Now's the Time for Poetic Wisdom
Updated: Jan 15, 2021
We’ve never needed poetry more than we do now.
A few years ago I wrote that poetry is about seeing, naming, and valuing “our tingles of intuition, our dreams, magic, grief, and joy; our journeys of healing, sovereignty, and transformation; our truth, vision, and power.” Poetry, I said, is “the practice of seeing, naming, and valuing what oppression and violence have taught us to ignore.”
Poetry gives us agency as we struggle against white supremacy in every facet of our lives. It gives us a way to choose the meaning we want to bring forth in the world, and grows our capacity to make that meaning real. In the words of Robin D. G. Kelley, “Now is the time to think like poets.”
In these long recent months in Michigan, where I live, poetry by women of color activists has kept many of us going.
Poems like Descendants:
Wisdom often gathers in low places
Build a bridge
From the inside out
From your nightmares undone
To your grandest dreams
Leseliey Welch, a birth center equity leader in Detroit and nationally, wrote this in May when our local women of color poetry collective members were sheltering in place and began writing together online and sending out poems to the world.
Poems like We Are No Longer Surprised
you have no idea
what it takes to protect magic
yours was damaged centuries ago
you think it is gone
we know it is not
When Emergent Strategist adrienne maree brown wrote and spoke this gorgeous piece in September, I listened to it over and over. I even sent it to my daughter.
Poems like Faithful Humility,
Holding hands as we
formed a circle to pray
so the bombing
in the mountains
in front of
would be stopped
In this poem, Erica Murcia, an immigrant justice organizer, birth worker, healer, and member of our local women of color poetry collective, shares her history of collective resilience and displacement, connecting struggles across time and geography.
Poems like Rubberbands,
fashion your ropes
and swing possibility-wards.
These beautiful words came to us from Maria Thomas, a public health and abolitionist organizer who created this as part or our shelter in place poetry.
These poems, and the many more that saved us in 2020, echo Toni Morrison’s powerful words from 2015.
This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.
I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge — even wisdom. Like art.
Thank you, all you poets, for your wisdom and vision.
May we all swing possibility-wards.
Photo: Nuola Akinde, liberatory educator and poet, reading from her work in Love & Other Futures.