An interview with Dawn Lundy Martin by Noah Eli Gordon (page 4)
NEG: And the Black Took Collective?
DLM: The Black Took Collective (BTC) is similar in its founding only in that disillusionment was part of it. Ronaldo V. Wilson, Duriel E. Harris, and I started BTC while at the Cave Canem Retreat, then held at a monastery in Esopus, NY. I Ioved that monastery, the intimacy of writing with people in rooms and basements and staying up all night talking about poetry and smoking cigarettes under the tree. Ronaldo and Duriel and I were all to varying degrees interested in "experimentation" or "innovation" as a means to writing a different kind of blackness. We write about this experience in detail in our manifesto, "A Call for Dissonance" (2002), which has been recently re-printed in A Best of FENCE: The First Nine Years. We invited poets down into the basement late one night to have an impromptu conversation about the claims made in Erica Hunt's essay on "oppositional poetics." Harryette Mullen was there. John Keene, R. Erica Dolye, and Christopher Stackhouse were there. So was Giovanni Singleton who now edits a beautiful journal called nocturne(s) , the conceptual poet Tracie Morris, and Yolanda Wisher, who at the time was writing some phenomenal concrete poems, plus about 25 other poets who probably don't consider themselves in an "experimental" vein. Ronaldo, Duriel, and I brought a list of words we wanted to ban from black poetry, and we had a lively conversation that influenced the rest of the retreat. Poets more interested in the lyric and the narrative began to try their hands at what we called for that week, "the oppositional poem."
The Black Took Collective emerged soon thereafter. We wanted to carry the conversation that began at CC into our poetics in a more serious way. So, the three of us began writing, reading, and performing together. These days, our investigations are more variedly experimental. Although identity is always a part of the work, it's central in an alternate way; we're leaning more into the performance of the work and engagements with audiences that are more interactive and participatory on the audience's part. Play and how play affects the imagination is what we're currently working with.
NEG: Would you talk about some of the collective’s performance strategies?
DLM: At our St. Marks Reading in NYC, for example, we took dance breaks and invited audience members to participate. We were thinking here about Adrian Piper's video "Funk Lessons" and her impetus about white people being "hostile or indifferent" to funk music. In the video she gives a history of funk music and teaches the audience several funk dance moves, while the phrase "White People Can Dance" is flashed across the screen. It's pretty funny. Plus, we distributed copies of our manifesto in a little booklet with a tear off page at the end where audience members were asked to do some "coon journaling," or to write about their own fucked up racial experiences. We collected these journals and still plan to use them in our work, but haven't yet.
We're also doing these "live writing" experiences: while one of us is reading poetry, the other two are writing poetry or notes in response to the reading, which are projected on large screens for the audience to witness. We also project on another screen images—moving and static—from our writing processes. The effect is a kind of multiple, ongoing, and simultaneous performance of language and image. In our most recent work we appear to be inhabiting and exhibiting something we call “The Black Unconscious,” where “black poems” are produced. The work here is to derange the idea that there is something called a “black unconscious” and also to produce work via what undeniably are places of inaccessibility within bodies on stage that we call “black.” Part of the effect for audiences is that they must work out what’s happening in the moment and what’s previously written and recorded— when and where live exhibitions of the black imagination occur. The BTC has been extremely important to my work. It's in this context where we all try out the most radical stuff to see how it plays.