Archive for BONK!

Hakim Bellamy Poem on POC Anonymity

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 4, 2016 by ndemske

Hakim at the DP Wigley Building, BONK! series, 2014

I’ve had some extra reading time with the extra days off this week and I wanted to post at least a couple of the really phenomenal poems I’ve been coming across over the next few days.  Today we’re starting with the inimitable Hakim Bellamy.

Hakim got a piece published by the White Privilege Conference Understanding and Dismantling Privilege Journal that knocked me out.  You can read that here (click on the “Download this PDF file” link).  And here’s an audio version of it, too.

The poem focuses on the phenomenon of black invisibility and especially on the effects of that phenomenon in law enforcement.  It’s not that people of color (and black males especially) are indeed invisible , obviously……but that the individuality and humanity of people of color vanish into thin air in so many situations, and are replaced by whatever demonic stereotype currently overwhelms mainstream media.  Since law enforcement officials deal with people in dire situations, the temptation to bypass the individual for their stereotypical counterpart is–as we’ve seen in this country over and over again–often too much to resist, apparently.

Hakim talks about “sticking out”–even if awkwardly– as a defense mechanism to ward off the horrors black invisibility can result in.  But he also talks about assimilation in newly crafted ways:

image found here

“We’ve worn these neckties for years
because we’re least threatening
at the end of a leash.

Speak jive only
as a second language,
because when in Rome
do as conquered people do.”

Later in the poem, in a parent’s voice, he instructs:

“Wear your culture
like a butt naked emperor.”

The poem meditates on how different people see things differently, especially based off their fears.  It reminds me a lot of a song the current Kenosha Poet Laureate, Brent Mitchell, played at the BONK! 100 Thousand Poets for Change event last September about the Tamir Rice shooting.  I’ll see if I can get a recording of that song from Brent to share with people.

And since Hakim is a BONK! alum too, I’ve added his video here (from 2014), just in case you want to get a better sense of his work.

Thank you, Hakim, for making such substantial work about such a under-discussed  issue!

I’ll try to drop another poem or two on here as the week goes on.  In the meantime, happy 2016 everyone.  We gonna ride this year to glory!

addendum (added 1.7.16) 

Here is the video of the above mentioned Brent Mitchell song for Tamir Rice:



Me, Wag

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 25, 2010 by ndemske

In preparation for a reading in Racine next month featuring Catherine Wagner, Travis Nichols and Anthony Madrid, I’ve spent the last 5 days with Catherine Wagner’s latest book, “My New Job” (a title I’m really fond of).  It has a lot of distinctive, idiosyncratic qualities to it that I really enjoyed getting to read.  As this wonderful video illustrates (and the person who posted it has almost 300 poetry reading videos on YouTube…thanks, guy), Catherine has a pretty great sense of both music and humor.  While the book heightens a reader’s conscious throughout to serious, species-wide tragedies, Wagner refuses to take herself too seriously, never assuming the easy role of a moral authority or any other such stereotype.  One of the book’s biggest influences and references seems to be Wagner’s son, Ambrose (whose work “Eek eek and eek” can be found here), and it feels this like this influence may be responsible for the book’s exacted balance of profundity and absurdity (in the same way that being an intellectual and a mother requires a tricky balance of the two).

What I find most remarkable about the book is that it seems to illustrate a very particular cultural moment or experience really clearly; being an Anglo, middleclass, American, heterosexual woman in the 21st century; an AMAHW in deuce-uno, if you will.  While the book teeters between opacity and such a personal directness that it’s risky, Wagner still never comes out and explicitly claims, “yeah, this book is about being an AMAHW in the deuce-uno.”  But, what at first seem like casual asides (she finishes one piece, for instance,  with the line “What a heterosexist poem!” which half sounds like disapproval and half sounds like Whitmanic celebration), start to add up through the book.  These moments never lose their comic value, but it definitely becomes a tragic humor and a self-aware humor–a humor that questions itself.  As a reader, I found myself confronted with my own laughter at the most fucked parts.  And I use that word very deliberately, because large sections of the book are devoted to analyses (huh huh…yses) of fucking in all its many connotations (see this interview with Wagner in BOMB for more).

Wagner’s consideration of the AMAHW in the deuce-uno is so significant to me because it’s a role in which the individual experiences a unique tension of privilege and oppression or, maybe more accurately, being the oppressed and the oppressor simultaneously.  In the title poem, which is also the last poem in the book, she asks,

“How can I         from inside this comfort

Represent          Hope to

No no

I am                   Too tempted

To think I                  Deserve it

Rigidly and with effort

know my privilege”

[the formatting is slightly different in the book]

These thematic sentiments take on a greater urgency as the book builds more and more momentum, especially, I think because her son seems such a central character to it, and the issue of how not to pass one’s fuckedness (comfort in the role of oppressor) demands urgent attention.  It’s a book super-relevant to our culture at this moment and I think its very existence bodes well for the future.

Come to the Reading, you silly geese! (see this link for more info)

(more info on the reading…not on silly geese).