I read some short pieces of writing by Ross Gay, Chris Cluff, and Elizabeth Acevedo; their voices are still with me now and while what I have read by each author is but a brief glimpse into the human experience, the words are so deep that I need space and time to hold and understand their meaningfulness.
In many ways, this has been the case with lines from Shakespeare which cling to me like summer’s sweat, or poems whose rhymes continue to shift in depth and breadth under my skin. I’ve been thinking about some of the deep and meaningful lessons of identity and what we willingly select as “core texts” in the classroom, and I’m looking for ones which convey a range of emotions and ones that represent rich identities, ones other than my own. These three were appetizers to a massive feast of thought and reflection this week.
Chris Cluff posted this image of visual-verbal prose-poetry. I love how his posts defy classification in form and content. He leaves you with thoughts unconfirmed, in a state of wonder. Yet, it seems to me that the brevity of Twitter may obscure these potential morsels of richness. I thought deeply about the meaning of “white noise”, how sometimes these poetic pauses encapsulate such an enigmatic range of ideas. I cannot say for sure what he intended here, but I thought about this brief post for a long time reading it through the lens of my own experience.
And then a post by Vicky Mochama led me to an episode of the podcast, Code Switch, called “Hold Up! Time for an Explanatory Comma”. The hosts of the episode discuss the dilemma of pausing to explain something that a White audience might not understand that a BIPOC audience typically does understand. They debated the need to provide the brief explanatory pause as it “speaks to who is valued or centred in the conversation”. The problem is that White supremacy is at play here and Black culture or Brown culture or othered cultures which have all sorts of references known internally need to provide explanations for White people to understand. They make is clear that they don’t really mean “all White people” but that “White people is slang” for what we are all being force fed by the overarching whiteness where “everything is filtered through a white lens” from history to English to Science. They want to reach an audience, a wide audience, but the “double-consciousness” is revealed in the pause.
This got me thinking about the often stated rationale for teaching Shakespeare as students will “need to understand” the many cultural references to the Bard, there would be no need for the explanatory comma, or that his plays contain “universal themes” which defy cultural classification. I had once felt this, but now I wonder what “everybody should know” and what double-consciousness for a White person might feel like. I’m not sure that I know enough about this, yet.
I am having a hard time with sustained reading and writing these days, and it appears from Twitter, that I’m not alone. Maybe the unsustained reading is really just sustained thinking. Maybe what is brief requires time and space and sustained thought to develop into something meaningful. I hope so.