August 7, 2022

POETIC PROTEST | VC Poetry Project joins forces with Black Lives Matter – VC Reporter


ON THE PICTURE : Video from the “Dear America” project. Submitted photo

through Elizabeth braun


Black Lives Matter was not the theme Marsha de la O had originally chosen for the Ventura County Poetry Project (VCPP), the poetry group she heads, to write about.

The group, whose members meet three times a year to do public readings of their own original poetry, typically follows broad themes such as climate change or motherhood. This year, the theme was to be the separation of migrant children and parents at the border.

But in late spring, as black voices cried out in pain around the world after George Floyd’s death, de la O knew they had to help. “We knew we wanted to uplift the stories of people of color,” she says.

From this impetus was born the Dear America Project, in which the VCPP asked various poets and writers of color in and around Ventura County “to respond to our current historical moment in any way they chose,” said de la O in an email to VCReporter.

The first initiative, titled “Dear America: We Can’t Turn a Blind Eye,” kicked off in July. As a group of predominantly white poets, the members of the VCPP have had to approach writers outside of their usual circles. The proposed assignment was simple: write a poem about the present moment and take a video of yourself reciting it. Choose the approach you like, no length limit. They wanted to give writers complete freedom to tell their own stories.

The project met with tremendous enthusiasm from black and Latin poets and authors in and around Ventura County, who had experienced racism and were eager to share their struggles. VCPP shared videos of their poetry readings online.

“There has been quite a push to claim ownership of the writing experience,” says de la O.

A collaborator, Sandra Hunter, described sharing her experience as “very, very raw”, but added that she thinks “the more of us talking the better [off] we will be ”in the fight against racism.

Sandra Hunter. Submitted photo

Hunter, who teaches English at Moorpark College, added, “It’s something a lot of us come across on a daily basis, but we don’t talk about it. She hopes that sharing her experience will bring greater awareness, adding that “people who might never see that this is a problem, might see that it is something to stand up for.”

The VCPP typically meets in person, either at the Elizabeth Topping Room of the EP Foster Library in downtown Ventura or at Art City, the Westside Outdoor Masonry Studio and Gallery of Ventura. Going online in the wake of the pandemic, however, has really boosted the popularity of the group and the messages its members are trying to get across. De la O estimates that the videos of “Dear America” poets have garnered more than 7,000 views since their release in September.

The virtual environment has also been beneficial for some writers.

Raquel Baker, professor at California State University, Channel Islands, teaches English but rarely wrote poetry. Playing online has alleviated her discomforts, especially as a black woman in traditionally white spaces.

“The online environment really opened me up to spaces that I wouldn’t have been open to before, for sure,” she says, adding that the effect of each writer speaking from their personal space lends itself well. to the project.

Raquel Baker. Submitted photo

“I just think it’s so cool, the range of people who have been able to come together through this medium,” Baker said. “People that I’ve never worked with, never seen, but when you put our words together, coming from all these different directions. It’s so beautiful. He has that multi-voice register that allows people of color to speak, which comes from so many spaces and directions.

De la O’s husband Phil Taggart, who in addition to leading the VCPP, teaches television and production at El Camino High School, stressed the importance of interracial and intergenerational voices that speak through the poetry. Part of his classes at El Camino involves bringing in elderly immigrants to tell their stories.

“Because we are a kind of separate culture, [young people] don’t even get a chance to talk to these people unless they’re family, ”says Taggart. “These are stories that young people need to know because people are living them these days. “

Taggart and de la O plan to expand this concept in their next installment in this series, titled “Dear America: Telling the World We Lived”. This will feature seasoned poets writing about challenges they have encountered throughout their lives, such as racism, body image issues, or sexism. De la O describes them as “experiences of history which would be history for the young, but which the elderly carry as a memory”.


To learn more about the Dear America Project and to view the video series, visit vcpoetryproject.org/black-lives-matter-poetry-reading-playlist/.