Poet’s Note

I first realized that I was a multiracial person in kindergarten. When my mother came to eat lunch with me one day at school, her presence bewildered some of the other children. Many asked me afterwards if I was adopted. One even followed up the question with a matter-of-fact declaration: “You look nothing like your mom.” How does this blonde-haired, light-eyed, fair-skinned child belong to this Black woman? She was frequently mistaken for the nanny, given countless double takes and stare downs. As I grew older, I began to search for a tangible sense of identity. When I heard a story about my mother’s great-grandfather from Haiti, my young mind fashioned herself a Frenchman. It was not until much later that I understood the terrible irony of this “adoption.”

My undergraduate work in French led me to the poem “Un coup de dés jamais n'abolira le hasard” (“A Throw of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance”) by the French symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé. Its strange spacing, varied typefaces, and resistance to meaning drew me in like nothing I had ever read before. As I struggled to articulate the “searching” theme for this issue of Symposeum, Mallarmé’s poem called to me again, its black and white imagery more vivid than ever before. The idea that my mother never imagined me as I am—in this pale yellow body—collided with the shipwrecks in Mallarmé’s verse.

Inspired by the Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers—who reimaged Un coup de dés in a purely visual manner, blacking out its words as if they were censored—I reconceived Mallarmé’s piece as an erasure poem. Instead of Broodthaers’ black bars, I created white rectangles with black outlines, working digitally on a PDF of Basil Cleveland’s English translation of the poem. The poem’s quadrants, drawn from Cleveland's formatting, cradle my archipelagoes of empty space, the remaining text like shards of silence. Who I am and where I belong within the Black community as a white-passing person are questions without concrete answers, the title of the poem “Jamais” (“Never”) signifying this dilemma. However, in this never-ending search, I find comfort in the fact that I am not less than because I exist in between.