Writers

Experience Minneapolis through the Voices of Four Young Poets

Nicollet Lanterns features twelve powerful original poems by Sagirah Shahid, Moheb Soliman, R. Vincent Moniz, Jr. (Nu’Eta) and Junauda Petrus. Each poet wrote three approximately 100-word poems. Two are included here in-full and one additional poem by each poet is included in the blog post announcing the installation.

 

Sagirah Shahid

Nicollet Mall Lanterns

 

I got nothing but love
or purple joy that felt like anointed rain
riding this crowded bus
kinfold don’t front
they see you if you waving down the 5F
expect a chorus of raised voices
reminding the drive of how we’ve all been there once
Just shy of making it
Northside is beautiful
we have a Prince
we have memories of Chicago and Mississippi
And a drumline pulsing anytime we whip through
Lyndale Avenue North
(Shout out to the Masjid of Light)
engraved behind these eyelids
electric life
you can’t contain
ha ha we still here
still on our grind
unhooking the claws of this cycle

– Sagirah Shahid        © 2016

 

We shouldn’t have to say
Thirteenth amendment couldn’t protect us
from the war on drugs
after our leaders were jailed or shot
our country pressed its fingers up against our spine
but you should know we still want a new flag:
brave like Martin
bronze lit movement
beautiful like Malcolm
blessed lone mamas giving us life
we want this new flag on bended knee and
repenting, the old one lost all credit the
first time
it racked up the debts of genocide and when we get it
may the streets be soaked in rosewater may the streets be cloaked in
the sage we have lit

– Sagirah Shahid        © 2016

 

Moheb Soliman

Nicollet Mall Lanterns

 

Life is just long enough to waste
I am the recycling & the garbage
One has no limits & no freedoms
You are the endangered & the danger
You have the fire that burns the reigns
I am the stray you succored from the valley
You are a shining night of trombones
One has a voice without a language
One is an animal not a vegetable
I don’t have roots
I have no soul
I am The One Who Loves
You are The One Who Lives
You are the heartburn & the milky way
Neutralize one
Bind me to my senses
Show yourself in my mind in the flash in a mirror of a camera
Blind me to my selfies
One is not long enough for this world
Life is two handfuls borne to everyplace
I post my constellation over the cities from a far dark vista
I call for delivery tonight
I call the emigrant home

– Moheb Soliman     © 2016

 

I see u dancin right now
don need to tell u u know how
baby u do 0hhh I say you belong
It’s not our song
We’re always singing
I got a lion in my pocket baby he’s ready 2 roar
It’s music lights the world
the peeps that traffic in solace
wrappers alighting on private spaces
& all the birds are on time
It’s not my song
I’m always singing
I was dreamin when I wrote this forgive me
Not my self I am
rappers’ crooners’ divas’ the era’s
Tonight I’m gonna party like it’s 1999
The whole state helped write this part for you, princes
& your 1,000 backup dancers
servers bosses cops shoppers
the tireless the bi the high the homeless
& me, Moheb, your loving writer
Keep a place for me for me
I’ll sleep between ya’ll it’s no thing
it’s nothing

– Moheb Soliman     © 2016

 

R. Vincent Moniz, Jr. (Nu’Eta)

Nicollet Mall Lanterns

 

When I Was Lavender Candle With Violet Imperious Burn

For Megan Kate Treinen and Prince

Saw his purple majesty perform
at Paisley Park three times
and as his symbol shined across
night sky I let possibility wash over me.

The Drug, whose true name I tuck tight
whispers from amber alleyway that only
moves practiced in footie pajamas
back when my Twin Buttes mumma
sported pink mohawk, would do.

Cecilia would know her piercing stare
matches rhythm that still lives brightly
in Indigenous space and place.

So in honor we dance, celebrate,
and fall head over heels for an Uptown
writer who left her rib in my musical
muscle memory for the brightest
artistic god who ever demanded
to be my lover.

– R. Vincent Moniz, Jr. (Nu’Eta)     © 2016

 

Water War: Where Homeless Nap Next to Millionaires

In water camp at malls end
many celebrate current triumph,
sing survivals name as only citizens
from the City of Lakes can
and I can think of no other place
to do it.

