Last year, for Valentine’s Day, I was in Paris for my third SquareRoot of Love event which featured a new wine project at an organic wine shop blocks away from the Notre Dame, a film screening at the Culture Rapide, and night of poetry reading at Berkeley Books in Paris. Born at the Bowery Poetry Club in 2010, this iteration of the collaborative multimedia experience was very dynamic and inspirational considering all that is special about Paris. But what I enjoyed most about my trip, aside from the art and culture of the French people, was connecting with the sizable group of American expat poets, hearing their stories, and the affirmation of the power of human expression crossing national borders. So, I must begin by thanking all of the participating poets. Merci beaucoup!
After the Valentine’s Day reading at Berkeley Books in Paris, 2017
Valentine’s Day is upon us again: the red hearts, romantic dates, and the lovely Hallmark cards to Mom. Love is generally a great thing and should be celebrated. But if we explore beyond the romantic notion of love, we quickly see that there is a global love crisis. If we really believe that love is important and necessary then where is it, especially when it comes to world politics and power?
With rising global nationalism, widespread white power, police brutality, sexual harassment, and expanding anti-immigration rhetoric and policy, we are witnessing a space of power over love, abuse over compassion, and toxic narcissism over community responsibility. And with President Trump leading the way in language, policies, and behavior that demonstrate repeatedly that just love can be kryptonite to power and security, we are left to wonder if love even matters. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. offers some insight about the interconnections of love, power, and justice with the following words:
Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of injustice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that is against love.
But even with all the engaging love talk, protests, and demonstrations, there is still a sense of despair and nervousness as immigrant families are being torn apart by ICE, the LGBT community faces attacks worldwide, and many oppressed communities remain under siege, in bondage, and trapped by the corporate love of money and profits and consumer love for the new and for escape. So, in this Valentine space, I wonder how we should engage the hateful forces of division that aim to ‘Make America Great Again’ in all the wrong ways. How should we deal with Trump and the like? Again, I turn to the powerful words of Dr. King:
Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.
Although I am not totally sure about this statement, I am game to move in the right direction—by creating a Valentine’s Day card image for our dear president and all those who support and cosign broken hearts, supremacy politics, and general injustices in the name of power and love of country.
I am certain millions of folks are ready to sign this card, as hearts are heavy worldwide. It is in these times the voices of the artists, poets, and activists are needed most for their language, vision, and uncompromising courage to press forward, often in the name of love and justice and often at the risk of imprisonment and censorship. With this in mind, and for this Valentine’s Day, SquareRoot of Love will tackle the theme of Love and Politics in both New York City and Paris, featuring over twenty contributors including poets, writers, musicians, and performance artists. At the Bowery Poetry Club in NYC, on February 12, 2018, I will host SquareRoot of Love: Love and Politics in New York City, featuring Raluca Albu, Rev. Billy/The Church Stop Shopping, Joy Garnett, melissa christine goodrum, Herukhuti, Miss Justice Jester, Swati Khurana, M.L. Liebler, Yael Acher, “KAT” Modiano, Kristin Prevallet, Edwin Torres, and Christopher Paul Wolfe, with music by Faith Newman.
Two days later, on Valentine’s Day at the Culture Rapide in Paris, SquareRoot of Love: Love and Politics will feature Jamika Ajalon, Antonia Alexandra Klimenko, Ray Knight, Rethabile Masilo, Lisa Pasold, and Daniel Wilner, with host Ed Bell.
These collaborators will explore the ideas of love, power, and politics, leading perhaps toward insight into the answer to ‘where is the love?’
We are proud to share poems today from Jamika Ajalon, M.L. Liebler, Rethabile Masilo, Antonia Alexandra Klimenko, Kristin Prevallet, and Edwin Torres as a selected collection of works that will be read at the SquareRoot of Love: Love and Politics events in New York City and Paris.
Hate Is an Echo
The politics of hate is a hollow echo
Inside an empty seed of imagination.
Stunted ancient bitterness,
Twisted descent, banging
At the backdoor of death.
A midnight olive branch of pain
Disguised by the darkness.
Unenlightened, desperate reasoning
Offering little hope to all mankind.
– M.L. Liebler
Love is a battlefield
A porch with crumbs attracts ants.
Ants with crumbs — now there’s a great name for a band.
In the 90s, poets gathered around pool tables to talk about Kierkegaard.
