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© Pompeii Commitment. Archaeological Matters, a project by the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, 2020. Project Partner: MiC.
All archival images and photographs taken at the Archaeological Park of Pompeii are used with permission from MiC-Ministry of Culture-Archaeological Park of Pompeii. Any copies or reproductions are strictly forbidden.

Alexis Pauline Gumbs and Hans Ulrich Obrist. A Conversation

Commitments 34    18•11•2021

1. Images:

Portraits of Alexis Pauline Gumbs (left) and Hans Ulrich Obrist (right, photo Lukas Wassmann)

2–8. Text:

Conversation between Alexis Pauline Gumbs and Hans Ulrich Obrist, August 2021

Responding to the invitation to contribute to Pompeii Commitment. Archaeological Matters, curator Hans Ulrich Obrist invited writer and theorist Alexis Pauline Gumbs to participate in a new conversation. A significant activity in Obrist’s practice – who has once stated that his own curatorial work has come directly out of conversations, under the influence of artists such as Alighiero e Boetti and critics like Carla Lonzi, amongst others –, interviews are a dialogic tool and research methodology to generate new, cross-disciplinary knowledge. In other words, a learning system. Taking Pompeii’s cultural and geological history as a departure point for a layered and generous exchange of ideas, Obrist and Gumbs weave together references and associations that introduce new epistemic possibilities for understanding Pompeii as cultural heritage within networks of ancestral experience and interspecies relationships undoing the knowledge underpinning the very concept of Western humanity. Thinking about and with seminal authors such as Audre Lorde, Édouard Glissant and Sylvia Wynter, but also the late Etel Adnan, Obrist and Gumbs explore how environmental phenomena such as volcanic eruptions and geological tremors may hold broader cultural significance and social implications in relation to togetherness, identity, and the possibility of change. Pompeii becomes a portal to think about the state of ‘tremblement’: a quivering, a volcanic trembling transcending the established order of thought and the subject itself, and opening to a continuum, non-static system of “we” that requires no other. At the suggestion of Obrist and Gumbs, June Jordan’s Roman Poem Number Five (1972) is specially republished as Historia #31 to accompany their commentary of this important text, which was composed by Jordan upon visiting Pompeii and has informed Gumbs’s perception of the archaeological site – “I haven’t visited Pompeii myself,” she states, “I have only visited it through [Jordan’s] poetry”. Jordan’s words – encapsulated by the line ‘VISITING DISASTER IS A WEIRD IDEA, WHETER YOU THINK ABOUT IT OR NOT’ – offer an extended meditation on the strangeness of the ritual of witnessing a horrific moment of destruction and preservation at once. This trans-temporal experience occurring in Pompeii stems from a connection with a time that is far away and yet speaks to the present. A deep time that belongs to a subversive and transformative dimension which one may try to connect with and learn from – not so dissimilar to how Gumbs’s book Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals (2020) proposes to listen to and engage with the ocean, producing not a specific agenda but an unfolding space for wondering and questioning, that may connect us deeper with natural models and ancestral wisdom, in the service of cultural reflection and social justice. SB

Home Page Image: Portraits of Alexis Pauline Gumbs (left), Hans Ulrich Obrist (right, photo Lukas Wassmann)

Alexis Pauline Gumbs is a Queer Black Feminist Love Evangelist and an aspirational cousin to all life. She is/they are the author of several books, most recently Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals (2020), and is co-founder of the “Mobile Homecoming Trust”, an intergenerational experiential living library of Black LBGTQ brilliance. Alexis founded “Brilliance Remastered”, an online network and series of retreats serving community-accountable intellectuals and artists. Alexis’s work is grounded in a community-building ethic and would not be possible without her/their communities of accountability in Durham, N.C., the broader U.S. southeast, and the global south.

Hans Ulrich Obrist is Artistic Director of the Serpentine Galleries in London, Senior Advisor at LUMA Arles, and Senior Artistic Advisor at The Shed in New York. Prior to these appointments, he was the Curator of the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. Since his first show “World Soup” (The Kitchen Show) in 1991, he has curated more than 350 shows. Obrist’s recent publications include Ways of Curating (2015), The Age of Earthquakes (2015), Lives of the Artists, Lives of Architects (2015), Mondialité (2017), Somewhere Totally Else (2018), The Athens Dialogues (2018), Maria Lassnig: Letters (2020), Entrevistas Brasileiras: Volume 2 (2020), and the forthcoming Remember Nature (2021).

Trembling States

  18 • 11 • 2021

The cultural and social significance of environmental and temporal phenomena, and the possibility of change.


