By Sara Fullerton
Last Monday evening, Samiya Bashir — poet, scholar and creative writing professor at Reed College – shared her poetry in the Hatfield Room through outpourings of sonic, dramatic and multimedia expression.
Those present felt the total body experience that is Bashir’s artistry. Her poetry draws bodies together in a common visceral experience that transcends logic with its immediacy and sheer power.
At her master writing class earlier in the day, Bashir guided participants to the page with breathwork, dropping us into our bodies and into our community space as we breathed together to her count.
These experiences gave me a framework to better comprehend Bashir’s understanding of poetry as an active agent that both “generates” and “implies” community.
In one poem, Bashir says, “Hey you: Let’s toss our tarantellas across the tracks. Let’s reveal one another bit by puckered bit. Let’s emit this fit of heat before we burn. Or let’s burn.” There is a thermodynamic quality to Bashir’s poetry. She continually draws the listener into an experience, building a sense of place through vivid sensory appeals like heavy breathing and onamonapia.
In her newest collection of poetry, “Field Theories,” Bashir writes about race as synthesized through the laws of thermodynamics. Her father was a math and science teacher, and so her creative self was cultivated in scientific worlds. Bashir said science was “the land in which the language was created.”
Using scientific vernacular as her foundation, Bashir critiques and complicates dominant narratives of race, gender and power. She suggests multiplicity and complexity in her title “Field Theories,” rather than accepting a unifying or singular “theory.” She doesn’t just operate within a system of scientific language, but rewrites it through creation of new terms like “blackbody radiation” and “blackbody theory” that express the beauty of blackness.
Since Bashir’s artistic expression is multidimensional, she calls the book of poetry her “ink on tree” manifestation. She needed to also “get it off the page” before it was ever “solidified there,” and capture her poetry in modes that could not be confined to print.
To do this, she collaborated with other artists to produce six videos, one per month for the six months preceding “Field Theories’” publication. The videos remix her poems, with words from different poems intersecting so that the work is “in conversation with itself,” as she said. Phrases layer over each other and repeat.
In her performance, Bashir also interrupted her videos with her own poetry reading. She would speed ahead when I wanted her to slow down, and linger where it was uncomfortable, so that silence too became an active agent.
As he introduced Bashir on Monday night, Willamette English and American ethnic studies professor Omari Weekes described her work as a “careful and dense articulation of the multiple temporalities and spaces that we all inhabit.”
To acknowledge these multiple temporalities, Bashir seemingly disorients her audiences by refusing to allow a linear experience of time. Her performance art does not offer many guideposts or vocal cues to suggest beginnings or ends.
The effect was like a haunting fever dream I wanted to stay in. Striking deliberations from that night still penetrate my consciousness now. Phrases like “I bear the long silence of my own extinction,” “Light speed = need = constancy,” “We are our own shadow. We are want of touch. We are biting. We are hungry. We are a stopped carousel” and “Did anyone ever ask?”
Through repetition and renewing contexts, these phrases get absorbed into the listener’s subconscious, rumbling there. Their constant rearrangement and emergence in seemingly arbitrary contexts led me to experience them as transcending context.
Bashir believes anything can be a poem. The creation process is about “putting the pressure where you want it,” whether that be a sonic or visual or tactile appeal, then lingering there in discomfort, “breathing, and letting the work do what it needs to.”