On this concrete runway you
can and will watch fitful dream
take flight. This is people space
and in this place you can hear
us all laugh, shout, and hum
with vibrance and electricity.

This is a mall where homeless
nap next to millionaires right
in front of Orchestra hall.

See smile and suffer alike
as we make our way loud
and live down Nicollet in this,
our Land of 10000 lakes

– R. Vincent Moniz, Jr. (Nu’Eta)     © 2016

 

Junauda Petrus

Nicollet Mall Lanterns

 

A star
Wandering, in my own Dogon ritual of returning
Soul astronaut
Satellite your love like ritual
Reincarnate in your arms
Ancestral wifeys
You were the revelation shaped from a darker night
Backdrop was the universe
Dreamed
Afrikan-futured
Loving on each other like we always been
My fingers caress your naps
Place oils
Black girls know how to love
On the scalp
Along the cornrow
On one another
These coilings are cosmic conversation
Loving on you is prayer
Like honey
Summer
You were arrival
On my porch
I was nearly just in skin
The breeze was soft petaled
We wanted each other
Yes.

– Junauda Petrus    © 2016

 

The crowned-prince-color-purple-rain-chakra of all things
For brosun, Prince and Philando
The vibration of African alchemy that seeps into your soul
Lavender cloud sky opened and divine poet warriors became ancestor born
Boom
Grief just had to be jazz after awhile
It was alchemy and elixir for rebirth
I would discover, soon enuf
It was the obsidian soul algebras, the equation equaling a purple heart
And deeply with indigo dimension bleeding soulful legacies and memories
Black in full resilience: purple
We been through it, yet we are soul sorcerers, tasting the healing in the
Bitter and sweetness in the rain.

– Junauda Petrus    © 2016

 


Junauda Petrus

Junauda Petrus is a passionate and generous artist whose creativity pours out of her, taking many forms. During this conversation at her home in the Central neighborhood, we talk about her work with communities on events like the Mayday Parade, a play about the lives of women in prsion that employs her skills as an aerial artist, a poem that became a moving and transcendent puppet theater piece, and Prayers for Pussies, a cycle of poems that are a response – an inoculation of sorts – to our present social and political moment.

Two photos of Junauda Petrus.

Regina Flanagan: Making interpersonal connections, directly engaging and relating to people, is so important to your work and art – on the page, on the computer screen, in performances, plays, events and even parades. What motivates your work across these different media and how did it evolve?

Junauda Petrus: I think that it is just liberation for all oppressed people… I don’t know if I’d be making art if everyone weren’t oppressed. (Laughs.) But if I wasn’t an artist, I might have been a gardener because I love nature and the natural world. Lately I have been in interested in the memory of my younger self. I was so fascinated and compelled by space travel. I think a lot of my work also speaks to my youthful fascination with the natural world, and wanting to protect that. And my need to protect people. I used to feel very distraught as a child – seeing commercials on TV – let’s feed these poor children in destitute countries. Five cents a day, that’s all it takes!? I would imagine ways that I could get this money together. I felt, like a lot of children, a sense of justice. I just want people to feel liberated. What does it look like to live in a society that’s not so fixated on ideas of overpowering and scarcity?

RF: I understand that you grew up near Powderhorn Park.

JP: I grew up in the Phillips neighborhood which is just east of the park, and I live west of the park now. I’ve lived in this area my whole life.

RF: When you were interviewed about writing poems for the Nicollet Mall project, you were out of the country visiting family or relatives, and we connected with you via Skype.

JP: I was in Saint Croix, Virgin Islands. I’m really glad the stuttering technology worked out. The Nicollet Mall project was a tremendous opportunity for my artwork and my poetry. The experience of being a kid in this neighborhood – an awkward and a curious and intense child in the 1980s under the Reagan regime, with all the things that impacted communities of color and poor communities like the war on drugs – being selected made me feel that people might see a bit of South Minneapolis, or part of being West Indian, or being queer, or being a woman, or a questioning person in this society, on the Mall. I am about a lot of people; a lot of people are a part of me.

