Sunday, September 21, 2008

September 20, 2008 Salon Sit-Down Discussion

"Joy is the ultimate act of resistance."

~Toi Dericotte

Today was an example of embodied, communal inspiration. Samiya Bashir read to us from her, as of yet unpublished, manuscript Gospel, breaking us down and building us up, bringing the good news and binding her words so that we could get lost in them, unleashing them to keep us close. Self-described as a "positive treatise on faith and action", Gospel is her work in progress - tender, vulnerable, as of yet - unborn into the larger world. Whereas Where the Apple Falls opened with Sankofa, Gospel opens with Legba, guardian of the crossroads, trickster, infinite possibility. As Samiya floated through the movements of her work, we were present to her play: to her use of the visual form in conjunction with the aural form, her use of tension and blank spaces to render our measured breaths.

We discussed timeliness of work, and usefulness of work and what does it mean to be an artist and to create work that is or is not useful. Though problematic, Samiya expounded on this concept when she discussed the inception of Gospel - a few poems that lay across her lap as in front of her, on the screen in her New York apartment living room, she watched New Orleans go under Katrina's waters - as a meditation on intention, and on the role of poetry to save both her life and the lives of others. As we listened and discussed both Samiya's work and process, those of us in the room drew and painted on P├źnz, which Samiya had brought to the table as an example of how the act of working in visual languages loosened her spirit enough to reclaim words.

From that point, Samiya read from Reginald Shepard's Orpheus in the Bronx, his essay "Against the Other's Other", and asked us to consider the question, "What are we not?" Around the room, people responded visually, literally, metaphorically, and philosophically (one participant wrote out: "I am everything, but ________." A brief, multi-lingual exercise, this consideration led us back to a conversation about the ways in which our actual contemporary language is not sufficient to describe our multiple, multi-faceted experiences, identities, perspectives and that in some ways, poetry is the response to essentialism, daring to transform language with its very existence.

When asked about the body as place/metaphor/vehicle in her work, Samiya described her own transformation in relationship both to this question and to the way this question has challenged her in her work. Whereas in Where the Apple Falls, she was exploring her body as a body, her body as a tree, her body as something acted upon by the nation, Gospel is coming into the world after her own inquiries into the "one-ness of things". Describing her body as a faith, her faith as an I and I, as a mouthpiece, as the pencil, as that which creates access to the world, as that which is in the way, where her bodies rest in this moment is in the dance.

One participant picked up on just this dance, and asked Samiya to discuss the poem which she described as "one that [I] really like". That poem, or any poem that feeds the soul, is finding the light in darkness, finding joy in moments of great distress, of embodying artistry: choosing to create in moments when society is in great turmoil. Of embodying the tension between creation and destruction. Of speaking truth to power.

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