Last Wednesday, poet Natalie Diaz hosted Colonization of the Eye: A Troubling of Identity, Performance, and Projection, at the
Lewis Center for the Arts in Princeton, NJ. The guest poets were Christian Campbell, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, and Roger Reeves.
The discussion focused on how stereotypes and preconceived notions can affect the ways in which people experience literature, poetry, and art. The guests took turns presenting their works and addressing the subject, and answered questions from the audience.
Poet Natalie Diaz, a Hodder Fellow at Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts, beginning the discussion by explaining what it means to have a colonized eye.
“There’s a native poet named Lady Long Soldier, and she’s Lakota, and she was talking about going to readings and she said, “No matter what I read, all they’re hearing is what they’ve projected on me,”” said Diaz. “So she can read about the reservation or not… all the questions at the end are still what people came knowing.”
Poet Christian Campbell of the University of Toronto read from his work “JMB’s Dehistories”, a lyrical essay about the works of Jean-Michel Basquiat. The poem was back-dropped by slides of Basquiat’s works.
“We all have our Basquiats, which is to say we all want a piece of him, we all are a piece of him, and yea, verily we have dubbed him first black art star, graffiti god, HNIC of the gallery glitterati, patron saint of afro punk, diaspora diviner, lynchpin of hipsters, ultimate hustler, t-shirt deity, angel of street pharmacist, queer hero, immigrant success story, New York City centaur, tragic black genius number 208450, congo drum conundrum….”
Poet Roger Reeves, assistant professor of poetry at the University of Illinois at Chicago, spoke about black liberation, US foreign policy, and the meaning of selfies. He read from his unfinished poem, Sunday Mourning.
“Buck dancing on balustrades near the nigger cemeteries, where the chariots swung so low we just called them commas, we about to fuck up some commas yeah, Jerry Mander and Jack Johnson the shit out of shit. Why do white women love black men? because we eat cold eels and think distant thoughts, Jack Johnson, we need more selfies.”
Poet and visual artist Rachel Eliza Griffiths, who teaches creative writing at Sara Lawrence College and the Institute of American Indian Arts, spoke about learning about the self. She spoke about photography, saying, “There’s something even in the language of photography that really plagues me about kind of shooting someone, taking their image, capturing them, trying to get into them so I can get something out to show….”
Griffiths read the poem The Black Unicorn, by Audre Lorde, which was the inspiration of her trilogy of short films by the same name. “I’m interested in the mythology of images,” Griffiths explained, “especially where black bodies and colonizing [are concerned] – if you don’t see the people you can take the people, you can take their art.”