Wednesday, March 11, 2015

On the 78ers Bus at the Mardi Gras Parade in Sydney, 2015

One of the original marchers who took on the police in 1978, Digby Duncan, photographer and archivist extraordinaire.
Heading for the bus, brave ones all, Di Otto, Digby and Sarah Gibson. Thousands lining the streets, looking up at the bus of oldies.

Politics live in the parade. Bodies, desires, anger, love, comradeship and also consumerism on full view. We ride into the night.

I am a guest, remembering our own early days in New York City.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Trying to Get Back

Sydney with its harbor, where one history watched as another sailed in.

So much to tell you--journeys unfinished. Let me tumble the words out. This weekend in Sydney, Yasmin and I on our final launching of our Sinister Wisdom special issue on Lesbians and Exile. The site an old fashioned women's bookstore, Sappho's Books, on Gleebe Street. The gathered, friends of Yasmin and Parvani,Sarah and Digby, Danielle and so many others, who became known to us as the afternoon progressed, some carrying my books in big sacks. The heat pressed down, but we spoke to each other, myriads of exiles, myriads of courage.

Yasmin and I ending one journey of collaboration, hopefully beginning another, her collected and new writings.

I have made a beginning of finding you all again. Tomorrow I will continue, I hope.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Journey: Part 5: LHA and Memory--Thank you, Saskia and Morgan

I want to continue showing you the faces, bodies, touches of our journey in New York last year. Every segment, every visit a leave taking with all the fullness of so many years of shared comradeship. Saskia Scheffer organized a day of memory reunion at the Brooklyn home of LHA, a time of trying to understand what the archives meant to our communities as it took life and grew in 13A from 1974 to the day it left for its new home in Park Slope in the early 90s. Parts of the old community came, like Daisy De Jesus of the old Salsa Soul Sisters and Linda McKinney, our artist extraordinaire from the early days, and past coordinators and volunteers like Beth Haskill and Susan. Many more so forgive me. We told stories of what it all meant, of what we did in that apartment which was really a gathering of ourselves for social engagement. Here Sherry Gorelick tells of her need and joy at walking through that 1926 door.

Sherry telling her story.

Linda McKinney, wearing one of her designs,

Morgan Gwenwald, photographer and historian, documenting lesbian community for so many years, presented a slide show of just a small representation of her work, Here with Daisy and I so overwhelmed by the depth of it all.

Here is Saskia with the women from Alternate Corners books store, friends of Paula Grant's, who made a wonderful financial donation to the archives as part of the gathering.

Those gathered held up their cell phones and recorded many of the stories which Saskia has sent to me on a memory stick and which the archives has a copy of. To be Continued.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A Special Afternoon after a Hard Morning

Last night I was not feeling well and the difficulty carried over into the morning. La Professoressa left for work with a worried look on her face and this always makes me try harder. I was determined to walk to Sydney Road, two km all together to see what I could do. On the way home, I stopped into my local beauty shop to say hello to Khahn and Tommy. Also Tin was there whom I had met on a previous day. Originally from Vietnam, all three want to learn more English and I want to learn more about Vietnam and so we have started our own learning circle there in the small Grand Union shopping center. Now I know for my American friends, these place names have no meaning but what happened this afternoon, the sharing of learning, of trust, of caring, of living languages amidst the smells and sounds of the beauty parlor, brought me back to full and amazed life. Amidst all the sadnesses of today's world, there is new and more generous life always growing. Today we discussed, all huddled around Khahn's manicure table, the difference between a "trip" and a "journey." How grateful I am to my new friends for taking me on another kind of journey this day.

Thank you, always, my SEEK students and my SEEK comrades, for opening my heart to the living dignity of finding words.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

An Interruption to the Story of Our Journey--Our day Here, Now

Today our home in West Brunswick was gifted by a flow of lovely young men: Arpan from Bhutan, 23, and "Will" from Beijing, 25, students here and Felix, 14, the brother of Ruby, who lives across the street. Arpan and Will and I have decided to form an English conversation class in our back yard while Felix came with a jar of honey made in the backyard of one of his friends. Speaking with these lads, as it is said here, was touching in a way, a part of the future, understanding the sacrifices so many are making to forge a life out of shifting boundaries. Loneliness and courage--all of us finding new words to welcome each other. La Professoressa and I held each other in the specialness of this day. To be of use.

