The M(N)STRY: Activating the Archive Through Poetics


With everything happening in the news that frightens me about the future of this country and world, I turn back again to the importance of the archive, storytelling and truth-telling for marginalized communities. Last month, I went to archivist and writer Joyce LeeAnn and researcher and writer Akeema-Zane’s workshop In the Middle of Things: The Poetics of Archival Praxis, which was part of Pioneer Works’ series Fact Craft.

“Fact Craft is a collaborative, cross-disciplinary program series that examines the ways “facts” are constructed, crafted, presented and disseminated. Each program invites a guest to facilitate a group action that intervenes in, questions, or subverts systems of ‘fact craft’ across disciplines. These actions address oppressive cultural systems by generating alternatives and jamming existing ones.”

This workshop focused on the central role of the archivist, researcher and poet/writer/storyteller in truth-telling and as time-travelers. Opening with a quotation from poet Steven Taylor, “the job of the poet is to tell the truth. An archive of poetics is an archive of the truth, or an account from the point of view of thousands of contributors of what the truth has been at various times, in various contexts, various definitions of truth,” it explored how people of color “write through time” and embody truth in their writing.

During the workshop, we were given three main texts, Steven Taylor’s essay “Remember the Future: Archival Poetics and the War on Memory,” which is found in the book, Beats at Naropa;  essays “Black Time: The Reality versus The Myth,” “Beginnings: The West African Cycle,” and “The New Linear New World and the Balancing Act,” from Bonnie Barthold’s Black Time: Fiction of Africa, the Caribbean, and the United States; and Wilson Harris’ talk, “History, Fable and Myth in the Caribbean and Guianas.” Together these three essays emphasized that the poet-storyteller (and that role can extend to writers in general, actors, dancers, visual art, music as the artist has a griot-like role connecting the current physical world to the ancient, ancestral and spiritual worlds) explores time and has understanding of various alternative times through an embodied archive of knowledge of all these times. This memory archive can be embodied not only in language but through body movement as well as Harris mentions the dance-game limbo carnival festivals in the Caribbean, and Vodou spirit possession rituals. This resistance is, as he calls it, Anancy-like, and shows our creative imagination to form gateways where others only see walls. Barthold called it Legba-like, the ability to balance between several modes of time, space and being, new and old worlds; an almost super-human ability to adapt and absorb the breakages into our cultures, and refashion them for our own empowerment. 

One of the activities we had in the workshop was to watch a series of video segments and to write what was inspired from watching all of these film clips juxtaposed with one another. That activity reminded me of the Allen Ginsburg quotation attached to the end of Taylor’s essay and from which the title of the workshop came: You can see an eternity. We look out the window; that’s eternity, right?…You got it. This is the room. A room floating in that endlessness. But on the other side, there’s endlessness over there, too. So we’re in the middle of endlessness…this is right in the middle of eternity.” It made me think of Noah’s Ark and sailing through a sea of endless information, looking for a home or place to rest and that is what partially inspired the draft of the poem I wrote from the workshop below:

In Media Res(t)

(Nu Ark)

Toni was right

when she said

racism is an art

of distraction

head filled up

with too much

of the world

it is an art

to learn

to swim through

the chaos of


and misinformation

head entangled

like headphones

my head phones home

and there is no answer

home is unable to be


too much static

too much loud noise

too much lies


as truth

what is truth

but my own


through my mind











disrobing information

like cane cutters

with a machette cutting

through paradise

is there paradise

or only plantation

and market of bodies

only face


is truth mine

or mined

America is dying

they don’t tell you that

they don’t tell you instructions

on how to live

Mother is dying

the earth is dying

Mother and earth pimped

are we too

can we steal back

what’s already ours

is it stealing

can we rattle the walls

can we dance around

dance through the walls

of social constructions

constructions of reality

who tells me if i’m real or not

i know what my fingers feels

i know my nerves dare to live

these packets of memory

absorbing the shocks of this world

i dance my memory through every crack

i can find

they don’t tell you to ask questions

they don’t tell you we need those roots

those routes back

i dance of my memory

when my head phones home

who is on the other receiver

reshaping over and over the emptiness

in this structure

claiming to have solved for my buried name


Thank you everyone for joining me on this journey for 2017! Have a happy end of the year and here’s hopes to 2018 being a year of truth-telling and healing from the oppressive forces around us!

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