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Michael Warr

USA

“What Not to Do… (an unfinished poem)” is featured in Obsidian 46.2.
In this serial work I name mostly Black and unarmed victims of police killings, spell out the circumstances under which the force of the state randomly materialized in their lives, and chronicle how they were executed. It is “unfinished” because since 2018 I have periodically updated the poem with the names of the newly murdered—offering a mere sampling of the routine slaughter.

George-Floyd-by-DZINE

Digital rendering of George Floyd by Carlos Rolón.  Image courtesy of the Artist. Carlos Rolón © 2020

Poem

What Not to Do…
(an unfinished poem)

[Beyond Print, an Ongoing Web Feature]

Breathe: Eric Garner (choked)
Sell (loosies)
Resist (to death)
Stare: Lamont Hunt (shot.)
(in back)
Make: Akai Gurley (a jarring sound) (shot.) (“accidentally”)
Stand: Amadou Diallo (in vestibule)
Carry (wallet)
Loiter (while walking)
Look (out of place)
Act (suspicious) (forty-one. fired.) (nineteen. bullets. kill.)
Walk: Terence Crutcher (hands in air)
Appear (intoxicated)
Have (a “very hollow look”) (shot.)
(in back)
Drive: Samuel DuBose (without) (license plate) (shot.) (in head)
Drive: Walter Scott (with broken taillight) (shot.)
(in back)
Move: Kendra James (into driver seat)
(after driver arrested) (shot.) (in head)
Sit: Jordan Edwards (unarmed in car) (shot.) (with rifle)
Reverse: Diante Yarber (too suddenly)
(thirty. bullets. fired. ten. kill.)
Park: LaTanya Haggerty (on side of road)
Talk (on cell) (on side of road) (shot.) (on side of road)
Drive: Philando Castile (with broken brake lights)
Carry (legal firearm)
Announce (“I have a gun”)
Shout (“not reaching for gun”) (shot.) (five. bullets. two. to. heart.)
Crawl: Daniel Shaver (toward officers) (as instructed)
Pull (loose gym shorts) (too suddenly)
Beg (not to be shot) (shot.) (anyway)
Approach: Oscar Grant (the police)
Beg (not to shoot)
Kneel (shot.) (anyway)
(in back)
Fail: Sandra Bland (to signal)
Act (too uppity) (found hanging in cell)
Carry: Anthony Lamar Smith (planted weapon) (shot.) (five. bullets.)
Carry: Tamir Rice (toy gun) (shot.) (with. real. bullets.)
Carry: Cameron Tillman (BB gun) (shot.)
Carry: Rumain Brisbon (prescription bottle) (shot.)
(two. bullets. to. torso.)
Carry: Laquan McDonald (knife in road) (shot.) (sixteen. bullets.)
Carry: Miles Hall (gardening rod)
Have (schizoaffective disorder) (shot.)
Carry: Steven Demarco Taylor (baseball bat) (at Walmart)
Have (a manic episode) (shot.)
Not carry: Keith Lamont Scott (a gun) (when told to drop it) (shot.)
“Drop”: Kajuan Raye (a gun) (“found” later) (shot.)
(in back)
Be: Natasha McKenna (schizophrenic)
Be (“superhuman”)
(stunned while shackled) (50,000 volts) (to death)
Be: Tanisha Anderson (bipolar) (head slammed to pavement)
Be: Michelle Shirley (bipolar) (while driving)
(thirty. bullets. eight. to. chest. back. arms.)
Be: Shereese Francis (off) (meds) (four police bodies suffocate) (on bed)
Be: Aaron Campbell (suicidal)
Be (unarmed) (shot.)
Be: Yvette Smith (“armed”) (when not armed) (shot.) (on front porch)
Be: Mike Brown (“too large”)
Be (same height as shooter) (shot.) (six. bullets.) (two. to. head.)
Be: John Crawford (an “imminent threat”)
Shop (for Walmart air rifle)
Carry (Walmart air rifle) (at Walmart)
Talk (on cell phone) (at Walmart) (shot.)
(with. real. bullets.) (at Walmart)
Be: Terrance Franklin (a suspect) (shot.) (five. bullets. to. head.)
Be: George Floyd (a suspect)
Be (a 6-foot-6 Black man)
Be (claustrophobic)
(asphyxiated) (knee on neck) (while handcuffed)
Be: Tony McDade (trans)
Move (“consistent with using a firearm”) (shot.)
Pose: Ezell Ford (an “immediate threat”) (shot.)
(while schizophrenic)
“Display”: Manuel Loggins Jr. (a “mean expression”) (shot.)
(in front of daughters)
Call: Charleena Lyles (police) (while mentally ill) (shot.) (seven. bullets.)
Fit: Jordan Baker (“the description”) (shot.)
Flee: Freddie Gray (“unprovoked”) (spine severed) (in custody)
Run: Stephon Clark (through grandmother’s yard)
Carry (cell phone) (shot.)
(twenty. bullets. fired.) (eight. hit.) (“primarily”)
(in back)
Run: Chinedu Okobi (unarmed in traffic) (tased) (to death)
Jog: Ahmaud Arbery (shot.) (two. bullets. kill.) (while hunted)
Play: Atatiana Jefferson (Call of Duty) (in bedroom)
(little Zion watching) (shot.)
Sleep: Aiyana Jones (on couch) (shot.) (one. bullet.)
(to. seven-year-old. head.)
Sleep: Breonna Taylor (in bed) (shot.) (eight. bullets. kill.)
Sleep: Rayshard Brooks (at Wendy’s)
Flee (for daughter’s birthday)
Point (dead taser over shoulder) (shot. two. bullets.)
(in back)
Walk: Elijah McClain (home)
Look (sketchy)
Play (music)
Wave (hands)
Wear (ski mask)
Buy (iced tea)
Carry (iced tea)
Resist (contact)
Act (“crazy”)
Cry (can’t breathe)
Beg (to go home)
Be (superhuman)
Be (anemic)
Be (an introvert)
Be (suspicious)
Be (agitated)
Be (“tense”)
Be (“on something”)
Be (medicated)
Be (undetermined)
(choked) (to death)

