A GROWING CONCERN FOR MY LYF: ON/FOR/WITH KAMDEN HILLIARD
A GROWING CONCERN FOR MY LYF: ON/FOR/WITH KAMDEN HILLIARD
Am I having fun as I read Kamden Hilliard’s MissSettl? Or do I feel a growing concern for my life? Did I misspeak just there? Did Hilliard? At certain points, I’d do anything to get out of MissSettl.
“Can anyone white film teacher asks tell me / what might be revolutionary?”
(Is Hilliard talking about Gibbiser?) In the slave narrative, it’s a question of traveling outwards from the center of oneself. Is the story addressed to those carriers of trauma? If it had been us––the ones to throw the first brick––the revolutionaries, this wouldn't have been shared with anyone else. It would’ve been our little secret. So that if you do decide to harness a darkness within you, I’m ready. If we take a look around the ideological hole we’re in, what might we find? Let this journey queer us. Multiple people may be collectively effective at domination, yet lack selfhood. Self-composure. Composition. That minty freshness, that morning breathy coffee smell. We’ll call history a white wish. A wish of whiteness. A wished-for social capital. A climate change, having diurnal power, ever true again and again. Still, or especially, we are left with the whole-ass global reality of colonialism to contend with. Even after reading MissSettl. Or especially so. We:
“[r]esisted the ideological hold & feared the sea.”
The speaker’s sadness is emptying but always has more to deposit. Addiction to sadness is like this perpetually dying light. The crowded marginality of this mystery of ourselves. The fortress we’re in is white. The stone structure we’re born into. That slithering knowledge of love that we hold. We can feel carcerality inside us. We can carry it, or carry it out. A racial regime, as in, capitalism fails to be true. Diurnally so. White supremacy kills white people. The wrong kind of abolition. The abolition of care and of concern. Killing the sugar crop. The cotton crop. On our way out. We’re both scarred and scared. Let’s stop hurting each other. This wish can be heard throughout MissSettl. Ditching the corn husk for what’s underneath. I had hoped I would die first, love. We tongue each other’s notions of sorrow:
“I was CONFUSED—I was contused / by love.”
I know you. I recognize you. I know your face, though a new feeling of alienation is growing. Don’t you have green eyes? wonders the speaker. Don’t you come from a world fat with green. Bushy?
“The beautiful, unknown disaster occurs—we persist.”
Which is why I resisted reading in the first place. I’d like to come across the page, as a flight. Not every story can be read aloud (orated), but it can nevertheless be alive. Hilliard’s poetry reminds us of this. Then again, or especially so, our central ideological query––the one at hand, this entire time––has been stripped of its saliva. Its mouth dried out. Its meaning is prepared carefully. On the page in front of me, a story splits off into multiple realities. Under a spotlight, we grow together. Holding hands. It’s a bit fraught, this scene. We:
“[a]bdicated the ideological hold & hav questions.”
I couldn’t figure it out. How to say it. The Undercommons, of course:
[It] cannot be denied that the university is a place of refuge, and it cannot be accepted that the university is a place of enlightenment. In the face of these conditions one can only sneak into the university and steal what one can.
As through multiple centuries of slavery’s shaping, the continual imposition of broken subjects and irreparable positionalities. It’s like looking outside and finding there are endless treescapes to behold. We can feel the ramifications of white time, its punctuation. Punctuality. Rasheedah Phillips:
Radical liberation movements reappropriate notions of time and temporality itself, stealing back time to actively create a vision of the future for marginalized people who are typically denied access to creative control over the temporal mode of the future, and redefining that future’s relationship to the past and present.
Every wakeful day produces a wrongful aloneness in Hilliard’s speaker. Their every tissue-layer aching. It’s like binging on an empty stomach. Refreshing. An ocean is a stomach that I've been in before. A stomach is an ocean that I’ve heard before. But quiet still, like:
“slice, slice, slice ; quiet ; slice , / slice, slice, quiet .”
A slice of quiet. I like that rebellious seam.
“I didn’t organize revolution machines ! / I didn’t caste light w/out thota the mean !”
