In this electrifying collection, Bashir co-opts the vernacular of thermodynamics to generate clever, ambitious poems: “We call it dark matter because it doesn’t interact with light”; “Blackbody curve”; and, of course, the titular “Field Theories.” Bashir plays with double meanings, unusual narrative structure, and experimental visual arrangements, such as “Law of total probability,” about an office shooting, from which conspicuous circular portions of the text have been removed. In another, “Blackbody radiation,” the text has been scrambled on the page, thrown together with mathematical signs and symbols. The book alternates between these science-inspired, avant-garde pieces and an extended sequence about the legendary John Henry. By pairing this monumental black figure with the terminology of scientific fields that have been defined by whiteness, Bashir creates a jarring, resonant contrast in this substantial gathering. The result is a dynamic, shape-shifting machine of perpetual motion that reveals poignant observance (“Even Jesus let / his baker’s dozen fend / for themselves once”) and verges toward hallucination (“We blow smoke rings and shape them into big beaned cloud gates”) — Diego Báez
So, for those of you who are keeping track, you can track previous lists in What I'm Thinking, and you'll always find the current List in the sidebar.
Most recently listed:
Naps I Love:
- On the sofa under the afternoon light facing the window.
- On the sofa under the afternoon light facing the back of the sofa.
- On the grass under a tree in the warm afternoon.
- The kind where a kitty is also napping on my shoulder or my thigh but is not digging their claws lovingly into my flesh. Because that hurts, kitty.
- Back in bed in the morning after feeling like I’ve done enough for that morning and that a nap would be ideal.
- On the little blue sofa in my office, door closed, blanket over my eyes.
- On an airplane.
- On a choo-choo train.
- Just about anywhere in the rain.
- In the passenger seat of a car during a cross-country road trip.
- Stealth-like during a meeting whose subject is something in which I have absolutely no interest. Just kidding. I don’t like those kinds of naps. I usually don’t have a blanket.
So, check it:
The machine keeps wanting me to watch "Genius," "chronicling the complex relationship between famed literary editor Max Perkins and the eccentric novelist Thomas Wolfe."
All this suggestion does is make me yearn for a film "chronicling famed Random House editor Toni Morrison and her work with groundbreaking writers like Gayl Jones, Toni Cade Bambara, Angela Davis, June Jordan, Quincy Troupe, Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Léopold-Sédar Senghor, and so many more. I'd even be good with a film looking at the black, single, women writers community they had in NYC where folks like Morrison, Jordan, Sonia Sanchez, and others would help watch each other's kids so they could have time to write.
But no, machine, you're right. Another film entrenching white male "genius" is totally what I need in my life. Carry on.
By Prof. Samiya Bashir [creative writing 2012–]
Reviewed by Bonnie Arning
When first diving in to Prof. Samiya Bashir’s Field Theories, you wonder what type of theories you will encounter: mathematical, physical, quantum, physiological, or social? The answer is, all of them. In Bashir’s third full-length collection, she surveys multiplicities of existence. The speaker grapples with what it means to exist as a blackbody on our “sickening ball of melt.”
Bashir’s pursuit takes us on a journey unlike any we’ve previously known. We travel through epochs of time and encounter wooly mammoths and Eocene camels. Jazz riffs float along our periphery. We shift our gaze from mythological figures, to fast-food workers, and alchemists. We delve into physics, quantum mechanics, and mathematics. We oscillate between the terrestrial and the astral. Voices of black folk heroes like John Henry and Polly Ann ring out alongside prominent black cultural icons like Mae Carol Jemison and Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Unless well versed in all academic disciplines, reading Field Theories will force you to research. Each Googled term will pull you further and further into another world, which perhaps is the world we live in, but another dimension of it—one in which the invisible becomes visible, the overlooked, suddenly called to attention. This palimpsest in flux where people and artifacts exist across time and theories is so imagistically, linguistically and theoretically robust, Bashir convinces us that their separation in our own dimension is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.
Beyond being thematically inventive, her notion of omnipresence is powerful and political. It quashes the cultural impulse to label incidents of racism as isolated. Bashir artfully disabuses us of our belief in isolation and allows us to experience the multifaceted beauty inherent in our absurd existence. In the title poem, among images of mattress stains and cat puke, she insists, again and again, “What is a thing of beauty if not us?”
Furthermore, Bashir’s structural innovation delights and dazzles. Poems sprawl. Lines read vertically and jut out into diagonals. Often, Bashir transmogrifies language by imbedding mathematical symbols into the line. Meaning becomes duplicated and amplified. She superimposes the world of feeling upon the world of logic and certainty in a way that makes us wonder how we ever considered them in opposition.
Though ambitious and innovative, ambition and invention are not Field Theories’ greatest accomplishments. Most surprising is the way this book will alter the way you feel about the world around you, and, more importantly, your understanding of what it means to be human.
"In her third collection, Bashir (Gospel) displays an intriguingly multivalent approach to the objectivities and subjectivities of black experience reflected in her multimedia collaborations. A series of recurring “coronagraphs” become a tunnel through which the figures of John Henry and his wife Polly Ann speak, forming a sonnet crown that brings new life to an American myth. They are interspersed with four sections structured on the laws of thermodynamics and bearing voices of denizens trapped in a capitalist matrix, “An anthropocene/ of wannabe hepcats” who “pay// defense department rates/ for a sandwich; unremember// memorable jingles.” Bashir’s experimental visual gestures, such as a bullet-hole riddled prose poem on the law of probability, resonate as bluesy meditations on cosmic entropy’s presence in the irreversible occurrences of American lives. While fans of Kevin Young will appreciate the pop of unexpected end rhymes and a present-tense narrative impulse, those of the more associative Ashberian school will enjoy such playful titles as “Universe as an infant: fatter than expected and kind of lumpy,” which features a private visit with Groucho Marx. Whether depicting the faces of marginalized citizens at late-night truck stops or cross-sectioning “bloodstreaks through musculoskeletal structure,” Bashir positions the slings and arrows of black American life as both empirically observable and available for radical, and movingly layered, interpretations. (Mar.)"
