They can’t feel the heart of our people
beating on 116th or
understand the holy words
of El Shabbazz
that live in the God-coiled ropes
that crown my head,
and they don’t know my soul
From “Beyond the Brownstones”
by Maria James-Thiaw
I met Maria in 2015 while we were attending the Virginia Center for the Creative Art’s Poetry Workshop in France. Maria had begun interviewing older women for her remarkable American Griot Project, a historical account of first-hand experiences during the era of Jim Crow laws and the Civil Rights Movement. Since 2015, Maria has taken the interviews and stories “…of learning about race and privilege and experiencing second class citizenship and love across color lines…” and translated them into a choreopoem brought to the stage in the theatrical production, Reclaiming My Time: An American Griot Project.
Maria James-Thiaw is an award-winning poet, performer, playwright, and educator. She’s the author of “Talking White” and her poetry and reviews appear in journals such as New Letters, Cutthroat, and Black Magnolias.
I call shinbones of water skinnying down into sluice boxes.
Brackish water, sulfur-smelling water, sludge.
Rain in rain barrels,
clear water spilling over dams
and clear water that has never been dammed.
I confront the brink
even though I’m part of the brink.
from "We Have the Power to Pull Back from the Brink"
Ellery Akers is the author of three poetry books, most recently, Swerve: Environmentalism, Feminism,
and Resistance. She’s won thirteen national writing awards, including an IPPY Award and the Poetry
International Prize. Her poetry has been featured on National Public Radio and in Poetry and The New
York Times Magazine.
I was introduced to Ellery over email by our mutual friend, the poet Ruth Schwartz. At our first meeting,
Ellery and I took a walk around a small pond. I quickly realized that Ellery was an extraordinary
ecologist, who knew so much about the flora and fauna of West Marin, as well as a woman brimming
with love for good poetry. Not only would she recite lines from Hopkins or Dickinson by heart to me as
we walked and talked, but she and I would engage in delightful conversations about newer work from
modern poets that we’d just read.
We have been friends for several years now, and workshop together regularly in a wonderful group that
Ellery invited me to join. But I love Ellery for more than all of this. Ellery is also one of the most
dedicated environmentalists I know, and through her incredible new book, Swerve, has inspired me to
feel less hopeless and more willing to take action to save our planet. I feel such admiration, respect, and
deep gratitude to Ellery; consider reading her work, as you will too!
~Julia B. Levine, July 2020