June Jordan, “Roman Poem Number Five”, 1972


Marine Mammals

Pompeii Commitment

Alexis Pauline Gumbs and Hans Ulrich Obrist. A Conversation

Commitments 34 18•11•2021

Hans Ulrich Obrist I have many questions I wish to ask you, but firstly I am very curious about your upcoming book, can you tell me about it?

Alexis Pauline Gumbs Its a new biography of Audre Lorde, whose working title is The Eternal Life of Audre Lorde. Biography as Ceremony. I was thinking about Pompeii and volcanos because this book is becoming something like a Lordeian guide to the universe. There is geological and scientific research that I did not expect I would be doing, but that I am now carrying out because Lorde loved geology. She was very interested in stones and the history of the Earth itself. This is just one example, but there is a section on radioactive daughtering that has to do with her mother. Lorde would describe her personality and her mothers as volcanic, erupting in very passionate exchanges. The remaining active volcano in the Caribbean volcanic arc is Kickem Jenny, located between Grenada and Carriacou. Lordes mother was born in Grenada, in Grenville, and her grandmother was from Carriacou, so that they would go back and forth across the area of this active volcano. An underwater volcano erupting about every six to eight years; its just infinitely fascinating.
The book itself is about Lorde as a cosmic force, as someone whose impact, I think, is related to something like a geological era. She thought about herself as a meteor in some ways, and so Im delving into that. I realize everything I want to say about Lorde would never fit in one book since the conversation about Lorde could continue forever.

HUO Today, I was reading the great new book on John Ashberys work who sometimes left poems unfinished.

APG Yeah, exactly. It will never get finished.

HUO I suppose yours will not be a book about Lorde in the sense of what you wrote about Sylvia Winter. Instead, you are more thinking with Lorde.

APG Exactly. There is more storytelling about her life than there are about characters I wrote about previously. It stays a little bit closer to her archival presence instead of departing from her theoretical claims.

HUO Regarding the volcano connection you mentioned, do you know if Lorde ever visited Pompeii?

APG I dont know if she visited Pompeii. I dont think that she did. She went to Grenada and Carriacou. She wanted some of her ashes to be there. She went to a volcano in Mount Pele in Hawaii. She went there for a solar eclipse shortly before she died. Gloria Joseph went back and did bury some of Lordes ashes in the volcano in honor of the Goddess Pele.
June Jordan — and you may already know this — did go to Pompeii. When she received the Prix de Rome in 1972, she wrote her Roman poem series, and one of them –- Roman Poem Number Five (1972) — is about her visit to Pompeii.

HUO Can you talk a bit about Jordan, as she is an author that you have often mentioned to me?

APG Yes, absolutely. Jordan was born in Brooklyn, the daughter of Jamaican migrants to the US. She identified primarily as a poet, but she also wrote opera librettos, childrens books, and brilliant essays. She is formative in how I think about Black Feminism; she has a very sharp critical lens. She created something called the Poetry for the Peoplecurriculum, which continues to this day. It is a technology for understanding poetry as a technology and an active and alive community that lives on, even though she passed away in 2002. She was also contemporary with Lorde, and they had a friendship and collaboration and also some disagreements and deep identification in love, all at the same time.
There is a talk Jordan gave at UC Berkley in 1977 called The Creative Spirit and Childrens Literaturewhere she describes creativity in a way that I come back to, over and over again, and she says,love is lifeforce. That is the first line of her talk, and I feel like everything is in that short sentence.

HUO Thats so beautiful! I want to mention Édouard Glissant concerning the volcanos because I found some notes from when he spoke to me about the idea of the tremblement, a sort of volcanic trembling. Molly Nesbit, Rirkrit Tiravanija, and I went to Paris to see Glissant. I asked Édouard what he thought of Utopia Station, thinking of utopia differently. We were at the Café de Flore in Paris. I will never forget that conversation. He started by criticizing the classic idea of utopia and explained that he wished to design a new authentic form of utopia as a continuum, not a static system, but as something that was otherwise missing. In terms of utopia, the second thing Glissant then told us,, was to read his novel Sartorius from 1999 — which has become one of my favorite books — in which he describes how the utopian Batoutos people derive their identity not from a genealogy but from being in constant exchange with others. As a third point, Glissant started to talk about utopia as a quivering, as an almost volcanic trembling, because it transcends the established system of thought, or the subject itself, to be unknown. To quote him from our conversation: I must say from the start that trembling is not uncertainty and its not fear. Trembling thought, in my opinion, in every utopia passing through this kind of thought, is, first of all, an instinctive feeling according to which we must reject all categories of fixed thoughts and categories of empiric thoughts.The whole world trembles. He told us: The whole world trembles physically, geologically, mentally especially, because the whole world is looking for the point, not the station. That was interesting to us because we wanted to call our project Utopia Station. We need to find the utopian point where all the world cultures and imagination can meet, without dispersing or losing themselves.’ ‘And that, Glissant told us, I think is utopia. Above all, utopia is a reality where one can meet the other without losing oneself. So, I was curious to ask you about your relationship to Glissants thinking because what you said about Lorde seems to connect to this idea of tremblement.

