Cathexis Northwest Press
Lessons Learned From Black Revolutionary...; As Long As They Don't Kneel; Here || There
By: Landon Smith
Lessons Learned From Black Revolutionary Assassination Number...?
What does a broken shoulder even support
when joints are too burdened with grief on a second hand?
Counting on revolutionary black death was lesson number one.
How to keep on keepin’ on was lesson number two.
How to retaliate was the last lesson planned
for cycles never meant to cross completion anyway
Tasting toasted reality like burning fibers is the last straw anyway
so what do I need tastebuds for
in an afterlife nobody’s proven to touch my tastebuds
Not as long as this shoulder keeps dislocating
Any way toward healing gets seen as unproductive
until there’s an admission fee to tell you what repair should look like
even if you still see the same cycle
when you put the credit card down.
Castle of consumption
castrating memory | Before you know it
you are disposable too
You are the smell of a cigar celebration
before you are on your road
to being forgotten before the next precursor
who decides to lead with loud mouth
and hand-me-down rags
with bullet hole burns still fresh enough
to taste the salt from a mother’s teardrop
just to be trapped in another memoir unpublished
with red splattered pages
about the needs of a revolution
As Long As They Don't Kneel
Dollars doled out
for super spreader rituals
unwilling to be passed;
human sacrifice will have to be price of admission
draped in racism and leather
just enough to erase moral codes
Just for a second
or four quarters
Maybe if you watch enough sacrifice
you will not see slaughterhouse blood
on corporate office walls
and regain appetite for apathy
with palms gripping dead olive branches
as long as you nod and obey
nod and say it’s not that deep
nod and say it’s just a game
coated in militarism and macroinnundation
for penises pinned to military uniforms
holding flags for ceremony
showing fighter jet flyovers
to feed poor pandemic mouths screaming about anything
for more blood to be sprayed on lined fields and office walls
in diverse colors
since you can be Imperialist too
for the low cost of
what makes you anything but.
Nationalist rituals fermented in the brains
not used to question them
as long as olive branch stays lifeless in palms
as long as gravesites don’t speak too loudly from whistleblowers remains
as long as blood sacrifice remains ritual long enough for veins fully tapped
and rubber bands to remain on arms
until final whistle blows
Here || There
Perhaps I am still hanging from a rope somewhere
and I do not have the wherewithal to see my own name
memorialized in block and jar dirt
Perhaps I am still aspirating in a dungeon somewhere
not ready to be dragged onto a boat somewhere
for property maintenance
Perhaps I am pieces pieced together
still tied to previous iterations
screamed into these breaths I now take with reluctance
to revisit visualizations
knowing I am both here
and in a rope
in a dungeon
in a chain anchor
straddling a past-life and a half-life
afraid to pass on pieces to any interaction of myself
that does not understand
that I am the last breath in a train track execution
as much as I am the voice of a classroom
Keep seeing train headlights and torches blinding my resolve
I am afraid to breathe the air of the asphyxiated
above dirt monument
not knowing what the strength to hold that space looks like on a straddle
My therapist tells me I need to remember to breathe
but perhaps I am still hanging
still below ground
still afraid of a future
with no future beneath
a future of museum boxes and
breath on jars of dirt
I am unsure how to breathe in two places at once
let alone three
Grappling with limbo
I seem to be here
trying to find somewhere safe
somewhere not black and blue circle encrusted
by settler colonialism telling me liberation is
the ballot or the rope
ballot or the billyclub
ballot or the gun
Perhaps I am still hanging from a rope somewhere
trying to find somewhere else to breathe
Landon Smith (he/him) is a professor at Chabot College and lives in Oakland, CA. Despite his institutional degrees, he really became a poet through the East Side Arts Alliance in Oakland. Landon thanks his older sister Alia for buying him his first journal, thus starting his ever-evolving relationship with words. You can often find him processing the world through poetry.
Interview with the poet:
Cathexis Northwest Press:
How long have you been writing poetry?
I've been writing some semblance of poetry for about 20 years now. Which is wild to think about how these artforms that make us who we are really just evolve in us from really young.
Can you remember the first poem you read that made you fall in love with poetry?