I'm grateful for the beautiful response to the unofficial" launch of FIELD THEORIES at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference in Washington D.C. Both of the panels on which I spoke, "Beyond Spoken Word: Black Women Poets In and Through Performance," and "House of Redbone: 20th Anniversary of Redbone Press" were full of engaged and excited people. Thank you for your attention. Thank you for your presence. Thank you for your performance participation! (Special hat tip to my "cinematographer"!)
Below is a small gallery of images I collected, a few of mine (I was too busy running my mouth likely and didn't take too many) and others folks have sent or posted, including ones in which I probably should have combed my hair post-performance. ;-)
🙌🏾 🙌🏾 🙌🏾
Always happy to pair up with Jen Bervin for ll of the things, the music of her haiku met my mind (interestingly, we both wrote these 30,000 feet in the air) to waki this, which has whispered through my mind ever since, as a command:
"we make the stars ours again
one by one by one by ten"
🙌🏾 🙌🏾 🙌🏾
beach marriage queer grace
cancer free o-surgery
dear life! we praise you
we make the stars ours again
one by one by one by ten
"Renga for Obama" is modeled on a traditional Japanese poetic form. Poets, working in pairs, will compose a tan-renga (short renga) of two stanzas: first, a traditional haiku of three lines of 5-7-5 syllables, followed by a couplet, called a waki, of two lines of seven syllables each (7-7), which is intended as a response to the haiku. A new tan-renga (or pair of stanzas) will be added every day for the first 100 days—or maybe more!—each pair of poets adding to the renga chain. While President Barack Obama occasions our meditation, we hope that the renga will range freely over any number of topics. We only want to emphasize that this poem is intended in a spirit of celebration.
"Renga for Obama" is a collaborative work curated and edited by Major Jackson and published by Harvard Review.
"I like a straightforward course, and am always reluctant to resort to subterfuges. So far as my ways have been crooked, I charge them all upon slavery."
-Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
Here, touched by the love of 20 years of friendship and 1 night of new love, is FIELD THEORIES - five -. Thank you for holding it close for me. For us. With love.
Please share it widely, from our hearts to the worlds. <3
"Thing is / we're still here."
I can't thank everyone who came out on a cold, rainy, San Francisco night for the debut of FIELD THEORIES - five - I can't imagine a better way to have spent the eve of .... today ... but kicking up so much love.
Listen up! This is a great day to revisit #WritersResist. If you weren't able to make it, listen to me and Cheryl Strayed, Steve Almond, Wendy Chin-Tanner, Zahir Janmohamed, Rene Denfeld, Cari Luna, Cooper Lee Bombardier, and Sam Roxas-Chua in Part One of Two here and now on the Dear Sugar Radio Podcast. Stay tuned for Part Two next week featuring Lidia Yuknavitch, Colin Meloy, and Wonderly. It was an honor to witness and express resistance at a crucial moment in our country's history.
Video Installation by Samiya Bashir
January 18th - January 31st
Both exhibit and hard copies of readings can be accessed outside the gallery at all hours.
Gallery hours Saturday and Sunday 12-6pm or by appointment.his
feat. contributions from Kalimah Abioto, Samiya Bashir, Roland Dahwen Wu, keyon gaskin, Allie Hankins, Maggie Heath, sidony o'neal, Sharita Towne, Stacey Tran, Takahiro Yamamoto, Lu Yim
Both exhibit and hard copies of readings can be accessed outside the gallery at all hours.
Gallery hours Saturday and Sunday 12-6pm or by appointment.
Commissioned by Physical Education for hqFORTUNE.
:: Tonight :: San Francisco ::
If we find ourselves at the crossroads to a changing landscape, then let us create the change of it together.
FIELD THEORIES - five - debuts in conversation and call up and ritual with poets and artists, change agents and lovers and mothers and dreamers and makers and people and love. Are you here? Wanna be down? Reach out for the 411.
Can't be there in person but want to put some love on the magic pile? Keep watch on this space to see film 5 of 6 after its debut.
We near an end. We close one door. We walk out into a new light. We walk. We make and recognize and honor and are the light.
I've met John Lewis a few times, including when he and Coretta Scott King were some of the few big civil rights figures comfortable going public with their support of various fights against homophobic legislation and cultural poison. I never took a pic with him because that's not my way, but every encounter is burned in my memory (also, lol, not my way). I was so proud to meet him. So proud that he received me in his office on Capitol Hill time and again with such absolute warmth and grace. So proud that his kind and generous staffers kept in touch for years and were always on top of everything -- no question, no drama. So proud to be able to contribute to the work and legacy of this dude who helped make my loud-mouthed life more possible in many ways. So proud and grateful for the eagerness with which he contributed to whatever torch I was trying to carry forward.
He always treated me with warmth, with unquestionable solidarity, and like family from moment one. I'm not here to defend him -- he needs no defense. I'm not here to assure anyone I stand with him because if that's not clear you really don't know me. I'm just here as a reminder that we are human. These people, heroes or villains all, are human beings who make choices about who they're gonna be every single day. I'm just here to say that I've seen this man -- not a myth, but a black man like my father and my grandfather who just would NOT take no shorts for no damned good reason, would not and will by stand by for anyone's riotous dehumanization, for anyone's boundless assault whether rhetorical or physical.
Human. And when you hurt one of us who has stood up time and again and again for all of us, well... you think you've hurt all of us, and you have. A little. But mostly, once again, you've played yourself. Yup. You'll see.