I was lucky enough to be one of fourteen poets to get a place on the three-day Masterclass with Don Share at the magical Molly Keane Writers’ Retreat in Ardmore. I have dozens of pages of notes, but this is a glimpse into some of the insights he offered. Yes, we know many of these things already, but it’s good to be reminded. And this is Don Share – if we pay attention, we might just get into Poetry Magazine one day.
The first thing Don looks at is the shape of the poem on a page. If it has sections, do the sections help? He likes names rather than pronouns. Names are striking things, he says. They can do a lot in a poem. Look at the etymology of words. What does Inchigeela mean? A place name becomes imbued with the qualities of its history. Be curious. Don’t just…
I know that Black people were sold as slaves because they were seen as talking beasts of burden and Africans colonized for their own good; and it was unnatural for women to operate heavy machinery let alone operate on a brain.
I know that in the United States, Jim Crow used the rope to keep black from white, and apartheid in South Africa killed for as little as looking across the color line; and that intermarrying between the races was a crime against God, Queen, and Country.
I know that a God of many names, the laws of many lands, science and nature were used to justify slavery and colonialism, holocausts and genocides, rapes and lynching.
I know that African dictators called those who fought for democracy “puppets under the pay of foreign masters” and the foreign masters called those same people communists and insurgents.
And this I know very well: that had the Sojourner Truths, Dedan Kimathis, Martin Luther Kings, Malcom Xs, and Ruth Firsts failed, my wife and I would not have crossed the color line and my daughter would not have been possible.
I know that she, just like her mother and me, just like her grandparents, will have her struggles, but it will BE a struggle waged at the crossroad of many cultures and worlds.
So I must know that those before me did not die so that I could use my freedom to put others in jail; or use the same laws that betrayed them to enslave and torture.
I must know that if Steve Biko died so I could write what I like, then my pen cannot become the weapon that justifies the torture and murder of others.
How then can I not know that no one appointed me protector of African cultural purity? How can I not know that I am not the standard of all that is moral and natural?
What fortress is this I build that subjugates those within and keeps those outside under siege? Whose moral law is this I use to judge?
Whose legal system to jail? Whose weapon to murder? And whose tongue do I use to silence?
How can I, Black and African and blessed as I am by the struggles of my fathers and mothers deny my gay brothers and sisters their rights?