Bassa Bassa girl is a bright star in the heavens of black consciousness. Emoting, and analyzing, pouring ethereal libation for the ancestors, dancing the carnaval rhythms of the mighty pen's dance against tree skin, she spins a world of vivid texture for us, helps us to remember to celebrate our beingness amidst its glory and the traps of despair hungering for the life that flows through our original roots. She graced our questions with answers recently in a Q&A. You can eavesdrop on the record of it, below *_^
‘Revolutionary Picture Book’ is the title of a pulp poem I created years ago. I posted an excerpt from it a few months ago on my blog, called ‘The Spirit of Betsy Gladness..’ It is essentially about an unexpectedly dangerous woman who should have never been f***** with. The style is loosely evocative of the pulp fictions of the 1940’s and 50’s.
Besides bearing an extraordinarily dope title, your blog opens a door into a very bright and magical place. Will there be chapbooks (fingers crossed), and other delights we can purchase to support your manifesting?
My first, self produced, hand bound book, ‘Revolutionary Picture Book’ is now available for sale on ETSY. It introduces the worlds and characters that populate my imagination. I have also put up some of my artwork for sale. Some images you will recognize from the blog, others I haven’t posted anywhere. You can check my store out here: http://bassabassaartstore.
Your art manages to brightly enchant while hiding none of the darkness in the history of the African-American experience. What are your strongest influeces in life and art? What inspires you most?
The mystery, beauty and legacy of my mother inspires me the most. When I reflect on the life she left behind and the things I’ve known about her and since her death have learned, I realize she is as much my muse, now, as she is my ‘Grain of Sand’ as William Blake described when he wrote, in his poem, “Auguries of Innocence,” –
‘to see the world in a grain of sand
and a heaven in a wild flower
hold infinity in the palm of your hand
and eternity in an hour.’
Through examining my mother’s life and death, I examine the life and death of the world. What I mean is, she, as all of us, was/is connected to everyone and everything. With this perspective, I can illuminate, and excavate the ghosts of her colonial history and mine, the psychic fallout from the transatlantic slave trade, understand my woman-ness from an African, European, Native and American perspective – ancient and otherwise, etc. Consequently, I can understand people much better as I learn to understand her as a reflection of myself. To find everything contained in what appears to be a separate thing, or even a marginalized thing is what inspires me. This way, I never run out of ideas and the world truly feels like my family.
The Surrealist Movement in Art and literature also inspires me a great deal. It is the movement exemplified by Andre Breton in 1920’s. It emphasizes drawing on our most subtle faculties to create, or more aptly, allow art to happen. So instead of forcing the flow, we catch it, allow it, then transcribe it. What I appreciate the most about this movement is that it celebrates, through the organization of these ideas, the dream life we largely ignore . A surrealist approach opens wide the portal into other worlds, other insights, other realities if we surrender to them. Through it, we learn to sidestep and overwhelm the intellect, and give up censoring ourselves which is instrumental in reclaiming and exercising our unfettered imaginations.
I love the work of Jean Toomer, Otto Dix, George Grosz, Zora Neale Hurston, Gayl Jones, Bruno Schulz, Romare Bearden, Kara Walker, Aime Cesaire, Jean Rhys, Dave Mckean, Chris Ofili and many others.
Do the characters and places you birth urge you from within to have their stories told, or is your process something you consider reinterpretive?
Many of the characters and places I birth do urge me from within. I always venture inside myself, first, to see what wants to gain outward form and then I work in conjunction with the spirit of the story, poem, and characters to develop something fresh and new. Most of the work I create comes from collaborations with my deepest self. I never intended to work this way or even thought it was a way to be creative, but it works for me.
Your poetry is as luxuriously visual, mightily messaged and revolutionary as your images. Would you grace us with one of your favorite pieces?
With pleasure. I wrote this piece several years ago.
in the early nineties there was a jungle in our heads
you were like a negro
when you brought me with my marooned cheeks
and plantation eyes
to Dominicans in Spanish Harlem to straighten my hair.
You were like my family
beautiful, a broken, broken spirit
ripped apart in the jungles of Guyana
by the predatory hunger of human beasts.
I could never remember clearly when or where I had been broken
but when you told me,
I recalled being broken in two
and frequently haunted by the memory of their being another me.
We, the descendants of unhappy Caribbean expatriates,
grew restless, nomadic and masked,
inheriting nostalgia for nothing.
You got pregnant early when your skirt blew over your head
and I was going to be the world famous movie star,
pregnant with nothing really tangible
except when my fingers tried on many occasions
to pull out my hair-
believing that what was in and on my head was a mess.
In the otherworld of that salon we found uncertain sanctuary
in the language barrier,
because they always laughed in cryptic Spanish, of course
like that last time when I tipped my flimsy tostón cap to you and them
on my way out the door to find a language I could understand
inside the mystery of every shade of man
devastated enough to sink into the lovely poison they will always say is me.
I am not over myself.
Marilyn, there will be many other Midnight Marilyns
who never speak to each other
preferring to hide in a language
that they don’t have to understand,
straightening out kinks in their heads
to live lives filled with continuous dyeing,
straightening, coiling up, coming apart.
We are still in the jungle, Marilyn
decked out in tostón hats,
tipping them to each other
speaking in broken hearted English
the language native to lying, deceiving and decadent tongues.
You were my Midnight Norma Jean
as invisibly gorgeous,
regal and dead inside as you were,
we were, we are,
we would be world famous for our invisibility.
Spanish Harlem became our middle ground and we hid there
amongst other victims of cultural thieves
safe, as long as we straightened our hair
and swallowed the stiff, uncomfortable language in our mouths.
Have we really come a long way?
I’ve never disentangled my hair,
I’ve only sat in front of you
on dusty curbs and steps,
You a little older and bigger
behind you a big jar of grease
and not knowing that we don’t know how not to get caught up
in the jungles that we run from
and try to tame
with your big sister hands
inside the confusion of my hair.
What can we expect to emerge from your mindgarden moving into the future? Is there anything we haven't covered that you'd like to share?
I am currently at work on my first novel, which merges the poverty, creativity and desperation of a young woman growing up in the Bronx in the 1980’s with the dreams, decadence and deceit of actors and performers of the silent film era. It’s Hip-Hop meets Expressionism. ‘The Violent Beauty of Urda Louise,’ is the first Book of this novel. The hand bound version will contain several full page illustrations. In addition to this, I will continue to develop work and post it on my blog, and make words and images available for sale in hard copy form, through ETSY, independent art/bookstores and on the street.
A few of my favorite poems from Bassa Bassa girl's pen are The dignity of statues, The memory of clown soldiers, Headdress and crown for the daughter of the dead immigrant.