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Posts Tagged ‘Black Voices News’

I presented this at the Unitarian Universalist Church as part of  Poetry Sunday” where I am a lay minister. The segment is also on YouTube. Unitarian Universalism is a faith that encompasses all religious/spiritual backgrounds (including atheism, agnosticism and Buddhism) in a “free and responsible search for truth and meaning.”)

"Poetry Is Not A Luxury" on church sign, Janet Mason standing next to it

“Poetry Is Not A Luxury.”

This is a quote from Audre Lorde, the self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior poet,” who dedicated her art and life to social justice. Audre lived from 1934 to 1992.

I first came across her work in the early 1980s. I was in my twenties and was a freshly minted lesbian-feminist. I was fortunate to come out in a diverse cultural and political women’s community — which is what we called it then — which described a community based on the values of feminism and included lesbians, bisexual and heterosexual women and men of all stripes. I was fortunate to have seen Audre read in person several times, including in Philadelphia and at the Audre Lorde “I Am Your Sister” conference in Boston held in 1990 two years before she died of cancer at the age of 58.

Audre Lorde authored 15 books of poetry and prose.  She was Poet Laureate of New York State from 1991 to 1992.  She was a major poet. But because of racism, homophobia, and sexism, she was not taught in  the 1970s in the public high schools when I was a student. Audre Lorde’s work is powerful and is about empowerment.  If she had been taught, I know for a fact that her work would have saved plenty of lives. 

When I read her book Sister Outsider, Essays and Speeches first published by The Crossing Press in 1984, it became a kind of bible for me.  All of her essays held resonance for me — especially “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House” and “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power.”

But I always returned to her essay “Poetry Is Not a Luxury”.  I’m going to share a few excerpts with you:

…..”it is through poetry that we give name to those ideas which are — until the poem — nameless and formless, about to be birthed, but already felt.  That distillation of experience from which true poetry springs births thought as dream births concept, as feeling births idea, as knowledge births (precedes) understanding.

…..

“For each of us …. , there is a dark place within, where hidden and growing our true spirit rises, ‘Beautifully/and tough as chestnut/stanchions against our nightmare of weakness/’ … and of impotence.

These places of possibility within ourselves are dark because they are ancient and hidden; they have survived and grown strong through that darkness.  Within these deep places, each one of us holds an incredible reserve of creativity and power, of unexamined and unrecorded emotion and feeling. The … place of power within each of us is neither white nor surface; it is dark, it is ancient and it is deep.”

“…poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought.  The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.”

When I am lucky, I find myself coming full circle with that wonderment I experienced when young — now combined with the wisdom of my years.  Revisiting Audre Lorde’s essay through a Unitarian Universalist lens was one of those experiences.  While this essay could evoke any of the UU Seven Principles, to me it is particularly evocative of the first:  “The inherent worth and dignity of every person.”

Poetry is something that has always made me feel more fully alive. It sheds new light on our commonalities and differences.  It enters the mystery and enlarges what is possible.

For this reason, “Poetry Is Not A Luxury.”

This piece was originally on OpEdNews

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For my fifty-sixth birthday, my partner took me to Relish, a celebrated jazz club in Philly, to see The Sherry Butler Quartet.  The evening was enchanting. We had dinner (Southern style, delicious, very large portions) and then saw the show.  Sherry Butler is a Philly institution — extremely powerful — and her quartet was pretty awesome too.  My favorite song of the evening was Four Women originally done by Nina Simone.  Nina lived in Center City Philadelphia and we saw her on Penn’s campus decades ago when we were freelancing for the concert producer. Philadelphia has quite a jazz history!

Sherry is a customer Barbara first met at the Mt. Airy Post Office and she also performed at the Unitarian Universalist church in Philly on Stenton Avenue last year.

Relish is an experience not to be missed — we’re planning to go back soon.  Here are some photos from the evening.

Sherry Butler singing at Relish

Sherry Butler Quartet at Relish

vocalist and keyboardist of Sherry Butler Quartet

Sherry Butler Quartet at Relish

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from The Huffington Post

Since the Duck Dynasty controversy surfaced, I’ve been keeping my distance.

Even though I’ve never seen the show — or heard of it before the controversy — I found the whole thing, well, distasteful. I’ve been a lapsed vegetarian for years — and still avoid red meat and pork. And the few times that I’ve eaten duck, I found it not too my liking. It’s too greasy for starters. And it tastes like an old friend from my childhood.

The Story About Ping was one my favorite childhood books. Written in 1933 by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Kurt Wiese, the story chronicles the life of Ping, a duck, who lived on the Yangtze River with his sisters and brothers and his extended family on  a “wise-eyed” house boat.

I mentioned The Story About Ping in my memoir Tea Leaves in the context of reading The Magic Mountain, to my dying mother, a classic book and 700-page tome by Thomas Mann, and one of her favorites that she had read start to finish years before I was born “just because,” she told me, “I wanted to.”