Cello in all his aging glory

This is the time of year when our backyards produce their own gifts and are shared. Here yellow beans, homemade bread, and Italian fried sweet bread from Anna and Vincenzo, fresh eggs and apricot jam from Colin and Jenny, our rhubarb and apricots.

The glory of poster paints as I make our wrapping paper. A whole other way of life I have found here.
I wish you all the kindness of each to each.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Journey: Part 4--SEEK Pride Day,Cadences of Liberation, October 20, 1014, Queens College

Going over my notes with Dr June Bobb, my colleague for so many years, another impossible farewell
Poem for June
It was you who first islanded me,
who showed me how to step from
bony spine to bony spine.
Waters of history and endless time
lapping at volcanic determination.
You freed for me all the lyric possibilities
of island memory.
Of how to eat a mango, the poet, your friend, 
Of how to find the beaten flesh and hunker down
in caves deep in mountains' sides
Until the tyrants drowned in those
blue seas ringed by flaming trees.

For twenty years we scoured texts,
flesh and seed to feed
our students' quest.
Now I am 73
and live upon an island continent
Far from where I started.
but I have my island legs,
and more, your voices
deep within me.

From   1965 to 1995 I taught writing in the Queens College SEEK Program. Here I found worlds of literature and friendships as profound as my work with the Lesbian Herstory Archives. When Mark Levy, another old SEEK colleague and veteran of the Freedom Schools who now works on creating the Queens College Civil Rights Archives, told the program I would be in New York one more time, Dr. Norka Blackman-Richards, Assistant Director of SEEK, worked out a day's schedule for me so I could address the students, visit classes and take in dear faces. These are matter- of- fact words for such a day.

Schedule: 10:05--11:00 Dr Rodway's English 110 Class
                11:10-12:00 Meeting with Assistant Provost Dr June Bobb
                12:15-1:30 SEEK Pride Day: Generation 18
                1:40-2:40 Dr. Rodway's English 110 Class
                3:00-4:30 Small reception with SEEK Faculty and Staff

Our SEEK student guides for the day, Janet Williams and Gatrie Samaroo and how they stuck with us through all the tumult of the day. How such students grace Queens College and how welcoming they were to us both.

Ciceley, more formally known as Dr Rodway, a poet, an old friend, for years we had laughed and struggled with the challenges of our SEEK lives, a program always fighting for its life, a student body fighting for its life, Dr Rodway still marching as she did last weekend in Washington, D.C. in honor of the lives of black men, including her two sons. One more time, she gave me the chance to greet students, to listen to their journeys with the task of writing, to look another generation in the face, kind enough to let me make contact for such a short time, one more time I had a piece of chalk in my hand, and there on the board took shape again that sentence that contains, as I said for years, the most powerful use of the semicolon in the English language. From The Narrative of Frederick Douglass (19845): "You have seen how a man was made a slave; now you will see how a slave is made a man." The journey of a life time in that semicolon turn, of a  nation still caught in the juncture. The sheer joy of the time I had with these students, with their questions, with their brave explorations, with Dr Rodway making all possible, with La Professoressa sitting there, seeing Joan, the teacher, a joy so deep, feeling again all that SEEK had given me, the poetry of hope and of struggle, of meaning. How grateful I am. For all.

The hall filled with another generation of SEEK students

In a small reception room, in the SEEK Building, Lloyd Delaney Hall, such stories lie behind these simple words, I met once again comrades. The SEEK motto: "Learn to Struggle, Struggle to Learn."

Alem. dear Alem, still teaching social sciences

Looking at pictures of the old days with Frank S. Franklin, the director of the Program for many years now. I knew us all before we went gray.

