Body Politic

Written for Mayor Steve Benjamin’s State of the City address, 31 Jan 2017.

Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. – I Corinthians 12:15

When thousands of women with pink hats
and placards fill the streets, think
about how a city handles
bodies, guides them down sidewalks
and streets, between walls of stone
and state, about the way a mass
of bodies is a way of saying
something, as when a march exceeds
its brief circuit of the city
and ends up on the interstate,
as if to say these bodies matter,
precarious, here and now. A city
is a body, the old philosophers
say, a leader the head, the soldiers
his hands. A church, they say, or palace
is like a brain, a place to pause,
reflect. Or it’s the heart, stained
glass and cold walls, glimmer
of something larger. But that’s too easy
a figure of order and power. A city
is many bodies, moving, touching,
talking, gathered together, a place
where differences matter and meet,
a song written to the beat of many feet.

In the neighborhood assessment, the teacher
asks us to think about how bodies
move, how and where they go.
How many banks or payday lenders
within a mile of your house, she says,
how many grocery stores, libraries, schools?
These are moral questions. How far
is health care from where you are,
if you had no car? Are there
sidewalks where you live? She turns
her hands up as she asks—as if
they could be filled. What can people do?
What do they have access to?

Sometimes, the prophet says, your body
is your only weapon, he says,
you put your body in the street
to say what needs be said. Sometimes,
he says, you tuck your body in
so the wheels don’t turn. You hold
your hand up, empty. You lift
your hand above your eyes, as if
to shade the sun, as if you’re looking
into the distance, when you’re just
looking to the future, for what’s
not yet here. Hold your hand out
to someone—we do it all the time—
consider how we greet each other
in handshake or bro hug, fist bump
or bussed cheek, what we do
when we meet, the grammar of hands
and bodies, of who we are and what
we think of one another. A mass
of bodies is saying something—
whether it’s a market shutting
down Main, a dinner on a bridge,
a great crowd of witnesses watching
a flag come down, or maybe a room
of people sitting together, listening
to a man who asks them to imagine
themselves part of one body,
one city, one place,
sharing each other’s fate.

*

Our city lifts its hand to shade its eyes.
Our city wants to see into the distance.
Our city does not turn its back.
Our city does not hog the table.
Our city knows everyone is disabled in some way.
Our city offers a hand, opens a door.
Our city likes to talk.
Our city would rather build a bridge than build a wall.
Our city wants to hear your story.
Our city leans to listen.
Our city knows its soul is filled by art.
Our city sets a light out when it’s dark.
Our city is not a clenched fist.
Our city does not turn its back.
Our city never says I alone can fix it.
Our city knows we only get there together.
Our city wipes its brow, gets to work.

Where is Your Next Stop? Launching Poets on The Comet This Sunday, November 1!

On Sunday, November 1, One Columbia and The Comet will host the launch of our city’s first major poetry as a public art program—poems on city buses—with a rolling poetry reading on a downtown bus route followed by a celebration and reading at Tapp’s Art Center (1644 Main).

Repost from The Jasper Blog. 

Poetry on the COMET Announcement and Event

I’m pleased to announce that the poems collected for the project with The COMET have been posted up on the advertising area of the inside of the buses! Here are a few photos of some of the cards:

To celebrate this project, there will be an event titled “Poetry 101” held on November 1. A number of poets will be reading on COMET Route 101 North Main, rotating at select stops. After the rolling reading, the event will proceed at the Tapp’s Arts Center (1644 Main), where there will be light refreshments, and a poetry reading. Anyone who would like to ride along with the poets should report at the Sumter Street Transit Center (1780 Sumter) at 3:30pm. Limited seating, first come, first served.

One Columbia has also collected poems into a chapbook which will be free and available at the event on November 1 or at the One Columbia office (1219 Taylor Street).

As an added bonus, all rides on Route 101 North Main will be free to any riders all day on November 1!

When we’re told we’ll never understand

A reading of the poem “When we’re told we’ll never understand” from “Hercules and the Wagoner: Reflections, South Carolina, June 17-22, 2015.” This poem was written in response to the tragedy at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC and in conjunction with the efforts to remove the Confederate flag from the SC Statehouse grounds.

The poem was originally read as part of the Take It Down rally at the Statehouse on June 20, 2015 and reprinted in both the Free Times and The State Newspaper.

 

Tell the Truth, Tell it Slant

ed-readingWant to push your writing to a new level? Want to learn more about craft and voice? Image and indirection. Honesty and lies, making the abstract concrete. Finding a voice, telling a story.

 

I’ll be leading a series of FREE writing workshops (every Tuesday evening in July between 6:30pm-8pm), culminating with a public poetry reading and open mic event at the Richland Library.

  • Tuesday, July 7 — Bank of America Conference Room
    Poetry Workshop
  • Tuesday, July 14 — Bank of America Conference Room
    Poetry Workshop
  • Tuesday, July 21 — Bank of America Conference Room
    Poetry Workshop
  • Tuesday, July 28 — Film & Sound
    Poetry Reading and Open Mic

Share what you’ve created or honed during the workshop, and listen to other talented community members perform their verse.

Don’t miss your chance to work with me and snag one of these high-demand spots!

Registration is required, and space is limited. Register online by visiting the event listings on the Richland Library website. You must register for each session separately, with the exception of the final Poetry Reading and Open Mic. For that event, first dibs to read/perform will be given to those who have participated in the preceeding workshops, and others can sign up in person prior to the event start.