To get outside the trouble, to get beyond qualitative research and its limits, this double paper attempts to offer a new nonmethod, or an antimethodological thought experiment, to readers of Research in the Teaching of English who have already exhausted the limits of qualitative methods they learned in graduate school (Patel, 2019; Stornaiuolo et al., 2019). “A Run // on black study” is a performance and practice in otherwise (Crawley, 2020) language and literacy methodologies, a postqualitative assemblage in two parts, a paper beside a paper. “A Run // on black study” (the part you are reading now) preludes our methodological departure. The aim, on this conceptual side, is to situate the work to come — the body of poetic excess — in a black radical tradition of disruption, of being in excess beyond any regulatory apparatus of surveillance (Chandler, 2013; Judy, 2020; Moten, 2018). In order to talk about the excess, we need to practice making poetics. Think of “A Run // on black study” as a consort who lovingly introduces you to an unruly way of questioning, tarrying beside, and transcending qualitative research. Also, on this side of presumed clarity, I introduce “a run” as a surrealist means of translating data into something other than story. This antimethodological offering emerges as a poetics, in black study, which draws upon somatic knowledges—inherently black and indigenous, intuitive, decidedly artistic and sensual, improvisational. All the knowledges of a run emphasize movements and breathing, are situated in a former study whose outgrowth in the time between collecting the original data and years of rumination after has sprawled beyond the limits of qualitative research, and could be thought of as postqualitative. The poetics exceeds training, seeks to break the insufficient methodological tools we are given, and loves words too much to oversimplify them. The paper beside the paper, the secret inside the paper, “A Series of Irreducible Reanimations, Seven Runs” (the part to come), is a prose poem, a creative-philosophical enactment of a run, made possible through black study. In this nested piece I blur a single fragment derived from a series of phenomenological interviews (ife, 2016) into creative philosophical entanglement with a line from a poem written by black studies poet and critic Fred Moten. To get to the black opacity of this other paper, I have to situate you in the air from which it grew.
A Contextual (Under)Ground
From 2012 to 2016, while a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, I studied histories of black education in the United States, the global practices of writing, the spatiotemporal repercussions of writing, from its fifteenth-century bureaucratic origins onward, in the lives of black people. Between 2014 and 2015 I interviewed seven black women, all undergraduates at the university, to learn about their relationships with writing and each other, how they moved inside and outside performance, and the underground performance and poetics spaces they designed and inhabited. One of the women described an incessant tension she felt, “of being trapped / and feeling free,” and the others all shared a version of the same sentiment. Initially I thought of this shared feeling as a code, in that reductionist qualitative analytical sense, and in the years after, I continue to hear it as a mantra. Of being trapped / and feeling free, they all wrote poetry, many of them wrote songs, and they all were performance artists. The interviews led to observations of a blues theater ensemble created by one of the women.
The aims and curiosities and questions of that study were curated in the air of the afterlives of slavery, drawn up “in the wake” (Sharpe, 2016) of an ongoing decade of highly publicized state-sanctioned killings of black people. I was reading Scenes of Subjection (Hartman, 1997) alongside translations of Being and Nothingness (Sartre, 1943/1984) and Being and Time (Heidegger, 1927/1962) at the time, thinking about the shared existential phenomena of creativity in the lives of Black women. Because I remain interested in the material practices black people create through the materialist imposition of settler colonialism, I was thinking then, as I still am now, about the origins of writing in a bureaucratic European sense (Goody, 1986), against the black origins of writing in a historic United States black literary society sense (McHenry, 2002). I was also thinking about the legacies of black women’s writing (performing, singing, making), from the eighteenth century on, and trying to bring those histories into relief with the seven black women, alive in the twenty-first century, who participated in my study.
