Modern Griots Recap: Poetic Fragments from the Afrofuturism Conference at The New School


Several months ago I attended the Afrofuturism Conference at The New School. While due to my other work I didn’t get a chance to do a recap of the event right after, it had a profound effect on me. I took all the notes I had from it and wrote a series of poems inspired by the different panels and workshops I attended.

This is my holiday present for you! Part 2 will be up tomorrow and I will leave the poems up for a few weeks. Then I will probably make a small e-book chapbook out of the poems for you to buy!

Enjoy!

 

Day One –

Constructs. Narratives.

 

The Narrative as Technology

(Inspired by Womack’s Keynote)

I.

Our stories are tools of survival

Our stories are tools of healing

They move us forward —

Our pirate spaceships

stealing legacies back

ships breaking through

the technoveil:

the fiction of race

whose future will force it

to change shape

as it has done before

What would another world look like

if racism didn’t exist?

What would Tan-Tan do?

 

II.
Goals:

Explore technology’s dark side

Dark matter flowing through all creation

Looks into futures not pure not white

Get dirty                                            Get wet

We are the creation on a potter’s wheel

A reflection made of clay

God, She must of had a dirty mind

Liked the feel of Her fingers molding life into shape

 

III.

Are we sure the future goes forward?

Maybe its going is in reverse

The new becoming old again

Round and round again

And to imagine is to bend when now

Is coming around to knock you out

What do you see in your crystal mirror

Wicked witch

Narcisuss in your pool

We, the mad scientists and the monsters

We, the science and the fiction

We have always wanted something more

To touch the dark mind of the cosmos

To see ourselves in it’s identification card

Have permission to live.

 

Next group of poems inspired by panel featuring Sean Jacobs, Maikoiyo Alley Barnes from Black Constellation, Derica Sields from The Future Weird, Derrick Adams and Christopher Shaw

The Narrative As Technology (Part II) — The Expansion of Perception

Too much consumption

can ruin your appetite

for creating

new languages —

Be hungry like the muni bird!

How do we recreate the pyramids?

How do we make tombs into portals to other world again?

What wisdoms of the world,

what possibilities have we lost

in our mad dash to prove our progress,

to leave the ancient behind

even as it courses through our veins

and shows up in our face.

Where we have been

Where we move forward:

What is the function of our art.

 

A State of Being:

I am a woman

I am a black woman

I am a sphinx

I am stardust

I am a galaxy of stars

I am the universe

I am everything

: Chimerical reaction

 

The Image of God as the Cowardly Lion

(How to Act Despite My Fears)

Find a way to move on

is the endless promotion

of a missionary preaching

survival: to outlive

the hollows of your wound

to dance within

despite your feet

trembling at each step

even that can shake the earth

can make its rocks cry out

find a way to speak your magic

even when you sell yourself

sacrifice yourself on the world’s pole

always be ready to dance into resurrection

 

The Scientific Method (The Theory of Consciousness’ Cycle)

“The mind which has conceived a plan of living must never lose sight of the chaos against which that pattern was conceived” – Ralph Ellison

Purpose- What do you want to learn?

How are Manifest Destiny, building a house and industrial society alike?

 

Research- Find out as much as you can.

Jesus told Peter the church would be built on the rock.

Peter means rock. Peter is the same man who rejected Jesus three times

Peter is the root of petrification — to turn to stone. To turn to stone out of fear.

Medusa turned men who feared her into stone. Looking at the wild mother did not turn them into stone, fear of her did.

The foundation of civilization is stone, is fear. The fear of the wild mother turning you into stone.

The monument is a standing stone. A statue. A tomb. A reminder.

The Status. The Institution. The Industry. The Structure.

The Fixed Image. The Dead Image. The Standing Statue. The Building.

The Extension Beyond the Living Self. The Technology.

 

Hypothesis- Try to predict the answer to the problem. Another term for hypothesis is ‘educated guess’. This is usually stated like ” If I…(do something) then…(this will occur)

We learn. We remember. We create. We build.

From fear. From insecurity. From the outside. From the dark. From the loneliness. From the wounding. From the void.

We all want to live forever. We all fear death. We all want to feel safe. We all avoid.

 

Experiment- Design a test or procedure to confirm or disprove your hypothesis. Design it in a reproducable manner.

Why am I writing this?

Experience tells me

that I fear my own mind

will eat me alive if I do not let it

express itself into form.

My mind fears forgetting.

My mind fears being forgotten.

 

Analysis- Record what happened during the experiment. Also known as ‘data’.

This poem is my record.

Is remembered by my heart.

I spread it everywhere so there are no outsiders.

I have decorated my cage

against the variable chaos

looming outside

the white picket fence.

 

Conclusion- Review the data and check to see if your hypothesis was correct.

History repeats because we do not bother to investigate ourselves

Do not learn the roots of our own actions

Do not answer our own primal question

This is not a linear process but instead is a constant cycle of inquiry

I will do it again

 

Next poem inspired by the Spotlight Conversations with Samuel Suraphel of Mansa Colabs/Genii Games/Asa brand (“culture” in Yoruba), Deji Olukotun, author of Nigerians in Space and a digital rights activist, Shawn Peters, a filmmaker and cinematographer, who also describes himself as a mythmaker, and Ian Foster who works at The New School as a digital designer.

TechnoGriot Spotlight

The cultural evangelist:

A flying messenger

carrying a nation of images

dispersing our reflections

a scattering of exiles

seeds dying to live again

the shapeshifters in new environments:

We, the ancient passed down

in new apps

the tech of story

passing through the technoveil

the scrying on the sceen

the flash of spirit when you plug into the cave:

 

We, greedy for fruits and carrying home on our backs

We search for the elders’ magic drum

like data thieves, We steal back our legacies

We shape the spirit twins of our souls

We form ourselves again in the dark room

of space, find the right exposure for our dark faces

recreate the wounds into a new brand, new senses:

 

This is the re-evolution of the camera

The alien finding new ways to capture itself

into the dark ground, to find light inside the earth

to find new, or is it old, blueprints in its foundation

to repeat them like spells as if

ancient patterns are woven into our skin

the vision originally created with us in mind

our skin showing all of its divine glory.

 

Next poem inspired by PastPresentFuture Keynote (Afrofuturism and #blackspring) by Adrienne Brown, which you can read here, and the PastPresentFuture Movements Panel, featuring Darrick Hamilton (moderator), Shannon Shird (activist, Progressive Pupil), Ashley Ellis (activist and mother), Gbenga Akinnagbe (actor and creator of Liberated People t-shirt line), Janisha R. Gabriel (Black Lives Matter and Speak My Name), and Nata Arinde (Amsterdam News).

I Imagine (The Fugitive Imaginings of a Black Spring Goddess)

She imagined a world where she could breathe

that her body was enough to stop bullets

 

that she had powers to make her visions realities

that she would see the world through the eye of space

see the world in its entirety not just herself

and see that she was the world, space and time too

 

that she could throw a dart at injustice

and make it disappear with love

like the charge in Cupid’s arrow

 

that she could feel

everyone’s story flow

through her body

and that she would die

and be born again each time

that she would let them whisper to her

she would let them use her voice

because she owed that to them

that she would use her voice for herself first

that she would consume her rage

before anyone else could

that she would call out those who abandoned her

 

that she would sew up her wounds like a quilt

her scars a secret code of a map

that she would search for futures

outside of cages

outside of auction block stages

outside of greedy watchful eyes

like the wave in a particle-wave theory

 

She imagined she was the wave

She was the ocean

She was the Earth

She was creator and creation

She was the Dark Universe

full of stars

She saw Herself

whole again.

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