In this way, empathy really does matter
and belonging is a listening thing.
And yet, cruelty colonies the collective unconscious,
where mean people sift and sort themselves out.
Hope and betrayal converge into confusion;
upon waking, the country is in the hands of a madman.
Am I to you the darkness or the light?
Light: it’s being held from behind by a man with large hands.
I can be obliterated like that — in a heartbeat.
Does this mean that I should follow my heart?
Or the union of opposites…
“Be open to what is darkest in you”: that’s what the astrologer suggested.
But my shadow disagrees, and prefers to hide in corners.
We out run each other trying to survive.
In the future, I will have needed to leave many things behind now.
I leave clues so that I will be found in various future times, but not all:
Breadcrumbs on the highway scatter the idea of nowhere.
Or, darkness when not at the other end of a loaded gun.
I have witnessed evil on the dark side of a president
but I’ve never been on the other side of “Don’t Shoot.”
If a pen is a mighty weapon, is it also a micro-expression?
What’s that in your pocket?
I’m never asked this question.
I am anxious about the sequence of triggers.
Rapid fire: I become your worst nightmare, as you are mine.
Or the opposite: light replicates in every cell and my love magnifies in you,
the possibility of hope’s possibility.
Call it a song that cracks the surface of the present
where heartache to heartache we stand.
– Kristin Prevallet
The Acrobat’s Last Meal
Once you are given the opening, to encounter negative space
_______in proportion to positive space, a new balance is born — a calm
out of kinetic obstruction. Your gift — to become the obstruction
_______— to resonate in the steady.
When proportion is introduced to beauty, the fracture ignites
_______so that change is born — out of proportion. The process
of proportion and sizing it out, is the investment
_______that time brings — to you, to the work.
You — are the work you interfere with
_______the inherited cycle past the moment of its creation. You —
are a designed interference — beyond the continuum you design
_______— the moment — continuously at moment with itself.
Forced into your livingness by your exact not-steadiness.
_______Molecular insurgents, arriving — among the ravenous stability
who threaten change with immobility.
_______If — I don’t move — is my move, no one moves.
Where does the writer allow breath its removal?
_______There is proportion among the language seekers.
Among the colloquial — inventing recipes
_______for stagnant breath, at war with their mobile brethren.
I am gored by the headline masquerading
_______as finished — a deification of balance, by gods of instability.
Approaching consumption without a flinch
_______— the self-carnivore is the master of swallowing.
– Edwin Torres
once upon a time
somewhere in a distance
not far from my lips
there is a glitch in the parallel
she oils spots i miss
with coco butter fingers
along the way up
shop signs and lamp posts
illuminate the journey home
alone no other
but this glimpse
traces left on the killing floor
lovers by blood
– Jamika Ajalon
homage to e.e.cummings
I like you July!
I like your sunny yellow bright and sticky
Your roll-out-the-sidewalk cotton candy popcorn-vendor
hot-dogs-in-the-mustard roll-in-the-hay-days of summer
I like you July!
I like your squeaky high-heeled red patent-leather voice
with those ridiculously low-slung trombone-hips
that glide into sound.
How you had Manhattan trembling!
How the buildings swayed and collapsed at your feet
as broiling avenues dove into the Hudson
And the jazz-hot dreams melted like ice cream cones
dripping from the bent lamppost
that once enshrined you and your throng.
I like you July.
I like the red and white and blue of you
the North the South
the black and blue of you
and your gum-chewing ‘tis-of-me humanity
with their roll-of-the-drum-eyes
with their hot air balloons
that float on endless strings
in the sky.
I like you July!
I like your fireworks in the ignorant dark
how you once tried to bribe the stars to shine less brightly
because you couldn’t pay your light bill
And most of all I especially like July
the way you leave me cold with your song and dance…
how I will never bother to look for you in a café
or ask you why
you pawned your soul
for a ride
on the Ferris-wheel
I love you July !
– Antonia Alexandra Klimenko
From boulder to rock, in stone-heavy country,
breathes a reckoning; the trip between pebble and gravel;
from being born, to suffering a birth, to silt
that carries us to a grainy conscience where we sit
with the bulk of what the future might bring, except
for atoms and molecules from bodies that die.
I’d like to leave a manuscript behind.
Not the sediment of juices, lands, lees, but a home
which when looked at strictly turns into a big bad gun,
with Nigeria at its trigger and South Africa its barrel.