I am certain I failed in my attempt to offer the sort of bodiless fugitive poetics (ife, 2021b) I have been obsessed with writing ever since. It was impossible to get somewhere new with the questions I asked, questions that upheld categories of human distinction—specifically of race and gender—and more, it was impossible to get there through qualitative research. Even at its furthest limits, my dissertation could only reify an escape narrative we all want to escape. We came together in the context of that study, through the heuristic of qualitative research, of researcher and research subject, or in the more thoughtful case as research participants, all bound in subjectivity. What I could not hear then, I hear now. We traded different versions of the same (runaway) slave narrative, this imposition we cannot reconcile or resolve. Or ongoing trauma, the woundedness of blackness-as-race, the intangible realness of our everyday fugitive relationships to these various whiteness-as-propertied institutions we are still bound inside (and toward, in service of). It is not surprising that my interviewees answered my questions enraged by their experiences of mundane (and spectacular) racism in the snow. This country is racist, as all its institutions are racist, as all the institutional practices are racist—this, the most basic situation, we already know. What I wanted to know—their practices as writers and performers—was eclipsed by my questions, questions that put too much emphasis on categorical difference. I asked them questions about their writing, only after (and while also) asking them questions about their subject position of black womanhood. As the issue of race and gender filled the air between us, less attention was given to their practice, more attention given to a seething, unseen sensation of rage. Maybe because they are all performers, perhaps they gave me what they thought I wanted to hear, or perhaps, too, because I have listening issues, I heard what I wanted to hear. It was so easy to catch wind of a lone, angry, blues woman, a type of one-woman show carried forth in ensemble, melancholia both real and feigned, an air of being above it all, yet still inside it. A narrative account of seven entangled individual lives, I brought together into one unified story. A hot mess I have been trying to sublimate into art ever since (ife, 2021b).
What I have been working on (and through) in the years since finishing my dissertation is a poetics of blackness, to say something new (or at least in a new register) about language and (im)materiality in the lives of black people, about processes and practices of writing and imagining, without having to defer to the overwrought categorical social experiments of race and gender, or any modes of knowledge production that keep those categories intact. What I listened to years ago in the snow, the stories of the seven women who participated in my study, cannot be reduced. Though qualitative research necessitates transparency, a clear view into the study through a rigorous analysis of data, there are some data that are too opaque, that which cannot be reduced, and as Édouard Glissant (1990/1997) says, I too, “clamor for the right to opacity” (p. 194). Of course, I did reduce the data into something legible, something clear, for the purposes of defending my dissertation. In “A Series of Irreducible Reanimations, Seven Runs,” I offer an alternative rendering, the opaque data, a sort of transmutation of the irreducible. Which is to say, I refract the limits inherent in my former qualitative research study, bend the metaphorical light in such a way that if it were an image, us in my office back then, our mostly queer black human flesh would appear less characteristic, less propertied, less categorical, less legible, less straightforward. To get outside basic understanding I use an opaque poetics. I am a black poet working through protracted struggle, attempting to write about black life by way of an insufficient semiotic system. I cannot feign clarity where clarity does not exist. I have to fold the data onto itself, lose the data, get down somewhere else through a poetics.
This black antimethodological impulse, to run // on theory.
I am black. I am a black poet. I work inside the academy.
My work concerns itself with matters of blackness, poetics, transcendence, transience, duration, intimacy, improvisation, confinement, making, and fugitivity. I begin each day in gratitude for having woken up, again, fueled by the magnitude of my inherited imagination. Born inside this country, sixth or seventh or eighth generation (indigenous) black American, caught inside the air of the afterlives of enslavement, poor, of people who worked the fields, who could not read, whose melancholia endured, who could not write, until all these years later there was me, descendent, or ascendant heir to nothing other than everything. The molten sentiment writhes inside my flesh, the anger I have for knowing (and existing) beyond the time I am in, all of this informs my writing. There is nothing neutral in my methods, my practice, or my study.
I linger inside black study, a prolonged critique of Western civilization, a radical cross-disciplinary exegesis on everything and nothing. Black study troubles ideas of (global) black sociality, ideas of black life (its origins, its presences, and its futures), offers us creative ways of living otherwise in and through terror, in and through the imminence of escape (Moten, 2003, 2017, 2018). To engage in black study is to practice friendship. To practice black study is to lose oneself inside the surround of the work (below ground, in the air). In the years since gathering the interviews and artifacts and observations associated with my dissertation, I have lost myself inside the surround of the work. At the level of surround I participate in a collective critique and refusal of the ontological insinuation of qualitative methodologies that attempt to codify black life and make black life known.
I situate my work, most closely, beside the creative and philosophical works of Fred Moten. Since his first book, In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition, Moten (2003) has slowly, serially enlivened a theory (and, too, a nontheory) of blackness imbued with improvisation, feeling-with, working-with. “A Series of Irreducible Reanimations, Seven Runs” grew out of black study while I was lost inside the vastness of the fragment, “of being trapped / and feeling free” and the expanse inside Moten’s study.