At this point in my creativity, I’m living a real life right now, this is my one little lifetime. Being able to leave a mark is tangible in this opportunity. A lot of my work is performance and you have to be there to experience it; there’s no way that it’s captured.

The Mayday Parade, and Black is Sacred created with the community for the parade, was about healing and influenced by my experience with the Prayers for Pussies thing. I was reflecting that white supremacists and hetero-patriarchy is the opposite of this – of how to love on our sacred, erotic selves. It was my personal experience to feel less of a person. I felt grief after the election of Trump and this was my approach: I’m not going to give Trump power over my body. I don’t care if he’s been elected president, he doesn’t get power over my body. That’s a boundary. I’m making a series of poems, Prayers for Pussies because that’s what we needed.

Two photos of the Mayday Parade 2017

RF: Relating to what you are saying about the feeling of not being adequate and being judged and degraded – that feeling, for many of us who are artists, comes when we’re adolescents and we realize that we don’t know where our place is, or where we fit. When we’re weighing ourselves against the external world before we find our own internal world. I understand that you are presently writing a book for young adults?

JP: I haven’t loved art this much since I first started doing aerial work. I’m in love with my characters. I feel them, and think about them all the time. Adolescence is a place I return to creatively – a space of your soul being wizardly childlike, a place that’s connected to ancestral and cosmic ways, and also an assertion of yourself as a person that’s separate from your parents, stepping into adulthood and a sense of justice.

I’m also writing and directing a web series that has a focus on young people living here after the deaths of James Clark and Philando Castile, and Prince’s passing, and connected to Black Lives Matter culture.

RF: You are an aerial artist. I’m curious about how you got interested in, and involved with that.

JP: In my late 20s, I was a youth worker in New York City. One day I was on the train to Brooklyn and noticed this woman. When she got out in Lower Manhattan, she gave me her card and said this is what I do. She was an aerial artist wrapped up with her silks and I felt a jolt of recognition; I could see myself in her. This returns to my early obsession with space travel. Aerialists work in a vertical space, a metaphorical space with multiple dimensions. I love climbing into the air. I hadn’t done gymnastics but I’m a strong athletic person in general. It was the perfect sort of thing for me at that time. I recognized the storytelling that would arise in me from working in this third plane. I was writing but not doing any performance work at that time.

Later, I did a play There Are Other Worlds that was presented at Intermedia Arts. Through aerial, I got back into performance work and combined it with playwriting. I wanted to tell that story through aerial. Most aerial work is primarily visual. (I was challenged by) how to tell a story that is complicated like mothering from behind bars, teenagers growing up without their mother and experiencing sexual abuse as kids – traumas felt by the young people who I was working with – part of the reality that I know the world is experiencing. Of the nine women we cast, three had incarcerated parents. This is so much in the fabric of our country. Through producing that play, I got a lot of feedback from young people: that’s my story, they felt very “seen” in the work.

In a solo performance at the Walker Art Center, Black Solitude/Autonomous Wildness, I used a rope rather than silks. Lifting myself up into the air, I’m thinking about my ancestors, and the meaning and symbolism of ropes and how art can be in conversation with this, honoring our ancestors.

Solo aerial performance at the Walker Art Center

As a playwright, I wasn’t one to say here’s my play and have someone else produce it. I chose to create work that I could perform and produce myself, and that I could be in conversation with community around.

RF: Queen, your most recent performance was at Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater (HOBPT) in 2016. Was this more like a performance art piece, or a play?

JP: I’ve done both. I’ve been a cast member, and the director. Queen came about because I’d written a poem about the grandmothers (see below). Playwright Eric Ehn at Brown University Theater Department does experimental plays dealing with trauma and crises, but they are also magical and poetic. He was working on a play about grandmother-hero journeys through grief. Director Allison Heimstead shared my poem with him and he decided to use parts of it in his play. Later, he decided to pull me in as co-writer and actor. Heimstead cast me as the Grandmother puppet. Ehn wrote the play for Laurie Carlos to narrate (Obie-awarding winning performer, director and poet, and mentor and oracle to local artists of color) and it was her last play before she passed away.

Could we please give the police departments to the grandmothers?