APG Yes, I think so. I will read you something from Lordes 1977 journal.I want you to spread like a magic arc between the volcanic eruptions of what must be countered to the lighter but surer soil of what we hope shall be the future with birth at midnight with deep groans, hostile and pain-ridden. Love is not alone of the magic builders. We are.I do think that Lorde, with her poetry, was trying to evoke and provoke something like Glissants idea of tremblement. I think she was asking people to meet her at this point of transformation that she called poetry. She was often disappointed and felt like people wanted to keep it together; they did not want to be trembling; they did not want to be in this passionate moment. But then they hold on to this quote, when I dare to be powerful —  to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraidand speak your truth even if your voice shakes. So, this trembling is part of her experience as somebody who stuttered, somebody who was doing vibrational work. I love this idea of a utopian point. I dont know where a person does not become dispersed. I dont know if Lorde would have believed that this was possible. I think that when she says, I am who I am, doing what I came to do, acting on you like a drug or a chisel to remind you of your me-ness while I discover you in myself,there is an honoring of the other person and a possibility of that reflection. In a sense, there is a letting go of that desire not to be dispersed, which is a desire that feels familiar as ‘a diasporic daughter, a diasporic granddaughter. I understand what dispersal means, especially because I understand diaspora and dispersal have to do with the violence of capitalism and transnational capitalism. Lorde draws on the groan it takes to give birth, and a person is dispersed in this process. I think there is something exciting about that. I want to go back and read Sartorius.

HUO Its also a book that has a lot to do with a weand that makes me also think of your extraordinary book Dub (2020) and the idea of thinking with Sylvia Wynter, where you sort of point at the wethat requires no other. You talked about the year 1975 when the great Wynter and her colleague Glissant went — of all places — to Wisconsin, to a gathering of ethnopoetics, and Wyntersaid in her talk that, there is no such thing, and if there is, there should not be. I thought it was so interesting that you quote that passage where Sylvia Wynter says there should not be ethno, but socio-poetics — the we— because we need a poetics of a possible relation.

APG I hear some synergy with what you shared earlier about Glissant in terms of this wethat requires no other. Ethno — versus socio-poetics — with ethno-poetics being an example of othering. I dont think its too extreme to say this function fetishizes the other, leading to anthropological energy in ethno-poetics. It looks at the poetry of the others to understand other civilizations, ancient civilizations, and indigenous people, too, from other places. This is the other.

HUO Did Wynter tell you why these Caribbean theorists, her and Glissant, were at this conference on ethno-poetics in Wisconsin?

APG The journal Alcheringa and the series of conferences on ethno-poetics have their institutional histories that I dont know that much about, but this idea of ethno as other and this reclamation of poetics as a social possibility of a true sociality that doesnt require othering to exist. Wynter breaks down a core part of her argument in many places, including this talk that the definition of what is it to be human, this dominant definition requires this othering. Someone must be visibly excluded from the category of the human for it to cohere as a category. Maybe we need the trembling and actual dispersal of that coherence to be with each other. Wynter talks about the very existence of ethno-poetics as an example of relations mediated by capital, war, weapons, and the extraction of resources instead of being responsive to a shared environment that includes us as participants. Beings beyond our species and the planet herself are not others for us to dominate.
I think that Jordan felt some outrage about the preservation of Pompeii or the touristification of it. And, of course, she was a tourist. But the first line of Roman Poem Number Five is This is a trip that strangers make, In a way, her meditation on Pompeii is an extended meditation on what it means to be a stranger and the strangeness of the ritual of witnessing a horrific moment of destruction and preservation at the same time. There is a place — all capital letters — she writes, VISITING DISASTER IS A WEIRD IDEA, WHETHER YOU THINK ABOUT IT OR NOT. She describes the experience but then interrupts the description and interrupts the tour guide to say, wait, what is happening?But she is also becoming strange in the process, and she is also learning about desire, destruction, preservation, lust. Its a poem that I have read multiple times, but I think I will read it many more times. She ends the 17-poem series with that one, which shows that visit to Pompeii was very impactful during her entire journey to Rome.