               Breathe . . .

Text Chinese Translation by Chun Yu, Ph.D.

不要做什麼……
(一首未完成的詩)

 

作者:邁克爾·沃爾 Michael Warr
翻譯:俞淳 Chun Yu

呼吸:埃里克·加納(被窒息)
賣(香煙)
反抗(至死)
盯着看:拉蒙特·亨特(被射殺。)
(從後面 )
發出:阿凱·古利(刺耳的聲音)(被射殺。)(“意外地”)
站立:阿馬杜·迪亞洛(在門廊)
攜帶(錢包)
閑逛(“邊走邊”)
看(不自在地)
舉動(可疑)(四十一槍。打了。)(十九顆。子彈。殺死。)
步行:特倫斯·克魯奇(雙手舉在空中)
看似(醉酒)
帶着(一個“非常空洞的表情”)(被射殺。)
(從後面)
開車:塞繆爾·杜博斯(沒有)(牌照)(被射殺。)(從頭部)
開車:沃爾特·斯科特(尾燈壞了)(被射殺。)
(從後面)
移動:肯德拉·詹姆斯(到駕駛座)
(在司機被捕後)(被射殺。)(從頭部)
坐:喬丹·愛德華茲(在車裡手無寸鐵)(被射殺。)(用步槍)
倒車:戴安特·亞伯(太突然地)
(三十顆。子彈。射出。十顆。殺死。)
停車:譚妮雅·哈格西(在路邊)
談話(在手機上)(在路邊)(被射殺。)(在路邊)
開車:菲蘭多·卡斯蒂爾(剎車燈壞了)
攜帶(合法武器)
宣布(你有槍)
喊叫(沒有伸手拿槍)(被射殺。)(五顆。子彈。兩顆。打到。心臟。)
爬行:丹尼爾·謝弗(朝警官們)(按指示)
拉(鬆了的運動短褲)(太突然地)
乞求(不要開槍)(被射殺。)(還是)
接近:奧斯卡·格蘭特(警察)
乞求(不要開槍)跪下(被射殺。)(還是)
(從後面)
沒能:桑德拉·布蘭德(示意)
舉止(太傲慢)(發現被吊在牢房裡)
攜帶:安東尼·拉馬爾·史密斯(被栽贓的武器)(被射殺。)(五顆。子彈。)
攜帶:塔米爾·賴斯(玩具槍)(被射殺。)(用。真的。子彈。)
攜帶:卡梅隆·蒂爾曼(BB槍)(被射殺。)
攜帶:魯曼·布里斯本(處方瓶)(被射殺。)
(兩顆。子彈。打到軀幹。)
攜帶:拉昆·麥克唐納(刀在路上)(被射殺。)(十六顆。子彈。)
攜帶:邁爾斯·霍爾(園藝棒)
有(分裂情感障礙)(被射殺。)
攜帶:史蒂芬·德馬爾科·泰勒(棒球棒)(在沃爾瑪)
有(躁狂症發作)(被射殺。)
沒有攜帶:: 基思·拉蒙特·斯科特(槍)(當被告知要放下它時)(被射殺。)
“放下”:卡胡安·雷(一把槍)(後來“發現的”)(被射殺。)
(從後面)
是:娜塔莎·麥肯納 (精神分裂症)
是(“超人”)
(被銬時被電擊)(50000伏特)(致死)
是:塔尼莎·安德森(躁鬱症)(頭部被砸到人行道上)
