Close Reading The Emergency!: Black Study Prompts

A collection of thought-provoking writing & generative prompts provided by featured guests Coco Fusco, D.S. Marriott, & Dante Micheaux of CAAPP's CLOSE READING THE EMERGENCY!.


Coco Fusco

First, please visit the Carnegie International which opens on September 24. There will be work by artist LaToya Ruby Frazier that is about African-African community health workers in Baltimore who have been dealing with the pandemic.

I would like people to spend some time thinking about what art can tell us about this terrible human tragedy of loss, and how we ritualize death. I would also like to talk about the politics of health care.


Dante Micheaux

Identify the oldest, living Black person you know and ask them who is the oldest, living Black person they know. Once you have an answer, visit the latter and ask them to teach you something that you do not know how to do. Learn. Practice. Practice until you can teach the lesson. Teach someone else. Write down you memory of the entire process, including the minutest detail.


D.S. Marriott

Imagine the world coming to an end: what will you do? Will you reach back before everything began, take stock, rise up, or will you just curl up into a circle? Indeed, would you even notice it?  Consider the following poems: then imagine yourself on a threshold, thinking about something dying or emergent; that moment when all sense and experience comes to an end. Then try and imagine what comes after….


A Song on the End of the World

Czeslaw Milosz

On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.

On the day the world ends
Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.

And those who expected lightning and thunder
Are disappointed.
And those who expected signs and archangels’ trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.

Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he’s much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
There will be no other end of the world,
There will be no other end of the world.

Warsaw, 1944



Musee des Beaux Arts

W. H. Auden 

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.



Catch the Fire

Sonia Sanchez

(Sometimes I wonder:
What to say to you now
in the soft afternoon air as you
hold us all in a single death?)
I say—
Where is your fire?
I say—
Where is your fire?
You got to find it and pass it on.

You got to find it and pass it on
from you to me from me to her from her
to him from the son to the father from the
brother to the sister from the daughter to
the mother from the mother to the child.

Where is your fire?  I say where is your fire?
Can’t you smell it coming out of our past?
The fire of living…not dying
The fire of loving…not killing
The fire of Blackness…not gangster shadows.
Where is our beautiful fire that gave light
to the world?
The fire of pyramids;
The fire that burned through the holes of
slaveships and made us breathe;

The fire that made guts into chitterlings;
The fire that took rhythms and made jazz;

The fire of sit-ins and marches that made
us jump boundaries and barriers;
The fire that took street talk sounds
and made righteous imhotep raps.
Where is your fire, the torch of life
full of Nzingha and Nat Turner and Garvey
and DuBois and Fannie Lou Hamer and Martin
and Malcolm and Mandela.
Sister/Sistah  Brother/Brotha  Come/Come

Catch the fire and burn with eyes
that see our souls:
Hey.  Brother/Brotha.  Sister/Sista.
Here is my hand.
Catch the fire…and live.


Close Reading The Emergency!: Spring Series

Marwa Helal

One possible way out of the (or an) emergency is through slippage, through chaos, through the accidental, through the generative power of a mistake where your mind bridges a gap into new meaning. It is a trickster instinct to take what is received and remove or remake the sense of it. Whether the original speech is banal or violent, through a mishearing it can be alchemized into something that offers us different possibilities. “Bullet in the belly” can become “bully in the belfry.” Taking its cue from Harryette Mullen’s “Kirstenography,” this prompt asks you to remember/create/conjure up your favorite mondegreen(s) (or mishearings) and build a poem around them; one that ironizes or reshapes the original speech into a broader field of language and association.

Quenton Baker

Using Naomi Shihab Nye’s telling poem below answer the following questions:

  1. How old were you when you first noticed the emergency? And how did you respond? What did you feel? What did you do to remember yourself? (answer in a timed freewrite; write everything that comes to mind without editing for 5-15 minutes)
  2. Use Nye’s title: “Please Describe How You Became a Writer” in your own poetic intervention(s)
  3. PS. don’t forget to add an attribution

                                     (after Naomi Shihab Nye)

Please Describe How You Became a Writer    
Naomi Shihab Nye

Possibly I began writing as a refuge from our insulting first grade textbook. Come, Jane, come. Look, Dick, look. Were there ever duller people in the world? You had to tell them to look at things? Why weren’t they looking to begin with?