The Operating System

5th ANNUAL NAPOMO 30/30/30 :: Day 18 :: Najee Omar on Mahogany L. Browne

[box]It’s hard to believe that this is our FIFTH annual 30/30/30 series, and that when this month is over we will have seeded and scattered ONE HUNDRED and FIFTY of these love-letters, these stories of gratitude and memory, into the world. Nearly 30 books, 3 magazines, countless events and online entries later, and this annual celebration shines like a beacon at the top of the heap of my very favorite things to have brought into being. [If you’re interested in going back through the earlier 120 entries, you can find them (in reverse chronological order) here.]
When I began this exercise on my own blog, in 2011, I began by speaking to National Poetry Month’s beginnings, in 1966, and wrote that my intentions “for my part, as a humble servant and practitioner of this lovely, loving art,” were to post a poem and/or brief history of a different poet…. as well as write and post a new poem a day. I do function well under stricture, but I soon realized this was an overwhelming errand.
Nonetheless the idea stuck — to have this month serve not only as one in which we flex our practical muscles but also one in which we reflect on inspiration, community, and tradition — and with The Operating System (then Exit Strata) available as a public platform to me, I invited others (and invited others to invite others) to join in the exercise. It is a series which perfectly models my intention to have the OS serve as an engine of open source education, of peer to peer value and knowledge circulation.
Sitting down at my computer so many years ago I would have never imagined that in the following five years I would be able to curate and gather 150 essays from so many gifted poets — ranging from students to award winning stars of the craft, from the US and abroad — to join in this effort. But I’m so so glad that this has come to be.
Enjoy! And share widely.
– Lynne DeSilva-Johnson, Managing Editor/Series Curator [/box]


[line][script_teaser]”In a space where so many things and forces and systems are trying to kill me, there’s a Mahogany L. Browne poem that reminds me that I am worthy. Some days, her poem is the very thing that gives me breath, life. And if for no other reason than breath and life, get intimate with Mahogany’s work. It will save you when you don’t even know you need saving.”[/script_teaser]
I can’t remember the first time I heard Mahogany L. Browne spit a poem. By now, I’m not sure it even matters. Because every time I hear her spit, it’s like the first time all over again. The room quiets. The air stiffens. When she opens her mouth, a conjuring happens. Her words awaken the gravity beneath her. She releases grit, raw, unfiltered, truth. Her tongue, all slice and dice, and you–the listener, the reader–don’t know if you should shout, cry, or kneel in surrender
Every day language is poetry, and Mahogany reminds us to listen closer. Her poems highlight the beauty of the black tongue. How it commands rhythm, and velocity, and syntax, and depth. She takes a dialect often shunned and sheds light on all that dark. The same way many of our poet ancestors have done before. When I read Mahogany’s work, I am reminded of the poets of the Black Arts Movement, how they used the tongue as resistance. In her poetry, Mahogany continues this tradition, and it is thrilling to bare witness to this mastery of craft:

blurred vision  (an excerpt)

me & Li Li ain’t talking
cause she think she     cute
cause she think     you aint
…..must be pretty boy
……………Curtis       all in her
head      all in her mouth
making her forget her home
training       making her
forget her daddy got a gun
for a living    & her mom
ain’t live with them    &
this is why you think she ain’t
got no sense     no how cause
ain’t nobody but fast girls
checking for Curtis   &
he keep her name close
&   she don’t come
home the same way no more
she must think     she cute
must think     you aint       how
she keep you waiting like
you posed to wait on Curtis — or something
& you hate his    light    skin self
………..‘cause he aint funny as he think
……………………‘specially when he call you blk
………………………………& ugly & stupid    &
she stay grinning    like he the sun

Mahogany’s words pulsate on the page. Her use of white space demands breath in a way that makes the speaker’s voice so profound, clear. You hear that? You almost have to lean in to her poems, or you’ll miss something. Or everything.
But the beauty is how this translates off the page. When you hear Mahogany spit, be prepared to be unprepared. Your body will dance. It will shake off something you didn’t know you’ve been carrying (perhaps your entire life). Mahogany’s poems will free you. Of what, who knows? But something that didn’t belong there in the first place. From deeply personal narratives to biomythologies, Mahogany gives you her pain, her misunderstandings, her working-throughs, her growth, her bearing, and rebirth. She gives this generous offering in all her glory, poem by poem.
When I need to feel (good about) my blackness, I can always count on a Mahogany poem. When Mahogany talks about black girls, she talks about her mama, she talks about her mama’s mama, she talks about her daughter, her best friends, her black woman circle, the black women she doesn’t even know–but knows all too well. She talks about the black women you and I know. Those who birthed us. Those who birthed the ones who birthed us. And those to come. One of my favorite pieces by Mahogany is her calling upon the lineage of “Black Girl Magic”:

There’s a legacy unearthed in this poem. Its urgency exposes the horrors black women have had to endure while highlighting the beauty in black women strength and overcoming. Mahogany’s poetry is timely, and Black Girl Magic is unapologetic about black womanhood and the black body, declaring its importance, its prevalence, its existence, and its magic.
In a space where so many things and forces and systems are trying to kill me, there’s a Mahogany L. Browne poem that reminds me that I am worthy. Some days, her poem is the very thing that gives me breath, life. And if for no other reason than breath and life, get intimate with Mahogany’s work. It will save you when you don’t even know you need saving.
[textwrap_image align=”left”][/textwrap_image] Najee Omar is a Brooklyn-based writer, performance artist, and educator creating a socially conscious dialogue through cross-disciplinary art. A Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop fellow, his selected readings and features include Russell Simmons’ All Def Poetry, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and colleges and universities across the United States. As a teaching artist, he conducts poetry and theatre workshops with inner city teens and high-need youth in schools, juvenile justice facilities, jails, and non-traditional learning settings. Najee’s mission is to cultivate an audience of deep thinkers and inspire the next generation of change agents, one word at a time.
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