There’s no masking our way out of reality. Was I wrong to look out my eyes while reading? My peripheral vision? If I have any future to look out for, that is. The day after revolution is that total quiet, after it showers us with glee. The fire of daylight burns in my eye, in my cave of subjectivity. It lights the way out of the cave. I happen to be looking in the right direction. Plato:
Now the cave or den is the world of sight, the fire is the sun, the way upwards is the way to knowledge, and in the world of knowledge the idea of good is last seen and with difficulty, but when seen is inferred to be the author of good and right—parent of the lord of light in this world, and of truth and understanding in the other.
Here, I try to rework the knot. With an indiscriminate love of language.
“I don’t confuse learning w education or / autonomy w action.”
That’s great for the speaker. Not all knowledge resists being known. Not all knowledge exists at all.
“The / goal of all knowledge is resistance ? Bet, lol.”
Meaning, in the traditional sense, is out in the rain. It’s getting drenched ruthlessly by some torrential downpour. An error has not yet been rendered fully to its potential. Continually uncovering the surprise of words. In reading MissSettl, meaning is coming to us already thrown out. Disposed of. As quickly as we’re asked to participate in this sense-making game, we’re cast into the ensuing gunfire of the speaker’s imagination. No one knows the true value of a quietly sought-after ghost. Gently sought-after. Hilliard’s speaker is a ghost of themselves. It’s unclear if they was ever alive. A contrapuntal, or to free one’s name. Outwardly it's always the other’s voice speaking. That we are ourselves and the other at the same time. So that way we can tell where the voice is coming from. It’s telling us to move. Sort of flayed out. As if to intentionally bleed out in the street. I refuse to get in the mood to read this book. It refuses to get me in the mood to read it. Is this the construction of a fun selfhood? Is MissSettl what that process looks like? What’s the difference between learning and education? Without these impossible words lingering out there, in possibility, what would we have to aspire towards? I feel like I’m just scraping by as I read these poems, and am justly resisting. Amidst and against the infantile nature of the slave:
“A place of slave labor is not a slave place Ess a place of slave labor / People are slaves in a place of slave labor.”
What place are we in? As it is to be Black, and to be born to be Black. Like going home but without having a home. Making a home when you're not a home yourself. Social mobility and its witnesses are dominant/dormant at some future point in history. They’re allowed to speak. May I be of legal age to speak? Not yet? May I be allowed to be real? People are so full of their own properties, I think. Hilliard infiltrates the poetic page with their subjectivity. Am I trying to take the insouciance of Hilliard’s speaker for granted? Would that make reading MissSettl easier on my psyche? We’re arrested in a social and political situation not of our choosing, or of the speaker’s choosing.
“Instead of help I said save me, save me.”
But who could possibly save the speaker? Is help coming? By the end of MissSettl, we've been in the hell of this collective psyche long enough to kill anything just to get out. As in, if I get thrown out the self one more time, out from the disco lights of self-recognition, I won’t be able to make my way back in. We’re carriers of trauma, after all, like carriers (carrions) of an illness, a virus, which persists. Lynchings don’t explain violence. Nor do state-killings, nor officers of the state. The action, without autonomy, continues:
“Gather , consume / & twist ! Again.”
I’m walled off from others, not yet rendered fully as a person.
“But then again, the university ought to die .”
Or rather, I see me standing there. Alone. Like a rushing moment of personhood, so real I can see myself in it. It took me a long time to get here, to this point. I’m reeling from this (t)error. First today, then tomorrow. Before that, though, I’m here crying for what remains of us, of our story. Then, Hilliard offers a revision of the poem, mid-poem. There is a healing factor to this. Or rather, the poem is a healing place. I love the moon’s frown, which flowers as the night moves. The way I looked before I swarmed away.
“This road takes me home, this road is a bypass, & this road / is under construction .”
A gravesite growing nothing other than moss, which is, in a sense, beautiful. Bones, cadavers, and legally hooded saints. Blackened blue, a yellow reduced to nothing, the swelling of a wound we may (or may not) have.
Order MissSettl from Nightboat here.
Anaïs Duplan is a trans* poet, curator, and artist. His book of essays, Blackspace: On the Poetics of an Afrofuture, was published by Black Ocean in 2022. He is a professor of postcolonial literature at Bennington College and the recipient of a 2022 Whiting Award in Nonfiction. In 2016, Duplan founded the Center for Afrofuturist Studies, a residency program for artists of color, based at Iowa City's artist-run organization Public Space One.