Shuddhashar: What is it that you strive to explore and convey through your poetry?
Ramon K. Lee: As a poet, I generally write to explore my feelings and ideas about the different aspects of life. I write about topics, such as love, sexuality, politics, race, gender, and other things that inform my understanding of the world and how I move in it. I try to convey the real and raw emotion that comes with these things, but I also like to convey philosophical ideas and questions to invoke dialogue with my readers.
Shuddhashar: How do you interpret the present world, and how have current events spurred you to write?
Ramon K. Lee: I feel that the present world is an uncertain one. With the pandemic, everyone had been trying to make sense of the world we now live in, but also, the politics and conflicts that started before the pandemic are as alive and vibrant as ever. Political issues seem to be heightened. I feel as though these events have challenged me to learn to write in a different way, to be more global in my ponderings and philosophical questioning. That’s something that I’m still working toward.
Shuddhashar: What literary pieces – poetry, fiction or non-fiction – and writers have informed and inspired your own writing? How have they done so?
Ramon K. Lee: I have always been inspired by the pioneers in African American poetry and writing. My favorites have always been: Langston Hughes, Frederick Douglass, and Maya Angelou, especially for their unique ability to analyze and accurately capture the times, while reflecting upon and relaying their own experiences. A couple of the pieces that I have shared here are inspired by them. Langston Hughes had a unique way of portraying and interpreting the Black experience. His analysis of Blackness and racism is timeless as it deals with the lines of political subjugation and resistance. He essentially redefined what it meant to be Black and seek racial and personal liberation. Maya Angelou reconstructed my understanding of what it meant to a Black woman, but also, she represents resilience and courage in her expression of her experiences and her determination to fight oppression. “Still I Rise” comes to mind with its power and directness.
Shuddhashar: In what way do your personal identity and experiences shape your poetry?
Ramon K. Lee: My personal identity is the basis of my writing. It is hard for me to write without talking about my experience as a Black man. As a Black man, writing has always been a complicated thing. I began writing as a form of therapy and self expression. Over time, it grew more political. It is important for me to express myself, because as a man, you are often taught that sensitivity and expression makes you less of a man. Nonetheless, for me, it is the opposite. It makes you more man, more human. As a writer, you want your work to connect to as many people as possible. You want people to like it and get something from it. As a Black person writing about my experiences and observations, it can be concerning to share your work. People may think that sharing your experiences and opinions is a form of hatred or criticism. People may not connect or relate, but you always hope that they do. I try to write from what I know. I want my words to be felt, but I always want to be genuine and true to myself and my experiences from the words I use and choose to the sentiment of every piece of writing.
Shuddhashar: How do you use structure, language and grammar to accentuate the message of your poetry? Do you subscribe to conventions or break them?
Ramon K. Lee: When it comes to poetry, I have always cared more about style and feeling than structure. However, I am a lover of words, so I try to use standard language in most of my work, unless the message and the style of the poem causes me to break from it. I try to write the poem in a way that conveys the message best to the desired audience or in ways that emphasize its purpose. I believe that words hold more than symbolic meaning. As an anthropologist, I feel that it is important to understand that words are meant to convey experience, giving meaning to the things that happen to and around us. It is important to convey how and why people think, act, and feel certain things. The power of words, for me, is their ability to linger and stay with us, as quotes or lines from our favorite songs, poems, books, or whatever.
Shuddhashar: What is your opinion about the conflicts and solidarities between political poetry and the literary and artistic values of poetry?
Ramon K. Lee: For me, the artistic values of poetry are intrinsically connected to the political aspects of poetic verse. For me, while poetry is always personal, it is also political. I have always thought of creative expression as a means of expressing feelings about all aspects of life, especially political issues and ideas.
Shuddhashar: Does your poetry transcend national boundaries? Does it appeal to different nationalities or linguistic groups?
Ramon K. Lee: My poetry has grown to transcend national boundaries, as I learn more about the world and come to understand the variance of experiences. For the longest time, I was uneasy about writing about the experiences of others, because I felt that one had to be educated in the experiences of others to truly be able to say something substantial. However, I think that it is a manner of perspective, both on how you refer to other people in your writing and the place from which the writing comes. What inspires you to write about someone else? Why? What do you want to relay? I think the best way to understand and explain the perspectives and feelings of others is to talk to them and ask questions. As an anthropologist, I find that this process often reveals just as much about me as it does about them. In other words, having someone share their experiences and emotions helps you to step in their shoes. You can empathize.
The Wars That Wage On
As the flags of Israel rise,
I find myself grieving for Palestine.
As the men stand with in front of the embassy in my city,
In my country,
On an entirely different continent far away,
We shed tears for a conflict that none of us can truly understand.
We speak of outrage and frustration.
But these American hearts
Know little of the war that wages on, thousands of miles away.
We only know the privilege of picking sides,
When we have little at stake.
We sympathize but cannot understand.
The burden of borders.
The separation of families.
The persecution of religious expression.