是:米歇爾·雪莉(躁鬱症)(開車時)
(三十顆。子彈。八顆。打到。胸部。背上。胳膊上。)
是:謝里斯·弗朗西斯(沒服)(葯)(四個警察壓迫窒息)(在床上)
是:亞倫·坎貝爾(有自殺傾向)
是(沒有武器)(被射殺。)
是:伊維特·史密斯(“有武裝”)(沒帶武器)(被射殺。)(在前門廊)
是:邁克·布朗(“體積太大”)
是(和開槍者同一身高)(被射殺。)(六顆。子彈。)(兩顆。打到。頭部。)
是:約翰·克勞福德(一個“迫在眉睫的威脅”)
購買(沃爾瑪氣步槍)
攜帶(沃爾瑪氣步槍)(在沃爾瑪)
談話(在手機上)(在沃爾瑪)(被射殺。)
(用。真的。子彈。)(在沃爾瑪)
是:泰倫斯·富蘭克林(一個嫌疑犯)(被射殺。)(五顆。子彈。到。頭部)
是:喬治·弗洛伊德(一個嫌疑犯)
是(一個6英尺7的黑人)
是(有幽閉恐懼症)
(窒息)(膝蓋壓在脖子上)(戴着手銬)
是:托尼·麥克達德(變性者)
移動(“與使用武器的動作一致”)(被射殺。)
擺姿勢:埃澤爾·福特(一個“直接威脅”)(被射殺。)
(患精神分裂症)
“展示”:小曼努埃爾·洛金斯 (一個“刻薄的表情”)(被射殺。)
(當著女兒們的面)
打電話叫:查莉娜·萊爾斯(警察)(有精神病)(被射殺。)(七顆。子彈。)
符合:喬丹·貝克(“的形象描述”)(被射殺。)
奔逃:弗雷迪·格瑞(“無緣無故地”)(脊椎斷裂而死)(在押時)
奔跑:斯蒂芬·克拉克(穿過祖母的院子)
攜帶(手機)(被射殺。)
(二十顆。子彈。射出。)(八顆。擊中。)(“主要”)
(從後面)
奔跑:齊納多·奧科比(在車流中沒有帶槍)(被電擊棒電擊) (致死)
奔跑:沃爾特·斯科特(被射殺。)
(從後面)
慢跑:阿邁德·阿伯里(被射殺。)(兩顆。子彈。殺死。)(狩獵時)
玩:阿塔蒂亞娜·傑弗遜(“使命召喚”遊戲)(在卧室里)
(小塞安在旁邊觀看)(被射殺。)
睡覺:阿麗亞娜·瓊斯(在沙發上)(被射殺。)(一顆。子彈。)
(打到。七歲的。頭顱。)
睡覺:布萊恩娜·泰勒(在床上)(被射殺。)(八顆。子彈。殺死。)
睡覺:雷沙德布·魯克斯(在溫迪漢堡店)
跑(為了女兒的生日)
指着(死電槍从肩上向后)(被射殺。兩顆。子彈。)
(從後面)
走:以利亞·麥克萊恩(回家)
看起來(可疑)
放(音樂)
揮(手)
戴(滑雪面罩)
買(冰茶)
拿着(冰茶)
反抗(接觸)
舉止(“瘋狂”)
解釋(不能“正確地”呼吸)
展示(超人的力量)
乞求(回家)
是(貧血)
是(內向)
是(多疑)
是(激動)
是(“緊張”)
是(“磕了什麼”)
是(用了葯)
是(“死因待定的”)
(被窒息)(致死)

