As my summer comes to what feels like a sudden and disheartening halt, I find myself assessing what exactly I have gotten done over the last 8 weeks. Have I come any closer to making my dreams real? What are my dreams? Has all the time I have devoted to trolling the local papers for open mics, driving around central Florida in search of dimly lit venues, and the ridiculous number of hours I have spent harassing my web-designer, fellow poets, friends, and internet forum buddies about "the national poetry scene," poetry tours, and poetry websites amounted to anything in the grand scheme of things? In my little scheme of things?
This poetry business is something I do because I think it matters. Its part of a grandiose dream I have of changing the world with my art. I try to change the world in other ways too- by teaching, by protesting, by signing petitions, writing irate letters-but it is my art which speaks with the most authentic voice about who I am and what I am about. It is my art, I have been told, which changes people.
Years ago, when I was founding a black arts collective in Washington, Dc, I asked all the women in the group to write a small blurb about why they wrote. We collected the blurbs together to make a flier for one of our early performances. I recall looking over it years later and thinking wow, we were a dramatic bunch, weren't we?
Erica, Janelle, Ellen, Pariss, Deniece, Rochelle, Carla, myself….Every single writer in the group claimed to have some extremely important reason for writing. We were all trying to touch someone, to change someone, to end racism, stop the violence, save women. We were passionate and ambitious and it would be easy for the older, more sedate me to look back in laughter at such dreamy proclamations. Who did we think we were, anyway?
But the truth is that we knew who we were. We had decided to call our collective Daughters of the Dream. We saw ourselves as King’s legacy and we intended to live that dream- as artists, in our writing, with our words. We weren’t confused or self-involved (well maybe a little- we were young after all). We were dreamers.
In a stanza of one of my poems I have written:
What will you make
Of my urban league father
Telling me I can be anything/do anything
Playing me the recording of
Martin Luther King’s
“I have a dream” speech
Over and over and over again
Telling me I AM that dream.
I suppose I still imagine that my generation has an obligation to at least try to walk in the footsteps of our more courageous predecessors.....