreso by how important the mythology of Heaven is to black people. Our ancestors were convinced to become Christians by being promised as a place where suffering ends, where you're no longer a slave, and I'm pretty sure the Heaven they envisioned was entirely black. Else it wouldn't be Heaven. I wish more writers in general would mine Christianity for its fantasy properties.

"Genisissy" is an Old Testament riff about the awesomeness of queerness. "Dear White People" (the one which spawned all kinds of dumbass responses from the aforementioned race) is about leaving this busted planet and going to space to get away from whites' racism. I wish I knew more poets who use fantasy elements not only to form the narrative (like Neil Gaiman does, and does well) but to get political. Saul Williams has always excelled at this, as well.

Anyway, enough fangirling. Right now I'm finishing up the manuscript for my new collection. Off to bang out a few more pages.

No comments:

Post a Comment