If you follow Alok Vaid-Menon and Janani Balasubramanian’s touring schedule, you’ll notice that they are busy poets with an impressive campus following. The liberal arts colleges, state schools, ivies–they’ve performed and led workshops at dozens of them. Tack on the annual LGBTQ Creating Change conference, arts festivals and community shows, and you’ll start to realize that this poet duo which they call Dark Matter Rage, is not kidding around. Reading their twitter feeds is like taking bite size doses of really strong decolonization and anti-oppression medicine.
I first met Alok through the zine I made about queer art and activism in India, and from that time on, Alok has struck me as one of the most down to earth and sharpest queer artists of color we have out there. Example: When I was in need of a place to stay in NYC a few months ago, they eagerly swooped in and said that I was welcome to stay at their place because they had a policy with their housemates which would let any queer or trans person of color without a place to stay, come and stay with them. Alok proceeded to introduce me to Janani and I brought over some groceries to prepare some delicious vegan lunch over stories of diaspora and food at their Brooklyn house. After lunch we walked over to Park Slope food co-op and got them signed up as a member while listing the ingredients in a hipster-gentrified neighborhood: 1) barbershop with young white tattooed barbers 2) froyo 3) American Apparel 4) expensive coffee 5) I don’t remember the rest. I was charmed.
But it wasn’t until I attended a community show they performed to raise money for Gender Justice in Los Angeles that I was struck by their sheer talent and devotion to queer and trans people of color communities. Their poetry on topics ranging from the prison industrial complex to lactose and poop made me think, laugh, angry, sad, and feel so hard. It was the most well-articulated, on-point and enjoyable spoken word I had heard in a long time.
Example:“bring in brown to keep black down: / when i cry about diaspora and missing my homeland / even though my people chose to come here for more power / did not mention the countless bodies we /stepped on when we arrived / just to get close enough to kneel / for a white man – dick or / degree is there a difference — / carry both on your tongue . . . Long ago this country used to be racist (but then white people brought us here to make it seem better) and we have done little make them think otherwise since” Alok says in one of their poems, and Janani, “My testosterone is made by Israel’s largest company. / There is colonization running through my bloodstream . . . Grandmother, mom / there is a way to do this ethically / I will build some other, new-old kind of masculinity. / I will not worry about the words for it in English. / I will honor the mothers in my history, / the goddess in my name, / I will play the drums for you.” (More here)
At the end of their two hour performance, (They had at least an hour worth of poetry memorized y’all! These two should be actors!) I was emotionally, mentally and physically exhausted and yet so full and recharged by their words, their stage presence and the solidarity, snaps and moans coming from the audience.A couple of my favorites: +Read/watch Alok’s poem “bring in brown to keep black down”: http://returnthegayze.tumblr.com/post/76369403642/bring-in-brown-to-keep-black-down +Janani’s poem “kernels”: http://queerdarkenergy.com/2013/11/23/kernels/
Their words are potent no matter how you ingest them, but for me, the power of their words comes alive most when they’re performed. So if you or an institution you’re attached to has funding to invite them to perform, you should do it. And if not, then keep your eyes peeled for one of their performances and don’t miss it! They get around quite a bit, so it shouldn’t be too hard. In the meantime, go to youtube and search “Dark Matter Rage” to get a feel for their work. Follow them on twitter: @darkmatterrage and @returnthegayze and visit their blogs: Janani & Alok Be prepared to be blown away.