Kar Johnson In Creative Writing II, the juniors and seniors have recently completed a unit with artist in residence Kar Johnson, where we studied the “personal” and “political” and how these labels may become interchangeable in the context of poetry. Over the course of about two months, we studied various poets such as Solmaz Sharif, Ocean Vuong, and Carolyn Forche, and how their work pertains to our course aim. We spent much of class time discussing “-ism”s present in our society, and how poetry may be wielded as a vehicle through which to combat said injustices in an accessible, well-articulated form.
One of the first pieces Kar brought in was an article by Audre Lorde, entitled “Transformation of Silence into Language and Action”. Here, it is emphasized the importance of speaking out against injustices, even if it makes you afraid. Lorde begins the article by citing a cancer diagnosis as the provoker of a p deeperiod of self reflection, as it forced her to recognize her own mortality. It was during this time when Lorde realized the artificiality of silence; whether or not one chooses to combat injustice, injustice will always be there. This concept really impacted me. After being introduced to this article, I found myself, in small ways, explicitly attempting to defend myself in situations both personal and political. I learned that it is always worth a try.
In our country, there is a tendency to view “ism”s as impersonal, abstract concepts. Those who are privileged may view incidences of racism/sexism/etc as simply newspaper headlines because these injustices don’t intimately affect their lives, and hence, the experiences of marginalized people are needlessly politicized. The politicization of these topics is often used to dismiss those who speak out as those who are “concerned with politics” rather than those who are simply articulating their realities. I think it is important to acknowledge that what’s “political” is often also personal, especially for those who are marginalized and do not have the privilege of having their stories be the default narrative.
Here is a poem I wrote near the conclusion of our time with Kar, entitled:
“When The Ocean Decided To Investigate”.
When the ocean decided to investigate
there were albatross babes in the schoolyard
and the farmer
was arranging to wheel his grapefruits up to the town
the tapered inns on the cliff-fringe suddenly began to
as the hazy manes
of ocean waves
I watched my cushions simply bloat up with salt
as otters filled my slippers and my stove
I maneuvered my way up the chimney
with porphyra in my mouth
only to find two swordfish gasping on the unsoused roof
the neighbors yowling out to God
the approaching yokes of sea foam!
Sometimes I am afraid I am this obvious.
In kelped vehicles
invaded women pinch the water out of their sleeves.
Look, there: the man is sprawled across a spinning minced mattress
as the sea lifts him closer to the chandelier
and there: submerged
delicate boys cork sea shells into their ears
the air in their heads
will help them float back up
Angelica LaMarca, class of 2018