In Stolen Life, Moten (2018) suggests that modernity is an ongoing imposition of blackness, of blackness-as-race. Rather than codify blackness in terms of human taxonomy, Moten studies blackness as abstraction—or everything other than race. As a poet I spend a lot of time contemplating blackness. To my mind, blackness is all and nothing, beyond our shared human condition, beyond flesh. It bothers me when someone attempts to reduce blackness, in that Kantian way, to modernity’s imposition of race and racism.
Sometimes I like to run around inside the worlds channeled through artists who are also black, as much as I like to play inside the worlds channeled by black artists who are not black. Do you see what I did there? Moten reminds me, too, how difficult it is to be representative of my own blackness, as someone who is black, as someone whose conceptions of blackness are more concerned with difference in terms of creativity than difference in terms of human social conditions. Blackness is always more than race, but modernity keeps us locked in categorical difference. It’s not that I want to get outside this collective bios/mythos of blackness—I love my blackness, whatever it is. It’s just that I want space to think about what black people are able to create inside this myth other than what people who study race and racism presuppose black life is capable of rendering. To Moten (2018), it is not blackness we must overcome—and I agree with him—but the regulatory apparatuses of surveillance in the lives of black people as a condition of modernity. It’s the (modern) way we are trained to think about (modern) research in the (modern) academy, that maintains this (modern) imposition of blackness-as-race.
As much as I want to move around the postmodern, the post-post-postmodern imagination, I cannot get outside what Moten (2018) says about postmodernity’s impossibility, that we cannot profess postmodernity until modernity (as blackness, as a fact of money, as a fact of property) is done. Is it even possible to do something called postqualitative research, too, if the nature of qualitative research is dependent upon the trouble, or the problem, or the struggle of blackness-as-race? Because the regulatory apparatuses of surveillance, inherent in qualitative research, maintain categorical difference, I want to run. What tools we inherit (and master) through modernity and its imposition of blackness-as-race are insufficient to the insurmountable task of moving beyond race and racism. The material condition of the black body has always been a matter of captivity, of money, of circulation. Moten (2018) says the necessary condition of modernity is to circulate, through slave narratives, those necessarily storied accounts of brutality in the lives of black people, the regulatory choreography of containment. The only ones who live outside this condition are the ones who can get outside the need to tell a story. I am beginning to suspect all the matter in literacy, the “bureaucratic origins of writing” (Goody, 1986) and documentation, is what troubles us. Our first run, if I can think black sociality in collectivity for a minute, was documented through the eighteenth-century origins of a black literary tradition. The black poetics of the eighteenth century shifted into a functional apparatus of escape in the nineteenth century (McHenry, 2002). What the black literary traditions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries attempted to open has instead provided the ongoing brutal condition of black sociality, or the practice of writing black stories, black pain, as social currency, as actual money, as mechanisms of survival. Because I understand the legacies, the circumstances of blackness-as-race, then and now, I cannot undermine the work of nineteenth-century black writers. Yet I do want to trouble how we think about the black literary tradition—its origins, its intentions, its limits—what story we tell ourselves and our students about black literature. Elizabeth McHenry (2002) says the nineteenth-century black literary tradition emphasized moralizing, respectability, citizenship. Jonathan Osborne (2020) might say conservative black rhetoric, as it has flourished in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, was first imagined inside those nineteenth-century black literary societies whose struggle to get out led them into politics. And nineteenth century black sociality was purely a matter of politics. Or maybe this is just how I see it. Survival, the inadvertent conservative material consequence, or condition, of nineteenth-century black literary societies flows beyond politics too. Qualitative research methodologies, when used in studies that aim to humanize their black and brown subjects, no matter how radical, are inherently conservative. Black writers (literary and academic) are expected to reproduce, over and over, different versions of the same slave narrative. Or the impulse to tell a survival story within contemporary qualitative research studies is an ongoing materialist condition of modernism. We tell stories about the lives of poor black (and brown and otherwise other) youth and make money through these troubled stories and how close are we to thrivance? The thing is, story is dead, has always been dead. It was never interested in life or liberation, just money. Moten (2003, 2014, 2017, 2018) listens to this narrative—a recurring sound, a wailing black musical intonation, a blues tradition, a cut, an open wound the market cannot let go. And this sound of black imposition, as it floods the music market, is the highest-paid performance a black artist can aspire to. When my interviewees—who are poets and performance artists, many of them also singers and songwriters and actors and filmmakers—describe the tension of being trapped and feeling free, I consider the narrowness of the entertainment industry in this country (and also globally), I consider the expectation for black artists to create the soundscape and sensory apparatus for the entire world, I consider the entire project of black life as it was imagined on our behalf, wonder how to get beyond the necessity of constant entertainment and escape rooms. We cannot get outside modernity if we can only think, speak, write, or perform modern.
