a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society
Editor’s Note by Patricia S. Jones
I write this Editor’s Note just as the Pope is finishing up his U.S. tour in a tiny Fiat. There’s something in that image that says much about spirituality, celebrity and image making—the head of a global religious organization provided with maximum security and media attention dressed in white and driven about in an affordable automobile. Oh and there is all this talk of mercy, immigration, the environment, peace and an end to capital punishment. I go for these things and indeed in my church we talk about these and things like ending racism and police brutality and greater equality, community and true justice. Indeed, in almost all faith traditions the desire for peace, compassion, and community is asked of its adherents. So, why so much strife?
And how is all that strife muffling the calls for peace, for equality, for justice, for respect, dignity? Are the current ideological wars being waged the result of a vision of violent capture that came centuries ago? Are the warriors following a kind of map to death that was created in the imagination of people from five, ten centuries ago? And will what we envision now become the maps to death for future generations? That is sort of the question that was in the back of my mind when I crafted the call for “The Future Imagined Differently”. It seemed that almost every kind of narrative about the future involved deep dysfunction, painful encounters, exploitation, and often hopelessness. Is that the only vision we can produce in this here and now?
In ways soft and loud, the poets, writers, artists, composers and social activists attempt to organize their thinking around how to produce that different future. As Ursula K. LeGuin pointed out in one of her speeches last year “Resistance and change often begin in art.” And out of that sensibility, the journal’s contributors start in the very much here and now considering sexuality, race and gender issues, environmental instability, war and peace and then as Myra Sklarew notes at the end of the remarkable poem, “The World to Come” we need “ A time to create,/like the words of a poem–/fearless. Like song.”
And it is song in one form or another that pushes the ideas of many of these pieces, whether in a poem, a story or an essay. The song may evoke danger, laughter, sex, meditation, or dream, but the song is sung in language that is as clear as Sklarew’s or as ambiguous as Laynie Brown or conversational as Shelagh Patterson or as complicatedly enraged as Veronica Golos or Martin Willitts or as mythopoetic as Purvi Shah and Scott Hightower. Or it may well be a composition—am pleased to have musical composition in this issue.
But narratives were requested and there are many kinds. Susan Tu’s “Celestial Soul” may be the most sci-fi conventional, but there are these twists. Kate Schapira and J. M Leija offer commentary on current woes and possible solutions. Sharon Mesmer explores communication as a tool to making deeper, better connections across national, class and ethnic divides. And Elizabeth Cunningham allows the mountain a chance to chat. Cunningham has not forgotten the usefulness of fable and parable in an age of hybridization. Indeed, traditional forms are used in forward looking works including Storme Webber and S. Mama Watu’s “The Blessing” and the satire of Tony Medina’s “Brother’s Keeper”. And in an essay by Marcella Durand “Poetry that “counts” she examines how language considers race, form and rhythm and how these discussions may serve as a tool for liberation. She notes the need to explore “the concept of inhabitance . . ., the process of apprehension”.
Back to what we see and what future generations will see—is it all predators and prey; hyper capitalism and the destruction of this planet’s resources? Do we only create Doomsday Scenarios or can we start to create those different narratives or visions that show sustenance, provocation, pleasure and compassion? The artists, Denise Milan from Sao Paolo, Brazil; Margo Berdeshevsky (also a fine poet/essayist) from Paris; Janet Goldner from New York and Bamako, Mali; Verneda Lights from South Carolina, Beverly Naidus from Washington State; and Tsaurah Litsky from New York offer images that frame the sectors of this journal in materials from welded steel to computer generated graphics. In so doing, they offer another kind of narrative.
And yet, it is the poets—a few known to many, but others who I had the pleasure of reading for the first time and placing them here—who bring both the issues of these times to a consideration of time, past, present and yes future. Their deep regard for language’s complexity is always a joy to behold as a reader and you may find one or two poets whose work meets you on that road to a new idea about the world—he or she may say that one thing that you so do not expect as in Christina Olivares “Letter” sent from the future. Here is where sexuality, community, family, imagination and deep honesty connect to mercy, equality, respect and dignity in her epistle as she notes to its recipients: “Well. To Start: We still like to fuck.” A future filled with pleasure, now that is one that I hope we start to imagine. A future with community that recognizes differences, understands conflicts will happen and do what is needed to find harmony. A future where sand and sea and mountain and valley speak and we listen humans listen. A future where “We have been given all we need” as Linda Rodriguez says in her lyric “Through the Body”—that is a future that I can imagine.
