The Mark Allen Everett Poetry Series is a collective of poets, teachers, students, and academics working to open up creative spaces within the Norman and greater Oklahoma City communities. We are collectively outraged by the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Tony McDade, and by the traumas inflicted on all victims of the policing of Black bodies. We believe Black Lives Matter. And we acknowledge how the effects of anti-Black racism are exacerbated for those who are also women, trans, queer, non-binary, Latinx, Muslim, Indigenous to lands occupied by Canada the United States, Jewish, disabled, and/or undocumented. We stand with the families of Oklahoma’s black and brown citizens who have died at the hands of law enforcement, including Marciona Kessee, Derrick Ollie Scott, Mah hi vist Good Blanket, Magdiel Sanchez, Luis Rodriguez, Martin Sanchez-Juarez, and others. The MAEPS joins the many voices who are now demanding justice, reform, and accountability.
The University of Oklahoma (OU) English department, which houses the MAEPS, rightly notes that our community and our university have been and continue to be impacted by systemic racism, evidenced by Norman’s history as a “sundown” town as recently as 1967; by the banning of black students at OU until the admission of George McLaurin in 1948; by the segregation of black students at OU until 1950; and by more recent events such as the Sigma Alpha Epsilon incident in 2015 and instances of blackface on campus just this past year.
With the OU English department and with Ibram X. Kendi, we acknowledge that the racism fueling police brutality against our neighbors is not only “out there,” but also in here, in us. We pledge to do our part in the struggle to dismantle systemic racism.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also given rise to numerous anti-Asian racist attacks in North America, Europe, the South Pacific, and South Asia, and while we condemn these anti-Asian hate crimes, we recognize that such xenophobic violence is tied to imperial and colonial structures that also manifest in anti-Indigeneity, racialized classism, and antiblackness around the world.
We at the MAEPS are watching the STEM field grappling with the injustices of the history of Western science: the #ShutdownSTEM movement (see www.shutdownstem.com) noted that “Institutional science has stolen knowledge, technology, health, wellness, and life from Black people,” and that “Western science owes Black people reparations.” (And we greatly recommend taking a look at their resources page: https://www.shutdownstem.com/resources)
Similarly, we might ask: in what ways has American/Anglophone poetry engaged in anti-Black practices of reading, publishing, and promoting, and in what ways does it continue to be anti-Black?
Poetry as a genre in the United States, but also Anglophone poetry generally, has a problematic and often anti-Black history, given that many Western/American cultural institutions have historically defined and delimited not just what poetry “is,” or what “good” poetry is (in turn excluding many voices and texts that do not meet those agreed-upon standards of “taste”), but also determine which voices are read, showcased, published, celebrated, and taught.
We at MAEPS are thinking about our past and present programming, our events, our guest speakers, and the cultural identities of our co-directors, and are working to make the MAEPS an antiracist arts group, rather than simply diverse in its program offerings. Moreover, we want to affirm that our commitment to this statement and to the following actions will not wane.
What specific actions might the MAEPS take in working to become an antiracist poetry series? We offer the following as starting points:
- Work to dismantle anti-Black racism in ourselves and in our relationships with one another.
- Amplify the work of Black, trans, non-binary, queer, Indigenous, Latinx, Muslim, Jewish, Asian, disabled, and/or undocumented poets.
- In efforts to counter anti-Blackness, we will open up our collective, co-curatorial model of producing the reading series, asking guest curators of color to invite friends, poets, and artists to present their work via the MAEPS--rather than simply relying on our own limited networks of poets and friends.
- Often, our visiting poets will visit local school classrooms to hold workshops for elementary, middle, and high school students. We will expand the schools and classes we visit, offering funding to BIPOC teachers in under-resourced schools in the OKC metro area to bring in BIPOC poets to conduct workshops with their students. These workshops will affirm Black youth inside schools in order to transform the anti-Black racist ways that they have experienced American schooling.