Give them the salaries and the pensions and the city vehicles, but make them a fleet of vintage corvettes, jaguars and cadillacs, with white leather interior. Diamond in the back, sunroof top and digging the scene with the gangsta lean.

Let the cars be badass!

You would hear the old school jams like Patti Labelle, Anita Baker and Al Green. You would hear Sweet Honey in the Rock harmonizing on “We who believe in freedom will not rest” bumping out the speakers.

And they got the booming system.

If you up to mischief, they will pick you up swiftly in their sweet ride and look at you until you catch shame and look down at your lap. She asks you if you are hungry and you say “yes” and of course you are. She got a crown of dreadlocks and on the dashboard you see brown faces like yours, shea buttered and loved up.

And there are no precincts.

Just love temples, that got spaces to meditate and eat delicious food. Mangoes, blueberries, nectarines, cornbread, peas and rice, fried plantain, fufu, yams, greens, okra, pecan pie, salad and lemonade.

Things that make your mouth water and soul arrive…

RF: Queen uses a combination of puppets and humans. Strong emotions are abstracted in a way, into the puppets. At HOBPT, you wear the oversize puppets and are one with them in a different way than with the small ones that are almost like extensions of your self and thoughts made physical.

JP: The puppets for Queen were amazing, made by Gustavo Boada. One is based on my grandmother in Saint Croix and I played that role. It was a powerful experience.

Puppets used in the Heart of the Beast Puppet Theater's performance of Queen.

RF: I’ve found that the most controversial contemporary public art has been representational; when figures are used allegorically, as there were in the 19th century, nude, in statues and paintings. There presently is no tolerance for it – we can’t even go there. Your poem, Prayer for Pussies, is a similar story; although we are in a different time and context.

[Petrus created three poems for Nicollet Lanterns; including one from Prayers for Pussies. This poem about female empowerment across generations and loving and supporting one’s self, contained sexual references to the female body that were deemed inappropriate for a work of public art. After substantial consideration by City staff and conversation with Petrus, she was asked to submit a substitute. An equally powerful poem from the series will appear on the lanterns.]

My impression of the event at the Loft Literary Center which included a reading of Prayer for Pussies was that the Loft is a safe place for presenting challenging work. This circles back to your writing about adolescence because being among other artists is the place that gives us the most freedom from any kind of definition; we can be who we are because we are accepted, understood, encouraged, and supported. The Loft event was about all of those things.

Later, I thought about how Nicollet Mall is, and is not, about those things. There’s a randomness to people encountering work in public places. But there are public places where people are in a more receptive frame of mind, like libraries and college campuses. Nicollet Mall is not like that, but it’s in need of more of places like that.

Blessing Hancock’s lantern forms are like opening a book where you have a personal, one-to-one relationship with what you’re reading. It takes an effort to put together the poems which extend over the curved surface of the lantern form. Over time and repetition, people will make the work their own, because they will have paid close attention to it. That particular work, its form and what you’ve written, will help Nicollet Mall to become a more personal place for many people. Most public spaces don’t offer this kind of experience.

JP: There are central places within a community – typically that’s where people get to speak to power, and to honor significant things. Minneapolis doesn’t have a place like that; but Nicollet Mall may be able to be that kind of place for downtown, especially if they bring art into that space. The legacy of speaking to power right now. A brilliant friend at HOBPT, a puppet builder, was just deported. How are we having conversation around the lens of how we perceive what it is to be American? I’m grateful to be a part of this. The poem Prayer for Pussies didn’t get included on a lantern, but it still got known through this process.

RF: The substitute poem is equally powerful, and the emotions and message of Prayers for Pussies is in it as well.

JP: It’s been a great experience to be in dialog with my City, and that my creativity is of value to this society.

