resistance is possible
1: an inviolable place of refuge and protection giving shelter to criminals and debtors : sanctuary
2: a place of retreat and security : shelter
3a: the protection or security afforded by an asylum : refuge
3b: protection from arrest and extradition given especially to political refugees by a nation or by an embassy or other agency enjoying freedom from what is required by law for most people
4: somewhat old-fashioned : an institution providing care and protection to needy individuals (such as the infirm or destitute) and especially the mentally ill
systems of oppression | history of the white gaze | madness
"I see people who talk about America, and then undermine it by not paying attention to its soul, to its poetry. I see polarization, reductionism and superficiality."- Azar Nafisi
"White people are trapped in a history they don't understand." - James Baldwin
We are living in a time when nothing is hyperbolic anymore; when reality TV seems like an adequate cultural substitute [even when actual human lives are at stake] & an unstable, openly racist megalomaniac is the leader of the free world. Radical conversations about race, identity, class & equal rights are essential to our survival & progress, yet systems of oppression have always existed between the have & have-nots [on both macro/micro domains in almost every society]. What makes American history so insidious is that this land was forcibly taken from Native nations then built off the backs of slaves without apology or reparation; the multigenerational toll a mere footnote in outdated history books written from the perspective of the white gaze. The very foundation of this country was created on white heteropatriarchal ideology, in which slaves were deemed three-fifths of a person & women had no vote. Following the Civil War & Civil Rights Movement [note the 100 year gap], racist laws & discriminatory policies continue to be set to limit access & agency for people of color by long-established white systems without any recourse or real consequence. Take for example, the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery & involuntary servitude [on paper], except as punishment for a crime. This loophole has been stretched & molded to suit the needs of white supremacy to control black, brown & yellow bodies into submission. POCI are seen as disposable, faceless––dangerous. Even in the so-called "enlightened" humanities, white supremacy dictates policy & practice. National museums house stolen artifacts from sacred burial sites as cultural capital & institutions of higher learning continue to perpetuate white supremacy from the inside out. This essay adapted from poet Claudia Rankine's stunning keynote address at the 2016 AWP Conference in Los Angeles is a MUST READ.
mass incarceration | slavery |white supremacy
"Against barbarity, poetry can resist only by confirming its attachment to human fragility like a blade of grass growing on a wall while armies march by." - Mahmoud Darwish
"Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before." - Audre Lorde
POCI communities continue to be subjected to violence, segregation, surveillance, exploitation & erasure regardless of geography or circumstance. Slavery in this country has never truly ended––it has just taken on different, less conspicuous forms––moving from a civil war to a police state. Jim Crow laws were commonly exercised in the South until 1965 [that's only 50+ years ago], mandating racial segregation in all public facilities & upheld by the Supreme Court's "separate but equal" doctrine. Facilities for African Americans were consistently inferior & underfunded compared to those available for white Americans; sometimes they did not exist at all. This body of law institutionalized a number of economic, educational & social disadvantages that are still very much in place today. Segregation by law existed mainly in the South, while Northern segregation was generally a matter of fact––just more discreet & creative in their prejudice. Patterns of housing segregation enforced by private covenants, bank lending practices & job discrimination, including discriminatory labor union practices were customary. When these tactics didn't work, there was white flight into the suburbs with their private schools, strip malls & gated communities. There has never been real attempts for integration or redistribution of wealth by the white institutions that profited from slavery––cementing cycles of extreme poverty, which inevitably leads to crime. Crime as a means for survival. But as cleverly outlined in the 13th Amendment, this gave the government unilateral power to lock up entire generations of black men for mostly trumped up charges while assassinating key Civil Rights leaders. It wasn't long ago when a black man could be lynched for looking at a white person the "wrong way." Police have detained, arrested & killed black people wantonly for decades. The second KKK peaked in the 1920s with as many as 4-5 million members. Did they just evaporate? Turn the other cheek? The "war on drugs" during the 1970s & 80s was another white supremacist campaign that targeted minorities for mass incarceration. There are still POCI serving 20-30 year sentences for selling marijuana & crack when they were teenagers. Approximately 12–13% of the American population is African-American, however they make up approximately 40+% of those who are incarcerated, and are at least six times more likely than their white counterparts to be arrested. For the most cutting edge research & policies, please visit the Prison Policy Initiative.