呼吸…

 

Spoken Chinese Translation by Chun Yu, Ph.D.

The artists’ activities are sponsored in whole or in part
through a grant from the San Francisco Art Commission.

#ObsidianVoices, April 29, 2022

OPAP-Art-Piece

Black Lives Matter by artist Sarah Bean White. Date 2020. Medium: Book carving with found illustration, graphite pencil, acrylic paint, wood and metal assemblage sculpture. Dimensions 30 x 38 x 2 in. (76.2 x 96.5 x 5.1 cm). Based on Of Poetry & Protest: From Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin Poetry Editor Michael Warr (W.W. Norton)

Artist Statement

Michael Warr

I create and experience art with the belief and expectation that creativity can contribute to the transformation of our social condition. That is why in the introduction to my book on unjust police killings, Of Poetry & Protest: From Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin (W. W. Norton), I call the anthology “a singular tool in a toolbox of many tools that will be lifted to fix what ails America.”

As news coverage on the epidemic of killings often vanishes and resurfaces only to disappear again, I recognized the need for an ongoing responsive digital platform that extends the issue beyond the pages of the book. At the core of that digital vision is my serial poem “What Not to Do… (an unfinished poem)” which I have been updating with the names of victims since 2018. The poem spells out the often mundane circumstances under which the victims became entangled with the police while at traffic stops, playing with a toy gun in a park, or even sleeping in one’s own bed. The poem also revisits how the victims were killed. The names that make it into the poem represent a mere sampling of the slaughter.

There are no signs of the crisis going away anytime soon. After the public execution of George Floyd in full view of a captive pandemic audience, there is more attention on the issue and more organizing on multiple fronts, whether it be legislative, street-level, or cultural. The arts are a means of influencing the movement against the killings and a “tool” that the non-artist can use in their own work.

The other component of this project is activating digital technology in the interest of poetry and social transformation. I have spent more than two decades integrating poetry with new media, including The Virtual Slam: Performance Poetry on the Net, way back in 1993, and more recently producing the Tracing Poetic Memory in Bayview Hunters Point, an online multimedia poetry project with digital artist and strategist Mark Sabb. I envision an online portal version of Of Poetry & Protest: From Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin in tandem with the poem “What Not to Do… (an unfinished poem)” that also provides access to other artists to share their writing, visual art, music, and other art forms on the theme.

Writing and updating “What Not to Do…” requires maintaining a critical eye on every word of the poem because it draws on the real-life occurrences of police killings and the loss of life as if pulling the incidents out of the headlines. Since the poem sticks to the facts and it is not drawing on metaphor, it is not making assumptions, or wondering what happened. This is challenging poetically. I wrote in an essay for the University of Arizona Poetry Center, “Searching for Language,” that I believe ultimately the form and language of my poems are tethered to their purpose. I am conscious of the shift made when moving from observation, commentary, cataloging, and searching, to a mode in which I am writing with the hope of transforming minds and conditions. When I write with the intention of transformation, I struggle with my belief that “language is not enough.”

