This poem was written by F. Douglas Brown using words generated by Terry Wolverton through fevered writing. Comments by Douglas on the process of writing the poem appear below.
We Invent : We
for African American Writers/ after Terry Wolverton
1. Quake Swarm
We tell ourselves: solid
We think trillions of forms
We point to shrines, invent
Ourselves the planet in place
We are convinced our matter
Holds everything we cling to
But like Yoko Ono vibrates: “Everything is shaking”
We’re really set in motion together
We’re frequency, all the time
Energy shaking delusion and fixed mythologies
We make fervor— musical
We’re one giant quake
A swarm of tenacious breath:
We are song
“Everything is shaking”
We : vibrate Yoko Ono
We : cling to everything
We : hold the planet in place
We : invent : We
We : trillions of forms
We : ourselves— solid
2. Ransack yourself where you stand
We : junk piles
We : dust heap
I lean into myself
Hold this detritus
A late empire settled thick
Layers in us all
In the Sixties they said:
In case of nuclear war
Kiss your ass goodbye
But isn’t that just shelter
Duck and cover
Tells me how to contain
We : can’t have this place
We : can’t find anything that used be
3. After Acres of Skin: the history of medical experiments on Black prisoners
after Allen M. Hornblum
Not recorded in the usual tomes
whispered in screams across unending nights
all conducted in the name of—
it’s curiosity— cruelty
passed down to successive generations of—
It’s pretense of objectivity
of genes— not
When forced to stop the experiments
refused to look into the eyes
Black prisoners no more real to—
than the research
taken on animals
4. Sometimes Noise
We : the clanking machinery of thought
We : the factory of heartbeats— 24-hour shifts
lit up with fire
Our noise— better than the silence piercing
us like tomorrow’s bad news
Our dilapidated druthers— better than
fetid winds and its shut down bitterness
We : rather have our engines on—
noise sucking the cells out of work
We : the irregular factory
And sometimes we : the rain
And sometimes we : the breath
left on porches
What can cover all that up
When I first received Terry’s titles, I used them as springboards, triggers to write the fevered prompts. I didn’t read the articles, or research anything related to them or themes they might have suggested. When a prompt strikes me, I often try to push the boundaries of it. In this case: why only one poem? I wrote to one prompt per day, and tried to do the same when Terry returned her fevered writing, which was to become the poems. I wrote in order, and the first, Quake Swarm, had twelve instances of the pronoun “We.” I lined the “We’s” into a column and wrote individual lines. Somehow from that, the “We” took on the voice of “We Real Cool,” by Gwendolyn Brooks. Click this link, and listen to the way Gwen Brooks states the “We”— it sounds more like “Whey” than “We” or a whistle or a puff of smoke the poolroom in her poem must be filled with. The “We” pushes the line, in both meaning and projection. The “We” is a collective voice in and out of the Brooks poem, but because of the number of “We’s,” I wanted to do a similar act as Brooks or suggest a similar projection of the repetition. I also took a page from Jenny Factor who once wrote a collective poem in class. As ideas were given, she created a parking lot for them if they did not readily fit but might have had signs of heat (see the remaining words after this explanation).
Thus became my approach for all the poems: I honed in on repetitive words that could possibly work as anaphora, and then wrote to the title and/or the suggested theme. There were “We’s” in all of the parts except the third section, and the omission of a collective “We” really spoke to its title. When the third one was finished, and the “We’s” returned, I said to myself: this is one long piece. Terry’s word “erasure” juxtaposed next to all “We’s” began to haunt the piece, turning this into a Why I Write poem of sorts and reason for the dedication.
As January comes to an end, and real facts become dismantled and replaced with “alternatives,” I hope that my voice, a voice from many margins, joins the collective “We” in speaking out to correct the silence, or speaks to control our own narratives. I hope our collective “We” offers facts that this current administration is forced to deal with.
Parking Lot of Remaining words
are but really
is just thus
it and it
singing But like
Ransack yourself where you stand
in place another
and and place and place
of onto to
After Acres of Skin: the history of medical experiments on Black prisoners
them on, ok to
that has It’s It’s
don’t always get
don’t want to—those thrown,
This poem was written by Terry Wolverton using words generated by F. Douglas Brown through fevered writing.
We all want to be the lead singer,
got a recipe for burn poetry,
mixing ecstasy into dark grooves,
conductors of smoke and light.
Saints march to this funk, skins oiled,
then scream for revolution.
Angels dance a protest jam, glow
amber and green, hot stones.
Everybody wants a nation like a hearth,
stained glass with boogie underneath,
a family for a season, easy and deep,
delivery on the downstroke.
In the church or in the club,
everybody wants a messenger,
wants to be pierced with gold rays
until we can twist some way through the portal.
But god is a trickster with a gift
for drama. Understands the greasy
forever of a collective dream.
It takes charms and heavy chants to lift souls.
So we don’t hear the call, don’t bow,
just keep on spreading curses and flame.
In the small red room, we wonder where the homies went,
drawing in the white breath of ghosts.