HUO Maybe we can publish the poem alongside the conversation. [1]

APG Yes, I think its a good idea because really, I havent visited Pompeii myself. I have only visited it through her poetry. I am reading it from Directed by Desire: The Collected Poems of June Jordan (2005). But it was originally published in New Days: Poems of Exile and Return (1974). All the Roman poems are all in the section on Exiles.

HUO Stella, one of the curators in Pompeii, emailed me yesterday about your book Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals Emergent Strategy Series (2021), which is connected in terms of time. I thought that was an interesting link because I looked again at the way you find transformative guidance in marine mammals who appeared many years ago and, of course, carry a possibly unique knowledge. It would be fascinating to hear more about your meditative approach, which allows for a connection with time far away, deep time, and connects us deeper with the environmental crises to the extinction crisis.

APG What inspired me with Undrowned, really what was happening is I was experiencing a depth of grief and a somewhat melancholic refusal of time. That is one way of describing grief and loss. My fathers death makes time unacceptable in a visceral way for me. I was experiencing that in a way that I hadnt experienced it. There have been, of course, physical impacts and the fact that colonialism makes time unacceptable. Still, the moving of time in the face of his death is something that shook me, speaking of trembling. What could hold the depth of change that I was experiencing, that I felt was necessary on this one scale, but that was also connected to a larger scale of — precisely what you say — the fact that scientists have announced, time means its too late. Our speciesimpact on the environment makes it too late for us to expect any extending future on this planet. As Wynter and others explained, the moving forward of time ties into the exact industrialization that has had the carbon impact, such as heating the oceans, fueling the genocide of marine mammals. It calls on deep grief, and it calls for a depth of transformation that is, for me, impossible to conceptualize in the form that I am in. So not only massiveness, not only the blubber-filled idea of breathing, but you also think of the lungs of blue whales, a huge breathing space that is something that my grief is calling for. I crave that breathing space for us, but its also the submersion, the pureness, and challenge of surrendering to the ocean in a way that marine mammals do. It is interesting to relate that to deep time, which is related to the interspecies encounter of the middle passage; its associated with the physical processing of the bones of people that jump off of the enslaving ship, which was also a whale-hunting ship. I believe that, within our species, there is a deep desire not to want to be a species or to be here. We are invested and participating in systems that make being here impossible and demonstrate over and over again our refusal actually to be here.

HUO Recently, Ive often been quoting you in my speeches when you said that, We have the opportunity as a species to unlearn and relearn our pattern of thinking and storytelling in a way that allows us to be in communion with our environment as opposed to dominating it. Please speak more about the importance of unlearning and relearning.

APG That is also coming from Wynters work on homo narrans — about species as not the ones who know but the ones who tell a story. That story is about what it is to be human. About dominating nature and therefore not being nature because nature reproduces a fear of domination that explains all the inexplicable behaviors, Ive seen in this time of populism. Not only does it enable new modes of coexistence, but it also requires modes of coexistence. Wynter says that as many people have existed, there have been many ways of being in connection with an environment or a part of an ecology. This theological idea of development is the story of how a dominant relationship to nature became understood as the only possible relation. Every other form of relation is a failure in economic terms. I do feel a longing for that coexistence. I do think that this idea of communion is possible. Its certainly necessary, but its also possible to tell a different story, and have that possibility of communion on a grand scale. I think its still a matter of finding the ceremonies; communion is still a ceremony. It refers to a catholic ceremony, but I think what she is pointing to is other than Catholicism and is more biodiverse than that tradition, of course, and it could exist in infinite forms. The infinitude of those forms threatens the domination, but also requires the domination to be paranoidly dominant. Because, otherwise, all those forms would increase, and no form will be dominant, there will be that,wethat needs no other in our true biodiversity. I do hear what you shared from what Glissant is saying about the lineage, not coming from this sense of purity or origins; its in relation, its present.

HUO That is what Sartorius is all about that. In the preface of Undrowned, you write: Those who survived unbreathable circumstances are the undrowned and their breathing is not separate from the drowning of their kin and fellow captives, their breathing is not separate from the breathing of the ocean, their breathing is not separate from the sharp exhale of a hundred whales, their breathing did not make them individual survivors, it made a context, the context of undrowning. The context of undrowning, breathing in unbreathable circumstances is what we do every day in the chokehold of racial, gendered capitalism; we are still undrowning.I often visit the poet Etel Adnan — who is now 96 — in Paris; a painter who makes amazing paintings, poetry, and writing together. She always says that we have to learn to listen. This idea of listening is the key. You say that this idea of listening is not only the normative ability to hear, but its also a transformative and revolutionary resource that requires quieting down and tuning in. Can you explain that a little bit and tell us more about listening?

