Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Of Ferguson and a Black American Future


Of Ferguson and a Black American Future

Roughly a year and a half ago, I sat in a South Side Chicago bar with two white friends as the travesty of the Zimmerman verdict was read.  I was floored, destroyed – as if I hadn’t seen this before, as if I didn’t know.  I cried that evening and the following day too when we convened a space at Young Chicago Authors for young people to come and vent, to tell us how they felt about what had just transpired.  Father of a two-month old when that verdict dropped, I wondered what I would tell her about that moment and how I responded.  What would I do to change the country’s culture, that succeed or fail, I could point to the fact that I worked and I threw my shoulder against the boulder constantly rolling back down onto our heads.

As the Grand Jury handed down its non-indictment last night, that baby girl is 18 months old.  She says about 20 words, including most recently fuck, bless you and keys.  She walks through the house pointing at pictures of me and yelling Papa!  It’s happening quickly.  She’s willful and opinionated.  When the Zimmerman verdict on Trayvon Martin’s murder came down I imagined having to answer her questions on the subject in 15 years.  Now I’m thinking I have 7 years tops.

When I got the news that Mike Brown was killed I was numb.  In the interim since Trayvon, we’d dealt with Rekia Boyd and Jordan ______.  I didn’t know what to do anymore with my unforgiveable blackness, its challenge apparently to all good sense by simply being.  Except for work and the child, I stayed in bed for a week.  I didn’t attend any vigils.  I didn’t share any opinions on the various social media platforms.  I was subsumed by my black inefficacy and disempowerment in the world.  I figured I’d leave the rage this time to the young people.  I was cried out.  I had my own problems.  I needed to conserve my energy I reasoned. I didn’t try to figure out how to lend my energy and voice to the discourse until this past Columbus Day when I resolved I’d go to Ferguson to see what was happening, to learn how this next generation of young folk was fighting for theirs, to see how I might help.  The response in St. Louis to the oppression there; the oppression that brought the murder of Mike Brown by Darren Wilson, has been tremendous and the state response to it has been an equivalent hammer.  The most egregious example of American police militarization in perhaps, ever, was visited on the youth, and that movement got its legs from the energy, voices and bodies of disenfranchised St. Louis youth who call themselves Lost Voices.  History will certainly tell us that Ferguson was when the torch got passed from the Civil rights movement to another completely different generation.  No linked arms and we shall overcome(s), no hymns, no discussions of non-violence.  This was a generation of teargas canisters caught and hurled back, hip-hop the percussive soundtrack that signaled we older activist types had to stand back and offer our support and nothing else.

The State has of course decided that it will further underscore the extent to which Black Lives do not matter to it, by not indicting Darren Wilson, much less convicting him.  The horizon appears to be limitless for the kind of hurt and pain that will be expressed as we rage against the hundreds year old machine/culture that is telling us once again that we must adjust when our young are killed – that there is no onus on white authority to re-think how they police, or more importantly, how they race – how American history has brought us inexorably to this point by refusing to deal with the legacy of the country’s building.  Indeed, it is more than a refusal, but a deliberate using of that history to exacerbate animosities amongst populations and keep real profits accruing to a white and powerful elite.

How then to fight such a thing.  A year and a half ago I proposed an idea called Occupy Whiteness.  This is some of what I was thinking then:

In the frustration, I’m asking myself time and again, how do we force whiteness in America to recognize the right of people of color to be wherever they want to be.  This exclusivity of space is a question at the center of the culture that has defined America racially and it has made its way from Reconstruction through Jim Crow, through residential redlining, through de facto segregated public schooling, up until today.  People of color have been made to feel, generationally, that some space is “white people space.”  Segregation’s dirty work continued institutionally in housing and education, make sure that black people here, like the folks in Cape Town that day, know that they don’t belong.  So we don’t try to, and in so doing we reinforce for whiteness in America, that there are indeed spaces we will not/should not show up in.  I have a fantasy in which Zimmerman goes out on patrol, and there are ten black boys going about their business in different parts of the neighborhood, and it confuses Zimmerman and he doesn’t know whom to profile, and fatigued, he says to himself ‘Well I guess niggas live here now’ and he goes back home and Trayvon Martin lives to become something extraordinary.  OccupyWhiteness aims to address this fantasy.  It aims to make it so.

What:
OccupyWhiteness is an initiative which seeks to encourage young people of color to go into spaces they do not think of as ‘theirs’, spaces which they see as ‘white’, and create cultural shift in those spaces, simply by being there in numbers.  Public spaces of corporate buildings, public beaches in neighborhoods not their own, museums, the opera, parks, restaurants and the like. 