I give examples of poems I’ve written where I find that the language is enough to convey my emotion, my message, and the reason I wrote the poem. However, for the intended purpose of “What Not to Do…” I find that language is not enough. I feel the need to connect the poem and its language to social movements, organizations, distribution platforms, and to people beyond the book or screen.

I also wrote that typically, poetic form is less important to me than the music, rhythm, and message of the poem. In “What Not to Do…” the form is critical and so necessary that I had to create a structure to maintain creative continuity in a poem that I would be revising with morbid regularity as the killings continue. I had to discipline myself to resist turning each despicable act into a separate poem. I had to restrain my journalistic instinct to add more detail and background. While writing and editing the poem I was less concerned with whether or not it was poetic and more concerned with creatively conveying its content. Its truth.

For me this means that every time I revisit and update the poem I will have to follow the structure that I created for myself down to the typography and punctuation of the piece. The periods, for instance, are used to indicate bullets.

My role, besides being a poet, is to honor the victims, make the unaware aware, and expose the perpetrators. As an Obsidian online feature, “What Not to Do…” will continue to recognize new victims. I plan to continue adding their names until the killings stop.

Michael Warr

Michael Warr

About the Poet

I trace my desire to be a writer, or at least to have my own book, back to childhood when I would take copies of my father’s Reader’s Digest and cover the articles with blank paper to create pages of my own words and images.

I first imagined being a poet after reading Gwendolyn Brooks’s “The Pool Players. Seven at the Golden Shovel” in the anthology Three Thousand Years of Black Poetry (which I stole). I arrogantly thought after reading her poem that “I can do that.”

Decades later a reviewer would refer to my life as a poet as evidence of a “literary long-distance runner.” In fact, my senior high school track coach Adam Banks was also my Black history teacher when he assigned our class a book report on Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction in America. I asked if I could write mine as a poem. He answered “yes” and changed my life.

More About The Poet

I wrote a 2200-word poem titled “Memoir of Malediction.” My greatest poetic influences were the Last Poets and Gil Scott Heron. Following high school those influences included Neruda, Vallejo, and Brecht. I moved from San Francisco to Chicago by 1976 and then to Ethiopia as a foreign correspondent in 1978.

After returning to the US in 1982 and returning to Chicago, I met Ms. Brooks in the flesh and had the privilege of becoming a friend and collaborator. She was the patron saint of the Guild Complex, an award-winning, cross-cultural literary arts center where I was the founding executive director. She surprised me in 1989 with a Gwendolyn Brooks Significant Illinois Poets Award. It was my first literary award along with my first check for poetry.

My debut book of poems, We Are All the Black Boy (Tia Chucha Press), was published in 1991. The manuscript led to a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, leading to publication in journals and anthologies and media recognition while I was still Director at Guild and preparing to step down to concentrate on my writing. My second book, the anthology Powerlines: A Decade of Poetry from Chicago’s Guild Complex (Tia Chucha Press), co-edited with Luis Rodriguez and Julie Parson Nesbitt, was released in time for Guild’s 10th anniversary and my farewell party in 1999. I had been on schedule to publish my next book of poems in 1993, however, the day that I returned to Chicago from an artist retreat in idyllic Lake Forest, IL, my new laptop was stolen with my manuscript in its digital guts.

Nearly twenty years later, in 2011, after many attempts to reconstruct my manuscript and rework the poems, I finally held my second book of poems, The Armageddon of Funk (Tia Chucha Press), in my hands. It won the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award for Excellence in Literature (I had returned to live in San Francisco in 2007) and the Poetry Honor Award from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association, which called the collection “a poetic soundtrack to Black life.”

