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Arts + CultureLitNursing poems while fighting police terror: Asantewaa Boykin's 'Love,...

Nursing poems while fighting police terror: Asantewaa Boykin’s ‘Love, Lyric, and Liberation’

The Oakland-Sacramento writer, activist, and emergency room nurse debuts a collection of urgent, 'hungry' poems

In the introduction to Asantewaa Boykin, RN’s new book of poems, Love, Lyric, and Liberation (Nomadic Press), Cat Brooks, the longtime community activist who co-founded the Anti Police Terror Project with Boykin, says she embodies the slogan, “We Take Care of Us.” But, she writes, “the greatest joy, our sisterly communion and connection, has always been art.”

Boykin says her art and activism are connected.

“At some point, I was writing about things that I wanted to do something about, and that spun me right off into activism,” she said. “I understand now how art and movements are connected.”

Besides being an activist and writer, Boykin is also an emergency room nurse, and she paints as well. Music also has a big impact on her and her writing. That’s why the title of her book includes the word “Lyric,” she says, speaking about one of the poems in it, “Metaphysical Make-Up of Kendrick Lamar.”

“I had this moment when I was like, ‘Yo, a lyricist is going to save us,’” she said. “I do a lot of listing in my poems, and you know how East Coast rap has those hard lines and West coast rap is more flow-y. Music also influenced “Treble Clef & A Whole Note.”

Boykin remembers the first poem she wrote, when she was 11 or 12. It was called “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” “I drew a little picture around it,” she said. “It was real cute.” Her grandmother gave her some feedback on it that she’s always remembered. “She said, ‘Next time, be more original.’” Boykin said. “So, I definitely took that advice to heart and made sure the thoughts I’m conveying in earnest are mine.”

The book has several poems titled “Psalms of Brujas,” with a chapter and verse, like “Psalms of Brujas 4:1,” which starts:

I’m not royalty
I’m omnipotent
Don’t believe me
Ask Jesus

Boykin says these poems are meant to be affirmations and declarations—their vulgarity trying to invoke something in the reader.

“Black women and women of color, a lot of our traditional magic has been dulled,” Boykin said. “I wanted these Songs of Witches to awaken something.”

Boykin’s poems also have a lot of humor, as in “Missed Call.”

Hello, higher self
I saw you called
My ringer was off
Been a little consumed with
“To do” list
And measuring my worth
Against Facebook posts.
Holding grudges
Eating pain
Avoiding confrontation
Is a full time job

Boykin finds liberation in writing and hopes readers will experience that as well. In the poem, “Fear,” Boykin writes a letter to that emotion. 

Dear Fear,
You are no longer welcome
This heart has no room for your scorn
For your forked tongue or ill wishes
Your self-destructive tendencies 

Boykin says the poem was freeing to write. 

“At one point I decided to remove that word from my vocabulary instead of calling every apprehension that,” she said. “I wrote the poem to kind of seal that intention off.”

In a blurb for the Love, Lyric, and Liberation, Dr. Ayodele Nzinga, the Poet Laureate of Oakland, describes Boykin’s poems as hungry. Boykin says that makes sense to her. 

“I hadn’t thought of them that way until I read that,” she said. “There’s definitely a wanting that comes across and a sense of urgency.”

As an emergency room nurse, Boykin works intense 12-hour days. But she says her schedule, with four days off a week, means that she can have a whole other life as a writer. If a line strikes her, she will record it on her cell phone, and go back later and work on it. Her friends are used to getting texts from her, at all hours, with snippets of poems. 

Now living in Sacramento, Boykin says a lot of her activism is still focused on ending police terrorism as well as radical movements inside health care. She’s looking forward to Nomadic Press’s online launch of her book on May 7, and a couple of events, including on May 15 at the Brickhouse in Sacramento as well as one on June 16 at the East Bay Arts Alliance

Boykin looks forward to sharing her poetry at these events.

“I’m getting to understand myself as an artist,” she said. “I’m saying things out loud and taking time to invest in myself as an artist.”

 Asantewaa Boykin’s Love, Lyric, and Liberation comes out May 7 on Nomadic Press. More info here. 

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