by Nicholas Nichols“The artist cannot and must not take anything for granted, but must drive to the heart of every answer and expose the question the answer hides.” - James Baldwin
Do not read this and think of me perfect, whole, and categorical. I am a person who has turned to lyric to say the hard thing, to do the labor of raising bodies, and restarting hearts. I rely on words to manifest my miracles. I make prayers of these poems.
“I don’t contemplate, I meditate, then off your fucking head / This that put-the-kids-to-bed…” - Kendrick Lamar; DNA.
Consider truth a light, then consider our identities prisms for which truth to filter itself. The body is a crowd of prisms, truths reckoning the body a new truth. I have the need for the poem to do many things at once, even if you do not notice it.
Consider Jamaal May and their poem “I Do Have A Seam”.
You should know the poem is a contrapuntal, which means the poem can be read column-to-column, and across. Also, you should know the poem can also be read backwards, if read across. You should also know that Kendrick Lamar’s latest project – DAMN. – can be experienced backwards. I argue the black person artist speaks in code, that their work mirrors the artist’s complicated relationship with language.
Consider how the artists tells on themselves. May’s placement of “here” at the middle of the two column to draw attention to the space between one line to the other is more of a skip rather than a leap. How the poem is shaped after a zipper how we naturally follow the zipper in it’s unraveling, but we can follow it back to it’s beginning. Lamar unravels as well; through time and space Lamar lens us to-and-from the moment that made DAMN. possible. Both pieces simultaneously excavate a center of hurt for the artist, but will reveal the beauty found in their pain.
Both May and Lamar beckons the viewer to follow them to the end and return to the beginning. What is gained by this? In May’s case we’re meet with the two distinct moments that love brings us: either in defense of our attempt or a loyal participant walking down memory lane. In Lamar’s case the album makes us specters haunting Lamar’s life. DAMN. begins in blood, but ends in mercy. DAMN. can also begin in mercy, and end in blood.
Why the option? Why the consideration? Is it because the artist unlike in reality have full control over the landscape of their work? Can May and Lamar be considered time travelers upset with the idea that time is linear? That their subtle refusal of the linear is to draw us closer to the idea that past hasn’t just happened, but is always happening? Can the artist be trusted with time if they are willing to bend it? Do our memories become hostages to our trauma or agents in our healing?
I do not know. I know that "I Do Have a Seam" has made me cry, because I too have looked at time as a sweet escape and a constant reoccurrence.