What happens when an enslaved person is given the tools to express her desire for freedom after being captured? When a young child taken from Senegal to Boston and renamed after the slave ship on which she was brought is then taught to read and write in not her own language and history, but in the language and history of Europeans? You get what the first black person to publish a book of poetry in America, Phillis Wheatley, wrote in “On Imagination.” Written a few years before she was granted her freedom, her poem, filled with allusions to Greek mythology and personifying Imagination as if it is a goddess of fertile creativity, is reminiscent of Fred Moten’s concept of the “fantasy in the hold.” This dream or possibility of movement while still in bondage, while still held back where you currently are. But also the tensions between exploration in a ship (whether on water or space) to other places and being shipped as a commodity. Is it the awe of coming to a new world, or is it violent abduction? Maybe both, like being raptured by a god common in Greco-Roman myths.
Wheatley’s poem portrays Imagination as a powerfully creative guiding spirit that breaks boundaries and hybridizes a particular experience of the world with the alien world it encounters to discover new meaning. Her use of Winter throughout the poem clearly shows her awareness of oppression of her mobility as an enslaved person and imagination is her muse for liberation. At a time (she wrote it in 1773) when Enlightenment principles taught that reason, often attributes to white, hetero-masculine power, governed over all other faculties of human expression, Wheatley celebrates the Imagination as a feminine, fertile power moving as part of a spacecraft traveling beyond limits placed on it. In the quote above and the rest of the same stanza (From star to star the mental optics rove,/Measure the skies, and range the realms above./There in one view we grasp the mighty whole,/Or with new worlds amaze th’ unbounded soul.), she describes Imagination exploring beyond the sky to different stars and even different worlds in what she calls, “the mental optics.” Remember this is 1773 and she is an enslaved black woman and yet she is imagining traveling in a spaceship. If that isn’t Afrofuturistic and the mind of a Black speculative writer, I don’t know what is.
Imagination, like her, is a genius in bondage and struggles to be free. Imagination was what allowed Wheatley to see and be aware of the fullness of the cosmos and through which she could envision new spaces.
Below is the complete poem:
Continue reading The M(N)STRY: Phillis Wheatley and Fugitive Imagination
I have some great news to share with you! I will be publishing my chapbook, Lucy’s Bone Scrolls: The Black Speculative Mystery School, in August!
The book is a collection of poetry inspired by the 2015 Afrofuturism Conference at The New School and the Black Magic: AfroPasts/AfroFutures exhibition. Three Legged Elephant’s (who will be publishing my book) founder Malcolm Boyd and I will be hosting a book release/author showcase event at Jamaica Performing Arts Center on August 17th from 6:30pm-8:30pm. If you are in the NYC area, I hope you can join us!
To rsvp, either go to the event’s Eventbrite page or Facebook page.
Currently I am in the revision process of my poetry collection, and I was looking for a few inspirations for one of the poems in it. British-Jamaica dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson came to mind and it lead me to one of his poetry recordings, “Reality.”
Continue reading Astro-Caribbean: Riddims and Revolutions (Music!)
Happy Black Speculative Fiction Month. This month I will post reviews and lists of black speculative works that I’ve read recently. By the way, please support my Go Fund Me as I raise money to get a new laptop and continue building my writing career. Here is my review of Yabo:
A few months ago, I read Jacqueline Johnson’s poetry collection, A Woman’s Season, and one of my favorite poems from the book was “Revival at the Black Erotic Church” and two of the lines I cherish is “We welcome our imaginations/back into our souls.” Those lines are how I felt reading Alexis De Veaux’s book, Yabo. If the Black Erotic Church existed as an institution, this should be one of its religious texts.
Continue reading M.G. Reviews: “Yabo” and The Possibilities of Black Love
The other day as I was looking for some Basquiat inspiration, I came across this article about his artistic influences, “John-Michel Basquiat: The Afrofuturistic and His Art: Part I – Cosmic Slop and George Clinton’s Afro-Futurism. One part struck me the most, especially we discuss appropriation and often the lack of social credit given to black influencers:
Art historians gush over his white artistic influences: Leonardo Da Vinci, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Cy Twombly and Franz Kline figure prominently. No argument here. The western art tradition, jealously guarded by a ‘high art’ priesthood, had to justify Basquiat’s membership. Basquiat, no dummy, wanted fame.
Celebrity required cultural legitimacy, an artistic heritage defined by the western art canon. His first dealer, Annina Nosei, helped to fashion his art pedigree (fig. 2). Basquiat was complicit in this action. “Picasso” writes Dick Hebridge, could afford to leave the marketing and manufacturing of the iconic self to future generations.” Not so for Basquiat. His blackness remained an issue. Luca Marensi writes: “The use of some imagery, specifically black or African, leaves no trace that would allow an uninformed viewer to suppose the painter is black.”
Continue reading The My-Stery: Spooky Entanglement — When Black Contribution Is Obscured
Yesterday was the anniversary of Nat Turner’s rebellion, and with the growing controversy surrounding the film due to Nate Parker’s rape trial from 17 years ago, my desire to watch the film has been mostly vaporized. But last weekend as I went through my photos, I came across Delphine Fawundu’s “Mende Woman on Nat Turner Plantation” and the other artworks exhibited at the Black Magic: Afro Pasts/Futures exhibition in May. Looking at the art again inspired a new set of poems from me (in addition to Beloved, which I read in full last week). Read the poetry and take a look at some of the art below:
This collection of poems is called, Black: Where Past and Future Become One; Where Magic Is Birthed.
Continue reading Modern Griots Recap: Poetic Fragments from “Black Magic: Afro Pasts/Futures”
Hey everyone! I have exciting news! On June 26th from 2:30-5pm, I will be facilitating a workshop at the Lewis Latimer House Museum!
If you are not aware, Lewis Latimer was a 19th-early 20th century African-American self-taught inventor and draftsman, who worked with Thomas Edison and was greatly involved in the development of the light bulb, specifically in the production of carbon filaments. He lived in the same house in Flushing, Queens, which was later moved to location it is now and was turned into a museum. Not only was Latimer an inventor, but he also was a poet, playwright and painter. He was truly a polymath!
My workshop will explore the intersections between writing, invention and social change, three areas important to Latimer; we will analyze his poetry (and also a poem inspired by one of his poems); and attendees will be given prompts to write their own poetry. If you are in NYC and are interested, please RSVP at the email in the flyer!
I hope to see you there!