What is spoken-word poetry? For El Jones, Halifax’s poet laureate, the medium is expansive: it is “hip hop, theatre, song, poetry, movement,” it is a liberation tool, and an “Afrikan art form.” In the introduction to Live from the Afrikan Resistance!, Jones’s first collection, she writes that “language is a powerful weapon of resistance and should be used with responsibility, in the service of people, and with consciousness of what needs to be said.”
Readers who are not familiar with black-activist writing may balk at the spelling of “Afrikan,” yet the “k” is a deliberate rejection of the colonial ethos and identity imposed on people from the continent and across the diaspora. Jones’s poetry brings this sentiment to life with a chilling rawness.
In “War on Black Women,” the poet draws a grim contrast between the plights of the disenfranchised and the unwitting privilege of their white counterparts: “Crimes against white women, international crisis / But Black women meet with a wall of silence.”
Jones is a strong opponent of silence, using her poetry to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves. In “Omar Khadr,” she advocates on behalf of the Canadian citizen and child soldier, who was one of the youngest captives to be held in Guantanamo Bay detention camp. “When he was close to his last breath and less than 100 pounds of bone and flesh / And what would you do if you were fighting in self-defence? / Especially if you were only a kid of 15.”
In “Toxic Legacy,” Jones speaks up for the environment, connecting colonialism to corporate exploitation: “There’s a connection between landfills / And our peoples being killed / Between environmental damage and our physical, spiritual, and mental damage.”
Jones’s poetry is powerful and emotional, binding a dark history of subjugation, cultural destruction, and displacement in a single volume. Yet her words should not only be seen, but heard. I urge readers to watch Jones’s performances online and to read her poetry aloud to feel the full potency of her prose. Because spoken word is ultimately a rejection of silence.