Blessing Hancock’s Nicollet Lanterns

A star
Wandering, in my own Dogon ritual of returning
Soul astronaut
Satellite your love like ritual
Reincarnate in your arms
Ancestral wifeys
You were the revelation shaped from a darker night
Backdrop was the universe
Dreamed
Afrikan-futured
Loving on each other like we always been
My fingers caress your naps
Place oils
Black girls know how to love
On the scalp
Along the cornrow
On one another
These coilings are cosmic conversation
Loving on you is prayer
Like honey
Summer
You were arrival
On my porch
I was nearly just in skin
The breeze was soft petaled
We wanted each other
Yes

Junauda Petrus
© 2016

To read more poetry by Junauda Petrus and to see photos of her plays and a video of her astonishing aerial work, visit: Junauda Petrus
Pollen Midwest
Black Solitude/Autonomous Wildness

 


Sagirah Shahid

Shahid is a soft-spoken emerging writer with impassioned views driven by her upbringing and Muslim faith. Her poems and spoken-word pieces range from topics like the death of Sandra Bland and the ongoing Black migration, to a current series offering a tribute to mother-daughter relationships. There’s a strong ethical thread throughout her work, including the Nicollet Lantern poems – an intensity and strength, propulsion – that moves us toward awareness, empathy and action. I spoke with her about how faith, family, culture and activism are central to her work. Here are excerpts from our recent conversation and email exchange.

Regina Flanagan: I understand that you are a third-generation Black Muslim. Does your Muslim faith influence your writing?

Sagirah Shahid: My faith absolutely influences my writing. In a broader sense, Islam has historically influenced a variety of arts all over the world. From calligraphy to music, you’ll find ways in which communities and cultures are in discourse with Islam creatively, or at least draw from it.

I grew up studying and memorizing the Qur’an. By its nature, Qur’anic Arabic is poetic. Its verses are arranged in a way that is complementary to recitation. In fact, its memorization and recitation is an art form. There are Qur’an recitation competitions all over the world. When you look at how Qur’an is presented on the page, there is an attention to detail that is aesthetically pleasing too. In many ways Islam and Qur’an were my first experiences with art, especially with literary arts. Qur’an trained my ear to pay attention to sound and was my introduction to poetry.

I also grew up immersed in Black culture and Black Muslim culture. My mother made an effort to find children’s books and music that were either super-Black or Muslim or both. Or sometimes she would just makeup her own songs and stories. One year, my mom would be vacuuming to Whitney Houston, the next we’d be listening to a “Native Deen” tape, a Muslim rap group. Black culture is also in discourse with Islam and has shaped Muslim identities all over the U.S. and beyond. A lot of people don’t realize that. In the book Muslim Cool, Race, Religion and Hip-Hop in the United States, Su’ad Abdul Khabeer unpacks this way more eloquently than I ever could.

RF: Did you grow up in Minnesota?

SS: Yes, my whole life except for two years. From 1998 to 2001 my family lived in Hamtramck, Michigan. Hamtramck is a tiny town basically surrounded by Detroit, and it’s super diverse. Bangladesh. Polish. Bosnian. Yemeni. Black. Various cultures and communities all living together in this tiny town within this giant city. Essentially my family moved there for religion. My family changed from Hanafi to the Maliki School of Fiqh or Islamic law, like switching from Catholic to Baptist. My mom wanted my brother and I to learn Qur’an and be involved with the Muslim community there.

The Twin Cities’ Muslim communities were just starting to become more visible in the 1990s. In Minnesota, Muslim communities were relatively small prior to the arrival of Somalis and East African Muslims. In Michigan, various Muslim communities had been established for generations. Your faith, your spiritual practice – was the norm in a way it wasn’t in Minnesota yet. My parents didn’t want us to feel like outsiders when we were growing up, and wanted an environment where we could thrive fully, including spiritually. But now, I’d say local Muslim communities have grown significantly in Minnesota and are on the rise.

RF: There’s a strong thread of the ethic of the Qur’an in your work. You employ that ethical awareness in whatever you do; paying attention to issues of fairness and social justice and employing language as a way to highlight those issues. Your personal creative life and work-life appear interwoven. For example, you are an editor for the Saint Paul Almanac, a democratic publishing experiment that gathers community stories. Were your parents involved in social and cultural issues the way that you are? Did you inherit this focus from them?

SS: I don’t know if anyone can inherit anything like that but I will say those core values and the things I witnessed growing up influence me. Part of being Black and Muslim means you are aware of what’s going on politically and how Blackness was birthed into this nation. Our actual bodies are politicized because we don’t settle for violations against our bodies. My grandparents’ decision to convert to Islam was in some ways a reaction to the racism and discrimination Black folks were encountering during the civil rights era.

