Living Our Values

I had the great good fortune to attend the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office’s 2014 Intergenerational Spring Seminar, organized around the recent passage of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). It was an incredible experience you can read about in the article I wrote for the All Souls Beacon.

On the final morning, there was an opportunity to participate in a poetry slam, which is a fixture of many Unitarian Universalist (UU) youth conferences and events. I was not initially intending to participate, preferring to leave it to the youth. I have written perhaps 3 decent poems in my life, only 2 of them are in English, and I’m not much for performing my work. However, over the course of the seminar, I kept thinking about a poem I had written as a college student and once performed at an open mike at my UU fellowship in Maryland. Eventually, I signed myself up to perform it.

I wrote Wor(l)dpower as an English major’s anthem back in 2003, a hymn to the proud history and broad etymology of the language. I saw English as encapsulating literally a whole world of diversity. Over the years, I’ve come to learn more about the legacy of European colonialism and the complicated nature of American neo-imperialism. As we learned more about UNDRIP and the problems of the Doctrine of Discovery, I began to understand my old poem with new ears. On that last night of the seminar, I was up till 2 a.m., pecking away at my little smartphone screen, refashioning it into the poem I would read that last morning:

WOR(L)DPOWER

I have the language of old white men,
Of ivy-ed dons and lords and kings
Ambitious, adventurous queens,
The psyche – and psychoses! – of an ancient patriarchy
In an unfinished, evolving Mother Tongue;

I speak the rhythms of Angle children
And sing a song of Saxon churls;
Mine the speech of Middle Earth
Twixt Grendel and a variable God;
The spoils of Vikings are mine
And the toils of Britons;

My father is a Norman,
Francois Vikingson,
My mother a Celt
With Germanic mother tongue;
Raised in Oxbridge
On perfect inflection
By Geoffrey
Johnson and
Julian
Milton;

Ours a language of adversity and adversary,
Of dominion and destruction, industry and capital,
The imprisoning web and the interdependent.

Behind my lips: Tragedies. Comedies.
the human experience,
Poetry and romance,
Illusion,
Persuasion,
Coercion,
Denial,
Destruction…
And a long, illustrious history
Of hope and concern,
Of optimism, wisdom;

My pen is poised to change the world,
For where there is progress,
Invention,
Intellect,
Creative determination,
Hopes & fears, losses and loves;
dreams…
There I am,
—There!—
I may speak;

Flawed and unbalanced,
Syncretic, adaptive,
Organic summation of my people’s history,
In thought and deed and family tree,
Prepared to learn and grow
Like dreamers and druids,
Professors and poets,
Warriors, politicians, wand’rers and essayists
Who are the roots and the trunk,
the branches and boughs
Supporting the flowers of culture, of hope, of memory and promise
Into the eternally returning
springtime
of humanity;

Mine is the language of unformed babes,
Still in the dust, in the womb, in the waters

Seven generations and seven more
Whose language dwells in houses
we cannot imagine
can only leave space for—
flexible, respectful—
In the language we’re living into today.

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