[1] [Editor’s Note: Roman Poem Number Five by June Jordan was re-published as Historia #31]

APG I certainly wanted to disrupt that kind of ableism and the idea that only certain people can listen. Im always listening, and Im always thinking about listening. I was a kid who would sit with her grandparents and listen to them. I notice many elders tell the same story again, but slightly differently. I have this experience when I talk to my grandmother. Im listening to her, and shes telling me things that she has already told me and says,Oh, Ive never told you, but she doesnt remember. I guess thats just an example of what listening is. Still, there is something important happening in her repetition; certain stories of a particular part of her life are very present with her right now.

HUO, About listening, Adnan says that, it has to do with togetherness, not saturation, love, not suspicion, the commune future, not isolation. Which seems to connect with what you just said, no?

APG Yes, precisely that.

HUO It brings us to Grace Lee Boggs and the importance of transgenerational listening. Also, in Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1982), Lorde opens with a question: To whom do I owe the power behind my voice, what strength have I become, yeasting up like some blood from under the bruised skin? That question connects to what you already talked about in terms of ancestors. I want to ask if you could speak more about trans-generation and trans-species connectedness across all living beings, extinct and alive.

APG It is interesting because when Jordan writes about Pompeii, she is thinking about what it means to preserve this moment from the past, but is it a way of being or not being concerning the transformation thats continuing to happen? With the land itself and the Earth itself. Lorde is thinking about the question to whom do I owe?when she is writing Zami. She wrote that book because she felt that she owed her story to future generations. It came specifically out of this moment when Barbara Smith — who is younger than Lorde — stood up in an MLA meeting and said, Im a Black lesbian feminist, literary critic wondering if its possible to be that and live to tell the tale. Lorde was sitting in the audience, and said, Oh, it means I did not tell my story, there is another generation of people who need to know about the Black lesbian feminists of before, the ones who were born in the 1930s, like Lorde who lived during that period, therefore, knows the answer to that question. She constructed the text in a way that brought her to her motherland as a Black lesbian feminist, to Carriacou (near that underwater volcano), where they use the term Zamito describe the practice of women loving each other in that particular environment. Boggs has impacted how I think about communion, which could be a code word for education or being present with each other. When she thinks of becoming solutionaries, she thinks about the importance of an intergenerational scale. It was interesting to find out that Lorde was teaching James Boggss book on systemic racism in class, The American Revolution: Pages from a Negro Workers Notebook (1963). She was teaching it at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She designed a course called race and the urban situation,the first course on systemic racism taught to criminal justice students, some of whom were police officers carrying guns in Lordes classrooms. She was bringing James Boggs to them, and then Grace Lee Boggs changed my whole life, and I came back to find Grace Lee Boggss main collaborator there in Audre Lordes classroom.

HUO This is fascinating because, of course, the intergenerational discussion brings us to the Mobile Homecoming. Again, I would like to return to Glissant because he did two things in a later conversation towards the end of his life. First, he introduced me to Manthia Diawara. Do you know Manthia? Im going to introduce you both; its super urgent.

APG Yes, I would love that.

HUO On his eighty-eighth anniversary, Glissant introduced me to Diawara and said, I want the two of you to collaborate forever, and it happened. The second thing he did was to keep asking me to go outside the museum. He said, you did your things in the museum, but you have to understand that the place in which exhibitions are traditionally presented are invisible to a large section of society. He encouraged me to think of other forms of engagement, new models of exhibitions that take art into society. We discussed that every corporation should have an artist on its board to liberate and bring it into society. And that, of course, has to do with his biography. He was a poet, a philosopher, a curator, a public intellectual, a member of the resistance, and spoke out its favor in Martinique in 1967. He also founded the Institute of Martinique dEtudes, a school that he saw as a means of change as it introduced creole to a French-dominated curriculum. He did all these things as a public intellectual, outside books, beyond teaching. You have described the Mobile Homecoming as an intergenerational experimental archive project to amplify the generation of Black LGBTQ brilliance. So please tell us more about this and the importance of the archive in relation to Mobile Homecoming.

