Monday, November 21, 2011

Afaa Weaver Poetry Reading

“… we are genes
we are the art of the mind of some great emptiness above
or here below inside the bulb of a beet, things that grow
underground and thrive on darkness, the humble fullness
                                                                of light.” – Afaa Weaver, Theme for Intermediate Chinese

Such an amazing poetry event. Everyone really enjoyed the interview and the reading. Thanks again to those who came out and contributed to this special evening.

Interview with Honoree Jeffers
During the interview with Honoree Jeffers, Afaa Weaver described his background, childhood and distinct memories that have made him who he is today and that are reflected in his poetry. He grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, in a neighborhood very similar to that depicted by the HBO TV series, “The Wire”.

“I’m a survivor,” Weaver said. “Black men barely made it past forty.”

Weaver discussed how the 1970s were a very difficult time in the United States and spoke about how he marched in protests against the war in Vietnam and how he was tear-gassed when he was eighteen years old. This was the fall after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.

Weaver discussed how his father’s family were sharecroppers, and how no one in his family had gone to college until his relative married a woman who had a degree in Chemistry. Weaver attended The University Maryland, where he began writing as a 16-years-old freshman. In the 1970s he made a firm commitment to being a writer and a poet. He published his first poem in 1974. In the late 70’s and early 80’s, Weaver worked at a factory packaging and manufacturing steel. He discussed how difficult it was to maintain a creative and artistic life during this time. He was eventually able to work in the warehouse, though, where he and his coworkers had a system of taking turns reading and writing while someone else served as a look-out. He remembers reading an Intro to Western Philosophy while also writing stories as a journalist. When Weaver told his coworkers he had applied to Brown University, they all laughed at him. He was accepted. This was during the Black Arts Movement and there was an abundance of intellectual artists and writers whom Weaver was eventually able to connect with. People like Gwendolyn Brooks, Rita Dove and George Bass, Langston Hughes’ secretary, who took Weaver in when he felt uncomfortable and overwhelmed at the mostly all-white University in the midst of violence and riots.

Poetry Discussion
Afaa Weaver talked about the concept of “home” that is intertwined with his personal trauma as a child and the national trauma that was taking place at the time.

“Displacement from your home is a displaced seed of your language,” Weaver said. “It’s not about uncovering past memories, but filling in the missing spaces.”

Weaver explained his hidden issues of anger from the trauma of his abusive childhood, and why he decided to study Daoism. He looks at his poetry over the years as a movement, removing or emptying layers, recognizing the full range of emotion within himself, realizing his own humanity and the enormity of human change, and reaching peace through detachment/emptiness or meditation. The pursuit of the lyric, confessional voice eventually led him to his trauma.

“To be able to tap into that emotion, avoid the journalistic stance in poetry narrative and break into a new immediacy with your own experiences requires engagement with the process of meditation,” he said.

He told us a quote that his teacher tells him: “When these things arise, do not talk to them.” This is referring to dark thoughts that may arise during meditation, and it is best to not engage them. This is the same when writing a poem. The past may arise, and you can force the past to deconstruct itself, but if you engage it, it will become aggravated. When the poem begins to deconstruct itself, it becomes its own thing, existing separately as images, thoughts, etc. This is very interesting to me, as I thought about emptiness and the concept that everything is nothing, existing as its own thing, until the imagination and/or the human gives it life or meaning. Even a poem. It should mean something different to whoever reads it. And this is the irony of writing a poem. It is channeled by the writer, has its own path, and manifested or deconstructed on the page. Weaver told us advice about a writing technique that he received from Lucille Clifton – simply rest your hands on the keys and just write the words that come. I feel this technique can be used with any form of art – painting, writing music, etc. – and just seeing where it takes you.

Afaa Weaver is practitioner of Tai Chi and a Dao disciple. This is where his life has led him, and it has helped him cope with his abusive childhood and the post-traumatic stress disorder he carried with him for so long. In his book, The Plum Flower Dance, Weaver groups his poems relating to his abusive childhood into five categories: Gold, Water, Wood, Fire, Earth. These are the five fist techniques and elements of Tai Chi and represent the creative path of healing that is reflected in his book.

Pi 劈 or metal 金, the splitting technique (melted by fire)
                        Zuan 鑽 or water 水, the drilling technique (muddied by earth)
                        Beng 崩 or wood 木, the smashing technique (cut by metal)
                        Pao 炮 or fire 火, the pounding technique (extinguished by water)
                        Heng or earth , the crossing technique (stilled by wood)

Dr. Jonathan Stalling interviewed Professor Weaver and discusses his Daoist philosophy and how Xingyi Chuan connects to his poetry. The interview will be posted soon right here and on our archive page.

Poetry Reading
Poems read by Afaa Weaver

1. “Radio Days”
2. “If My Enemies Sing of my Death”
3. “Government of Nature”
4. “Flying” (one of my favorites – this is about he out of body experiences he had as a child during the abuse. In this poem he claims he received the ‘gift of flying’ and writes, “We can fly when God falls asleep”.
5. “Apaloosa”
6. “For James, Our Beloved”
7. “At Lake Montibello with James”
8. “Scrapple”
9. “A City of Eternal Spring” – working title
10. “What the Lotus Said” one line I remember from this poem is ‘you grew in impossible circumstances’
11. “On Hearing that Michael Jackson Died”
12. “From the Plum Flower Days”
13. “Crushing Peanuts in a Hakka Village”
14. “MRT” … ‘knowing yourself as a space’
15. “The Link”

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Stanley Lombardo & Judith Roitman Poster/Links

Interview with Roitman & Lombardo 

Poem by Judith Roitman 

Slipped out

Tongue undeserved like popcorn
& what thing in the middle of
her trajectory
her rigid moment
mashed like popcorn & death also wanting
whose words
who says this today
whose tongue slipped out like a walk
like the middle of talking,
one cane held onto
one moment of trajectory
one undeserved cough stopped,
left out of corners
instead difficult
instead wanting
instead slipped out & death
slipped out undeserved
cane touching
today trajectory
today talking in the middle of breathing
wanting popcorn
wanting trajectory
wanting stopped thing
stopped from