Image by Laylie
Frazier/ All Rights Reserved
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The first murder depicted in the Hebrew Bible is that of Abel. He
is murdered by his brother Cain. They are the sons of Eve and Adam.
The world is young in this story, but not naïve. One of the brothers
wishes to be superior, and because he feels the other has outdone him,
he kills him. It was evening and it was morning. The awful day.
In the few weeks after the murder of George Floyd, his pastor,
Patrick “P.T.” Ngwolo of Resurrection
Houston in Texas, used the narrative of Cain and Abel to speak
about his murder. After Cain murdered Abel, Pastor
Ngwolo said, “Everyone thinks that that’s the end of Abel, not
only did he die, but he died silently. But God says I hear the blood
of your brother.”
There is so much in this short reference to religious literature:
the story of a murder, the story of the rage and superiority that
consumed the murderer, the desire for the murder to be kept silent,
and the assertion — in literature thousands of years old — that the
writers did not wish to let the dead be silenced.
This week for On Being, Krista
is in conversation with poets Tracy K. Smith and Michael
Kleber-Diggs. Tracy K. Smith, U.S. Poet Laureate from 2017-2019,
has been a guest on the show before.
Michael Kleber-Diggs is a poet, essayist and literary critic who
recently won the Max Ritvo Poetry Prize. Their contributions to a new
book — There’s
a Revolution Outside, My Love: Letters from a Crisis —
moves from topics of burden to joy; pleasure to pluralities; the
past and the present, which is present in this episode.
Michael speaks about listening to Big-Boi’s song, “Chocolate,”
while walking his dog and breaking out into dance, a particular form
of its own revolution. For Michael, a Black man, to dance — in public
— to the music is to assert a claim of home, of safety. Tracy follows
up Michael’s story by highlighting that “the burden is not Blackness.
It’s the gaze that’s directed towards Blackness.”
In many ways, this is a conversation between Tracy and Michael, a
conversation into which Krista listens; and in light of that, their
conversation is an intimate insight into multiplicities of Black
experiences of the past year. Critiquing the idea of singularities in
the Black community, Michael speaks about the pronoun we: “we
are a complex and dynamic people; there is no monolithic Black
experience.” And Tracy builds on this to demonstrate how anyone who is
not White in America knows what it feels like to be the unintended
audience of something. “If we is all of us,” Tracy says, “it’s not
what you’ve thought it was all this time.” The conversation between
both of these writers is one that starts in the artistry of their work
and includes questions about the imagination, and power, and about
what constitutes liberative transformation. And the scope of history
they focus on is wide: “These threats we live subject to… are the
grotesque and perverse ends to which a nation founded in shame has
gone in order to avoid atoning for its crimes.”
Our first episode of Poetry Unbound this week comes,
coincidentally, from another contributor to Tracy K. Smith and Michael
Kleber-Diggs’ There’s a Revolution Outside, My Love. Reginald
Dwayne Betts’ poem, “Essay
on Reentry,” from his poetry collection, Felon,
is a poem set at night. A father is awake, watching the TV down
low, when his youngest son joins him. This moment, this late, seems
the best time for him to tell his son about the prison sentence he
served, a sentence long ended, but still stretching into his present.
Esteban Rodríguez’s poem, “22
La Bota,” has an image of a man — Esteban’s father —
sleepwalking, standing outside his house, clashing his boots together,
in a powerful declaration to the living and the dead that this,
this is his homestead, protecting himself and his family from
voices that would seek to haunt such a claim.
Our offerings to you this week are wise voices; voices that look to
what is threatening, and respond by directing back to root-causes,
systemic presences, and what it means to claim the freedom of place,
dance, joy, and life in systems that have denied such assertions. We
are moved to bring these voices to you, friends. Let there be a new
Pádraig Ó Tuama
host of Poetry
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This Week at The On Being Project
Our Latest Episode
On Being with Krista
Tracy K. Smith and Michael Kleber-Diggs
is upon us... its hand against our back.’"
“It’s a heavy responsibility, and it’s
also this amazing invitation to participate in something beautiful,
It’s late at night: a father and son
are awake, and he’s sharing stories with his son that he wishes he
didn’t have to tell.
A son remembers how his father used to
bang his boots together while sleepwalking and wonders what spirits
his father was protecting them from.
Unbound Plus: Pádraig in conversation with Diane
Sunday, June 6, 2021
4:00 - 5:15 pm CST / 5:00 - 6:15 pm EST /
9:00 - 10:15 pm GMT
“Poetry Unbound Plus'' is a series of virtual gatherings in
partnership with the Washington
National Cathedral’s Center for Prayer and Pilgrimage.
In our final live gathering Pádraig will be talking with poet
Diane Glancy about her collection Island
of the Innocent: A Consideration of the Book of Job (Turtle
Point Press, 2020). This book — in poems, prose-poems and craft essays
— considers a telling of the biblical Book of Job through the lens of
Indigenous American narratives. At once an engagement with
infrequently considered characters (the wife of Job, for instance)
this book considers the moral question at the heart of the book of
Job: how to speak to God when we consider all that we have lost?
Space is limited to create an intimate virtual
gathering. To register, visit tix.cathedral.org
and enter “OnBeing”(all one word) in the Special Access Code box below
the general search bar, then click the “Add Code” button to access the
event registration pages for each gathering.
If you are unable to attend or register, recordings of all events -
including our past “Poetry Unbound Plus” conversations with Mary
Kinloch, and Lorna
Goodison - will be accessible on The
On Being Project’s YouTube channel in the days following each live