The trouble is, ethnographic history, its singular eye, looks out at all the black others, somewhere foreign in an open field, speculates inside a journal, uses the notes from the journal to build the study. Even the most radical studies, if they are qualitative in nature, emerge from the same primordial eye, the same archaic hand. And from these studies, a singular story of an eponymous “we”: we are never meant to transcend the social and financial circumstances we inherit at birth. We are prevented from moving. We are situated in constant struggle. We can only aspire to a myth of some future that will never come. We can only compete, agitate, infuriate, attempt to make, but we never really get anywhere. The air inside this story suffocates us, persists through regulatory apparatuses of capture. And those regulatory apparatuses of capture need us to perpetuate our sorry role in this sad story, need the story to perpetuate a financial enclosure, to perpetuate an agrarian economy. It’s like every time a black person’s life is looked at, prodded, then documented as troubled, the regulatory apparatus of capture grows a new limb, the afterlives of slavery is a perennial phantom limb.
What do I do with my knowledge of freedom, when I know freedom is not anything anyone can actually see? So much of what has been written about black people, or by black people, or analyzed in the lives of black people relies on a preoccupation with the racist condition of black sociality, with looking at and reproducing our material precondition as a mechanism of survival. Some of the most radical, delightful, thought-provoking studies in this journal on language and literacy in terms of black students, in terms of humanizing black students—like the critical work of my friends Gholnecsar Muhammad, Latrise Johnson, Sakeena Everett, Valerie Kinloch, Tanja Burkhard, Carlotta Penn, and Hanna Sullivan—are so clear, so clean, so precise, so survival-based (Everett, 2018; Johnson, 2017; Johnson & Sullivan, 2020; Kinloch et al., 2017; Muhammad, 2015). And clarity is what a strong qualitative study should aim for, right? These papers intend to open something else in terms of black life, or suggest a means of celebrating black life—and they do—but as I read these papers, as much as I am interested in the interventions they offer, I lose interest at their methodological epicenter not because the methods are underdeveloped, but because the methods are too sure of themselves, too compositionally sutured to surveillance, to a particular way of looking and seeing and talking about black life. And, because surveillance esteems itself through its precision, there is not enough mess or irreducibility to open something else in (and through) the work; there is not enough room to run around in (and beside and outside) the opaque data. I could say the same about so many other articles inside this journal, and know it is a matter of what Research in the Teaching of English sounds like, or how we speak to each other in these pages. After conducting all these studies on “humanizing,” “recentering,” “reclaiming,” and “celebrating,” polyvocality in the lives of young black and brown people, is it possible to redirect some of this insurgence back into our inherited methodologies, to trouble the methods, to refuse to participate in the type of banal surveillance which gazes at black people to teach presumed racial others something specific about black life? Can we do so using multiple, many-tongued, polyvocal ways of speaking from our data?
What I’m saying is, the entire project of ethnographic research, and by extension sociological qualitative research, and by extension social groups such as nineteenth-century black literary societies, and by extension contemporary radical qualitative research rely on (de)humanizing black life by way of grammar, by way of clinging to this lucid narrative tradition we are trained to use to frame our thinking. In our constant clarity, what is made apparent, over and over again, is our incessant preoccupation with human socialities and identities. Maybe our preoccupation with humanity (Wynter, 2003) is insufficient to our task of studying language and literacies in the twenty-first century. And I know it’s a weird statement, but perhaps it is possible to get deeper inside languages and literacies by “losing the categorical human” (ife, 2021b). I don’t know. Perhaps we can start to think more in terms of more-than-human, in terms of (im)materiality, not in terms of machines or electronic technologies, but in terms of what else our hypersentient flesh offers us, and how else we decide to talk (and not talk) about it. I want to engage with more secret studies in language and literacy, studies where a researcher invites black and brown students to shape new worlds and then the researcher refuses to show it clear, submits to opacity in order to save the participants from an external gaze, the possible infiltration or theft of those worlds through outside gazing. The thought of transcending modernity, of practicing otherwise, Moten and Harney (2013) remind us, is the work of the university, the task for those of us preoccupied in the depths of study, those of us in debt to our study. Inside all this debt, all I have is my propensity to study.
