So last night, Noelle and I joined some friends (with a personal connection) at a poetry reading at City Lights Bookstore. I could not help thinking how excited my mother will be to hear about this. That we went to a poetry reading at City Lights. Such an iconic and storied thing to do. Quintessentially, San Francisco.
The reading was in support of a book launch for Marilyn Buck’s posthumous collection Inside/Outside. Buck was involved with the Black Liberation Army and was incarcerated many times over the years, until it finally stuck. She died a couple years ago with cancer. The great leveler – the apolitical killer.
The event brought out all means and manner of aged white revolutionary. The crowd, mainly over the age of 60, wobbled and lurched and teared up with great sincerity. While there were no berets, there were countless tweed sports coats and practical short cropped hair. Ball point pens pulled out of fanny packs jotted notes and quotes. There was much head nodding and polite clapping.
I was disappointed by Buck’s poetry. To me, it lacks style and voice. It sounds and reads like average undergraduate workshoped poetry. There is nothing special about the language, the imagery is expected, and the free verse bland. While the message, high feminism and political, lacked rage or urgency. But then, not every jailed revolutionary came reinvent themselves as an effective entertainer.
One thing happened that highlighted one of the aspects of white revolutionary participation in the political struggles of non-whites that really bothers me. Graciela Trevisan told the story of how, after becoming introduced to Buck and working with her on her translator’s thesis, Trevisan went through the prison system’s educator training/certification. This allowed Trevisan and Buck to meet any time, not just during visiting hours.
One afternoon, at one of their working sessions, Buck offered Trevisan money to help her offset the taxi ride to the prison. Of course, this made many in the audience cry. I just shook my head. Even in prison and one supposes with no actual source of income other whatever pittance the prison paid her to fold laundry or whatever, Buck still played the part of Colonial benefactor. Somehow, she still felt privileged enough to offer a hand up to the struggling minority.
Am I being unjustly unfair? Possibly. But how else should a radical read that situation? Where does the stern theory stop applying? A convenience of excuses and sentimentality erases the strictures of the radicalism? I am not saying it is necessarily hypocritical, I am just saying to me it seemed pretty “clear” what conventional power structures were at play there.
ALL THE BEST BLACK PANTHERS WERE WHITE
for David Horowitz
They rented the safe house,
with all that good credit
and extra cash
and those driver’s licenses
in good standing.
They clean up, respectful
Authentic White People
Make the Best Black Panthers.