the louderARTS Project

Walidah Imarisha of Good Sista|Bad Sista

Described as "a homegirl with a hand grenade", Walidah uses her words to spark crowds. A historian at heart, reporter by day she stays true to the cause by "slapping ya ass silly with knowledge."

Not long after winning the first poetry slam she attended, Walidah went on to represent Portland, Oregon at the 1999 National Poetry Slam competitions in Chicago. The following year, she earned a seat on the west coast leg of the 2000 Slam America Bus Tour. As Portland's Grand Slam Poetry Champion she made her second appearance at 2000 Nationals in Rhode Island.

Walidah 's style slices and dices hip-hop inspired verbage with personal narrative. Author of children of ex-slaves: the unfinished revolution, Walidah 's words have appeared in the Portland Alliance, In Struggle, the Student Insurgent, AWOL, as well as on-line magazines. After outgrowing her work with the college newspaper, she started her own, which remains in print after 3 years. Her performances have been featured on Travel Channel's The Tourist show, the Multi-Voice CD taped live at 2000 Nationals, as well as several radio shows.

Walidah 's brought her poetic stylings to hip hop shows, performing with Northwest known bands; Source of Labor, Lifesavas and Black Anger, as well as with New York's Neosapiens. After moving east, she was a finalist in the Def Poetry Jam's Philadelphia competition, where 87 poets were culled down to 15. She has featured at the Nuyorican, Urbana, throughout Jersey as well as various venues in the Northwest. In addition to reaching out to adult audiences, Walidah has shared her poetic presence and insights with youth in the Portland public schools as well as a private New Jersey school.


On a trip to visit my step father
In south carolina,
I find myself lost and out of place.
I hear them exclaim,
"She what? She don't eat meat? Well what does she eat then?"
and I shrink into myself.
They eye my wild hair and my strange clothes,
They hear my northern gait
And I know they wonder at this lost child
Among them
Who hasn't sense enough to see she is home,
At least at a friendly way station.

I feel
in a culture of elders and power dynamics
And I don't know this dance
And I never could dance anyway.
I never learned how to give respect
And keep self-respect at the same time,
Thinking it's a quantitative amount,
And I need all that shit for me,
Without understanding that
It was never mine to begin with.
It was borrowed from
These old black southern folk
Who call you honey chile
(and they really do say that with a southern drawl;
I thought that shit was just in the movies)
Who meet you at the door with warm hands
And sagging stockings
When you visit
(Cause folks down there have time to go a visiting
Or they make time for it),
Apologies dropping from their lips:
"I'm sorry I got nothing to offer you
But you know times is hard."

For these folks
Time's have always been hard
For those who wear 400 years of slavery and sharecropping
On their faces,
Carry it in their cheeks,
But who don't let it slip onto their tongues
To flavor their spit
Like sugar cane
Cut fresh from the stalk
And if you ain't got a knife,
Well that's why the lord gave you them teeth,
They told me.
So I ripped the skin off,
Bit and chewed,
The sweetness filling my mouth and I knew I was tasting
Childhoods of heat and cotton bowels
And dirt roads and all the other romantic southern black folks shit
My active imagination could manufacture.
I wanted to take those sugar cane stalks home to the cold city,
Nail them up to my walls,
Crisscrossing like samurai swords,
Crucified to my wall,
Sweet sap slinking down the paper like blood
Dripping from old wounds
From every billboard posted on busy highways:
"Magnolia Plantation: experience the real south."
They call spas "plantations" down here,
Where white folks want to relieve "gone with the wind,"
At least the part before the civil war sets in.

I now love southern small all black towns
But white southerners still make me nervous.
When I look at their faces
I can see flames licking at their features,
Shadows reflected by burning crosses and a scarred history.

My step father is an old preacher man
Who drops knowledge and history from his tongue,
Telling stories of war
And stories of segregation
And it is often difficult to tell the two apart.
"This guy I know, I want you to meet him.
He's... well, he's a radical, let me just leave it at that.
He's the kinda man...
When I was a boy, he woulda been the kind of man
To wake up in the middle of the night
To his house burning all around him."

I look out the car window as he casually tells me this,
And stare at the trees that look misshappen somehow,
And I realize it's the moss,
That strange moss hanging from southern trees,
Blanketing the air,
And I wonder if bodies hung from those branches in the moss,
Resigned and silent,
Holding their breaths,
"This used to be a cotton and watermelon place,"
He motions,
"That's what they used to plant.
Now they don't plant nothin...
All the young folks are up the road or on the road,
Because after the great migration,
Black folks just don't stay like they used to.
If they don't like it,
Why, they just up and leave,
Head onto the next town..."

I moved to Philadelphia,
But it's funny with all our moving and searching
We have yet to get to the promised land.
Ain't even caught a glimpse of it.
Roads blur together
And towns lose consistency
As we continue moving up the road
On the road
Trying to leave ghosts that can run just as fast as we can.

There's a fear that burns through these
Southern elders who want to touch my wild and untamed natural hair,
Who can't pronounce my name, and shorten it to "his child."
It's a fear of their children
Who refuse to be plowed and seeded into rows,
To have the sun burn their heads and backs,
To wither in times of drought,
And we are in the longest drought
But no one will speak of it,
Except these youth, whose voices flail and toss uneasy,
Who speak with harsh accents and empty futures
In these black poor towns
Where some houses lean like shanties
And some men-children shade their eyes
In speak-easies,
Drinking to wash the taste of sugar cane out of their mouths.

© Walidah Imarisha

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