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no poetry

August 26, 2019

Writer and poet Jaki Shelton Green reflects on a photograph by Southbound artist Deborah Luster. As part of our Call & Response series in conjunction with Southbound: Photographs of and about the New South, we’ve asked artists, writers, and poets to respond to a photograph of their choice in the form of short written pieces.

By Jaki Shelton Green

Deborah Luster, Levelle Tolliver, #406570, Judas, 2013

Deborah Luster, Levelle Tolliver, #406570, Judas, 2013. New Orleans-based Deborah Luster is best known for her series of portraits portraying prisoners from three Louisiana prisons, One Big Self: Prisoners of Louisiana. In the work shown in Southbound, she revisits Angola, photographing inmates wearing self-made costumes for the prison Passion play. ON VIEW AT THE GREGG MUSEUM OF ART & DESIGN AT NC STATE.

no poetry


no poetry for these hands. no poetry for these trees. no poetry for these men. no poetry for the time you chase. no poetry for dreams that hold you hostage. no poetry for the truth brewing inside crooked hallways crooked courtrooms crooked jailhouses. no poetry for the fog covering the blood. no poetry for the noose flapping against the wind’s tongue. no poetry for the words that make it happen. no poetry for the accused. no poetry for the accuser. no poetry for confederate matchsticks. no poetry for your wild horses storming foreign shores. no poetry for your god who is always late to every funeral of every black child. no poetry for the war guns. no poetry for the hidden ones. no poetry for the nameless corners that claim us over and over again. no poetry for the songs that break apart. no poetry for old stories crawling under locked doors. no poetry for your collection of tongues and burned out moons. no poetry for the make-believe stars in your crown. no poetry. no poetry. no poetry. for the days in between all the years you remembered. no poetry for the days in between all the years you forgot to loosen the noose. no poetry for Juneteenth midnights when you refused to kiss the neck of newborn freedom. no poetry dripping from beneath your slashed armpits. no poetry to erase from the smoke of a M-16. no poetry to sew inside my son’s pockets. no poetry to bury in between my son’s ribs. no poetry to bury inside my son’s mouth. no poetry to bury inside my son’s ears. no poetry to bury beneath my son’s feet. no poetry. no poetry. no poetry. to bury inside my son’s heart. no poetry. no poetry. no poetry. to feed the crows feasting upon his limbs. no poetry for the last breath that cracks into a thousand moments inside a mother’s tear. no poetry for the light inside our children’s eyes trying to find their way home. We are all the poems kissed by the Beloved. We are all the poems daring to grow inside empty bowls. We are all the poems lurking in the shadows. We are all the poems that cannot be forced into cages. We are all the poems holding up the sky. We are all the poems that will no longer sacrifice our seeds to a toxic wind. We are all the poems rattling the ghost bones of the Middle Passage. We are all the poems pissing on bloodstained flags. We are all the poems peeping in windows. We are all the poems dressed to kill. We are all the poems that will not be quiet. We are all the poems waiting to sharpen our oyster knives. We are all the poems wrapped up in dangerous hair waiting to strangle history. We are all the poems that dance and sing us beyond the currency of our skin. We are all the poems becoming forbidden medicine. We are all the poems our ancestors carried from sea to shining sea. We are all the poems unwritten uncensored unworthy of your memorials constitutions air water land. We are all the poems. We need to start a revolution.

Jaki Shelton GreenJaki Shelton Green is the first African American and third woman to be appointed as the North Carolina Poet Laureate. When he appointed her in 2018, Governor Copper stated that "Jaki Shelton Green brings a deep appreciation of our state's diverse communities to her role as an ambassador of North Carolina literature. Jaki's appointment is a wonderful new chapter in North Carolina's rich literary history."

Her collegiate and professional experiences include currently teaching Documentary Poetry at the Duke University Center for Documentary Studies, Visiting Professor for the Carlow University MFA Program, Lenoir-Rhyne University Writer-in-Residence, Duke University Teaching for Equity Fellow, Taller Portobelo Artist Colony in Portobelo Panama, University of Panama, Department of Cultural Resources for Brazil, North Carolina Turkish Association, Alhambra Cultural Center in Marrakech Morocco, NC Symphony, NC African America Cultural Heritage Commission.

She is the owner of SistaWRITE and co-partner with Dream Yourself Awake and Vertikal Creative Ventures providing writing retreats and travel excursions for women writers in Sedona Arizona, Ocracoke North Carolina, Agadir Morocco, and Tullamore Ireland.

Awards include 2019 NC Humanities Council Caldwell Award, 2019 American Academy of Poets Laureate Fellowship, 2018 Tar Heel of the Year Finalist, 2018 Indies Arts Award, 2018 NC Literary and Historical Association R. Hunt Parker Award, 2018 Phi Beta Kappa Award, 2017-2018 Duke University Faculty Travel Grants, 2017 Certification of Teacher Excellence presented by the Kingdom of Morocco Ministry of National Education, 2016 Kathryn H. Wallace Award for Artists in Community Service, 2014 NC Literary Hall of Fame Inductee, 2014 Pushcart Prize Nominee, 2010 Fine Arts Emerald Award (Raleigh LINKS), 2009 NC Piedmont Laureate appointment, 2007 Sam Ragan Award for Contributions to the Fine Arts of North Carolina, 2003 recipient of the North Carolina Award for Literature (the highest award the state can bestow for significant contributions in science, literature, fine arts, and public service), 2003 North Caroliniana Society induction. Jaki Shelton Green is the recipient of two NC Emerging Artist Grants, the African American Writer’s Collective Distinction Award, NC Writers Network Blumenthal Award, 2002 Omega Iota Finer Womanhood Award (Zeta Phi Beta Sorority) Delta Arts Award (Delta Sigma Theta Sorority).

Jaki Shelton Green is the author of eight collections of poetry: Dead on Arrival, Dead on Arrival and New Poems, Masks, Conjure Blues, singing a tree into dance, breath of the song, published by Carolina Wren Press and Blair Publishers. Her other publications; Feeding the Light, I Want to Undie You are published by Jacar Press. Her poetry has been published in over eighty national and international anthologies and featured in magazines such as Essence and Ms. Magazine.

Southbound: Photographs of and about the New South is presented by the Power Plant Gallery in collaboration with Duke’s Forum for Scholars and Publics and the Gregg Museum of Art & Design at North Carolina State University. In this iteration, guest curator Randall Kenan, author and NC native, organizes the many framed photographs of the exhibition around the twin themes of Flux, on display at the Power Plant Gallery, and Home, on display at the Gregg Museum. The full program of events includes slow tours, film screenings, “Sit + Chat” sessions, and FSP@PPG panel discussions that engage with the issues in and around the works of art and explore the topics, places, and styles of Southbound. Southbound: Photographs of and about the New South was organized by the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the College of Charleston School of the Arts in Charleston, South Carolina, and curated by Mark Long and Mark Sloan. Visit the exhibit online at