There are many ways to think about language and literacy, and for me, it is a matter of poetics. Poetics opens up possibilities toward something else, accessible through black studies. “I ran from it and was still in it” is a line from Moten’s (2014) poem of the same title, a line that haunts me in the same capacity as “of being trapped / and feeling free.” What optics did the multitude inside Moten’s poem run away from, and why are they still in it? What story do I tell my students about black life, and when and why do I tell it? Lately, I’ve been using words like surrealism, minimalism, recreation, and improvisational to introduce a way of thinking about black creativity as abstraction. I want all the everyday realism of what takes up so much space to leave, though it lingers. I ran from realism and live inside a radical overture of poetics—a mythic black orifice—nothing in my mundane existence lends itself to story.
To get beyond qualitative research, the methodological limitation of hermeneutics inherent in its design would have to go. We would have to run, or surrender to the realm of the unknown, what is not immediately clear, in order to transcend the limits of qualitative research, to get beyond surveillance, its violent imposition in the lives of black and brown (and all) people. Again, surrendering to the unknown, getting beyond qualitative research, is easy for me, because I am “against interpretation” (Sontag, 2009). I am a black poet. I work outside the academy. I want language and literacy research that opens a new feeling, not meaning. Is it possible to conduct qualitative research without subjecting the research participants to ongoing surveillance? Is it possible to do something other than write a story that makes sense? Is it possible to offer a feeling as the evidentiary basis of a qualitative study? I don’t know. All I have is my propensity to run. I run outside modernity, as part of my forfeiture of regulatory qualitative methods, in my refusal to submit to narrative. Inside a long run, I made something (a prose poem based on, or through, a phenomenological qualitative study), and I think of it as postqualitative.
It is easy for me to think outside an already established methodological framework because I practice making architectures of wind. I write poems. When I write poems I am lost inside deep study, inside opacity, which is to say my poems, as much as they emerge from nothing, are also informed by all the something in all the years of study (and witnessing) I am preoccupied with in between poems. My poetics is a matter of duration—not momentary flashes, but an ongoing intention to build a slow, sustained theory. Édouard Glissant (1969/2018), in Poetic Intention, says:
The poetics of duration, in that it opposes itself, enclosing it, to the flash of the instant, authorizes a level of expression (where the poem is no longer the sole and aristocratic reservoir, the only conduit of poetic knowledge) this repositioning of smothered deepened impositions of the relation. It suspends the imperiousness of speech, and in stages, in obscure and extracted strata, opens the being onto his lived relativities, suffered in the drama of the world. No it doesn’t reveal; it unveils with gravity. (p. 42)
Or this is what the translation (by Nathanaël) says. The poems I offer here, as a translation of data of a former research project, do not purport to know or reveal anything. The poems are unfinished because the sentiment, or the feeling in the matter of the interviews, is still with me. I know it is not everyone’s inclination to make meaning through poetry, and I do not think everyone should turn data into poetry. To trouble our methodologies does not call for an overreliance on that which we understand as poetry. To trouble our methods is to trouble how we think about humanity, our sense mechanisms, how we make our way through research, why we research, how we talk about our research, what we desire to immediately understand. For some people, troubling the methods might be possible through poetry. For others, it might emerge as a poetics, and for others, something else altogether.