My mother has a kind heart and is very devout in her implementation of Islamic traditions and concepts surrounding communal responsibility. Growing up, we moved around a lot – almost every other year, and we didn’t have a lot in terms of money, and that was fine. But even under those circumstances, my mother always invited people in. People she had met who were hungry or struggling in some way and have them live with us for a time. We always had people in our house. My mom was and still is committed to supporting women, children and families. Throughout her life, she had done a lot with youth; building opportunities for them and advocating for them with non-profits, her job, or in her home.

I’m working on a series of poems entitled “Bean Pie” inspired by my Mother and Black Muslim culture and community. Many of the poems examine mother-daughter relationships. Bean Pie is made with white navy beans. It’s yummy; imagine sweet potato pie only with beans. Black Muslims invented it. The Black Muslim re-emergence of the 1940s-1970s emphasized an entrepreneurial spirit, self-sufficiency, taking care of your body, and building community. Selling bean pies was one way to accomplish that. The pies are more popular on the East Coast, Chicago or Detroit, places where there’s larger African-American populations. The pies are rich in protein and a celebratory staple of our cuisine.

 

Bean (Pie)

Soaked in water,
dried beans have the potential for holiness.

When I was a girl
I watched my mother fall in love with god
as if god were a dying language.

Every morning before dawn
she would find transliterations
of prayers in wet beans
and whisper them into
the batter of a devoted pie.

The pie only knew how to pronounce
the sounds of god. As it baked,

I knew it was enough for me
to purify my nostrils in this fashion,
splash the pearly gateways of my mind
with the smokiness of a pie’s promise.

To appreciate a beautiful moment
you have to know its absence,
taste the quality of life
burning down your throat
long after it’s gone

and this does not mean
you get to summon it back
no,

beauty doesn’t work that way. And like any daughter
I reflect on how
I have a hard time recalling
the way the base of my throat is supposed to catch
the brimming sounds of this particular Qur’anic
verse—but miraculously

I have managed to memorize
the scent of every home I prayed in.

 

Photo of Sagirah Shahid

Sagirah Shahid

RF: How did you learn to write? And why do you choose to write?

SS: I didn’t realize I was a writer until I was in college. Now looking back, it makes sense why I gravitated toward writing. My culture, my household and faith basically trained me to be addicted to critical and creative thinking. But when I got to college, writing was something I struggled with. I majored in English and realized my reference point wasn’t from a Eurocentric point of view and as a result I struggled and resisted. That resistance made me a better writer and also appreciate the generosity of writing professors and mentors who nurtured and supported me throughout that process – they taught me the formal vocabulary to hone my craft.

I seize every possible opportunity in my community to continue what I hope is a lifelong pursuit to live, learn and grow as a human being. I’m especially grateful to the robust local arts communities here – the Loft Literary Center, Mizna, the Saint Paul Almanac, Pangea, Intermedia Arts, Black Table Arts (to name a few). I’m grateful to the many writers, especially writers of color who have taken me under their wings and continue to create space for writers like me to grow and learn in community.

All that is to say, I didn’t choose writing. I got lucky enough to be surrounded by incredible human beings with stories that weren’t necessarily the focal point of our country. I write to affirm myself and to call attention to these stories. I stumbled into writing because it was my first line of defense, the first way I gained true agency in the world. The whole process, the act of creating, the act of receiving stories – feels sacred. I’m grateful for the opportunity to improve my own ability to do both.

 

Peace be upon you
Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah
body be a peephole into where I live how I live
surveillance is only an answer to questions
you wanted to find people you refuse to see
my skin is this nation’s consciousness
reminding on some level
we never wanted to be here
fattening up blood soaked pocketbooks
but what’s the plight of a slave if not to make due
dua for the unborn and bulletless
what’s the difference between a bird’s nest and potted roots yanked free
in this nice climate
I can’t wait for you to notice
my life is fear and muffled survivals

Sagirah Shahid
© 2016

 

RF: I’d like to talk about some of the references in this poem for Nicollet Lanterns.

