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tv   Author Discussion on Poetry and Activism  CSPAN  August 19, 2021 10:09pm-11:00pm EDT

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spoke with us me will send a follow-up e-mail with more information and the link to purchase nine nasty words o and also we wille assemble the books doctor mcwhorter mentioned and we are honored to welcome daniel mendelson in our next speaker series. for information visit our website. thank you for joining us. >> thank you very much. it was a pleasure.
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discussion of the roll in poetry and activism. >> a councilmember and your host for this presentation. before we get started, a quick plug to support the authors purchasing their book from the wonderful bookselling partners, politics and prose one of america's premier independent bookstores. we have links to purchase in the presentation description given all we have been through over the past year is so important to support local jobs in the local economy. i also want to extend a big thank you to our 2021 featured sponsor, david and michael
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blair family foundation for their generous support. let's get started. today we have with us for a claimedd poets to discuss poetry's role in social justice throughout history. with work spanning the pre- civil war through the modern era, the latest book grapples of patriarchy and other social issues. raising cain in the words of joseph himself urges readers to walk beside doctor martin luther king jr. from montgomery to memphis past police dogs, mobs and fire hoses listening to thoughts and hopes and fears. the author of four books of
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poetry in his poems appear in many publications including "the new york times" magazine and the los angeles times receiving multiple nominations and the 2012 library poetry prize for hisis poem. and was the mother of god. by broad potomac sure great poems in the early days of the nation's capital by tim roberts is the anthology of poems by both well-known and overlooked poets working and living in the capital from the city's founding in 1800 to 1930. included our poems by celebratedit writers such as francis scott key, walt whitman and frederick douglass as well as the work of lesser-known poets. kim roberts is the author of a literary guide to washington dc walking inlk the footsteps of
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american writers from francis scott key and five books of poems most recently the scientific method political af the hybrid book of poetry and prose focusing on topics such as race, corruption, gun violence police brutality reproductive freedom in sexual harassment and abuse of women. campbell is a writer, teacher, fellow and fiction editor receiving her msa from american university and the author of the novel of three other collections and
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cabinet of wrath. moderating the discussion between these three powerful poetss is an award-winning literary activist and author of two memoirs and several poetry collections he host the morning radio show and host and produces on tv which has the 2020 award. his latest book is god invented baseball awarded the 2019 literary award for poetry by the black caucus of the american library association. as a turn it over to all of you, the only regret i have is that we are not celebrating
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your work in person here in gaithersburg. we will do that next time. so for now, welcome. host: it is very nice to be with all of you. kim, let me start with you on january 6 with the attack on our capital. immediately many people made reference to the war of 1812. take us back and talk about with the j historical insight into what we just saw happen and a lot of the early poets
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and then to make political statements and commentary of the role of government in our lives so i started even from the earliest looking specifically for writers who were bringing up issues to resonate with us today who were writing about war and conflict and race, gender , economic inequities, culturalra differences, and you will not be surprised to know that there were a number of poetsl who were actively engaging with political
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issues. so i would say looking at 1812 and the early era, some of the most fascinating to me were about how the country was wrangling with race and identity and slavery and abolition. and you may or may not be aware that dc was the center for the internal slave trade in the country. it is a major center for the abolitionist movement. so there is a poet, a religious leader.