I’d love to fill a bookcase with its stones, give it
a sling to use against politicians, like Palestinians do;
or, even, make it send its quartzite to a bully’s head,
as David did with a stone from the seashore of Mikhmoret.
Only then would I be able like sand to rise to a whirlwind
again, spitting years of rain onto heathen heads,
God’s flood on our side to judge the living and the dead.
I gather sand and let it leave my cupped hands, particle
by particle, each with its shape and journey
and the particular message of its face, thousands
of tiny tombstones tumbling from the sky. I listen
to their epithets with the funnel of my ear,
like someone straining to catch the last words
from the mouth of a bereaved people
at the funeral of their kingdom: ‘our love for life
is the valley of tombs,’ one says, ‘a minefield
that has consumed its arsenal and is now holes
with knolls of loam next to them, waiting
like Osundare’s jeep,’ as another points out how
the whole thing looks like moon holes, open
and ready, ‘like dust waiting for dust.’ An old,
old particle with grey hair sweeps the ground with its eyes
and keeps muttering the word politics over and over,
the way someone on their deathbed might confess:
‘politics.’ And though we are at the wasteland’s root,
dazed and dwindling, I am heartened for we are seeking
peace and sanctity with other men.
A small gust sighs through and spins each grain
like a top in the dying light. We are diggers
of vaults whose time will one day shield our sight,
its thumbs will shut our eyes. But is there comfort
in the act of politics whose sweat washes fear
off the face of war? What if it replaced that with love?
Where is the mouth that mumbles the word love
loud enough to make the donga repeat it?. Relief
is in knowing we are a nation of diggers of crypts,
our comforts lie in that predicament, in the conflict
between killer politics and bigger love, whose fear
creeps up the spine of the next one destined to die.
Our comfort is in knowing who we are, night after night
as we work with shovel and spade and sing psalms
through the dark, and send people back where they belong,
the way we know the gods of earth are us after following
our death; eternal is the blood of the living. We were once
emptied, removed from body, millions of Africans
at the bottom of the ocean, drained of our souls
like hulls of slave-ships that brought us here: the Jesus
of Lübeck, the Amistad, and the Wanderer, the last ship
to bring us here by force. Our skulls were crushed into grit
that made the sand I scooped, and now watch fall from my hand
like the peace, love and harmony, in the promise of a future,
that we have let slip through our fingers. The grains fall
and watch with sadness the setting of a golden sun.
– Rethabile Masilo
I would like to challenge us to embrace Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to think more about how we as individuals, as a nation and as a global community can use actionable, just love—the kind that Dr. King speaks of—not only to address the widespread hatred, violence, and division that plague every corner of planet, but also as a powerful force to inform and shape our personal and collective politics to make this world a better and more humane place.
Can’t be in New York City on 2/12 or Paris on 2/14? Both events will be live-streamed here!
SquareRoot of Love: New York City
M.L. Liebler is a Detroit poet, arts activist and university professor. He directs The Detroit Writers Guild and has been on faculty at Wayne State University in Detroit since 1980.
Kristin Prevallet is a poet, educator, and mindbody coach who lives in Westchester, NY. She is the author of five books including I, Afterlife: Essay in Mourning Time (Essay Press) and Everywhere Here and in Brooklyn (Belladonna Collaborative).
Edwin Torres‘s books include Ameriscopia (University of Arizona Press), In the Function of External Circumstances (Nightboat Books), and XoeteoX: the infinite word object (forthcoming from Wave Books). He is currently editing an anthology on the body in language, titled Out of Each Other, to be published by Counterpath Press.
SquareRoot of Love: Paris
Jamika Ajalon is writer and interdisciplinary artist who works with different mediums independently, but also in multiple fusions, incorporating written and spoken text, sound/music, and visuals.
Antonia Alexandra Klimenko is widely published; her work has appeared in XXI Century World Literature (in which she represents France) and Maintenant: Journal of Contemporary Dada Writing and Art archived at the Smithsonian Institution and New York’s Museum of Modern Art. She is Writer/Poet-in-Residence at SpokenWord Paris.
Rethabile Masilo is a Mosotho poet living in France. He has written three books of poetry and edited two anthologies. His poems and books have won several prizes, notably the book Waslap which was awarded The Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry in 2016. Rethabile’s fourth book, Qoaling, will be published in February 2018.
Photographs and images provided courtesy of John Sims.