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An interview with Dawn Lundy Martin by Noah Eli Gordon     (page 2)

NEG: Is there a relationship for you between the sonic catharsis of the lament, of grief given utterance via Traumatic Language’s attempt to house what “cannot be said that must be said that cannot be said” and the cultural and historic silencing of people of color? I’m thinking here specifically about your poem “Negrotizing in Five; Or, How to Write a Black Poem,” one section of which I’d like to quote in its entirety:

Sing a song that cannot be sung

A maw. A silence. It wanted to say, I am, but said instead, It was. Noted
the skin’s purple hue, fell into longing, thought of what was made and
what was done. Went to speak and said, Sith sith, and then, Mmmoss.
Finger pointed at the body and then at the sun, realized nothing and fell
again taciturn. There was, too, a craving: a stale remembrance that came a
jolting. A hard feeling, a swallowed rock. Wanted to wrench a cavity and
pull, expose the stone, as if I could, but could not.

I’m fascinated by the way in which this section simultaneously espouses a desire to speak out and a critique of received ideas about how one might do so. Is the negotiation of the voicing of trauma made further traumatic by certain expectations of representation? Is the Blackness of brutality’s black-and-blue more difficult to make visible?

DLM: I think you've got it right there, Noah. I find it intensely problematic when language attempts (creative, analytical, other other) to house "race" or any identity—in certainty. At one time in our American history, certainly, it was usefully or perhaps necessary (politically and socially) for black people to speak about race in terms that insisted on race's stability and, of course, language reflected that. I think I am thinking more of the Black Arts Movement here with the attendant belief that there is a "black aesthetics" or that an aesthetics can be reflective of or somehow emergent from a body that happens to be black because of that "blackness." This kind of approach, I believe, has historically been politically and socially motivated but somehow, even as political and social fabrics have morphed, the "natural" configuration of race as it relates to the creative or vice versa has stuck around. However—and this is the last contextual thing I'll say—ambivalence when it comes to identity can be found in much 19th-century African-American literature, particularly in slave narratives, short stories, and novels where the slope is a slippery one. So ambivalence is not a new thing.

In "Negrotizing in Five," which I originally wrote for Thomas Sayers Ellis's forthcoming anthology Breakfast and Blackfist: Notes for Black Poets, I am trying to grapple with racial identity's complex longing toward "that which cannot be said." It cannot be said because it is incomplete, has no language, has no memory, and no ground upon which to anchor. A Traumatic Language is a language disrupted by the speech-attempt of the racial self. It disentigrates. The trauma is not singularly linguistic (or racial for that matter), but when the trauma, be it personal and/or historical or related to the desire for racial wholeness, when that ineffable desire is brought together with language, there's a unique problem, both of representation and expression. Is it possible to write a "blackness" without wading around in this fractured and fragmented evidence, without struggling against it? I don't think so. All this is to say that the section of the poem that you quote isn't necessarily—although I believe this reading—dealing with "cultural and historical" silencing, but with a saying that simply isn't possible when it comes to race. The urgency to speak it, I suspect, comes into play via a whole system of reiterations of race and being that we all must continually investigate.

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