Good-bye, my dear friends,

Notes for my talk on the anniversary of SEEK (1964--): The Poetry of SEEK

In Memory of Mordine Mallory, the first SEEK librarian, George Priestley, social science teacher, Daniel Chiremba, social science teacher, Sam Floyd, English teacher, Ruth Siegel, English teacher

Poets who have had a connection to SEEK as teachers, as students: Nikki Giovanni, Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, Alex DeVaugh

What does it mean to be born in liberationist times--when national scripts were being refused, when the usual insults  to race, class, genders and sexuality were answered with grassroots communal assertions of full human dignity. There is a cadence to such years as gave SEEK life, that live on with you, the cadence of asking questions of assumed power and privilege, of seeking connections between peoples in their struggle to create new histories. My life shines with the voices that live in my head and heart, that I first heard in my SEEK years, 1965-1995--the voices of my colleagues and the writers we found to teach us what was needed to be understood. To be educated to ask questions of power, outside of ourselves and sometimes even of our own, to master the  skills that allow the decipherment of texts and to produce ow own complex analysis--to find a way to look towards the future with a better vision while understanding the tensions and pretensions of the past, all concerns that connect SEEK to its liberationist past and to your futures in the 21st century. Forgive--when you are 74, you sometimes speak funny, in sweeping waves of the heart. 
Shirley Chisholm, 1960s

History notes: SEEK created, as a five year experiment, to quench the determination of young black and Puerto Rican women and men to get a higher education--the street rebellions of the 60s--Watts, Detroit, New York--social change movements of the 60s--people believing that history could be changed and made again by the force of their determination to say no more. In the streets and in the halls of politics. Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005) one of these social activist and progressive politicians who co-authored the legislation that brought SEEK into being--daughter of West Indian immigrants, the first black woman elected to congress, the first woman to run for President of the United States, a grassroots organizer who who in the 60s hired only women to be on her staff, who said in 1965,"Women in this country must be revolutionaries, we must refuse to accept the old traditional roles and stereotypes," who said "I want history to remember me not just as the first black woman elected to congress or to make a bid for the presidency of the US but as a black woman who lived in the 20st century and dared to be herself." Her political vision--wrote and worked for a bill that secured unemployment insurance for domestic workers and daycare providers, obtained federal funding for daycare facilities and campaigned for a higher minimum wage. Her campaign motto, "Unbought and Unbossed." all in the early 60s.

Poetry is the language of dreams and deep endeavors, of faces turned to the sun while in the shadows of failed human visions. Poetry lives on the human body as much as it lives on the page; it lives in the landscapes of a people's yearning to be free, complex and happy, it lives in the language of resistance and commemoration, poetry speaks every time we honor each others' fullness of dignity. Poetry is the enrichment of our senses to all the possibilities of life. This was SEEK to me. I might have left SEEK in 1995 but SEEK has never left me. The cadences of our life together-- students,colleagues, administrators, and in the texts I first had to learn so I could bring their poetries into the classroom-- have never left me. I can still trace the curves of Karintha in my mind, the creation of Harlem Renaissance poet, Jean Toomer, find her as my class did in the undulating rhythms of her name that so held a woman's tragedy, My spirit still jumps for the moon, still shining with the force of Zora Neale Hurston's power of story telling, I still tell myself, :things do not fall apart," hearing both words of Chinua Achebe and Lucille Clifton, things do not fall apart but are held in lines, in the heart. Bessie Head's "Collector of Treasures" still trembles with the fierce tenderness of her life, both of her characters and her own. The works we studied together, with their anger and determination, "do you really know me," asks Nicolas Guillen, all of me, not just the Spanish part of me but my African grandfather lost in the seas of the middle passage. James Baldwin looking at his father, telling us that history must be confronted, all the old countries where so much was taken, but which keeps parts of us alive. Langston Hughes, his soul deep as ancient rivers, walks with me, his tenderness and dedication. and always, the cadences of Frederick Douglass, telling us in 1880, that the discussion about character and not color must go on, that "where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe. This discussion will go on." Douglass' cadences of refusal and of higher visions, of political insights and historical understandings, his poetry of what was taken and what must never be given up,  stay with his readers for a lifetime. You too will find, write, create your own cadences of  insight, of indignation and of hope.

