How to Build a Fire

How to Build a Fire


It's so appropriate that I'm writing this on the 3rd day of Kwanzaa because today's principle is Ujima--Collective Work and Responsibility. Ujima is really useful when you're trying to build a fire.

Fire energizes, illuminates, purifies, and if necessary, destroys. But to get the flame going, especially in a storm, you might need the help of some friends.

As I joined fellow poets at the annual Watering Hole Poetry retreat around a campfire last night, near the shore of a postcard-perfect lake in South Carolina, I thought about the power of our collective artistry to literally light up our worlds, and also destroy the fears and false beliefs that hold us back. This is more important than ever now, in this climate of reinvigorated racism and organized confusion. 

But diaspora writers, whose charge it has often been to turn our collective memory into lanterns, are prepared for the challenge. And we can be an inferno together if we really want to.

That's why spaces like these are so important.

I was invited to the retreat as a special guest author, and I've been having a wonderful time talking with participants and offering one-on-one consultations about their writing. This is always a mutually beneficial experience because I also learn things about myself during those exchanges.

That made me think of Ujima. Or as workshop leader Terrence Hayes--winner of the National Book Award and many other honors--put it in his craft talk tonight: "What are we all doing here if not taking care of each other?" Asé and amen, my brother. 

Supporting, inspiring, encouraging, and just seeing each other is a way to shine a light for someone stumbling in the dark, trying to make a make a significant breakthrough.

My walk in poetry has always felt to me like truly being alive. Very early in my life, this art form sparked realizations that birthed new and better versions of me like no other craft was able to do. And I learned that through my work, I could help spark similar realizations for others.

That's the kind of fire you want. When you come together to learn and inspire each other, shine bright, you create a clear a path for those trying to get just a bit closer to their essential selves.

Keep the fire going by joining writing communities and workshops, and open yourself to learning new ways of thinking. And if there isn't a community that exists where you are, start one!

That's what the Watering Hole did to support poets of color in the southern United States. Consider supporting them now as they raise funds to help expand their important work.