The palace of riches that our nation allows us to sit in.
But dig deeper and we see persecution within borders.
Hatred in the highlands of the USA
And our complicity in the very things that we rebuke.
We are faced with hypocrisy.
With the ways that we failed our humanity.
As the flags of Palestine falls,
We dream of protected bodies.
A world where people don’t die for difference.
Where conflict is just conflict
And not a euphemism for war and genocide.
Where the boundaries of borders cannot end lives
And the children of “lesser races” are not slaughtered in the streets
Or starved to death to make a point about national representations of justice.
I say a prayer.
For the children of nations lost.
The Jewish children in the land of Israel.
The Palestinian youth protecting and loving their homeland.
The Black Americans with their fists lifted in solidarity.
The masses of humans who just want
Need their lives to matter.
This is a prayer of deliverance.
A prayer that goes something like this…
“Lord, Mother, Universe.
As our flags rise, so too shall our humanity.
The Day That Represented Freedom
They said that Texas was the last hold out
And nobody wanted to let go of the reins of Antebellum America.
But there were others.
The significance of the day remains.
The day of deliverance,
Some would call it.
But for a hundred and fifty-six years,
It was the day that was forgotten.
The day that seemed to be unimportant.
The day that ex slaves and generations of Black people
Almost in secret.
Now, it is the day that it was always meant to be
The day for oppressors to make peace with a few changes in circumstance.
Not just some Black version of American Independence Day
Not just a day to barbecue
Or to be proud to be Black
But a day to remember how far we have come.
A day to celebrate a freedom.
That should have come sooner
And felt like a sham when it arrived
Because the threads of oppression
Of White supremacy were just too thick to cut all at once
It was a day that many of us avoided talking about
Because it was just another unpleasant reminder to White folk
That slavery ever happened.
That Manifest Destiny was a lie,
And “separate but equal” the slogan of subjugation.
It was a day of tolerance.
Where only half of the truth was delivered,
And we were left with Constitutional amendments
That should have been amended
To reflect the reality of our nation
To reflect what really should have happened.
Liberation, some call it.
And even on this 19th day of June
A century and a half later,
We have to declare freedom,
Despite the fact that there are those
That finally acknowledge the significance of the day.
The value of celebrating and acknowledging our freedom.
We collectively declared a doctrine of liberation.
A universal sanctification
A blessed unity of minds, bodies, and spirits.
One that frees us from the foolish frustrations and firm dedication
To principles and practices that stifle the beauty of cultural amalgamation.
So what to the slave is Juneteenth?
What to the White woman whose husband is Black?
What to the White man who cannot connect to the collective Black experience?
What to any of us?
Would the declaration of the day as a national holiday
Silute or dilute its meaning.
The fruits of liberty kissed my lips once.
One time when I believed that the shackles of confinement
Would weaken at a moment’s notice.
I whimpered in disbelief
That the shackles of slavery temporarily let go of my flesh
Released me from anguish,
And I was allowed to fight a Revolutionary War for the good of my country.
This was the lie.
My descendants were told that they would be relinquished if they fought a Civil War for the “right side;”
As they faced off against their brothers who were told the same lies.
Forgetting the words of Sister Harriet, a leader with Revolutionary freedom.
Telling stories of Mother Moses who took fear on a journey to miracled happiness and communal preservation.
The clubs and movements of the Black women galore
Birthed the seeds of a nation,
With blessings in store.
But what said me?
The Negro once a slave,
But the hopes for rest and an easy breath
Healing baths as the waters pour.
Yet, generations of my children fight wars for a presumed enemy.
And the Great America is born from ex-slaves coming to the defense of tyranny.
Brave warriors and liberators saving everyone else,
Without the proper equipment and origin to save themselves.
We are the defenders of the helpless in countries like…
But who defends us at home?
Who are the warriors for the melanated masses?
The guards at our gates?
The security at our doors?
The order built for our protection?
What are the benefits of our membership in American society?
What fruits of labor and rewards of belonging have been gifted to us?
What to the Black American is her citizenship?
Our power exists.
It moves to the rhythm of our bloodlines.
It’s in our bones.
We are greatness.
We are light.
We are amazing.
We are the stars that can’t be touched.
Wisdom that can’t be topped.
A lifetime of endless possibilities,
Extended into a millennium of variations, outcomes, and expectations.
Contesting anything that would dare to hold us down.
We are greatness.
Like the wave of a supernova.
The ashes of the phoenix.
The lightning of Thor.
The grip of Anubis.
The kiss of Aphrodite.
The love of Cupid’s sharpest arrow.
The strength of Hercules’s favorite bicep.
We are the Black Panthers.
We are one.
Generations of warriors,
Standing on the precipice of a beautiful resurrection.
We are golden.
And Just Plain Lit.
Our armor is gorgeous.
Our skin is transformative.
Like the rose.
Like the painting.
The picture of perfection.
Flawed but revolutionary to the point of awakening.
We are gifted.
We are leaders.
We are Black.