On Oct. 27, members of the Mills College and Oakland community gathered at Miliki Restaurant to hear the West Oakland to West Africa (WO2WA) Poetry Exchange group recite the poetry they’ve been creating throughout the semester.
WO2WA is a group in West Oakland that exchanges poetry with poets in West Africa. Each member of the group in Oakland has been assigned a partner from Africa. WO2WA practices a Japanese style of linked poetry, called Renshi, where each collaborator begins the first line of their poem with the last line of their partner’s poem.
With predominantly Black members, the significance of the group writing Renshi poetry was profound. According to Karla Brundage, MFA student and founder of WO2WA, the chained style of poetry is designed to link WO2WA members back to Africa, despite the negative historical connotation of the term “chained” in the Black community.
Throughout the evening, participants read poems that recalled childhood memories and spoke to their experiences as Black people in America.
“Yellow bones may blacken under the pressure of colorism at the dinner table,” said Tyrice Deane, a Mills student. “I come from young, stretched skin/ Small, heavy frames carrying marked bellies/ Targets for your oppression.”
As more poets took the stage, themes of parental love, intramarital conflict, politics and greed took precedence. Some poets showed disgust at how those with power could take advantage and mistreat those without the resources to challenge them.
“One hundred black people displaced because of a landlord’s greed,” WO2WA poet Zakiyyah G.E Capehart said. “Rats, roaches running amok, but the landlord still wants his buck.”
Additionally, poets called upon their spirituality and culture to bring their poems to life.
“I am from the depths of her existence/ The depths of where life begins/ The depths of time intertwined with the divine,” senior Wild-flower Brashear said.
Another senior, Xiomara Hooker, who has Colombian roots, shared a poem about the Caribbean and African funeral traditions of Nine-Nights, which provides the loved ones of a deceased person an extended period of time to mourn and honor them in their death.
Towards the end of the poem, Hooker described how the rhythm of waves could “cool the ache of a scorched people.” She also referred to the deceased as “our armor; our promise that the sun will set and the night will heal.”
The evening showed people snapping in resonance, laughing, cheering and enjoying the African food of Miliki. As people shared their truths, they exited the stage seeming liberated and relieved that the audience had been so supportive. Additionally, as the night drew on, the audience grew more cheerful, drawing a larger crowd of curious passersby.
WO2WA will continue to have readings and events throughout the academic year, and following graduation in May, they will be embarking upon a trip to Ghana.