Poems that describe "with scientific precision the position of the black body in American culture"

Starting with her title, Field Theories, Samiya Bashir challenges the vocabulary of science, finding inflections and echoes within that vocabulary of the long and brutal history of race and racially based economic exploitation in the U.S.A. When used within the respective sciences of physics, psychology and social science, the term “field theory” (singular) has specific meanings. “Unified field theory,” in particular, coined by Albert Einstein, refers to the attempt to find a single framework behind all that exists (gravity, however, continues to escape this effort). But by changing “theory” to “theories,” (plural) Bashir subverts that idea of a singular framework to reveal the multiplicity of reality: where there is one reality there will be other realities told in various forms, splitting the dominant narrative into a prism of narratives. In contrasts and convergences, she questions history (histories) and how it is (they are) articulated in even the most objective of “fields.” In fact, “field” itself is a loaded word within slavery’s context, indicating enforced agricultural labor... [read the full review]

Thanks to Marcella Durand @ Hyperallergic for sharing love out in the field. Check out their new review of FIELD THEORIES below, and click through to read the whole thing.

Seasonal Pedagogy

As Portland digs itself slowly out of the long long winter season, I'm pulling my kiddoes out of the classroom and into the streets. The weeks of field trips have begun! Today we had sun! We had blossoms blooming on trees! We had flowers sprouting from buried bulbs! We all piled into my car and flipped ekphrasis on its head!

We've spent a little time this past month also interrogating artists and art practices that intersect with poetry. The divine Alison Saar came to our class and we talked about our own collaborative projects, as well as projects she's done with Evie Shockley and Erica Hunt. I was thrilled to introduce my students to ARCADE. It's such a beautiful book. I'm sad it's out of print. Call and clamor to Kelsey Street Press to print more! 

And today, we headed up into NE Portland to visit Letra Chueca Press, run by the indomitable Daniela Ragan (my collaborator for our beautiful Poetry Salon broadsides).

What a great field trip our Artist/2/Artist: Experiments in Ekphrasis class had visiting Letra Chueca! We talked poetry, art making, gift economy, printing, ekphrasis, and even printed a little take-away. Thanks to great students, great sunshine, great artists and collaborators: it's time to open ourselves up to all that is new. Go outside and learn something!

Booklist Reviews FIELD THEORIES

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

Thank you to the American Library Association and Booklist for this thoughtful engagement with my work. 

You can also read Báez's review at Nightboat Books, and see other Field Theories News & Reviews!

Time for a new list!

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.

Me, Morrison, and the Machine...

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.

A little bit of love from home

Thank you to Reed Magazine for this thoughtful surprise of a review of Field Theories.

How sweet to run into!

Field Theories 

(Nightboat, 2017)

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.

And now...the world begins to have its say....

Publisher's Weekly, February 20, 2017

"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.)"


A li'l gallery from #AWP17

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. ;-)

200+ Poets "Renga for Obama"

Follow the full project here!

Day 28 #RengaforObama feat. Samiya Bashir & Jen Bervin, ed. by Major Jackson for The Harvard Review

🙌🏾 🙌🏾 🙌🏾

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"

🙌🏾 🙌🏾 🙌🏾

Samiya Bashir + Jen Bervin pair up to poem

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