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and i am thinking of a specific : of the anthology called the sentinel of freedom. i will not read the whole thing. it is long. but if i just read maybe one stanza you can get a sense. because it is so powerful. the alters of bondage are blazing with fire, the slave in his chains is a whim sacrifice. the tone rises higher and higher but his god now in conflict not his cries the merchant and fear brings a gift to the altar and all in vain the demagogue to alter the union's sounded again and
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again always in vain in the almighty truth flashes brighter and quicker the earthquake a shattering the prisons and the period increases for each embassy each. host: thank you. because now i went to with that historical backdrop that now i want to ask a question so if you look back, then you all have books that appeared in 2020 and i feel the country he changed in the world changed in 2020 so what influence did the black lives
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matter o movement have on your life as a writer actually the black lives matter movement goes from cognitive dissonance how to even discuss race because my skin has been light enough to walk to the world as the white part i don't think all of the obstacles that my black cousins and my darker skin siblings might face. or how we even talk about these things is an obstacle because people like myself are necessarily part of that discussion that they are
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supposed to be warring so i have problems with how do i even start a sentence in this context because i myself am not the one at this risk necessarily. and even the languages barrier to come together in this context so even how we began to talk about these things. >> read about the trouble with pronouns. >> this came about because of the very problem i had conversations i didn't know how to start me sentence i wasn't sure if we should talk about we or they in this context i wrote my way out of it or threw it. this is called the trouble
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with pronouns so that is exactly why my lips and tongue freeze another unarmed black man and iro want to be clear but my pronouns aress a mess because i am mixed-race trying to explain in black and white how we and they might to bridge the gap so to lack the confidencees speaking out of a light-skinnedes blue-eyed face for the girls who lived in a mainstream middle-class to parent home in alaska, attending a multiethnic school and then to play with donny and marie dolls. so how am i black enough i don't feel like a caged bird
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singing actually have the bluest eyes and my dreams are not deferred they are actionable. so have i earned the right to say we? so how could my tongue insist upon meeting my teeth. by sitting in an interlocutor because that's the only place the black can get a job in the sixties. trying to untangle scholarship from racism in my classes. i did not earn them. did i? with the two uncomfortable thoughts spending too many years with rollers in my hair and relaxer in my regimen smiling that my nephew informs me that we share. how do nine not fear for my
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brother in a world where lawmen don't hesitate to say they are. my lips and tongue freeze and the debate rules line all next up in black and white. host: joseph, the question i have asked how has the black lives movement influenced you quick. >> it has influenced me a lot and many of the poems and a high school teacher here in washington dc and i watch the's young people walk through the world that doesn't think they matter much and to
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read the fears they have in their essays and trying to understand that and you learn from them personally im married to an african-american man. so the black lives matter movement and then concerns live in my house. and i live with those concerns all the time. and then for the poems i think recently as i have done more and more readings it's only been out for about six months now but i discover even some of the language of black lives matter in the poem a couple of themhe try to step into the voice of caretta scott king and i am mindful of the potential dangers but
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unconsciously some of the phrasing language shows up there. so what i want is for those to converge so the truth that black lives matter shows up in these poems and in the current formulation but there would be no daylight between his view of the world and complex and thoughtful critique of america and much of what black lives matter movement is saying and what it is today. >> so we think of king and the
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dream and then we look at langston hughes so you are an expert so in your new book you talk how his reputation has waxed and waned so now when we come to the black lives matter movement or january 6 do we look at whitman to restore belief in america or quick. >> that's a fascinating question. part of the reason why his reputation is because he is someone we have traditionally invested so much of our own interpretation so certainly his record is supporting people of color but yet he is
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an icon for lgbtq people so how much we read of the whole next picture as opposed to picking out different parts and changes depending on where we are at politically as well. so in the context of their times i tried where i could to give as much context as possible and and then to try and take what we can learn from the poetic forbearers and set aside those things that
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are not useful for that period so i think whitman is a great example and then to use one of his poems as the title poem. but i guess part of the way i want to respond to the non- whitman answer but whengy you put together the anthology you do so very consciously on yes of course i'm thrilled to have whitman in the book i cannot think of having an ontology without whitman but the reason why i wanted to put the book together where's actually to increase the number of women writers and writers of color
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working-class writers whose work is justt as good as whitman or langston hughes or the bigger names that we recognize for various reasons are not being remembered or taught in schools. host: i will quote you and have you display your words. [laughter] you wrote with the american dream some stolen man with your father's many that now here we are with joseph and kim so how are we supposed to respond to what you wrote? >> that particular image was directed at a particular person who has been very
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prominent in the past four years or so. but it is indicative of this promise of the american promise packaged to the 1 percent and this is done this that we are supposed to strive for ands aspire to and as tim said we know better than we can take a better look at the role models of the past and see them as complete human beings with all of their flies and strength and the idea is to come to a deeper understanding that is removing the scales from your eyes but that doesn't mean everything is eliminated. but we can see it for what it is to make her way in a more informed manner.
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so yes part of this discussion of removal of monuments and street name changing and so on and so forth. there has been a surprising for me, amount of resistance because once you see with that person has to for, and i'm talking about cases that exceed the standard of what they reasonably would have been expected at the time that there are people who exceed those limits in humanity and even in those cases there is resistance to changing names and monuments for various reasons. so that statement is all about saying to folks you been given an impossible dream so let's recalibrate and hold people to account.