Reading to my mother about the protagonist’s (Hans Castorp) experience in a tuberculosis sanitarium in the Swiss Alps provided us with some closure — she was returning to a world that she once inhabited in a book and I was, in a way, returning to the pages of my childhood.

As I read, my voice grew low and sleepy. Reading out loud to my mother recalled my childhood, her voice lulling me to sleep, weaving through the worlds of Treasure Island, Anne of Green Gables and, my favorite, The Story About Ping. Now it was she who was wide awake remembering the world of this book that she once inhabited as she jumped ahead, telling me about Hans and the other patients sitting outside every afternoon taking “the cure,” wrapped in blankets, inhaling the cold air, attended to by nurses who must have been wondering if they were going to be next.

Books have always enriched my life. I am a thinking person and, as such, also find reality TV rather distasteful. Or, as I have long been fond of saying, “I am not a big fan of reality.”

Some notable exceptions have been the Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best? reality show (loved the “lesbian episode”) and RuPaul’s Drag Race.

The fact is I rather enjoy not being in the American mainstream — and, for the most part, being oblivious to it.  But when Jessie Jackson released his statement saying that the Duck Dynasty “Patriarch’s” comments on race being “more offensive than the bus driver in Montgomery, Alabama, more than 59 years ago,” I took notice.  I remembered shaking Jackson’s hand in 1984. I remembered that I was part of his rainbow coalition.

Part of what I find distasteful about the Duck Dynasty controversy is that it proves the saying that there is no such thing as bad publicity — even when it comes to racist and homophobic comments. Sales of the shows products have skyrocketed.

Then I read about the comments that this same Duck Dynasty “Patriarch” made at a Christian conference in 2009 advocating that men marry teenage girls. (In most states this is against the law.)

What the Duck Dynasty controversy illustrates most strongly is that we are more alike than different. Racism and homophobia and sexism all have things in common. In addition to offending African-Americans, the LGBT community, and women, his comments also offend those who love women which, one can assume, includes most straight men.  In a just world, the man who made the comments would be fired from his job.

In a just world, the LGBT community would not have to fight for the legal right to marry. When I heard the news about the Supreme Court putting the brakes of same-sex marriages in Utah — at least until “a federal appeals court more fully considers the issue” — I was not, in fact, outraged. But then, I am an old-school lesbian feminist activist who has seen a lot of history and know that change happens slowly.

I have met queer college students who are angry. One college-aged lesbian I met in Atlanta said to me, “I thought that the whole gay marriage thing should be a non-issue by now. It should have been taken care of before I was born.”

Amusing as her comment was (especially since this young woman had grown up in the deep South), I had to admit that she was right.

Last summer, I was married during the short window of time when Montgomery County, Pa. Register of Wills, Bruce D. Hanes began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. My partner and I have been together for 30 years and deserve the same legal recognition as any opposite sex married couple.

But after, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court upheld the state’s ban on same-sex marriage (a decision that Bruce Haines has filed an argument against). As a result, my partner and I, along with 173 other same-sex couples who were issued licenses in Pennsylvania, are not sure if we are still legally married.

It’s a similar situation to the 900 gay and lesbian couples who were legally married in Utah.

If I were a quarter of a century younger, I might be outraged.

But I’m fortifying myself for the long fight — we still have work to do.

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As a white lesbian, I am equally dismayed about the not guilty verdict rendered in the case of Trayvon Martin and the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act as I am elated about the recent Supreme Court ruling repealing the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and striking down Proposition Eight.

These issues are by no means black and white. The LGBT movement cuts across every race, ethnicity, nationality and class division. That is what the rainbow flag represents. It is a reminder that we are all connected. In the recent Supreme Court rulings alone, this country has taken a huge step forward and a huge step back.

I am happy for my friends who live in states where same-sex marriage is legal that they can receive full federal benefits, am hopeful for myself and my partner that we can be part of the change and that it happens in our lifetimes. In thinking about the legalization of gay marriage and the Voting Rights Act and the not guilty verdict rendered in the murder case of Trayvon Martin in the state of Florida, I cannot help but agree with my retired postal worker partner that states rights is contradictory. “We’re not the divided states of America,” she pointed. “We’re supposed to be United.”

Look at the interracial marriage which was still illegal in sixteen states when the 1967 Supreme Court ruling in Loving v. Virgina — ruled in favor of Loving, overriding the laws of the states.

Unfortunately, it is safe to assume that had the U.S. Supreme Court, has not reached its verdict in 1967 — that many states would have kept their laws against interracial marriage for as long as they could.

My thinking about the connections between Civil Rights and LGBT rights was deepened further when I read the recently published novel The Sin Warriors by Julian E. Farris (Lethe Press, 2012). The novel is based on the actual events, in 1956, in the state of Florida when, as is written in the afterword of the novel …

read the entire blog post in The Huffington Post

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