SS: Peace be upon you. Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah is one of three options for a Muslim greeting. Translated it means: Peace be upon you, and God’s mercy upon you. Whenever someone greets you, you are obliged to reciprocate, or do better.

RF: Lines in the poem are messages for people who understand it the way you do, and there are messages for people like me who are curious and open to learning more about your faith and world-view.

SS: I’m interested in what’s going on with Black and Muslim people right now. The peace greeting affirms us. But I was also trying to find entry points to capture the violence of the times we’re living in, and how disruptive it is, how it makes us feel out of place.

Being a Black person, we have roots in this country but also we don’t. Like a bird’s nest this is our home, but it is also very temporary and was constructed out of necessity, for survival. Bird nests also look a lot like the way roots look in the ground. I used that subversive image to point to the disconnect that is the Black American identity. I’m speaking to the Black community at large, or people who can relate to that. We’re displaced people and because we come from slavery, we will never be at home here. This is indigenous land. But we have nowhere to go – so we make our homes out of these uprooted things.

The first thing many Black Muslims did was relieve themselves from their “slave names” – famously adopting “X” until they choose their own names. The X represents the unknown because the names ascribed to our communities were a direct result of slavery. We were robbed of many things including our very names. Our ancestors didn’t come to the Americas with those surnames, so true freedom and true self-love came symbolically, through choosing a name that wasn’t associated with American slavery. That’s a trend that’s not unique to Black Muslims, it’s across African American culture.

RF: We exist, and we need to make our roots no matter where we are, and the desire to make connections is intrinsic.

SS: Exactly. That’s why I made an effort to center our existence in these poems. In one of my poems, I give a shout out to Masjid An’Nur (Masjid of Light) which is a Muslim place of worship in North Minneapolis. It is a historically Black Muslim masjid and it’s very inclusive.

I requested that the lanterns with my texts be located near the 7th Street intersection with Nicollet Mall where the buses stop that carry people to the Masjid and into the Northside. I also wanted to pay homage to people who use the bus to get around as a primary means of transportation. Recently, some larger buses have been added to accommodate the number of people going north. But before that, people were sardined into the buses in a very oppressive way, and to be honest this still happens sometimes. I wanted to give my fellow bus riders a shout out and I felt strongly about making one of the poems a tribute to the Northside. It was my first home and no matter where life takes me, Northside will always be the home of my heart. All three of my lantern poems seek to center Black people.

 

We shouldn’t have to say
thirteenth amendment couldn’t protect us
from the war on drugs
after our leaders were jailed or shot
our country pressed its fingers up against our spine
but you should know we still want a new flag:
Brave Like Martin
Bronze Lit Movement
Beautiful Like Malcolm
Blessed Lone Mamas giving us life
we want this new flag on bended knee and repenting
the old one lost all credit
the first time
it racked up the debts of genocide and when we get it
may the streets be soaked in rosewater may the streets be cloaked in the sage
we have lit

Sagirah Shahid
© 2016

 

The full text of the interview is available here.

Sagirah Shahid website

Shahid reads a version of Bean Pie as well as Say Her Name (Dedicated to Sandra Bland) and a moving tribute to her Mother, I’m Going to Build You a House, as part of The Loft Mentor Series.

From interview on Yes and Yes online blog, February 6, 2017
True Story: I’m a Black Muslim Woman Living in Trump’s America

 


Moheb Soliman

Cross-currents of place, nature, identity, modernity and belonging course through the explorations of feeling and language in the work of Moheb Soliman. The poet and performance artist, who was born in Egypt and grew up in the Midwest, believes that our experience with the physical geography of place is critical to how we form identity.

Experiencing wilderness and tuning into the wilderness can be transformative to your identity. It’s a radical experience to be in the natural world. We can re-calibrate who we are and the axioms we orient around.

As an immigrant to the United States, one’s experience of history and country is usually through the dominant power structure. I’m trying to explore the place I’m from or that I’m trying to claim, and in the process, discover how other narratives exist right alongside of my own. How do I understand where I’m trying to be from if I don’t understand how others have built up a history over their experience of this place?

– From MN Original profile of Moheb Soliman produced by Twin Cities Public Television that aired on April 8, 2017.