How:
Young people of color in groups of 3 or more will visit an event, location of their choice.  They’ll simply enjoy themselves there.  They will also observe their surroundings and round table after their outings to talk about what they noticed, what they felt like etc. There are no accompanying adults. In this way, the young people are both companions on an outing and support system for one another in negotiating whiteness in public spaces.

Who:
This is for young people of color between the ages of 16 and 24.  They should be old enough that their parents already let them out socially on their own, and young enough that they’re still part of a rough peer group.  Ideally the youth going out on any given outing should be friends, or have at least met with one another once before.  There must be a level of comfort with one another.

I no longer know if this is a possibility for me to spearhead.  Indeed, more each day I wonder if an initiative like this puts our youth more and more in danger.  But there is work to be done in several quarters if we are to force America towards examining its History, and of course its contemporary situation.  A disdain has been forged between the working class white population and people of color.  This working class white population from among whom are culled the police, fire services, all of manufacturing America that has been sold out by big business so as to manufacture just about everything more cheaply overseas and create a fake prosperity here by making available all sorts of consumables which convince us we are free.

This okey doke is made possible by centralizing the prison industrial complex as one of working class white America’s number one employers and further upping the social ante on the need for warm black bodies to fill those prisons.  The narrative that requires this also requires that those bodies be seen as dangerous - that even when they are children’s bodies they be seen as capable of adult violence, and so they must be treated as such, charged as such, their schools occupied as such, the very vision of them approaching you (or running away) a clear need to ‘stand your ground’ by making sure they have none to stand on.

On Thursday the celebration of the occupation and dominance of North America commonly known as Thanksgiving Day could not be a better time to begin a visible action.  What if we post nothing on Thursday except the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’, as often as we feel like.  No commentary, no articles, no analysis of TV shows, no fine booties or handsome beards – just ‘Black Lives Matter’ all day Thursday – on twitter, instagram, facebook, pinterest, tumblr – whatever.  And then Friday make a concerted effort to not buy anything.  Nothing whatsoever. #NoBuyFriday not online not in a store not offshore – nothing.  #BlackLivesMatter Thursday #NoBuyFriday on Friday.  It’s how we begin to Occupy Whiteness – at the point of the weapon used to render us a threat from time immemorial.  You all have to begin and I have to begin.  Nina is talking more each day; catching up fast.  My time is running out.






To schedule a reading or an appearance please contact Ofer Ziv at Blue Flower Arts at 845-677-8559 or email ofer@blueflowerarts.com. www.facebook.com/rogerbonairagard www.twitter.com/rogerbonair www.cypherbooks.com

Monday, June 23, 2014

Why we watch(ed) Brazil or Why the score doesn't Always Matter

is in this literary sports journal Some Call it Ballin.  Read it here.  Read a host of other amazing sports pieces as well.


http://www.somecallitballin.com/why-we-watched-brazil-bonair-agard


To schedule a reading or an appearance please contact Ofer Ziv at Blue Flower Arts at 845-677-8559 or email ofer@blueflowerarts.com. www.facebook.com/rogerbonairagard www.twitter.com/rogerbonair www.cypherbooks.com

Monday, June 09, 2014

Ladies First 2014 - Sports and Music



Ladies First 2014 - Sports and Music
These days, on the eve of the FIFA World Cup in Brazil I am gearing up, as I have every World Cup since 1974 to spend countless hours behind a television screen overdosing on football. 
I am a Trinidadian, and my friends and I grew up marveling at the beautiful game by watching the Brazilians.  We saw the tail end of Pele’s magical career and came of age as Brazil’s 1982 squad – the most breathtaking team to not win the Cup – made us all more intelligent and imaginative by playing a brand of football that taught us for the first time something about sport and our innermost social, political, cultural, individual selves.
As players, we were learning (consciously) for the first time about rhythm’s role in the game, located as both are, in the body.  We started studying Brazil’s practices and had our own aha moment when we saw them coordinate warm-ups to the sound of samba.
We recognized our similar African roots and the ways in which our game had to mimic and where it had to diverge.  There would forever be a connection for us between sports and music.
Today, as a writer and sport geek, it is hard not to see how the American – in particular the African-American experience vindicates that understanding.  Black athletes have played a blues informed baseball, a hip-hop informed basketball – all these endeavours informed by the spirit of innovating of the masters’ tools and syncretizing them with one’s own.  As a sport fan, it is a glorious moment to be witnessing and studying the confluences.
And as an artist and music fan then, I’m excited about this year’s edition of Ladies’ First.  Created about two years ago by Lynn Bechtold, Keve Willson and Milica Paranosic Ladies First is a concert series with an idea to connect women of different networks through music and performance.  Each year they present a different angle, feature a different profession, and honor some major ladies in the field.
The series is co-produced by Composers Concordance and the Czech Center NY.
This year, their focus is on the connection between Music and Sports.  It falls on the second day of FIFA World Cup Brazil, and it will present 11 compositions, each dedicated to and inspired by a different sport.
You have. Check. This. Out.  Go see the concerts and meet inspiring athlete women.
Ladies First 2014
Friday 7pm
13 June 2013
Bohemian National Hall
321 E 73rd Street NYC 10021

