As a dynamic queer Black artist from the Bay Area, Vanessa received national attention in 2017 with her organization Reclaim UGLY, which was featured in Vice, Wear Your Voice Magazine, and RaceBaitr, and which educates communities about what uglification is and how it works to marginalize people who don’t fit the normative notions of beauty or respectability, rejecting those standards and finding a way to feel beautiful in one’s own skin. Prior to founding Reclaim UGLY, Vanessa was the senior and co-managing editor for feminist magazines Black Girl Dangerous and Everyday Feminism, an instructor at multiple Bay Area Community College and grassroots art organizations, the fundraising and development coordinator for the Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project, and the artistic director of the queer Black liberatory theatre project, Congregation of Liberation.
Mail art has often been understood as a participatory, collective, and intimate poetic exercise. How to write and share poetry collectively during a pandemic? This summer, I had the pleasure of working closely with a group of dynamic young writers in a creative research collective that utilized virtual poetry postcards. To help foster connections, conversations, and creativity across Zoom screens, the students created a virtual poetry project where they shared an image and poem every week with one another.
I’m very excited to be here with Andrea Quaid and everyone today for collective conversations on feminist poetics and pedagogy. Like to many people, the two may not seem like conjoined subjects. I also admit I don’t purport to know much about the intersections of the two. I’ve explored both separately — pedagogy in the classroom, the jail, the digital space; poetry on the page, the classroom, in jars …. I’m excited either way for an exploration of both poetry and pedagogy, two passions that should intersect for me. Upon conversations with Andrea over the years, we’ve been keen to understand that as feminists engaged with poetics, our interests and work in pedagogy have often not had a space for the two to intersect. Why should feminist poets reclaim pedagogy as our own? In the symposium we’re hoping for a space that can facilitate this conversation.
The first thing I want to say to you who are students, is that you cannot afford to think of being here to receive an education: you will do much better to think of being here to claim one …
In this series, I’ve been exploring poetry through intersections with visual art, cinema, and new media. Through taking up the question of the politics of play, I’m interested in exploring how playing across genres, mediums, forms, disciplines, and departments, etc. makes for new kinds of innovative art, thinking, community, and specifically poetry. In doing so, the hybridity of practices better intervenes and gestures toward transformative futures.