Love Cake: Poetry and resistance

Please chip in to support rabble's election 2019 coverage. Support rabble.ca today for as little as $1 per month!

Love Cake
How queer people of colour resist and transform violence through love and desire

The first time I heard Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha's poetry was in a song on Lal's 2008 album Deportation. The track, "Your Body Could Start a War," is about airport security post 9/11. It starts with an eerie warped bass which crashes into a loud and steady beat, followed by an urgent piano to the climax of Piepzna-Samarasinha's vocals: "my lover's tits are explosive -- hips are illegal -- my lip gloss it a bomb and so is my hijab -- we are terrorists for crossing these lines on a map no one but them can see."

As I re-read those lines I can clearly hear her voice in my head. Up until now spoken word was the primary way I consumed poetry. Which is why I thought it would be a bit of a struggle to read a book of poetry. I'm an avid fiction reader and I made the rookie mistake of first trying to read Love Cake like a novel. I finally realized I had to treat these words differently and more tenderly -- a task which at first felt as labouring as trying to slow down breathing after a run. Fortunately, Piepzna-Samarasinha's poems are well worth the process.

Love Cake is Piepzna-Samarasinha's second book of poetry. The U.S.-raised, "Toronto-matured" queer Sri Lankan writer is also a spoken-word artist, activist, event organizer and teacher. Her work has also been featured in many anthologies including Persistence: Still Butch and Femme, Yes Means Yes and The Revolution Starts At Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities.

In an interview, Piepzna-Samarasinha tells me her new collection is really about "surviving violence from a queer and trans people of colour perspective...it looks at the ways in which as communities we find to heal and be resilient from abuse, violence, war and imperialism." Very heavy and complex topics for such a small book but in these few, carefully planned words her poems pierce through suffocating legacies of oppression:

Sri Lankan resiliency miracle love poems 1-9:

5.
Me learning how to cook Sri Lankan food at 23
from cookbooks in the library
taking a name researched in books
I don't know for sure is mine
but know for sure is not
the Dutch East India employee
who raped-I'm sorry, "married"
-my great-great-great-great
grandmother
Who
I know
is mine
unquestionably.

That tiny poem is bursting with insight. It reminds us that not everything needs to be explained with a PhD thesis. Nor do these topics need to be void of humour. When I saw her perform some of the poems at Love Cake's Toronto book launch, the following excerpt had the crowd hollering with laughter:

...And then of course there are the white geeky post-anarchist guys who used to hate me and later loved me and wanted to fuck me because white anarchist boys always want to fuck angry brown girls as a complement to their bell hooks collection.

Did I mention her writing is pretty fearless?

Close to Piepzna-Samarasinha's heart, is the importance of allowing youth access to stories from their ancestors:

"Having a sense of legacy, having a sense of where we come from, that we're not just plopped down in the world rootless is really important...I think that for queer and trans youth of colour it can be really easy -- though it's changing -- to feel like you are the only person in your community who's been queer, who's been trans, who's been a rebel, who's been a resister...I think that one of the purposes of art is to make sure that those stories and that legacy doesn't get destroyed," she said.

Love Cake chronicles Piepzna-Samarasinha's own discovery of and relationship to her ancestors and gives space for the next generation to explore the beautiful and frustrating ambiguities of culture, space and history. This is especially crucial in a country like Canada, and a city like Toronto, which at once opens its doors to immigrants while leaving most other doors locked. The lie is that this process and outcome is natural and unchallengeable.

In "irresistible," a poem set in Toronto, she writes:

If we didn't have Sri Lanka
at least we should have this
these small ten blocks of city
but they make us pack up and leave
every generation
till the idea of a village is impossible
the idea of being from anywhere
for 300 years
ridiculous

Piepzna-Samarasinha's creative work is interwoven with her social justice activism and she is grateful that her generation doesn't feel the need to separate the two. I am also grateful for this since art is often more accessible and digestible than other forms of knowledge sharing. Whenever I think about the value of storytelling and art for social change I recall Welsh novelist Raymond Williams' quote, "to be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing."Ellie Gordon-Moershel

Ellie Gordon-Moershel is a Toronto-based podcaster with the F Word Media Collective.

related items

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.