Fuck GLOBAL patriarchy & EXTRACTIVE CAPITALISM | no walls | no bans | NO ONE IS ILLEGAL
"A poet's work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep." - Salman Rushdie
"So, poetry becomes a means for useful dialogue between people who are not only unknown, but mute to each other. It produces a dialogue among people that guards all of us against manipulation by our so-called leaders." - June Jordan
The transgressive nature of Trump’s administration has legitimized racism, bigotry, misogyny & anti-intellectualism/rationalism on a delusional platform to resurrect so-called American greatness, but Trump & his cronies seek to inflate white supremacy at the cost of POCI lives––even innocent children. Yes, racism is the backbone of this country but now we've become desensitized to violence by way of regular mass shootings & increasing poverty all across the country. Keeping the public poor & scared is the ultimate form of mind control. People are easier to manipulate & keep in line when they are trapped in survival mode. This is why art is imperative; why poetry is resistance. Trump is also working to discredit the media while proliferating fake news as truth––blurring the lines between fact & fiction. Without freedom of the press & freedom to protest, the United States will quickly become an authoritarian state. He's even quipped recently that he will just pardon himself. Meanwhile technological advances translate to mass hysteria consumerism, which works to placate & numb the masses, all the while making the 1% richer & richer. Since colonization, there have been a handful of wealthy white men who have designed these systems of oppression to benefit a very small segment of the population. The rest of us are on the losing end of this raw deal.
A note from sun yung shin, co-founder | co-director
For many years I've wanted a poetry center in Minneapolis. There have been great literary organizations & projects, but nothing specifically for poetry that was inclusive of all genres & poetry that focused on serving poets from historically marginalized communities with an explicit human-rights, equity-justice lens.
I became a poet outside of academia. The way in which higher education is shifting toward increased adjunctification & tuition hikes, I wanted to be part of something that resisted giving most of the power of poetry training & creation to the academic realm, however directly & indirectly. As a person of color & immigrant adoptee, I see firsthand how much more difficult it is for us to have our voices heard collectively & individually in a literary world owned & run mostly by white people. I don't see the kind of class analysis that I think we need in poetry discourse in terms of production & distribution, nor the kind of intergenerational gathering that I'm hungry for. As a longtime public school English teacher, I haven't seen our school curricula change much since I was a child, especially in terms of Asian American voices. In Minnesota, the K-12 teaching force is 96% white. The first two poet laureates of Minnesota have been white; Minneapolis does not have a poet laureate.
Minneapolis is a city that has more poetry than most, but it's also a city of serious racial disparities & deep-seated racism. Poetry does not need to justify its existence. Poetry is a human right. It is music. Culture. Story. Sound. Utterance. Gesture. Silence. I want to make a space for poetry that is radical, experimental, weird, wild & whatever it needs to be. The human world is in crisis. The United States exerts empire. Poets should be difficult in a difficult world. Poets should dissent. Poets should resist institutionalization & over-professionalization of poetry––a wild & changing thing of nature. Poetry Asylum aims to do its work with this awareness.
a note from su hwang, co-founder | co-director
As a late bloomer to poetry, I've never bought into the one-size-fits-all approach for pursuing a life in the arts. I was in my late thirties when I moved to the Midwest for my MFA after years of working a potpourri of pseudo-highbrow & waitressing gigs on both coasts, while struggling to find confidence in my voice. Although I was blessed with a talented & supportive cohort, I was the only person of color out of 12 writers. During my Thesis Seminar in the fall of 2015 [a little over a year after Ferguson], the then Director of the Program [a straight, white male in his early forties] reprimanded me in front of my white classmates: “the word ‘interrogate’ is tired when talking about race since we live in post-racial times.” I promptly removed him from my thesis committee, but these types of microaggressions in the literary world against women & writers of color are still very much the norm, not the exception.
It wasn’t until I started working with the MN Prison Writing Workshop that my purpose as a poet & prison abolitionist came into clear focus; coincidentally, Trump was elected around the same time [& I lost my goddamn mind]. There’s absolutely no way to conceive what life in prison is actually like until you hear the fortified steel doors close behind you––even then, unless you’re actually serving time behind bars, it’s nearly impossible to comprehend the toll on the mind, heart, body & soul. Human beings should not be in cages. In the last hundred years, we've made incredible strides in science, medicine, psychology & technology, yet our notion of crime & punishment hasn't evolved since the Middle Ages. Prison is modern-day slavery & is the ultimate form of oppression/control over POCI & the poor. Look at what's happening along our southern border right now with ICE & the proliferation of detention centers: mass incarceration for profit. It is not about rehabilitation or reducing recidivism in this country––it's simply revenge. I truly believe that poetry is political because our bodies are political, our histories are political. I want to use my poetry & the power of poetry to call attention to these injustices & raise awareness for those who have been silenced, sullied, forgotten. At the very least, Poetry Asylum provides a somewhat productive outlet for my rage.