The Poet Laureate read selected works.
Porsha Olayiwola, who was appointed Poet Laureate of Boston in 2019, delivered a virtual reading and conversation on November 6 in an event called “Poetry as Protest.” Reciting from her own original pieces, Olayiwola explored the afro-futurist and afro-surrealist framework that she writes and performs through. The evening’s program was organized by The Royall House and Slave Quarters in Medford, and the discussion was moderated by Camara Brown, a Ph.D candidate at Harvard University. Olayiwola explained that in her poems, her words are often entrenched in historical sites and events.
“I’ve been thinking about futurism as a tool, as a weapon, as a way to name and see the future as I wish to,” said Olayiwola. “For me, futurism is leaning back or going back and getting it. And so, I have been using history as a way forward.”
Olayiwola began by reading from a piece called “We Drink at the Attenuation Well,” which was partially inspired by a well that she saw in Nigeria that was meant to make drinkers forget their memories. She described how slaves had once been made to sip from the well, so that they “would not remember the way home.” She performed a work called “Salvage,” through which she reflected on slave ships and the millions of African lives lost in the Middle Passage. Her poem “The Cops Behind Us, I Hold My Breath, and Remember I Am Alive,” is a commentary on injustices wrought by the police.
As Olayiwola elaborated on the lineage that she sees her poetry as being a part of, she said that her identity as a poet is in itself a kind of protest.
“I am a protest,” said Olayiwola. “Fifty percent of this country does not want people that are of color, that are queer, that are women – all of these things – to exist. If I am to innately just be a poet, in the contradiction of this country, then it is always going to be a protest. Just living, unfortunately, is a protest.”
Olayiwola’s book “I Shimmer Sometimes, Too” can be found at the link below:
Shira Laucharoen is a reporter based in Boston. She currently serves as the assistant director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. In the past she has written for Sampan newspaper, The Somerville Times, Scout Magazine, Boston Magazine, and WBUR.