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host: this is april 2021 mlk was assassinated in memphis so what lessons can we learn from king? >> goodness. a lot. my mindd immediately goes to some of the thinking that the dream language one of the most commonly known language ignores what people refer to as the whitewashing of king. so think about his critique of american culture and what he called militarism and poverty and racism. most americans have no idea of the complicated, thoughtful critique of culture and in some waysrd the international orderee that he makes through those three doors of
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militarism and consumerism or poverty and racism there is a time to read from and that provides a lens to see the world and the country in some ways that is describing a little more honestly and accurately so we can make better cultural decisions about who statue we put on a pedestal or who we name a building after. i have b always been struck by this. i don't know if doctor king ever said this explicitly but why do we think we can't critique our country and love that at the same time is just maddening to me. it just seems that doctor king had it exactly right that
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loving your country requires a critique and insistence to make things better. the flood of that is love it or leave it it is foolish and anti- intellectual and is not thoughtful and we have to do better than that. host: share with us one of your poems from your book. >> sure. thank you. >> a short little poem called it takes time there are three sections responding to three excerpts of his books and this poem responds to why we can't wait of the violence of 1963 doctor king wroteo we made it clear we would not send anyone out to demonstrate who had not convinced himself that he
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could endure violence of that retaliating so this promise called it takes time it takes time to learn this and must be proven in the light of day you will look him in the hand and love his fist to death. >> at the heart of his faith is deep belief in nonviolence and i hope that comes through in the bulk of the poems. bureau teachers at one time.
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so with a certain writers and also with the most recent book and to introduce fear important. and want to respond to that. >> and there are certain writers that i return to again and again but increasingly they are those that are less well-known. i was teaching alice dunbar nelson who was always overshadowed by her first husband and her work and her
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prose was so much but her poetry just continues to gather in force. and the writers who got their start during the harlem renaissance period and those who are best known to us now tend to be the male writers to new york. so i t feel that we need to widen the discussion more so i
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would like to read a poem because she is a local. go ahead. >> so she was one of the harlem renaissance era writers and published under her maiden name. i pledge allegiance to the flag. they dragged him nakedeo through the muddy streets of feebleminded black boys and the charge and upon the aged woman. of the unitedon states of america. for 1 mile they dragged him like a a sack of meal with a rope around his neck apply the ear dangling by the patriotic and a boy is 17. and to the republic for which it standss and then they hanged his body to a tree. with a county judge pleading for the battered human flesh were stifled by the raucous howls of men and boys and
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women brought out to see the blooded he spectacle of murder in 33. 3000 strong they were. one nation indivisible to make the tail completely built a fire. what matters the stuff they burned was flesh and bone and hair and wreaking gasoline. with liberty and justice they cut the rope in bits and passed them out for souvenirs among the men and boys to keep no doubt on golden chains well haying of along the favored next of sweethearts of wives and daughters and mothers and sisters, babies. for all. >> i love the way the pledge of allegiance is repurposed and now contemporary writers
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look ate the fundamental tax that is so contemporary for me. host: thank you for sharing. >> and broadening the aperture of what the goal is. to those that are actually writing it. so certain figures overshadowing other folks that were doing theer work as well.
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because deputy be the boys was writing speculative fiction as well. and that could be the face of sci-fi as well. so the letters i come back to her making the case by not making it explicit. and with the literary and fantastical fiction unapologetically and then to create a whole town to play again. so i find myself coming back to his stories again and again. host: what about you, joseph? >> i haveli been teaching american literature and have been given a lot of freedom. and then to build the course around frederick douglass who in some ways to discover that
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i grew up no teacher or professor ever said douglas or tubman or langston hughes in the classroom and how it was an undergraduate. and and then poet of george moses horton and with those four-line stanzas but is also very clear and crisp of his experience as the enslaved person. his biography is the most distinctive thing in american literature that they will experience.
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and then to sell the masters vegetables. and then to write poems for students girlfriends and unc students to give their girlfriends to realize they were a poet and became friends with the faculty professors wife who helped him to get the first couple of books published. and then ask if he can live in chapel hill and work on his poem and the slaveowner agreed as long as he pays a certain amount of money per day which he does. so then marries and has
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childre and then ending up at three books of his poems. host: that now i have to retain to remember. and with theac social justice and black lives matter movement and while we have this discussion and the major concern with the attacks against asian americans.