This antimethodological impulse I have to run, this free-movement-based, somatic methodology, makes use of the body, relies on attention to the breath, then loses the body to access a sort of universal unconsciousness. A run is serially drawn out as an unending ritual in writing a prose poem (or series of prose poems), a process. The closest I can come to a sort of description of this antimethodological offering is to explain what a run is. A run, in simple musical terms, requires manipulation of breath to move up and down a series of scales. My use of “a run” borrows from this musical tradition, makes use of what is generally understood in meditation as focused breathing, practiced as stillness, for at least thirty minutes to an hour each day, doing nothing other than witnessing, feeling, and listening to air as it moves inside and outside the body. I began my meditation practice 10 or 11 years ago when I lived in the upper Midwest, not knowing it would provide an opening, a way to not only imagine but also listen to others, to “connect, create, share” a narrative in the tradition of indigenous research (Smith, 1999), outside the regulative limits of qualitative research. Paired with the breath, too, there is the necessity of losing one’s Self, of leaving, through an openness, what could also be understood as a sort of ritualistic dance—preferably at midnight, in the dark, when no one else is looking (ife, 2021b). Alexis Pauline Gumbs’s trilogy, also created by way of ritual, offers a black feminist way of breathing into data, and is a source of inspiration for my running around inside the previously analyzed data from my dissertation and presenting it as a poetics (Gumbs, 2016, 2018, 2020).
“A Series of Irreducible Reanimations, Seven Runs” makes use of a second-person pronoun, you, and collective pronoun, we, to suggest intimacy, to disorient the space between researcher and subject, to distort the space of who is speaking, to suggest a type of polyvocality, a many-tonguedness, even though everything is written in the monolinguistic register of this colonial language. The run in pronouns is a way of insinuating a sort of Black English, or black poetics, to erase the transcribed interview template where it is always clear, to the reader, who is speaking. Because I want to leave behind this propertied mode of speaking (in which a voice belongs to someone), of one person speaking at a time, and because I want to blur the spaces of (im)materiality we all had access to at the time of data collection and still have access to as artists, I use this complicated entanglement of a second personal pronoun with a deceptive collective pronoun. Part of how I make sense of you is in terms of thinking about what my research participants told me then, how I hear it now, but also more than that: some mythical, ubiquitous other, looming in shadow. We is even more difficult than you—in some cases, we is used to suggest us (researcher and subject) as a group. In other moments, we and you just live inside the time of the poem, as speakers congregating outside this physical plane, and in those cases, I cannot tell you who we and you refer to—they just are. I leave it up to the reader to make a way through these voices, to get down with them.
This double paper aims to contribute what I imagine as a series of necessary creative experiments in running (out, through, and) from our qualitative methods. The long durational mood of the afterlives of enslavement, this dreary episode we cannot get outside, I think about in terms of practicing a way out. I will continue to rely upon my imagination to find another way, because qualitative research, though it departs from quantitative empiricism, has its analytic origins in notational matters of (black) surveillance. I refuse to participate in the tradition of documenting black life, though I will strengthen (us all) by imagining otherwise. “A Series of Irreducible Reanimations, Seven Runs” goes beyond understanding; don’t try to understand it—get down with it, get down inside it.
Nothing is resolved in anything I write here, because the sort of existential turmoil I wander is not interested in resolution, though it is interested in slow duration, the drag, prolongation, the run-on sentence. The work here is unfinished, ongoing still. It is not my aim to solve, in a single essay, the problems of language and literacy, teaching and learning in the lives of black people in this country. I cannot. It is not my intention to solve or resolve anything. Instead I want to offer what might-could provide an opening for a larger creative collective thought experiment, beyond the scope of this single essay, perhaps a full issue in which clusters of language and literacy researchers, artists, activists, and teachers imagine others antimethodological “runs” in and through black study beyond what I can get to on my own.