Music and performances by Lynn BechtoldKen Butler (Tzadik records), Vicky Chow(Bang on Can), Dan Cooper (Ute Lemper/Sound Liberation/Erbium), Valerie Coleman(Imani Winds), Lori Cotler (AKA Loire)Jennifer DeVore (Zentripetal), Patrick Grant (Tilted Axes: Music for Mobile Electric Guitars),  Roxan Jurkevich (Barcelona Symphony Orchestra), Milica ParanosicGene Pritsker (Sound Liberation/Absolute Ensemble), Mioi Takeda (Miolina), Michiyo SuzukiKeve Wilson and Czech electroacoustic duo DVA.
Featured athletes include Emma Hayes of Chelsea LadiesSonya “The Scholar” Lamonakis and the 1987 world weightlifting champion Karyn Marshall.
image

To schedule a reading or an appearance please contact Ofer Ziv at Blue Flower Arts at 845-677-8559 or email ofer@blueflowerarts.com. www.facebook.com/rogerbonairagard www.twitter.com/rogerbonair www.cypherbooks.com

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Number 11 for National Poetry Month - National Botanical Gardens, 1986 by Roger Bonair-Agard (recording)

https://soundcloud.com/rogerbonair/national-botanic-gardens-1986

For my last entry for National Poetry Month, i indulge my own poetry.  This is the closing piece of my most recent collection, Bury My Cothes.  It is 16plus minutes long, and like collection’s opening piece blurs the lines between memoir, short story and poetry - the latter perhaps, only because it’s in a poetry collection.
There is some risk to toying with the idea of genre like this, except that the separations amongst genres are so often artificial and semantic.  The piece documents one of the last big events in my life in Trinidad before i emigrate to New York.  It is the story of a car crash and the attendant minor violences of my young life there, with a foreshadowing to some of the more significant violences Trinidad has come to know. The book is concerned with violence in African diasporic art and therefore, also, with the violences in my own life - those inflicted on me and by me.  It makes it a large book, as poetry collections go.
The book, my third, is my best effort so far i think.  It is certainly my most ambitious.  Give it a shot, my shameless self-promotion notwithstanding.  It is available from Haymarket Books (haymarketbooks.org) and in many fine bookstores.
Hope National Poetry Month was good to you.
rba




To schedule a reading or an appearance please contact Ofer Ziv at Blue Flower Arts at 845-677-8559 or email ofer@blueflowerarts.com. www.facebook.com/rogerbonairagard www.twitter.com/rogerbonair www.cypherbooks.com

Friday, April 18, 2014

#10 for National Poetry Month - one turn around the sun by Tim Seibles recorded by Roger Bonair-Agard

Long Poem by Tim Seibles recorded by Roger Bonair-Agard w/ cameos by Nina Jane Merrill Bonair-Agard
To be perfectly transparent, Tim Seibles is a mentor of mine.  I love his work.  I love the conversation of it partly because - and this is why sometimes we choose the mentors we do - i like to believe that something of that conversation appears in my own work.  Seibles’ work with a long poem is particularly deft.  I imagine that his ability to concentrate an intensity of purpose, language and passion in a line, a word and phrase; and then sustain it for - in this case eighteen and a half minutes; is mine.  I want it to be mine so desperately, because his poems are at once so perfectly personal and political at the same damn time that you’re left marveling at the poem’s ability to achieve that AND not implode at the same time, like what you imagine might happen if you time-travelled and came into contact with yourself.  All of us hoping we’re writing poems that deconstruct and explain our world(s) in a way that souls might be able to read/parse and here’s Seibles writing the soul so that the universe might parse it.
Look, you have to find the 20 minutes in your day, your night right now to listen to this poem.  So many times we’re moved to wish we could get back some time we just spend watching, listening to, doing some inane thing.  We get to experience so little that we’d willingly give the universe back 20minutes in gratitude for.  This might be one such block of time.  Listen to this poem and then go love your girl or your boy or your child or your own lonely skin harder.

https://soundcloud.com/rogerbonair/one-turn-around-the-sun-by-tim

To schedule a reading or an appearance please contact Ofer Ziv at Blue Flower Arts at 845-677-8559 or email ofer@blueflowerarts.com. www.facebook.com/rogerbonairagard www.twitter.com/rogerbonair www.cypherbooks.com