His emerging career as a poet has been oriented toward performance and installation work. Soliman carries poetry out into the world, beyond the pages of a book, through participating in events like Northern Spark and seeking out opportunities for poetry to appear in public landscapes and places.

Image of mobile electronic sign

Winter Warming Warning – Night time temporary poetry installation during Nicollet Mall construction using mobile electronic signage boards, part of a project with poets presented by Northern Lights.mn

In 2016, Soliman created 25 poems that were installed in five Great Lakes National Parks to celebrate the US National Parks Centennial. The poems were written with specific sites in mind. Having an authentic encounter with each place was important to Soliman and speaking quietly to people who are out there enjoying the space in their own way.

Attention visitors / attention /
the quieter things get / the
louder / the colors / the flora
the fauna the arena of serene
applause of water lapping wind /
Pause friends / up ahead/
the same place twice / twice /
Affection guys / there’s a cloud
of joy /underfoot / clear to
Canada and back / to Native
America / Thank you for tending
to / again / and again

From Attention Visitors Attention, an installation of poems disguised as official signs in the five Great Lakes National parks. This comes out of Soliman’s larger project HOMES, acronym for the Great Lakes, which was begun while circling the bioregion for four months in 2015 during a Joyce Foundation Fellowship.

Image of a poem on sign in National Park.

H.O.M.E.S. / a Great Lakes poetry and art project for Pictured Rocks, Sleeping Bear Dunes, Apostle Islands, Indiana Dunes and Ise Royale National Parks, 2016.

Soliman observes

Poetry takes you to the limit of human experience and uses language in the way that it exists in our minds, our psyche. Our thoughts and feelings are made clear only through language and it’s our primary medium for exploring the world. Poems can go beyond narrative and the ordinary syntax of language to communicate something phenomenal about the world.

My poems work through things, places, moments, images, and associations, seeking to capture the tangents we hold together at a given moment or place.

In his compelling proposal for the Nicollet Mall project, Soliman wrote

In a public poetry installation setting, I think this approach succeeds in forging an intimate and immediate connection with people, drawing out a mutual curiosity or experience of the world as we’re all navigating through it.

I also think delight and play are vital components of public art; to me, there’s great potential for that in playing with language as the limitless, raw material of our common understanding.

During the project’s kickoff meeting in August 2016 with artist Blessing Hancock and the other three poets, Soliman expressed a curiosity about urban development and the transformation of the city. He remarked

I want to be part of an explicit re-building. I am aware of and pre-occupied with how we experience spaces for the first time. I aim to write poems that are humble and subtle and maybe the tenth time you see it, you catch it… poems that sneak up on people.

For the Nicollet Mall lanterns, Moheb Soliman has composed stream-of-consciousness fragments, almost like an internal dialog of random thoughts. They first coalesce into patterns, and then cumulatively, into a totality called forth by the reader’s own perceptions and interpretation. While his previous work created for landscape settings has lightness, playful qualities and humor, the poems for Nicollet Mall have a pointed urgency. It is poetry about and for an urban condition. The writer is moving through an environment where he feels perhaps less “at home,” missing the acceptance and continuity he finds within landscape and nature.

Images of Nicollet Mall Lantern with poem incorporated.

Life is just long enough to waste
I am the recycling & the garbage
One has no limits & no freedoms
You are the endangered & the danger
You have the fire that burns the reigns
I am the stray you succored from the valley
You are a shining night of trombones
One has a voice without a language
One is an animal not a vegetable
I don’t have roots
I have no soul
I am The One Who Loves
You are The One Who Lives
You are the heartburn & the milky way
Neutralize one
Bind me to my senses
Show yourself in my mind in the flash in a mirror of a camera
Blind me to my selfies
One is not long enough for this world
Life is two handfuls borne to everyplace
I post my constellation over the cities from a far dark vista
I call for delivery tonight
I call the emigrant home

Moheb Soliman
© 2016

To see more of the writer’s work, visit Moheb Soliman’s website  and tumblr site

Profile of Moheb Soliman on MN Original

The Loft Literary Center’s Lit Chat: Meet Moheb Soliman