Thursday, March 29, 2012

Adrienne Rich ~ Dream of a Common Language

Adrienne Rich, 1929-2012
Diving Into the Wreck

                 by Adrienne Rich

First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.
I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
assiduous team
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.

There is a ladder.
The ladder is always there
hanging innocently
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
it is a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.

I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
will begin.

First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
and besides
you breathe differently down here.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he

whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
obscurely inside barrels
half-wedged and left to rot
we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass

We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.

The first book of poetry I bought was Adrienne Rich's Dream of a Common Language.  It was hard at the time to grasp how much of an impact she had, and was having, on the world I was coming of age in but looking back I am grateful for her strength of mind and character, as well as for her amazing poetry.  She had a beautiful courage.

The New York Times this morning opened her tribute, A Poet of Unswerving Vision at the Forefront of Feminism, wrote:
Adrienne Rich, a poet of towering reputation and towering rage, whose work — distinguished by an unswerving progressive vision and a dazzling, empathic ferocity — brought the oppression of women and lesbians to the forefront of poetic discourse and kept it there for nearly a half-century. 
NPR's tribute, written by David Orr,  includes this recent poem entitled Turbulence

There'll be turbulence. You'll drop
your book to hold your
water bottle steady. Your
mind, mind has mountains, cliffs of fall
may who ne'er hung there let him
watch the movie. The plane's
supposed to shudder, shoulder on
like this. It's built to do that. You're
designed to tremble too. Else break
Higher you climb, trouble in mind
lungs labor, heights hurl vistas
Oxygen hangs ready
overhead. In the event put on
the child's mask first. Breathe normally

This wonderful quote, and the photograph above of Adrienne Rich with the trees, comes from the Wordveins blog.

“Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you…it means that you do not treat your body as a commodity with which to purchase superficial intimacy or economic security; for our bodies to be treated as objects, our minds are in mortal danger. It means insisting that those to whom you give your friendship and love are able to respect your mind.”
~Adrienne Rich

Read her biography at ~ Adrienne Rich Biography. 

The poem, Diving into the Wreck, is from Diving into the Wreck: Poems 1971-1972 by Adrienne Rich. Copyright © 1973 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Reprinted by permission of the author and W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Copyright 1973 by Adrienne Rich.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

We are now the BN Poetry Foundation

We are now the BN Poetry Foundation because so much is going on. Let me begin by thanking Dr. Elizabeth Alexander from the US, a woman responsible for revolutionizing black women’s poetry in the US and also read a poem, Praise song of the day, at Barack Obama’s inauguration. She is donating books the foundation to support the poetry development workshops. How generous of her!!

professor Elizabeth Alexander, photo from

Why the name change from BN Poetry Award? Listen, we are doing so much more than awards. I got in touch with the lovely Kate Haines who is in touch with writers in various parts of East Africa and is building a vibrant network of writers and we will be working together during poetry youth camps, publication of anthologies and a new exciting project for 2013. Can’t wait.
Also, a new found fascination is poets from Southern Sudan, looking forward to a long-lasting collaboration from them as well. It’s all good.
Next year the award s targeting the greater East Africa-that is like waiting for the birth of triplets, like a triple blessing.
Thanks to the new partners, Zimba Afrika and Action for Peace and Conflict Transformation for believing in the vision of poetry.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Poetry during Black History Month

Yesterday 29th Feb, we poets met at Makerere University College of Engineering, Art and Design Technology in celebration of Black History Month. Thanks to FEMRITE, US Mission to Uganda and Makerere University. Programme packed with many rock stars in poetry, some veteran others fairly new. Like, hey! Professor Timothy Wangusa, still able to knock us off our feet with his poem Africanology.
1 Consequent upon the Extraordinary Colloquim
Of All-Africa Think Tank of Academic Associations
Concluded this historic day in the city of Abuja-
He has a magnetic field around him that makes poets listen in awe. Then someone I had never met before, Peninah Ninsiima, read Maya Angelou’s Phenomenal Woman, well done Peninah, you were indeed phenomenal. Jason nailed Margaret Walker’s For My People. Susan Kerunen, together with her brother giving us an Alur delight of music and of course never to disappoint, Dr. Susan Kiguli. I recited one of my new ones as well called Ssebo Gwe Wange! Which means Sir, you are mine, in Luganda. It is a Ugandan love poem. My tutor at Lancaster is all about me writing Luagnda phrases in my poetry so why not?

Some of the people who love poetry.

Poetry is different. It is special. It is so internal that you can’t be left the same even if you wanted. Poets would make the best preachers, the best doctors and best therapists because they are discerning and deep. I love being with poets, especially when they are good. It is like the aroma of the clouds when it is just about to rain.