#9 for National Poetry Month - claim - for the ocean by Roger Bonair-Agard

a recorded poem of my own for #9. claim - for the ocean, which appeared in the journal Drunken Boat earlier this year.

get it.

https://soundcloud.com/rogerbonair/claim-for-the-ocean-dec-9-by


To schedule a reading or an appearance please contact Ofer Ziv at Blue Flower Arts at 845-677-8559 or email ofer@blueflowerarts.com. www.facebook.com/rogerbonairagard www.twitter.com/rogerbonair www.cypherbooks.com

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

#8 for National Poetry Month - On Hiking the Smoky Mountains - First Draft

On Hiking the Smoky Mountains, Tennessee

 I keep thinking about the Cherokee
on their land some 40 odd miles away –
the word reservation – as in something reserved
for.  I keep thinking about this
land that is no-one’s and for which so many
have deeds – pieces of paper marked and stamped
with the state’s seal – a proclamation that makes
it so.  And so of course I think
of my own black skin   in this South
in these mountains – the place of the Blue
Smoke the Cherokee called it – and how
on edge I am in it   such that I’ve a knife
dangling from my waist  a hunting knife
inscribed with a stamp that says something
of the Chippewa nation.  To be sure
I have never cut a man   but there have
been bottles broken   pockets full of rocks    
a baseball bat all meant towards grave
harm and thank God it never has quite come
to that.  But here again these good folk look
through me as though their being here has nothing
to do with my being here – carefully cataloging
the trillium and the showy orchids and the violets
and the hemlock and the deer and the blue heron
and the black bear – all of which the Cherokee
had names and stories for long before these good
folk had deeds.  I keep thinking about how
it’s a good bet none of these Cherokee come
here to hike – to walk for the sake of walking
this land which they once felt free to walk.
I’m thinking again   of course   about
the girl with us     my best made thing
and what I want to teach her about land
and people and respect and how maybe
the only way to do it is to take her down
to the reservation and sit in a bar there and tell
stories – the ones I was told about land
and hope that there we each hear a more
familiar song – something of smoke
and gods and nations – something to make
us feel free in our skins without all the sharp
edges we think we need to get by.




To schedule a reading or an appearance please contact Ofer Ziv at Blue Flower Arts at 845-677-8559 or email ofer@blueflowerarts.com. www.facebook.com/rogerbonairagard www.twitter.com/rogerbonair www.cypherbooks.com

Saturday, April 12, 2014

#7 for National Poetry Month - Roger records Negores with Guns by Nikki Finney

Nikki Finney’s work (and her mentorship) has been re-casting my sensibility of my own voice for many years now.  Her poems stay steeped in personal and public history in a way that won’t let us forget that the one cannot actually relinquish the other.
This poem, to my reading, epitomizes and essentializes this work of Finney’s.  It is sublime, her ‘map’ of the American South here.  She has always been particularly skilled at this specific portraiture and its nuances of love and hostility, but here the artist’s brushstrokes have become even finer, more exact.  I chose to record this poem in part because of the brilliant sonic evocation of the repetition - how among other things, she echoes gunfire’s retort while holding the entire scene in the well cared for and familial love of these black folk, teaching their daughter to survive in the only way they know how.
If one can achieve the duende in the word before the word is actually uttered, then it is achieved here - the soaring, the lifting, the contracting with writer and reader to be transported into new understandings of love and fight and black people.  I hope you dig it.

https://soundcloud.com/rogerbonair/negroes-with-guns-by-nikkey

To schedule a reading or an appearance please contact Ofer Ziv at Blue Flower Arts at 845-677-8559 or email ofer@blueflowerarts.com. www.facebook.com/rogerbonairagard www.twitter.com/rogerbonair www.cypherbooks.com

#6 for National Poetry Month - first draft offering - On Nina's climbing stairs

On Nina’s climbing stairs

The little one is climbing
stairs. Today   for the first time
I call her strong girl    I call
her young homie    I do not
call her pretty   or even
beautiful          I call
to her from imagined conversations
in our future     In these reasonings
she is saving me   again.  She is
refusing to let me be
anything but my best strongest unkillable
self.      The young homie’s gaze
doesn’t waver     she questions
me with the resolve of a prosecutor
She will hold me guilty for anything less
than refusing to die      every day
she comes to the well with me.
She bids me      drink father   live
The little one is climbing stairs
today               for the first
time


To schedule a reading or an appearance please contact Ofer Ziv at Blue Flower Arts at 845-677-8559 or email ofer@blueflowerarts.com. www.facebook.com/rogerbonairagard www.twitter.com/rogerbonair www.cypherbooks.com