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>> so if we go back and this is whyo have so much admiration for you. and that is a great idea. and then doing that archaeological work and digging so to become a model for asian american writers as a contribution for american literature. >> it points out the inequities of the publishing industry. i do not include a single asian american poet in my anthology because the early
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era that i will look at, publishing was really not open to asian americans in a way t that would encourage people to try to share their work in a more public way. and in my survey there are no asian americans however it doesn't mean that they are actively writing but then not publishing in mainstream newspapers and journals and with that foundation behind you is crucial work. and you have an excellent point to start looking at
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specific communities and certainly with my own teaching i teach a lot of more contemporary asian writers specifically as a place to start and then to do that type of digging and we don't just appear to stand on the shoulders of those who come >> i have to say that my approach has been more
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holistic and then to focus on asian and asian american authors so one thing i do like to do teaching my science-fiction classes is with writers of color and women andnd a good resource for that is the anthology that focuses specifically on speculative fiction and then as an answer to those and then to voting down and with the
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anthologies series to elevate the work of women and people of color so those are the sources i draw upon and specifically go through to try to be representative in my classes in terms of what work i put in front of students. >> i underlined the concern and for me as a high school teacher it ties into who gets published where and what anthology includes what writers. the american lit classes that i teach but that's not enough or novelist name whose falling out of my head with convenient
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storee or woman that the book is amazing i have been limited with those anthologies with that body of anthology with the choices of asian american authors. so we have to do better at that. >> . >> and what kind of world would you dream? >> it is essential like moving to mars.
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and then maybe get it right this time. >> i guess i would go back to the importance the widest range of voices and we need literature for two reasons. and then expose us to why it is outside of our experience and that what reflects our experience. and if our literature only reflects the experience of the american population, then we have failed. so to open the canon and continuing to educate yourself is crucial. >> my answer is a little basic.
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because fear is a s powerful tool for survival. but we shouldn't fear folks from looking different are acting different or any of the reasons we have been told so if we can better direct our fear for her truly productive things that we need to look out for to survive i think that could be a group cause >> could you close that you find inspirational that would keep us warm? >> yes.
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it also plays on the langston hughes construction the second poem is called 1963. doctor king begins why we can't wait describing a boy sitting on the stoop in harlem and a girl working the field in alabama and he goes on to reflect from their about the hopelessness. 1963. a boy sits on his stoop. the house liens hopeless the rats love him and his family. they know him. he has nowhere to go. nowhere to be. he dreams of nowhere. when here wakes up after dreams of nowhere he goes nowhere. he forgetshi him. the school forgets him and the parents are exhausted and forget him. nowhere explored. and a girl sits on her stoop
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that is older is a grandmother but not as sturdy. the field were her parents work as dusty as she has been not as angry. she sits and remembers dual —- school that they shout more period them books. this is the year. people will sing and the melody that hurts and the rhythm that burns and aflame so hot fire hoses go against walls their judges and county clerks the governor and country cannot extinguish anything. host: thank you i guess i would close you to say why are we still waiting? and that they could have a path to the future to be filled with light and joy so thank you for being here.
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>> thank you. >> that was a really interesting conversation and as we are having that uncomfortable conversation about devising plans a interracial equity i just want to go back to something that stood out the we're living in a very challenging time and you cannot love your country and criticize it at the same time because you know there are better ways to not only govern but navigate to a more just society. i really enjoyed this
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discussion. thank you all so much for being here with us. >> later with what has happened in all of us walking behind masks these events january 6th at the capital and the election. >> and to have blood in the air overall and then really was the fifth day of spring to see it unfold. and then to meet people along the way and then to understand where we were as a country.
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>> i honestly don't remember how long we were in that situation between the time the barricaded the door and the time we got out. i was told it was about 20 minutes. it could've been two hours or five minutes but i had no sense of time whatsoever. i remember when i got off the phone with my kids come i felt
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as if my heart was pounding out of my chest. and i felt, i was very worried i was having a heart attack. i never had one but my father has we have family history. so i was worried about that. and that i must've put my hand up to my chest because that photograph of me showing one —- showing me line that one —- lying on my back. i don't remember that but i do remember jason taking my hand stroking it and comforting me telling me i will be okay. and being perplexed he was reassuring me because i did not realize i was showing how upset i was.


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