What all of the contributors bring is the start of a conversation that needs to be started—what are the ways that we can give generations hence another way to connect and honor the environment, marvel at the cosmos’ complexity, enjoy and share an openness towards sexuality, gender roles (if any) and physical differences (the world of shape shifters is coming). Human beings are not so much wired as mired in a range of conventions—how will they be broken, torn apart, reformed so that new and healthy ones emerge?
I thank Michael McDermott and the Black Earth Institute Family for their support in this endeavor. My assistant editors, poet Abdul Ali and community organizer/environmentalist, Dawson Bancroft-Short and the mighty Sarah Fritz who makes all issues of About Place Journal look really good. And I thank everyone who sent their work to us. The Future Imagined Differently is your work and the dialogue opened with your pieces. I have faith this work will lead to and join with other’s work that may give future generations a different map to use.
Patricia Spears Jones is an African American poet and playwright and author A Lucent Fire: New and Selected Poems (White Pine Press, 2015). Poems are anthologized in Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry; Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry; broken land: Poems of Brooklyn, bumrush: the page and Best American Poetry, 2000. Interviews are featured in Bomb, Mosaic and www.theotter.com and for WOMR.org and for AFTV (Artist Forum television series).Mabou Mines, the internationally acclaimed theater company, commissioned and produced ‘Mother’ and Song for New York: What Women Do When Men Sit Knitting both premiered in New York City with composers respectively, Carter Burwell and Lisa Gutkin. She has also collaborated with theater, visual artists and musicians including Lenora Champagne, Carolee Schneeman, Regie Cabico, Jed Distler, Jason Hwang, Blondell Cummings, and Ras Moshe Burnett.
She is a Senior Fellow at Black Earth Institute and has edited the blog project: 30 Days Hath September for the Black Earth Institute. She edited two radically different anthologies: Think: Poems for Aretha Franklin’s Inauguration Day Hat/ published by Bomb (2009) and Ordinary Women: An Anthology of Poetry by New York City Women (1978). Her prose, interviews and arts commentary are found in Essence and essence.com, www.psa.org, http://cultureid.com The Poetry Project Newsletter, The Poetry Foundation’s Harriet blog, The Village Voice, www.tribes.org, and Bomb, where she is a contributing editor.
She received grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, Foundation for Contemporary Art, the New York Community Trust (Oscar Williams/Gene Derwood Award), residencies at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Bread Loaf, the Millay Colony, Virginia Center for Creative Arts, Yaddo and a grant from the Goethe Institute (Boston) for travel/research in Germany. She curates WORDS SUNDAY, a literary series in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Currently she is a Lecturer for CUNY at LaGuardia Community College and Borough of Manhattan Community College. Her web site is www.psjones.com.
ASSISTANT ISSUE EDITORS:
Abdul Ali is an educator, writer, and literary activist. He’s the author of Trouble Sleeping (Winner of the 2014 New Issues Poetry Prize). His poetry, essays, and interviews have appeared in Gargoyle, Gathering of Tribes, National Public Radio, New Contrast (South Africa), The Atlantic, and the anthology, Full Moon on K Street, among other publications. He has received grants, awards, and fellowships from The DC Commission of the Arts and Humanities, American University, College Language Association, and the Mt. Vernon Poetry Festival at George Washington University. He is editor emeritus of Folioand Amistad and is a board member of the Zora Neale Hurston/ Richard Wright Foundation. Ali will join the English faculty at The Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore, MD this fall.
Dawson Bancroft-Short holds a B.S. in Environmental Science with a minor in music from Chatham University in Pittsburgh, PA. She has worked for the Black Earth Institute for the past year and helps keep up the land of Brigit Rest, the site of BEI’s annual retreat/meeting in Black Earth, WI. While in school she worked with many environmental organizations in Pittsburgh, canvassing for Clean Water Action, teaching at the Frick Environmental Center, and working as an educator for the Pennsylvania Resource Counsel. She is passionate about sustainable food systems and the transition of agricultural systems in a changing world. She is a hobby poet who has never submitted for publication, but enjoys observing patterns in the natural world and writing about them. Aside from her academic endeavors, Dawson played hockey and softball for her college, so in her free time she is highly involved in her community and volunteers as a girl’s hockey and softball coach.