My fourth book, on unjust police killings, Of Poetry & Protest: From Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin (W. W. Norton), published in 2016, sold out the first print run and was reprinted in 2019. It was named one of “twenty books of poetry that could save America.” I was named a San Francisco Library Laureate because of this book.

Michael Warr’s books include Of Poetry & Protest: From Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin, The Armageddon of Funk, and We Are All The Black Boy. He has received a 2021 San Francisco Artist Grant, the 2020 Berkeley Poetry Festival Lifetime Achievement Award, the San Francisco Library Laureate, a PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award for Excellence in Literature, a Black Caucus of the American Library Association Award, an NEA Fellowship, a Creative Work Fund Award, and the Gwendolyn Brooks Significant Illinois Poets Award (his first recognition as a poet). His poems are translated into Chinese by poet Chun Yu for their Two Languages/One Community Project.

Poetry as Alchemy and Arsenal

Creative Work by Michael Warr

Of Poetry & Protest: From Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin

Two Languages/One Community

Searching for Language

Poetry, Etc. The Armageddon of Funk

Tracing Poetic Memory in Bayview Hunters Point

Find Michael Warr on Twitter, Instagram, or Linkedin

Warr, Michael. “What Not to Do… (an Unfinished Poem) [Beyond Print, an Ongoing Web Feature].” Obsidian: Literature & Arts in the African Diaspora, <DATE ACCESSED>, https://obsidianlit.org/project/michael-warr/.

俞淳 Chun Yu, Ph.D.

俞淳 Chun Yu, Ph.D.

About the Translator

I was born and raised in China. My mother said that I began to tell my own stories when I was two. I believe I was already aspiring to be a writer then. However, due to the political turmoil that my parents lived through, they never felt safe enough for me to take that path. I went to Peking University 北京大學 to study chemistry instead. It was not until years later when I was a postdoctoral fellow at a Harvard-MIT joint program I suddenly found the freedom in my heart to write poetry, first in English, which is not my native language. My first poetry reading was at an open mic at MIT where young engineers and scientists who were also talented artists gathered. A few years later, my memoir in free verse Little Green: Growing Up During the Chinese Cultural Revolution was published by Simon & Schuster and won a dozen awards. I have been on my journey as a writer ever since.

I had never met a foreigner when I was a child. But in world history classes we learned about black history in America and the horrors of slavery. The sorrow and indignation felt in my young heart remained deep and fresh to this day. Little did I know that I would come to America to study science yet become a poet and translate African American poets’ work into Chinese, and even more, bring Chinese American and African Communities together with the Two Languages/One Community program that I co-founded with poet Michael Warr.

During the last few years, especially during the Black Lives Matter Movement and solidarity against anti-Asian violence, we worked closely with institutions such as the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco, Asian Art Museum, Museum of the African Diaspora, Oakland Asian Cultural Center, and many others, to present a series of public events with poetry readings, drawing thousands of participants from diverse communities.

Chun Yu, Ph.D. is a bilingual (English and Chinese) poet, graphic novelist, scientist, and translator. She is the author of the multi-award winning memoir in verse “Little Green: Growing Up During the Chinese Cultural Revolution” (Simon & Schuster) and a historical graphic novel in progress (Macmillan). Her poetry has been published in Orion (2021 Fall broadside), Arion Press (broadside for 2021 graduates), Boston Herald, Poem of the Day, Obsidian, Catamaran and others. She is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee (2021 & 2022). She is an honoree of YBCA 100 award (2020) for creative changemakers. She has won grants from San Francisco Arts Commission, Zellerbach, Poets & Writers, and Sankofa Fund. Her work is taught in world history and culture classes. Chun holds a B.S. and M.S. from Peking University and a Ph.D. from Rutgers University. She was a post-doctoral fellow in a Harvard-MIT joint program.

Creative work by Chun Yu

Little Green: Growing Up During the Chinese Cultural Revolution

The Map 地圖

Two Languages/One Community 兩種語言/一個社群

Chinese American Stories 美國華人故事

Follow Chun Yu on Instagram, Twitter, or Linkedin

 

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