d''bi.young.anitafrika is a force of nature within Toronto’s performing arts community. The winner of the 2007 Toronto Arts Council Foundation Emerging Artist award and multi-disciplinarian artist is now launching her third book: rivers... and other blackness... between us: (dub) poems of love.
Fresh from a recent trip to Ghana where she chronicled her spiritual journey in a film (Rivers in Ghana) to be premiered at her book launch tonight, February 18th, at Lula Lounge, d''bi.young.anitafrika spent some time with AfroToronto.com to discuss her latest work.
AfroToronto: Can you tell me a bit about where the title for your latest book came from?
DY: Rivers and other Blackness Between Us … as far as titles ad I go, we’re very good friends. Often times, I don’t struggle over a title. And I’m not sure why that is but I feel like maybe as a writer, the relationship between words and imagery and mythology is a constant flow. So that “river” in many African spiritual traditions, but particularly in the Yoruba /Ifa spiritual tradition, there is the Oshun River (Oshun being the goddess of love). Their rivers levicated to all kinds of deities, goddesses and gods.
The Oshun River is particularly important for me because Oshun, being the goddess of love and also the goddess of child birth and also a goddess who’s considered to be extremely sensual and beautiful … a mistress of romantic relationships. A mistress of romance was important to me because I was attempting to write a book dialoguing about how we give and receive love … particularly in our complex black communities.
River and water is a constant metaphor for me. As well, the goddess Yemanja is the goddess of the sea and is very much also a water goddess … the balance to her feminine principle is Olokun (owner of the sea). So water, again, comes up. And quite literally, when you think of us and our bodies, being 80% or more of water, [you realize] that without water there is no survival. It becomes clearer and clearer that the relationship between water and love is one that can’t be argued.
So I was playing around with that idea that rivers and water represent love and that really we need to talk about love amongst us. And blackness being the people. You know I love put black in my titles [laughs]. So it came very much like that.
Interestingly enough, the title came from the title of a poem. The poem Rivers and Other Blackness Between Us is a questioning about love in the black community. How do we find love and how do we nurture love and how do we help love to grow, etc etc.
AfroToronto: Tell me a bit about some of the other poems in the book. How many poems do you have?
DY: A lot of the pieces I think maybe would not come across to people as your typical romantic dialogue on love. I still have to be myself [laughs]. So my approach to it is … first of all a lot of the pieces were written for or inspired by people within my communities. People whom I either emulate in terms of just watching how they negotiate love or they themselves have been extremely supportive of my work or of my family. Or they are doing work that I consider to be really important and urgent. So, a lot of the poems are inspired by mentors and mentees and I think a real reflection of the kind of questioning around love that going on in our community.
One poem was written about a black man that I met in the Philadelphia airport. When I was getting harassed at the airport, he stepped in and was really helpful in sort of highlighting that what was happening was oppressive. So I wrote a poem about that because, at that moment, I felt like I was getting so much love and felt like my sense of dignity was being supported by another black person.
Then I have poem there that was written for ‘Da Kink collective that was featured in the last ‘Da Kink in my Hair. It’s talking about incest and the way in which the community can really come together and deal with the issue of incest in our community. And again, that is about love healing from love.
And then I’ve got another poem in there looking at the political structure of Canada and whether or not people feel they can participate in political conventions in Canada. In terms of deciding who are our leaders who are going to represent us. That has everything to do with love.
And then I’ve got other poems that are about how do you negotiate relationships when you are in a romantic relationship with somebody and that’s also about love. So that the look at love is not one-dimensional and it’s not in a vacuum. It’s looking at love in its broadest most complicated senses and also in microcosmic scenarios.
AfroToronto.com: Tell me about your relationship with Women’s Press? I know they’re doing a lot of good work with up and coming writers.
DY: I found it really impressive. Only a year after publishing my first book, Art on Black, I submitted a new manuscript to them and they accepted it. Publishing usually takes, on average, you get a contract and then it takes a year for the book to come out. And so, I published Art on Black in 2006 and then I got a feel for Rivers in 2007 and it came out in December 2007 with an official launch in 2008.
They [Women’s Press] have been extremely supportive of the work. … As far as publishing goes, there are a lot of publishers who are interested in emerging writers. I find that they’re really encouraging of new work. I think that it’s very inspiring because we are the storytellers of today and tomorrow. It’s important to have a platform so that the community can witness the work.
androgyne dub and Women’s Press are launching “rivers…and other blackness…between us” tonight:
date: monday, february 18, 2008
time: 7pm doors / 7:30pm show
film screening: rivers...in ghana 8pm
location: lula lounge /1585 dundas st. west of dufferin
artists: lola lawson + cassandra walker + jodyann campbell
special guests: anita stewart / blakka ellis
jamaica pioneer dub poets
dub duo: channel one projekt / d''bi.young + rakesh tewari
art exhibit: suritah wignall
info: 416.434.1823 / 416.875.5514 / arts at dbiyoung dot net
lula reservations: 416.588.0307