Radical Existence: People, Writers, and Poets of Color

*Note: these are just my thoughts from our discussion on Sept. 15 and that I posted on tumblr

“My survival is radical”

I am a woman. I am queer. I am Latina. My existence, I have learned, is a giant fuck you to institutions that work to oppress women, queer individuals, people of color and other marginalized identities. I never thought of my existence as radical, as revolutionary, or as a form of resistance. I just was happy to exist and go about my day. I was happy to go to class, learn, and do my work. But looking around me, on campus and in the world in general, I see a lot of white faces. I see them in textbooks, I see them in positions of power, I see them in classmates, and I see them in success stories. By occupying space, and specifically occupying space that was not intended for me (however that doesn’t make the space I inhabit any less mine, nor does it make me undeserving of my place here at school or in general) , I’ve discovered that my very existence, is in fact radical.

“Their existence is radical”

I like writing. I like writing about people like me. But never in my years of schooling did I read about, learn about, or even really talk about people who looked like me or were anything like me. Instead I learned about white men dominating the world with words and canons and things that never truly belonged to them. The declared themselves innovative and rebellious as they appropriated cultures, worked to exclude minorities, and later erased them from the narratives. Poets of color were and are ignored, banished to cold corners, their names are forgotten, as if their existence was something never truly worth noting. Their place in these literary circles and spheres don’t really exist because no one ever bothers to actually make room for them.

Poets and writers of color exist. They create beautiful works of literature and media. They exist outside of the canon, but that doesn’t take away their legitimacy or make their work any less valid. I remember someone on the first day of class explaining their interest in how people of color use art and literature to cope with the harsh realities they are forced to face day in and day out. This fact, I think adds power to the narratives told by poets and writers of color, because they re-assert their voice and power through art that has the power to outlive them. This makes their work even more radical.

Experimental poetry (because fuck the avant-guard), from what I understand, is about being different on purpose, to create something new, to answer a question, to rebel against the confines of what poetry is supposed to be and look like. It’s supposed to be a space of newness, of trial and error, of simply playing with the power of language and being a conscious user of language to tie in different world views, political ideas, and emotions. It’s all experimental.

“They are radical”

This brings me to my last point in this rant: Someone in class today said that simply be producing work, by being artists, by existing in the literary community, poets of color are experimental. They are naturally breaking down barriers, testing limits, and breaking down traditions. Furthermore, they are inhabiting spaces that white institutions didn’t created for them. This act is radical, their work is revolutionary, they are experimental poets.

This really stood out to me because I think it’s something that I can relate to, albeit in a different context. Moreover, I think that the fact that writers of color are inherently experimental (and radical) give more power to their art because:

1) It challenges the white institutions both within the literary world and the outside world. Simply by existing, their work acts as a challenge to white establishments, as a fuck you to white literary spheres, and as a reminder of the tenacity of those marginalized and push aside.

2) Work that represents marginalized communities validates and empowers readers, especially readers of color. By being able to relate to different works of art readers of color, or at least I feel validated in my own narrative and empowered to keep going. Furthermore, by having people of color inhabit these typically white spaces, allows other people of color to envision themselves in other typically white spaces.

So I guess what I’m getting at is that poets of color being inherently experimental is great and I find that inspirational because they are creating their own space rather than fighting for spaces that white institutions never wanted to dole out to them. They are creating their own spaces and using their language to cross barriers, to tell stories, to empower others through their own existence and the existence of their work. I think that’s pretty radical.

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