Sunday, March 6, 2016

Sorry Not Sorry

This weekend I was part of really fun and engaging reading at Brazos Bookstore in Houston. I was invited by Stephen Gros and Winston Derden to read some of my work and sell copies of Island of Dreams for the quarterly event Speak!Poet. It was a reading followed by a moderated Q & A. I loved this format and it was great to see so many people come out to support, listen and yes, even ask questions. I love being challenged by individuals and challenged I was.

The audience had the chance to ask questions, and one individual asked a series of questions about my craft and asthetics that got me...a little heated. In retrospect, I don't think he really understood what he was asking, BUT it still made me angry. His questions went something like this:
Because Brooklyn's face says it all..WTF?!
1. Since you call yourself a performance poet, at what point in the writing process do you write poetry? In other words, when you write for performance, what about your work is poetic?
2. You mentioned that your inspirations are other performance poets like the Nuyorican Poets etc, do you ever read academic poets and find inspiration in academic poetry as well?
3. Since you write for "the stage" as you say, do you think your work translates to the page?
4. So, what exactly makes YOU a "spoken word" poet?

FIRST. OF. ALL. He wasn't listening to a thing I had said during the first half of the interview facilitated by Winston. SECONDLY...WHAT. THE. FUCK?!

I do not have the energy or space to go into detail or write everything I said to him but basically I squashed his notions and assumptions about what performance poetry is vs. academic poetry. That it infuriates me that there even IS such a distinction and that he would make it. That the poets I CHOOSE to read and the way I CHOOSE to write is just as academic as the "cannon" of literature I was REQUIRED to read for over 15 years in formal education. That I choose NOT to read those folks because I know of them already, because their stories DON'T reflect my own and because regardless of how hard I try...those "academic" authors WILL FIND ME. I told him that the only difference between me and other "traditional" poets is that I chose to speak my poems out loud hence the term "spoken word." That I thought about the writing and form and craft without concern for performance and that I wrote things that would NEVER be read aloud or performed but that ALL of my work could be published and did have structure and craft on the page as well as on the stage.

People clapped. People snapped. People got up and moved around because they wanted to speak their minds too. It was pretty awesome.

But, I noticed what I did and how I felt immediately after the rush of passion and anger left me. I felt guilty. I apologized under my breath and then to the hosts. I said sorry for getting upset and speaking my truth, that perhaps he didn't mean it the way I took it, that I should have remained more calm and answered the question instead of getting on my soap box.

Everyone said NO, that I was right on target and it didn't seem obnoxious or rude. That this individual is known for being a bully on the writing scene and it was good for me to shut him down.

After I apologized, I thought to myself: Why should I feel bad? What am I apologizing for? Why am I so afraid of speaking my truth with conviction?

I have been apologizing for things for far too long. I apologize when I'm sick. I apologize when I'm tired. I apologize for speaking too loud or too often. I apologize for things I have nothing to do with. And I, we as women, as ill persons, as writers of color need to stop. STOP apologizing for who we are and things that are not our fault.

I didn't choose to be Afro-Latina so I will not apologize for it. I didn't choose to get sick, so I will not apologize for it. I didn't choose for you to ask an absurd, stupid question that belittled my work so I will not apologize for my honest answer.

In truth, I never want to give in to the stereotype of the angry black woman or the passionate loud Latina or the sick and tired patient...but in truth, I'm angry sometimes, in truth, I'm passionate sometimes, in truth I am sick and tired of A LOT of things in this world and in this body, so in truth... "I won't be sorry for none of it." -Ntozake Shange

With Hannah, a woman who doesn't apologize for a damn thing...

No comments:

Post a Comment