APG My partner, Sangodare, and I set out to create an experiential archive, a living library, which is happening now. A transformative process where we are learning about each other from each other. We are the archive. We replay some of the practices that come out of LGBTQ Black communities. Lorde was part of a healing circle, which she believed helped her live longer after cancer. We partnered with Mary Anne Adams, founder of an organization for Black Lesbians called Zami/National Organization of Black Lesbians on Aging, to host a healing circle on the first day of the new decade in 2010. For us, the primary archive is the intergenerational encounter; thats where that actual exchange happens in our experience,  Its life. We also collect materials, newsletters, ephemera, books, and we have this Black Feminist Bookmobile Project and Library. We cherish the material. What we center is a technology of being together, a platform that allows us to continue to listen, tune in, tap into the possibility of the experiential archive; its always possible. I think about many things that I have done — usually classified as community work —  instead of the performance of school. Many of my projects have school in the name, i.e., The School of Our Lorde, Juneteenth Freedom Academy, Lucille Clifton ShapeShifter Survival School. These schools are intergenerational, but they are also performative, pedagogical, and counter-institutional. They are all part of the experiential archive; they are spaces of communion that are not interested in necessarily reproducing themselves in the same form. I dont know if anyone has noticed, but I am expressing that every school is a performance. Creating a school and privileging creole curriculum and making this idea possible of creolité and upon Caribbean relation that could be possible is a threat to established norms, to the French school, the metropolitan and colonial notions of what is a school, who should we be in relation with, and what is possible, what is learning, all of those questions fascinate me. I remain committed to those questions and possibilities. The Mobile Homecoming Trust Living Library and Archive, and what it has evolved into, is thinking about this idea inter-generationally. If the primary archive is the experiential archive, which it is, then how do we create a Utopian Point? How do we create a space where people can have breathing room like the lungs of a blue whale, where we can, I mean, this is what you do, listen to the philosophy, the dreams, where someone can tell, like what Glissant was doing, the intention and the dreams that they have that will exceed their lifetime to the people who will continue to be accountable to them beyond that lifetime, a place for that, that does not contain it but instead exemplifies it as something possible, not only possible everywhere, but already going on everywhere, and yet, happening in a way that is not dominant and is not meant to dominate.

HUO I wanted to ask you what are your dream projects because I am interested in this idea of the unrealized project. We know a lot of architects’ unrealized projects because they usually publish them. In the architecture profession, reality often gets reduced by publishing unrealized projects, so this architecture competition exists. Only one of them is getting built. And then, sometimes, they get realized. But we know almost nothing about writers, poets, novelists, visual artists, philosophers, unrealized projects.

APG I feel like I am in good company. Im glad that is a practice that is beyond. I started to write my dreams inspired by my younger brother Seneca who has a great memory of his dreams. From a very young age, he is fifteen years younger than me, he had a fantastic memory of his dreams, and then he would draw comic books from them and conduct experiments. He would learn from them like in a dream lab he was running when he was nine years old. That inspired me, and it wasnt until later that I realized that Lorde used to assign her poetry students to keep dream journals. Many of Lordes poems are the published version of her dreams; the imagery came out of her dreams, and she worked with them in her poetry. I write my dreams down. That is the first thing I do. I keep a notebook next to my bed because I dont remember my dreams like my brother. Usually, if I dont write them down, theyll slip away. I dont know if I might ever publish them. I dont usually go back to them for poetic material as Lorde did and had her students do in her classes. I did a little bit of that in high school. I did a little bit of writing poems based on the dreams that I wrote down. And I did thirty-five dream poems in conversation with Octavia Butlers Earthseed verses. I also wrote a series of dream poems for my brother. So scratch that since Ive been secretly following Lordes pedagogy all along! But I also go back and read them. Ill talk about them the following day, or Ill reach out to someone whos in the dream I wonder if ‘shaky’ is an appropriate word. The dream journal is a kind of shadow journal. I have a different journal where I write what I think is going on, but if I go back to the period when I had this set of dreams, I realize that its like going on under the surface that I did not understand consciously and was already present in my dreams. Often, Ill go back and read about a dream years later. Itll ultimately make sense, which insight, why I was dreaming that or what that meant, or what it led to or how it changed me, but at the moment, I am not necessarily conscious of that; I just diligently keep this archive. The other thing that I found is that if I write the dreams down, I remember them more than if I dont, so Im making space for more dream memory.

HUO I think I have the book here, actually, one second. Hélène Cixous, its called Dream I Tell You (2003). Its a glimpse into the raw material. Its quite unedited in a way.

APG Yeah, I think thats great. Years ago, I wrote an essay about Lordes dream journal, called Daughter Dreams. She would write her dreams, and then she would ask her kids about their dreams. I love the idea of a dream archive and what it would mean to value that, use it, and appreciate it as deeply as we value poems, the things that come out of it, or the intentional work.

HUO And you made a dream retreat with Almah LaVon called Dark Sciences: A People of Color Dream Retreat (2015), which was a convening, a dream convening that you curated.

