I’m a little fixated on death this week, and a lot fixated on not letting Black History Month go by unacknowledged by my writer friends [puts self-righteous SJW hat on].
In Creative Writing Club, we do this thing called the “Underrepresented Writer Workshop” every month, where the E-Board chooses a written work by someone of a minority race/gender/ability set/orientation and we workshop it as if a student had submitted it. See, none of us on the E-Board are qualified to get too deep into “how does being [insert minority here] influence this writing?” which is why we just tell everyone to treat it like a normal workshop. At the very least, our members are reading something they likely wouldn’t have read otherwise.
So, um, here are some under-baked, undereducated thoughts on some written works that deal with the death of Black people, written by Black people:
“Fish Boy” and “Anniston, AL” by Jason Guisao
When Guisao read “Anniston, AL” out loud at the Gandy Dancer launch party, I thought, “Oh my god, they put the N-word in Gandy Dancer!” I’m not sure why I was surprised; maybe I was just young and didn’t realize that writing that word down is a type of reclamation of power. The implication of the second stanza is interesting: once a Black person is dead, they’re not a n*****. What are they, then? I’ve heard the word used both as a type of self-identification and as a tool of erasure. Is it both in this poem?
I don’t remember any thoughts I had about “Fish Boy” the day it was read out loud. It’s obviously a reshowing of Emmett Till’s murder; the “shoot the n***** above its right ear and cast it out into the brook” line is directly in line with the description of Till’s body. Good “t” work in that line, sounds harsh when read out loud. Tangible images, great enjambment towards the beginning of the poem. There’s a number of works inspired by Emmett Till’s murder; this is a particularly visceral one.
“Dead is the new black” by J. Drew Lanham
This poem has one of those “crickets” lines that just sounds right: “cracked bell’s toll.” Unless I misinterpreted the cricket thing we talked about, which is a distinct possibility.
This one could be read as a series of short poems, but it’s listed as just one. Lots of good sonic moments. I’m especially taken with the “Beyond being the next sad story” stanza. It calls back to this thing that is sometimes said about Holocaust survivors, that it was really a coin toss who survived and who didn’t. I typically don’t think about what a crapshoot survival is with other minority groups; it’s 2018, I didn’t think the 1940s genocide logic applied.
“The Flowers” by Alice Walker
Forgive me if you’ve already read this one.
This is technically short fiction, but it reads like poetry. Kind of like Jasmine’s “Apologia” from a couple Gandy Dancer issues ago, where some people didn’t know if they should classify it as CNF or Poetry. It read like CNF to me, but “The Flowers” probably reads like a short story (maybe even flash fiction) to most people.
The following sentence sounds smooth, even when revealing some unfortunate circumstances: “Turning her back on the rusty boards of her family’s sharecropper cabin, Myop walked along the fence till it ran into the stream made by the spring.” Nice assonance and consonance there.
Get this: Myop, the name of the ten-year-old subject of the poem, is short for Myopic, which refers to nearsightedness. This was written in 1988, which makes this clever. If it was written in 2018, I suspect we’d think she was trying too hard. Just an observation.
This “coming to age by seeing dead organisms” is not a new thing; there’s the opening of Toni Morrison’s Home, and this one short story I vaguely remember about a boy who sees a dead boar…and many others, I’m sure. I wonder, what’s the 2018 equivalent of stumbling upon a lynched Black body in a field? I’m sure there is an equivalent.