“I want my stuff back,” says spoken word artist Lady Brion.
“Uh uh, Miley! You ain’t slick, bending over Robin don’t make you thick.”
This was the start of the evening for D. Watkins’ book release, The Cook Up. The evening consisted of poetry, history, comedy, and lessons from East Baltimore life. The reading was in the Learning Commons building on Maryland Avenue. Many guests who attended left with something insightful or something to ponder harder about. The room was brightly lit, with guest pouring in minute after minute.
Lady Brion was one of the three poets introducing the author with vivid descriptions of emotions Black women feel. The evening consisted of this theme: the lives and emotions of Black people. Lady Brion opened with “The Twerk Poem.” She reclaimed culture while defining misappropriation of Black culture and Black bodies. Her poem grew from the connection twerking has to ancestry, being labeled as a “hoe”, and finally the famous quote from rapper Nicki Minaj, “Miley What’s good?” She introduced two other poets, detailing the plight sexual abuse of young Black women while the other contrasted with female sexuality.
She spoke on being abused, saying:
“[This poem] was a way to reclaim my body against my sexual abuser. I shoot the man that made me victim. I shoot the man to make him victim. I shoot the man that told me my womanism is of the devil as if he knew the demons that troubled me.”
The contrast came with the following, “I wear this black ink over my body like henna or hickies.” The final poet used the distance of the metaphor, equating words to sex and the excitement she feels when writing a poem. These poems encompass pleasure and pain- themes discussed in “The Cook Up.”
Nia Johnson moderated the rest of the evening, introducing the person we had been waiting for: Mr. D. Watkins. Watkins has a particular charm found in Baltimore natives, displayed in his use of humor to break the ice. He describes the walk onto the stage like, “I walked into class late.” It was his choice to start the evening with the female poets and female moderator because, “Males dominate panels. I am tired of the same male voices. Give respect to the women voices.” Watkins explains how the women is his life have been a driving force and a key factor in the Black community. He then begins to describe his newest creations as a book about humanity.
He wants to give a voice to the dead but more importantly, Watkins’ wants to encourage literacy and extracurricular reading for his students. Watkins acknowledges the importance of education and reading comprehension. He made a joke in which he says generations and generations of people do not read could be referred to as Trump supporters. He goes deeper into meanings and ideas in his book like the war on drugs/drug trade, life after being arrested, and the “crabs in the barrel” phrase.
For those unfamiliar with the phrase crabs in a barrel can best be described as: “If I can’t have, you can’t either.” A crab that crawls to the top is pulled down by other crabs. Most often used when describing social situations referring to those in less affluent areas and mostly areas filled with minorities. He hates the phrase, giving audience members this idea to think on- is a barrel a crab’s natural habitat? Are the crabs pulling each other down or trying to save the crab from what is on the other side?
“War on drugs was created to get rid of hippies and Black people. Nixon planted the seed,” Watkins says, “Nixon planted the seed. Reagan and Bushed fertilized and the Clintons harvested it.” He drives the point home about the drug trade that many people are caught in- “We don’t blame the victim. Blame the society that creates these issues.” He neither demonizes nor glorifies the way of life. He then spoke on his writing process.
“I rewrote the book four time, due to legal reasons. Some things you can and can’t talk about. [Initially] the book had 45 secondary characters. Growing up in a city like Baltimore, your life is full of secondary characters.”
This book is a quicker, easier read with short 2-3 page chapters. He reads excerpts from the book, detailing “bullets ripped through adolescent faces,” and the “rules of the game.” While the evening was bigger than the release of his newest book, both furthered the discussions of life in East Baltimore and the importance of understanding the lives that many Baltimore natives have to live.