APG It was a curation project. It took place in Alma de Mujer in Texas, an area of the Indigenous Women Network stewards on sacred land. Twenty-one people of color, including myself, went there, slept, dreamed, and ate. Almah led an underwater writing workshop that was very formative for me; you can see its influence in every writing I have done since then. You can see it in Undrowned for sure. We also did this oracle where everyone wrote images from their dreams, put them in a jar, and then talked about our aspirational dreams, maybe our unrealized visions like what you asked me about. Often it was a struggle that people were going through in their lives. Then they picked an image from the jar that was from someone elses dreams. It spoke directly to what they needed to think about concerning what they were dealing with, and a lot of it was around peoples healing, changing their relationships in some ways. It was interesting because the curation was self-selected, the people who were there, the people who applied. Still, their self-selection was also a form of collective curation of deciding to be there and then just how the engagement ceremony that we created worked, the main rituals being sleeping and eating. That was life-changing for me for sure. It shifted my relationship to dreams as a form of ancestry receptivity and as a form of access to deep time, tangibly. Theres more work there, so I am just evaluating dreams. I think the other thing about the Dark Science Dreams Retreat is understanding that dreams, though we may experience them, you know, like Hélène Cixous wrote down her dreams and she encouraged you to write down yours. I am writing down my dreams. We may experience them through this idea of individual subconsciousness. Still, there is something collective about them. They are functional on a collective scale. That is why many cultures have had dream houses and a practice of sharing dreams collectively. I feel like that is part of what Lorde was doing. Everybody in the household shared their dreams, and they were all supposed to learn from them. Now, with this group of people who were part of this retreat, we continue to share our dreams and realize that even in this small group of twenty-one people, one of whom Lucia LLLeandro Gimeno is now an ancestor, our dreams belong together.

HUO The other part of the question with the unrealized project, is interesting because, of course, I am thinking about Jordan. She won a prize for architecture, not poetry. She got it for an architectural collaboration with Buckminster Fuller, an unrealized project that she called Skyrise for Harlem. It was a project about roundness, an ecological project for the residents of Harlem having space for their creativity and room to move and socialize with each other. It was published in Esquire magazine, but it was only attributed to Fuller even though they knew Jordan wrote it.

APG Speaking of unrealized projects, June Jordans Skyrise for Harlem is one that I think about, and it continues to exist in interesting ways. One of my sister collaborators Ebony Noelle Golden did a project called 125th Street and Freedom. Now she is doing a project that has to do with ritual performance, and she collaborates with the National Black Theatre and the Apollo and s bringing June Jordans vision to Harlem again. The processional and ritual work Ebony does, embodies this architectural vision that June Jordan never realized. Im talking about other peoples projects, but its so generative what youve said about the unrealized project; Im going to get mine, I promise. Toni Cade Bambara created the The Black Woman anthology in 1970. In 1988 Essence Magazine had a Black Women Writers Retreat in Nassau, Bahamas, and they had this closing circle where they talked about their future projects. Bambara had a vision for a project that would be an anthology. I mean, almost like what you created with the book, it would be recipes, star maps, proceedings from the legislature. It would be all these things. She was pulling these things together, and it was something that did not happen, at least in the way that she had imagined it coming out from that group of people. There is the Combahee River Collective, which had a vision for an anthology that was unrealized. They compared it to something called the Whole Earth Catalogue of Black Feminism or almost like Our Bodies, Ourselves of Black Feminism but not specifically about health like the Boston Womens Health Project. It was something that they envisioned and wanted to represent the collectivity of Black Feminism. Their standard for it was that it should be produced not only by who they were, i.e., educated Black lesbian feminists of the US North-East, but they also wanted it to be on a grander scale, they wanted it to include writings from women that were in prison, they wanted it to be inclusive in a way that they, as a collective, were not and so it ended up being an unrealized project. Time was a determining factor as well as funding. The communion they wanted to represent was not a communion they were experiencing among different Black women who seemed separated by systemic barriers. No one is separate, but, at the time, they were experiencing each other as distinct. Those are unrealized projects I think about at least once a day. Mobile Homecoming Space of Breathing is a project that is being realized. I was just where we are incubating it on.

HUO Where is the land?

