It is not without reason that I have often, in poetry spaces, kept my ontological commitments and experiences to myself. The disdain for/misconstruction of ontological frameworks that do not align with eurowestern materialist/positivist mindsets can be as prevalent among artist communities as elsewhere--although I've met several co-conspirers in recent years, and am open to meeting more!
In January 2014, I went to a reading by Jerome Rothenberg at the Public School in Oakland. I had been studying Indigenous African Spiritual Technologies with Dr. Malidome Somé, diviner and Dagara elder, for about nine months then. During this time, I had experienced and participated in speech practices that enacted complex ontologies within ritual contexts. I was curious to hear Rothenberg, whose Technicians of the Sacred: A Range of Poetries from Africa, America, Asia, Europe & Oceania assembles "primitive and archaic poetry" from indigenous cultures, intending to call "European hegemonies into question."
At one instance—I can't remember the material Rothenberg was reading—I do remember getting uncomfortable that words that were intended for ritual use were being uttered at a poetry event not structured like a ritual. I had just met Anne Lesley Selcer—my conversation with her must have revealed shared sentiments enough that I turned to her and shared with her this discomfort. I was not sure the ontological register of the poetry being read that evening was being honored. When it comes to spirit worlds, it is good practice to be clear when invoking—to know who one wishes to connect with, and why. After the ritual, it is good practice to thank and devoke the spirits and powers that came. There are good reasons one does not want the spirits to continue to hang around outside the ritual container (with exceptions).
Anne Lesley mentioned this incident at "The World Is Circular" (whose recording you can watch on Vimeo), where we read work together with Katie Schaag, Kristen Gallagher, Kayla Guthrie, and Karin Crona.
The more I see and understand the need for ontological justice, the more ready I get to share the alterities I move within, my multiple belongings.
connect with me