SEEK is the living will of a generation of students who were determined to learn all the poetics they could--critical social thinking under the tutelage of George Priestley, Daniel Chiremba, of mathematics, of languages, of international texts singing of complex geographies and shifting borders.
I stand her today with deep gratitude for being a small part of the wonder we call the SEEK Program, that meeting place of beginnings and the refusal of deprivations, of big dreamings and hard hard work, where voices leaped off pages into our hearts, where thinkers, teachers and students alike, broke new ground while valuing the gifts of their own cultural richnesses. We made and make a world here a community of respected differences and complex solidarities, struggling always to learn both the text and how best to use them in this 21st century. It seems that all that stands at the center of SEEK is needed now more then ever in this country, in this world. Thank you for the privilege of speaking with you.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Part 3: The Lesbian Activists-Artists of Ljubljana: Thank You, Tatjana, Urska, Natasa, Petra,Nina, Beti and All, September 26--September 28, 2014

Our First Walk along the Ljubljanica River

The letter that make it all possible, March 5, 2014:

Dear Joan Nestle,
I'm writing on behalf of Lesbian section SKUC-LL from Ljubljana, Slovenia. We run a small non-profit publishing house--book edition Vizibilja, dealing with lesbian prose, poetry and theory. So far we have published 33 titles. For 2014 we were planning to publish 3 titles (one book of prose, one book of fiction by Slovenian lesbian authors)-one of which will be your work, "A Restricted Country." Actually we have already started the process of translation as a collective of three translators: Natasa Velikonja, Urska Sterle and Tatjana Grief...and there is something else I'd like to ask. We would like to invite you to visit us in Slovenia and to take part  in literary readings for our cultural project dedicated to LGBT history. Please let us know if you can visit us between September and December. Looking forward to your reply, Tatjana Grief, editor of Vizbilija

Thinking of the generosity, the dedication, the creativity, the determination, the imaginative strength of the women we met in our short but intense visit to Ljubljana gives us visions of what is possible. Tonight, the day after the actions of a violent ill man in a Sydney cafe, in a time of endless wars and no responsibility for the history that creates the rage we call terrorism, I look at the faces of our friends, the lesbian women of Ljubljana, who with little material support, keep demanding, keep producing inclusive lesbian, feminist, queer culture.

Just Published, 25 Years of Lesbian History in Slovenia, 197-2012. Compiled and Written by Natasa Velikonja and Tatjana Grief. A copy is now at the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn, NY and one is with us in Melbourne, where turning the pages puts us once again in the presence of this visionary community.

Urska, Tatjana and I in the cafe before the public conversation in the old art gallery

Nina, the poet, in the archives--publishing space of the Lesbian Project--on the site of the old army barracks, Metelkova, now liberated space for activists--artists.

La Professoressa and Urska in the squatted and transformed counter culture precinct of Metelkova

Stacks of Slovenian and translated lesbian works. Audre Lorde lives in this Slovenian lesbian cultural project.

Nina and Petra join us for the morning with Nora, the dog, who is part of everything.

Urska and Di looking over book covers and journals

Urska asking me hard important questions during our public conversation. I still feel the honor, the wonder of looking out at the gathered, some of the women making the journey from Belgrade, of being asked to be part of such a moment. On the arm of La Professoressa, I have come to the city of Three Bridges, to the home of another history with the Alps looming over the narrow alleys, to sit in the night with our new friends, before the cafe that welcomes us. I remember that other late night cafe gathering, on our last night in Belgrade. The young not wanting us to go, we so moved by those faces, those yearnings for a chance at a fuller life, new friends become so deeply old. Never will we forget the moments we have shared in these streets, the faces that embraced us.

An early issue of the Slovenian lesbian journal, Lesbo

Nina, Urska, Petra--in their territory. On such bodies such courage.

I have written of the habitats of farewell that so marked this journey, but at times, new moments of welcome gave endless hope and deep pleasure.