APG Its here in North Carolina on a road called Old Oxford Road, near a place called Horton Grove. This area of North Carolina is Saponi land; it has been stewarded by the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation, and the Eno River defines it. For generations, tt was part of the extensive holdings of a plantation called Stagville, and Horton Grove, a part of which is a preserved area. It is a North Carolina historical site. Some of the buildings the enslaved community created are there, and Horton was an enslaved architect. It is a significant and powerful site. Its a site where we made our film When We Free. The point is that the land we are now in direct relationship with is not adjacent to, but in proximity to that land. We are still figuring out Stagville’s history. Its about ten minutes from where I am sitting right now. So, we have realized our vision of a retreat center where we can activate the experiential archive. We are excited to share and collaborate with people to have these experiential archive activation moments.

HUO Are you working with an architect?

APG Yeah. You know thats interesting because this architect, Pat Harris, is the first Black woman to be a licensed architect in the state of North Carolina. We met her through the Mobile Homecoming Project. We are now collaborating with her. Were working with an incredible builder, Helena Cragg, and its merging and developing in a non-linear way which, for all my poetic embrace of the non-linear, still sometimes stresses me out as somebody who tries to realize her dreams.

HUO That is amazing! A still-partially unrealized project that is about to be realized.

APG Yes, its about to be realized. Depending on my time experience, maybe its already been realized, and I am just not experiencing it in that way, yet. That is what I think about, and I imagine a reality in which our elders are cherished. The real project is the intergenerational reality where the living library is a biodiverse mode that exists. It is a version of what Boggs was talking about when she envisioned the school. It is a version of what the New Jewel Movement achieved with the Each One Teach One Intergenerational Literacy Program in Grenada during the Grenadian Revolution.

HUO Its unfinished, but its a long-duration project, right? Is Brilliance Remastered also in a way a project in progress?

APG Yes, it is, it is. Once again, its connected to Lordes phrase,the masters tools will never dismantle the masters house(from her lecture at the Second Sex Conference). I guess there would be no need for university if we fully realized this. Basically, thats the scale of it. I remember being part of a Black feminist delegation to the Dominican Republic created by Ana-Maurine Lara, where we visited the markers of colonialism. The first western university in the new worldis there, in Santo Domingo. Near the first plantation in the New World. I think about the project of Brilliance Remastered as an un-mastering. I think about it as a continuation of the ongoing revolution. I think about Brilliance Remastered in that way.

HUO There is also the Broken Beautiful Press, a publishing and distribution initiative. Can you tell me about that?

APG Kitchen Table Press inspires it, though its different from the Kitchen Table Press. Kitchen Table Press is a women-of-color press that came out of a conversation between Lorde and Barbara Smith in 1980. Broken Beautiful Press was a school for me where I learned  about publishing, and publishing as a performance. Broken Beautiful Press is not really operating now. It moved from printed matter to a digital PDF download network database. You can still download from the website, everything Broken Beautiful Press has published.

HUO I still have two more questions. Do you have time like maybe five more minutes? Is that okay? 

APG Yeah!

HUO All of those projects have to do with learning, which goes back to Lorde. She teaches us that a collective evolution is necessary.

APG There is this audio novella that I wrote and that I havent published. However, I want to produce it; its an unrealized project. Speaking of utopia, its about this supposed utopia, a post-revolutionary society, an empowered Black community singing and dancing for and with each other at all times. Still, there is a scarcity of stillness and silence. They have outsourced their stillness to one person who lives in an underground cave and does these vibrational works. He sits there and has gone deaf sitting there but is tuning in to the vibrational reality by just sitting there still. Several stories, including The Giver by Lois Lowry (1993), influence it. But there is Ladeedah, this young woman, and she is the only person in the community she knows and who has no rhythm and is tone-deaf and craving stillness. She is the person who will bring stillness and silence back into the community, but she must go on this journey to understand which is her role. I say that because I think stillness and silence are important. When I am sitting still and silent and listening, I write. What am I listening to? Am I listening to myself? I consider it to be ancestral listening. Is it silent if its populated if there can be an artifact of it? Listening is not scarce because its renewable, its possible, its not like fossil fuel, its infinitely possible, but its not happening. Its not happening nearly as much as it could, and certainly not even a fraction of as much as its needed if we want to fulfill Wynters unrealized project of socio poetics. I want to revise that; its not scarce because its possible. The material exists because we are the material for it, yet I think many of us are afraid of it, if not scared, certainly deeply out of practice with listening. Im all about self-expression. I dance as one of my most healing nourishing practices, and I sing as one of my most deeply nourishing practices, none of which I do as a performance or paid or professionally in any way at all. But on the edge of that is the same thing I think Wynter and Glissant are talking about: this profound possibility of listening, and I am here for that.

HUO That is such a beautiful conclusion. Thank you so much.

APG Thank you for such an amazing conversation. I loved it, and I got some citations that I will read so we can further investigate in our next conversation.