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C.N.P Poetry 

  • Writer's pictureCathexis 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

for you

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just to be trapped in another memoir unpublished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

Religious ceremonies

draped in racism and leather

just enough to erase moral codes

for numbness

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

and nowhere

trying to find somewhere safe

somewhere free

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?

Landon Smith:

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.


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