I think the first poem that made me fall in love with poetry was music. Amiri Baraka said something similar about how for most of us, our first exposure to poetry is music. And the same goes for me. My brother, sister, and I all played instruments growing up. My mother is a singer and my father loved/loves vinyl records. So there was always music. Frankie Beverly and Maze, Donnie Hathaway, Michael Jackson, Brownstone, Tupac, etc. So the first poem I read was more like the first poem I heard and that was music.
Who are your favorite poets? Any specific poems?
I used to like Walt Whitman and Ezra Pound because in college, that's really who I was taught, so that's who I had to choose from. I wasn't exposed to Amiri Baraka until graduate school and he was someone who I felt like spoke more in a tone that I resonated with. "Somebody Blew Up America" I think is one of the more brilliant poems (and performances) in poetry. I love Gil Scott Heron. Its indicative that both are really poets who pair their poems with music. "On Coming From a Broken Home" I think is one of the more brilliant displays we have of poetry. I even make reference to their poems. And then contemporarily, I think Joy Priest is beyond brilliant. Mahogany Brown is, as well. Darius Simpson, Mimi Tempestt, and Janice Sapigao are three more of my favorites. And Tongo Eisen-Martin is a mind like none other we will see, probably, for generations.
Can you share for us a little bit about your writing process? Any specific rituals that get you in the zone?
I've always been a writer of observation. I think that's because I started writing with my sister giving my a journal to process my feelings so it was about what I observed going on with me and around me. So I tend to always start with something that I have noticed that day, or recently, and then I run with imagination from there. I like to have a mix of reality and the imaginary in my work, to the point where people always think it's autobiographical, but it's not. I just open myself up to what voices need to speak through me at that time. And to get into that zone really just is a constant play on consciousness and state of being. It hits at random times and you have to be ready to write down what you think about, because I often say that I process the world through poem. So it's not always a dedicated time. Sometimes I'll just be grocery shopping and something will come to me and I'll write it down. But then other times, I'll be in a weekly workshop, talking about what has been going on with me, and something will take over for 20 minutes. So observation and opening myself up are two things that make my process what it is.
How do you decide the form for your poems? Do you start writing with a form in mind, or do you let the poem tell you what it will look like as you go?
I have this light aversion to "form" poems, if I'm honest. I know fully where that comes from and it's from the trauma of undergrad, and how that experience really almost ruined poetry for me (it did for a long time). So when I think of the form of my own poems, I really just start saying what I want to say - no matter how it comes out. I don't have a predetermined form in mind, usually. And then when I look at what I have on the page, I decide if it reads in my head how I want it to be read on the page - then I go from there. I have played with certain forms before and I think certain ones woven into my own voice can be really useful as a means of resistance. Grad school actually is what made me think a lot more about the shape of the page being part of the poem so I often try to come to that second and let the voice of the poem come to me first - whomever is speaking through me at that point.
Any advice for poets who have yet to find their voice?
We are all products of other products, imprints of those before us. So don't be afraid of being called unoriginal for being inspired by someone whose style you love because you will inevitably do it your own way. And most importantly, don't let rejection minimize your voice. Find that voice amidst the rejection. A lot of younger poets (I was included in that) get discouraged from rejection and think it's because they aren't good enough, when really rejection is just an opportunity to use your voice somewhere else. But if you don't allow yourself to be vulnerable in your work, and in the sharing of your work, your voice will really never evolve into being your own. So put yourself out there.
What is your editing process like?
I have always been a one-and-done kind of writer. I like to go with it when the moment strikes, so I like to get it out and then I'll go back and re-read it out loud to see if it reads how I want it to. And if it doesn't, I'll cut things, change things, add things. But I always think about how it sounds coming out of my mouth and if there are lines that seem like they're filler, or not really serving the altitude that the tone deserves, I'll change them because every line should either make you feel something or make you realize a connection to something. If it doesn't, I don't want it there.
When do you know that a poem is finished?
That's actually really hard to quantify because everybody has their own comfort with finished. I honestly don't think any poem is ever finished, which helps me really see poems as being constant puzzle pieces or snapshots. But when I look at a poem and I feel like I've made the point of whomever is speaking through my spirit at that time, there's usually a line that I look at and think "that ends this iteration." Because I might write something a month from now that pairs well with it and I may want to add to it. But I think thinking of them as puzzle pieces rather than finite entities helps me know it's never done, which allows me to feel less pressure about when I stop it.