Poetry as Speculative Activism

Last week, the Women’s Resource Center had the opportunity to attend the Allied Media Conference in Detroit, Michigan! This conference hopes to inspire and foster creativity to incite social change through the use of various media. This conference facilitated several workshops from “Video for Revolution” to “Electronic Health and Safety in the Borderlands”. One of my favorite workshops was titled “Poetry as Speculative Activism” which sought to broaden the perspectives of poets who write about oppression.

As a local poet in my community, myself and other poets often write about the oppressions we face on a generational and daily basis. Although this art and work is extremely necessary to make our struggles visible, it can also take a toll on the person writing the piece on an emotional and spiritual level.home office desk background, Desk musicians, hand holding pencil

The workshop “Poetry as Speculative Activism” sought to foster a more transformative approach to poetry that both facilitated social change and healed the performer simultaneously.

The workshop was taught by nationally recognized poets Danez Smith (author of “Dear White America” which you can view here) and Franny Choi (author of “For Peter Liang” which you can view here). Both poets acknowledged the emotional toll writing can take on a person especially when writing continuously about generational trauma, racism and sexism. Franny Choi emphasized that she “refused to put destruction on display” and she was tired of “writing poems that made [her] feel awful”. To ease the intensity of these results, both poets explained how they incorporate “speculative activism” into their work. “Speculative activism” is described as a practice of explaining what “could be” when analyzing oppression. Danez stated “there is a freedom in writing a world that could be.” Although speculative poetry can emphasize a utopian society, both poets explained that dystopia and utopia can exist simultaneously. Smith and Choi also asserted that it is not the author’s job to prove how to create a speculative situation, only to create a feeling of joy.

The workshop focused on two prompts: describe who you consider to be “your people” (women, people of color, immigrants etc.) and then give them a super power and think of an oppression or societal construct and then describe a world in which that thing does not exist (rape culture, racism, borders etc.). Both of these prompts allowed me to focus my writing and my activism in a more healing way. This workshop made me realize that self-care should even be practiced within our own creative outlets. To truly heal a community, we must simultaneously heal ourselves.

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