Community Voices: On art and censorship, Junauda Petrus’ open letter to the city of Minneapolis

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On Monday, Dec. 26, Junauda Petrus – recently named one of City Pages’ Top Artists of 2016 – wrote an open letter criticizing the city of Minneapolis for removing her poem, “A Prayer for Pussies,” from the public art illuminated lantern project soon to be installed on Nicollet Mall. Since Petrus first penned the letter, both the Loft Literary Center and Minneapolis City Council Member Alondra Cano have publicly come out in support of Petrus. Below is the full text of Petrus’ letter and poem.

I give thanks to the sacred, indigenous ancestors to this land and the ways they are influencing spirits in these times as we continue the journey to light and justice. I gives thanks to the ancestors of my blood, who guide my heart and have paved the way for my life as a healer through the realm of art. May I honor their memory by living into my truth.

I learned two weeks ago that a poem I wrote that was to be made into a steel-sculptured and illuminated lantern for the reconstruction of the Nicollet Mall, would not be accepted by the city of Minneapolis due to its content. The piece was called “A Prayer for Pussies” and was my love letter to this city and this time. It was for all of us who are feeling disempowered by the powers at be. As a poet, I am positioned, prepared and tasked to be unflinching in my clarity of the now. I am indignant to this censorship by the city of Minneapolis, especially when there is a renaissance of elected, emboldened, hate-filled and money-driven bigots who do not love this world like I do. I will not be silenced or confused while they are revered and bowed down to.

Three talented poets and I were selected to create original pieces for this endeavor. We are First Nation and first generation, Muslim and Queer, Minneapolis-born and diasporic, all of us with poet hearts. As part of our process, we held dear to us the gravity of creating poetic works that would live on in our city’s landscape long enough for our grandchildren to behold. These poems wouldn’t live quietly on a page and discretely on a shelf, but would shine and hang over the heads of all the people who walked down Nicollet Mall for a long, long time. We were responsible. How would we capture this world, this moment, our own hearts and the heart of the city within our words?

And the year of our writing was 2016. A year that has been defining to Minneapolis’ soul as well as our nation’s. We tragically lost a sacred and truth speaking poet, Kirk Washington Jr., who was intensely in love with jazz and justice and whose example of soulfulness inspired and touched me deeply. We lost Prince Rogers Nelson, deity of funk, sensuality and gospel truths. He was divine essence and soul royalty, and purple was code for our devotion. Then this world witnessed alongside his partner and her child, the breath theft and birth into ancestorhood of Philando Castille by an armed and deputized servant to the state. This state.

These three ancestors inspired one of my poems, but more importantly, provoked a fierce resolve as an artist and lover committed to ancestral healing and psychic reclaiming to mark this time with my own truth. And this is the time. Fear and an addiction to the failing and falling phallus of white supremacy has taken presidency. Right now a pantheon is being assembled to protect and empower the right for deranged thinking, soul-lessness, rape culture and white supremacy to continue to be central to “American” identity and its experience. That was the America claimed by “the forefathers” and the one attempted to be “Made Great Again.” Enslavers of stolen souls, rapists, liars, thieves of land and architects of the American caste system is their legacy, men ensuring only their own freedoms as they proclaimed to identify with liberty. They lived and codified this lie. This fact is not to be forgotten or gotten twisted, that is the truth of America. If you ain’t know, go ask your mama.

There are those of us who understand the experiment of America and have always seen and been victimized by its fallacies. And with us, walk our ancestors who resisted and healed at every turn of destruction and spiritual deracination. And they were magical, rhythmic and soulful as they did. They ostracized lies, assumed freedom, held rituals and then wrote poetry about it so we could always remember. That is the legacy I pray leads my pen.

“A Prayer for Pussies” is an affirmation to womyn of all paths, our fearlessness and our wildness. To Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, the true architects of freedom and fierceness. To Grace Lee Boggs who fought and stayed radical for a century until the day she returned back to essence. To Shirley Chisolm who would never be bought and truly led out of love for the people. To Winona LaDuke who’s humble, brilliant and ancestrally connected and just fly. A “Prayer for Pussies” is for those of us who have literally or metaphorically had some confused, masturbatory, soul derelict, grab your sacredness and see the world applaud and honor them. The mamas, sisters, nieces and aunties of the world. I am talking the real revolutionaries whose names we will never know, who go out and attempt to save the world everyday and then go home to make nourishing meals and clean their house, possibly while even bleeding from between their legs. The warriors of light and sweetness. Like I said, this fact is not to be forgotten or gotten twisted, that is the truth of America.

Regardless of being censored by the city of Minneapolis, I as a poet am accountable to my interior excavations for truth. I believe I am here to soul sweeten through loving on the community and reflecting our light through the prism and experience of creativity. America has a chronically diseased soul and right now, as always, silence ain’t golden, it’s convenient, weak and always genocidal. Artists are the descendents of healers and mystics and we cannot rest. We are not decorators of life, but witnesses and alchemists to transformation.

 

Radically and Magically,

 

Junauda Juanita Petrus

 

A Prayer for Pussies

Grown women know that feeling.
You a little girl under all that skin.
All of that life and holding back.
All of that gray coochie hair
And planted placentas under the tree the kids climb,
when hiding from spankings.
Under piles of unpaid bills and expired lottery tickets.
In your shadow sits that girl within.
Wise and wild.
Quiet and unforgiving.
Indignant and quick.
Clitoris driven.
An emotional wreck with soulful perfection.
Plotting on wildness
You start thinking:
Remember when I was all one hot heat?
One red ferocious flash?
One smooth sweet licorice?
One free flying unknown?

3 thoughts on “Community Voices: On art and censorship, Junauda Petrus’ open letter to the city of Minneapolis

  1. Pingback: Community Voices: On art and #censorship , Junauda Petrus’ open let… | Dr. Roy Schestowitz (罗伊)

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  3. Over and over my friends, relatives, and I have marveled at the truth this poem expresses. The title of the poem is entirely appropriate for 2016.

    But we have to remember, becoming an official often creates a different kind of pussie: the kind whose actions protect status and employment.

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