At 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 24, the “We Are the Voices” initiative — a public humanities project connecting Mills students to artists in Oakland and beyond — kicked off their Fall 2020 programming over Zoom by presenting their latest event in their “Social Listening” series — a poetry reading by artists Jayy Dodd and Britteney Black Rose Kapri.
Dodd, a poet based in Portland, Oregon, is the author of the books “Mannish Tongues” and “The Black Condition Ft. Narcissus”, a former Lambda Literary Fellow and Precipice Art Grant recipient, and the mother of the boutique ballroom house Tournament Haus. She was introduced by Mills alum Brandon Logans, who described her work as possessing “this touching narrative voice that decides to hold itself first before it decides to hold the reader, and so [asks] the reader to surrender to the experience.”
Dodd opened with a poem called “Impressive Woman” about desire and the women in her family, then read three pieces — “Transaction,” “Translucence,” and “Transpose” — which she referred to as “obligations”, explaining, “I call them obligations because I feel like as a trans poet we are obliged by this public to write certain things certain ways that only do us certain kinds of justice. But I love a challenge!”
After reading a handful of other pieces addressing “cost and what I want to cost” and “my own worth and how I materialize that,” Dodd left off by reading what she described as “an invocation to rest,” the poem “Sisyphus Says Relax,” a play on both the myth of Sisyphus and the 1983 pop song “Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood.
Kapri, the night’s second and final performer, is a former Rona Jaffe Writers Award winner whose website describes her as “a poet, teaching artist, petty enthusiast, and Slytherin from Chicago,” and who described herself during the reading with epithets including “Duchess of Depression, Right Honorable of Cellulite and Twerk, Professor Pop-off,” as well as “Patron Saint of Fat Bitches with Too Much Mouth and Even More Titty.”
She was introduced by Mills alum Raihana Haynes-Venerable, who described Kapri as “the embodiment of the kind of freedom June Jordan describes in her essay ‘A New Politics of Sexuality’” and Kapri’s work as “raw, often comical, heart-wrenching, scar-exposing.” Kapri read several pieces from her autobiographical poetry collection “Black Queer Hoe,” including “pink crayon,” “the day my nudes leak,” and “an incomplete list: of things to call white men when they call you Nubian queen.”
Moderator Joshua Zuniga then began asking the artists questions posed by the attendees. He began by asking Kapri how her practice of mentoring young artists has been affected by COVID-19 and national uprisings against police brutality. Kapri responded that her mentees and students are still easily able to correspond with her via phone and social media. She added that a high proportion of the people she works with are involved in the Black Lives Matter protests; an increasingly important part of her mentorship has become paying for Ubers to provide students with safe transport home from protests and for groceries for those who are food insecure, explaining that “mentorship is giving [people] exactly what they say they need.” She also discussed the different kinds of costs she experiences in providing emotional and financial support, saying that she is open with her students about the fact that “I need my space…I can’t be the person that you run to right now for anything, but I am the person that you can run to when it’s everything.”
Zuniga’s second and final question was for Dodd, inquiring whether a sentiment she had expressed in an interview a few years back — “I don’t always see myself as possible” — still held true, and also asking her to share a dream of joy she held for the future. After pondering this for a moment, Dodd answered, “I do feel exponentially more possible now than in that interview […] What still feels impossible is the world, but I definitely feel more possible in it.” She declined to share a dream of joy, however, explaining, “I don’t like to dream of joy. I feel like I have to live in it more than imagine it. […] Troubling the aspirational quality of joy and making it more of a material work, I think, is where I’m leaning.”
Further information about Dodd and Kapri can be found on their respective websites, jayydodd.net and blackrosekapri.com; their books can be purchased via their websites, Amazon, and wherever else books are sold.