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A poet who holds ‘the men behind the music’ accountable

Platinum
BY IMANI DAVIS

How easily we forget that stars are fires, too.
Someone has burned, and that is what makes them shine.
Instead of fearing the flame, their fans name them
Kodak, or R. Kelly, Eminem, or Chris, or James Brown, and listen
to their hot new narration of the end of a woman’s world.
If we wanted to, I believe we could
trace every explosion back
to a man not being sorry
for what he has done. One day,
someone’s son hardens
into dynamite and an audience gathers
around his bright and deadly light.
What a way to make music.
By building a beat
out of the crack
of a woman’s bones.
In the 80s, my aunties listened to secular music in secret,
snuck off to detonate into a man’s
right answer (or at least a good flavor
of wrong). The lyrics taught them to accept
any cruel guess at
love a man tossed at their feet. Patriarchy
is my family tree turning to cinder
while a man soundtracks the funeral
rites. Record grief on a loop
and I promise it’ll be a hit.
Blood can dry into platinum if you let it, and I am
a dull tooth biting back at men who do not know
they are dangerous. They listen
to the same love songs as
their fathers. Call them
classic. Ignore the blood drying
on the piano keys. In the confessional
of a dim house party, boys forgive
Kodak Black and forgive
Chris Brown and forgive
their friends who do not ask
permission and call this brotherhood.
At a barbeque, I look to my elders
for guidance. But men forgive
R. Kelly and forgive
James Brown and forgive

the uncles who touch babies and call
these the good old days. What is a man
but culprit or bystander. Lit match
or keeper of matchsticks.
On the B side of every 45
is a woman turned to smoke.
Because generations change more often than men do.
My mother serves as proof. She is
a vinyl record waiting for a man to notice
the scratches he’s left.
Maybe this is my inheritance.
The ache of knowing
the men behind
the music would kill us
and watching everyone sing along.
The nerve to call these
love songs. It’s Christmas,
and my mother creaks
the radio to the news
of James Brown’s death. She mourns
but does not sing.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Next, we turn to another installment of our weekly Brief But Spectacular series.

    Imani Davis is a poet and an undergraduate fellow at the University of Pennsylvania.

    Her piece tonight explains why artists need to be held accountable for their work.

  • Imani Davis:

    This poem is called "Platinum." It was inspired by the many brave woman and binary folks and men coming forward during the MeToo movement.

    How easily we forget that stars are fires, too. Someone has burned, and that is what makes them shine. But instead of fearing the flame, their fans name them Kodak Black or Chris Brown or Eminem or R. Kelly, and listen to their hot new narration of the end of a woman's world.

    If we wanted to, I believe we could trace every explosion back to a man not being sorry for what he has done. One day, someone's son hardens into dynamite, and an audience gathers around his bright and deadly light. What a way to make music, by building a beat out of the crack of a woman's bones.

    In the '80s, my aunties listened to secular music in secret, snuck off to detonate into a man's right answer or a good flavor of wrong. The lyrics taught them to accept any cruel guess at love a man tossed at their feet. Patriarchy is my family tree turning to cinder while a man soundtracks the funeral rites. Record grief on repeat, and I promise it'll be a hit.

    Blood can dry into platinum if you let it, and I am a dull tooth biting back at men who do not know they are dangerous. They listen to the same love songs as their fathers did, call them classic, ignore the blood drying on the piano keys.

    And in the confessional of a dim house party, boys forgive Kodak Black and forgive Chris Brown and forgive their friends who do not ask permission and call this brotherhood. At a barbecue, I look to my elders for guidance. But men forgive R. Kelly and forgive James Brown and forgive the uncles who touch babies and call these the good old days.

    What is a man, but culprit or bystander, lit match or keeper of matchsticks? On the B-side of every 45 is a woman turned to smoke, because generations change more often than men do. And my mother serves as proof.

    My mother is a vinyl record waiting for a man to notice the scratches he's left. And maybe this is my inheritance. Knowing the men behind the music would kill me and watching everyone sing along.

    It's Christmas, and my mother creaks the radio to the news of James Brown's death. She mourns, but doesn't sing.

    I think that people are drawing too big of a distance between art and the people who create it. People are being hurt in the process of making these things that we claim are so beautiful and so worth, like, consuming, hurt by people who really believe that their actions don't have anything to do with what they produce.

    And I think those two things are so linked, and we have to be more careful about acknowledging and being attentive to people's identities and people's pain.

    Being someone who make things and writes, I know that, like, my art is always pulling from my life and always pulling from things that I have experienced and things that people who I'm very close to have experienced.

    And I feel like it's not doing those stories justice for us to just act like art comes out of nowhere, because it doesn't.

    My name is Imani Davis, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on connecting the artist to the art.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you can watch more Brief But Spectacular videos on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.

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