The subliminal monastic looping of the fragment “of being trapped / and feeling free” I have held on to in the years since completing an unfulfilled study whose methods I could not let go. Years after, I am suspended in a postqualitative methodological feedback loop trying to talk about all the gravity in that sentiment, all the inherent blackness in that sentiment, all the fugitivity held inside the two sides of that sentiment. To keep the spirit of those interviews alive, I reanimate them, loop the double sentiments “of being trapped / and feeling free” with “I ran from it and was still in it,” serially burrow inside a perpetual sensation of escape. In place of an extensive showcase of data, interview transcriptions, descriptions, units of analysis, or interpretations, in the next section you will find a series of unresolved meditations—an imaginative, irreducible transcendence of the data. I can only tell you so much about what this nonmethodological run makes use of. The rest I have to show you:
A Series of Irreducible Reanimations, Seven Runs
I am foment. I speak blinglish. at work they call me but I don’t come. I come when she call me by my rightful name. I come to myself from far away just laid back in the open. I ran from it and was still in it. —Fred Moten, 2014
we want to imagine some green space | or articulate a surreal space we move inside | you as synesthetic | of different dimensions | from different interior regions | of this haptic blue we speak from time | of various external traumas the psychic turmoil of money (was money, still money, no money) | as it lingers in our time in site | almost as if we can taste it | our black entombed air mycelial where we run is mycelial | anabatic sensation | you who stand in for any version of we perform a series of suspensions or brass would shed a wisp of gold | when you whisper it | fury | cold reaches up and out enfolds you | furious you ask we to call you as our mama name | to tongue our we as you and want our we as jazz a blue light flickers in wicked largesse | preternatural luminary | or was it
you need only marvel | violet contrast | on one side light | other shadow | tell you want out this shit the violence we endure for money | remains of a mood with language | what words do or cannot do | what syntax | what murmur echolalia | what sound | what orifice | what taste we can enter | we is ahead of you because | word say we is ahead of you a race for theory inside a hollow inside an aura of black would not black want | sousaphone is a way of extenuation or is it ars poetica you run on and on & tablas is your syntax | the air the air
we listen to you speak as if time were amalgam | what you write black woman why you write black woman | how you write black woman | where you write black woman | when you write black woman | you and her and them and we ran off from it our secret incidents in the life of a body scrawls out air out fugitivity | not metaphoric wilderness as in we still here inside green the evergreen heart the echelon of soil | inside earth our bodies move above we our listless were it dead were it annotation were it a door inside a forest
steel is our annual adornment cerulean opening that is music | a little oud | a little sufi | ism in the music now a black city eats black people at dawn | a downy city a face for story a room inside nothing | supple | meant we show city to city make city glint | city flints us as we listen and maybe it is mystic | the what it is supplicant mythic | we lean into the disarticulation of ninety-nine degrees and murk out a joint ligature
what melancholy | what letters and arts | what future | future is a fomentation here inside this second | and it is bliss
you hand we a counterfeit bill | a book | a bone | ask if we want to kill you in another scene we break our arctic condition then gather a room i turn into peel back the brazen flesh where it hollows | it hollows inside our throat it opens and we speak ::
you is only black and human inside gold of interest in all this negative interest in blackness | or a limn you fear | a sound softens before market a song bristles forth a hymn | o electric black trap | is a hush condition of hermes | and sekhmet | what it is | is a condition of nefer | a shattered pink sarcophagus 1
A Return, an Ellipsis
When I was a poor black child I was so gone inside every public-gifted classroom I inhabited, something having to do with my neurological propensity to run and continue running. I was allowed this ongoing flight because I am quiet, because I am willful, because I am intelligent in a way affirmed in academic settings, and in excess too, because I am creative in a way refusing academic settings. I do not believe in intelligence, but I believe in making our own worlds. It is not the case for all black and brown youth, especially those who are loud, whose rage upsets their teachers. A run cannot tell us what black and brown youth are to make of the worlds they inherit, or what they might make on their own terms. A run is simply one example of methodological refusal. What more might we make? Poems are nothing other than air, breathing room (ife, 2021a). And what might we make of all this air? We (those of us invested in black study, those of us working inside and beside the academy) might renew our shared sense of what it means to “model with” and to “create with” black and brown youth as we lose our inherited mastery. What use is it to ask black and brown youth to celebrate their identities, to keep celebrating identity, then leave them in a world that demands their erasure, that steals their blackness (which is to say their uniqueness), that continues to make money off their circumstances? If I had an answer, we would be thriving inside poetic communes with no need for looking at, codifying, documenting, surveilling, or perpetuating the storied blackness. I have no answers. A run is an antimethodological practice in black study. I cannot do it alone. None of us can. Will you run with we?
- Thank you, Hiwot Adilow, Myriha Burton, Natalie Cook, Thiahera Nurse, Yolanda Pruitt, Zhalarina Sanders, and Taylor Scott, for sharing your stories with me. I love you.
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fahima ife is a poet, editor, and professor. They are author of Maroon Choreography (Duke University, 2021) and other works in other places. They are associate professor of Critical Race and Ethnic Studies at University of California Santa Cruz. They are contributing editor at Tilted House press in New Orleans. They are director of the fluid poetics studio, an ongoing audio project of the Redwood Forest.