The Operating System

5th ANNUAL NAPOMO 30/30/30 :: DAY 15 :: JANICE LOBO SAPIGAO on NAYYIRAH WAHEED

It’s hard to believe that this is our FIFTH annual 30/30/30 series, and that when this month is over we will have seeded and scattered ONE HUNDRED and FIFTY of these love-letters, these stories of gratitude and memory, into the world. Nearly 30 books, 3 magazines, countless events and online entries later, and this annual celebration shines like a beacon at the top of the heap of my very favorite things to have brought into being. [If you’re interested in going back through the earlier 120 entries, you can find them (in reverse chronological order) here.]

When I began this exercise on my own blog, in 2011, I began by speaking to National Poetry Month’s beginnings, in 1966, and wrote that my intentions “for my part, as a humble servant and practitioner of this lovely, loving art,” were to post a poem and/or brief history of a different poet…. as well as write and post a new poem a day. I do function well under stricture, but I soon realized this was an overwhelming errand.

Nonetheless the idea stuck — to have this month serve not only as one in which we flex our practical muscles but also one in which we reflect on inspiration, community, and tradition — and with The Operating System (then Exit Strata) available as a public platform to me, I invited others (and invited others to invite others) to join in the exercise. It is a series which perfectly models my intention to have the OS serve as an engine of open source education, of peer to peer value and knowledge circulation.

Sitting down at my computer so many years ago I would have never imagined that in the following five years I would be able to curate and gather 150 essays from so many gifted poets — ranging from students to award winning stars of the craft, from the US and abroad — to join in this effort. But I’m so so glad that this has come to be.

Enjoy! And share widely.

– Lynne DeSilva-Johnson, Managing Editor/Series Curator

NAYYIRAH WAHEED, WHO ARE YOU? WE LOVE YOU by JANICE LOBO SAPIGAO

salt2

as a writer, if someone falls in love with my work, i know they have fallen in love with my mind. having no idea what my face looks like, they choose my mind. art may be the only space a woman can be whole without being seen.” – nayyirah waheed

I first encountered nayyirah waheed‘s poetry on Instagram, like many of my folks who shared and reposted waheed’s work from their own account. I fell in love instantly, with waheed’s words, and with the concise ways in which they could connect to depths, scars, secrets, and narratives of my life that only I thought I knew. That only I thought I knew so intimately. The economy of their poems work – stretching, moving, and striking you right in the heart. Their work addresses experiences by women of color, especially African women in the diaspora, with emotive and exacting technique – just in the ways that only close friends, homegirls, or sisters would know how to embrace you.

Amassing over 118,000 followers and counting on Instagram, and following no one, waheed’s minimal 146 posts have been reposted thousands upon thousands of times. That probably does not even include the pictures taken by fans and readers from either of their poetry collections, salt. and nejma. salt. is one of the best-selling poetry collections on Amazon – it is listed twice! The paperback version sits at #8 while the e-version occupies #20. waheed’s following renews poetry, giving the genre a new kind of access that sustains places for healing, feelings, and intuition. I believe waheed is spearheading and carving, along with many Instagram poets, a space online for women of color poetics.

there is you and you.
this is a relationship
this is the most important relationship.

– home

Such Internet notoriety is seemingly unbelievable, and it is the stuff of dreams. It is worth stating that nayyirah waheed’s poetry is popular – even celebrities follow her – yet, they maintain a mysterious and unknown visual identity in a world constantly calling for being seen and liked. For waheed to take a very visual medium like Instagram, and subvert the tool to focus the viewer’s or reader’s lens on the text, craft, and simplicity of poetry, the words then come to create an act of poetry in itself. waheed reminds us that poetry is visual. That reading is engaging. Describing their favorite poet, Sonia Sanchez, waheed stated, “Through reading and engaging with her work, I learned the use of imagery and energy in words.” waheed does this well, too, and they reveal themselves and their writing technique in the poetry:

i am simply the poet.
the
poem
is
the one
that
can change your life.

– medium

Though I don’t know what waheed looks like or how they socially identify – I do wonder if  nayyirah waheed is a real person behind the Instagram account. I hope nayyirah waheed is a person who has loved and lost others and Self just as I have. I want for nayyirah waheed to be a dope, strong, and passionate human with whom I could meet one day and take a picture (ironic, no?). Parts of me also need to know that 118,000 Instagram followers, including myself, are being neither catfished nor racially transgressed à la Michael Derrick Hudson as Yi-Fen Chou, or Rachel Dolezal White Woman as Rachel Dolezal Black Woman, and other countless writers who commit these racist literary crimes and incorrectly choose racialized identities along with their pen names. I don’t need to know more than I just want to ensure that women of color poetics are being created and led by trans, queer, or cis women and nonbinary writers of color. I believe that poetry is enough. Because I believe women are enough as we are. I ask honestly, but not needing an answer now or ever, “nayyirah waheed, who are you?” I answer honestly, again not needing an answer now or ever, “we love you.”

do
not ever
be
afraid to tell me
who you are.
i am going to find
out eventually.

– blunt.

waheed’s signature style, wherein their textual voice embodies emotions, actions, and objects in short poetic forms, takes shape:

his back
was a hundred stories
he
wanted to tell me.
a hundred lives
he
wanted to live together.

– muscle (how many hours i spent reading his skin)

The writing bleeds, contracts, and gets the reader to draw themselves in. The poetry gets us to talk with ourselves, and to finally see parts of ourselves rendered invisible by the fullness of pain, by the ease of hiding our sadness, or by the desire to figure out anger by letting it sit inside us to manifest in our forms of hurt.

waheed’s writing came to me during a time of absence. Her poetry fills me and brings to light my thoughts that I haven’t had enough courage to muster, write, or say, on my own yet. Her words remind me of where I’ve been, who I’ve been with, who I miss, and how to heal from these migrations, transitions, and loves.

apologize to your body.
maybe
that’s where the healing begins

– starting

Janice Lobo Sapigao is a Pinay poet, writer, and educator born and raised in San José, CA. Her first book microchips for millions will be forthcoming from Philippine American Writers and Artists, (PAWA), Inc. in Fall 2016. She is also the author of the chapbook toxic city (tinder tender press, 2015).  Her work has been published in numerous literary magazines, anthologies, and journals.  She is the Associate Editor of TAYO Literary Magazine. She earned her B.A. in Ethnic Studies with Honors and she was a Ronald E. McNair Scholar at UC San Diego. She earned her M.F.A. in Critical Studies/Writing at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts). She co-founded an open mic in Los Angeles called the Sunday Jump and was a Finalist in the Katipunan Poetry Slam. She is an alumna of the Voices of Our Nation (VONA) Conference and Naropa University’s Summer Writing Program. She lives in the Bay Area and teaches at Skyline College in the Kababayan and CIPHER Learning Communities and at San José City College where she co-coordinates the Puente Project. She enjoys playing with stuffed animals, drinking green tea, and running.

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2 Comments

  1. […] for more? there’s 150 previous entries from past years here! You should also check out Janice’s piece on Nayyirah Waheed, Johnny’s piece on Raymond Roussel, Phillip’s piece on Essex Hemphill, and […]

  2. […] to come? there’s 150 previous entries from past years here! You should also check out Janice’s piece on Nayyirah Waheed, Johnny’s piece on Raymond Roussel, Phillip’s piece on Essex Hemphill, and […]

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