Still, Scheherazade endured – whether she knew her life mattered or whether she simply survived to protect her sister, the kingdom’s other woman. She endured, and so her story slowly helped me endure too. And I thought, that is why this story must be a poem. That’s why I have to write it down, so that I remember. I write so as not to forget. So that I don’t let history repeat itself, at least in the same way.
One intervention you make in this book is to reject the dichotomy between “good survivor” and “bad survivor”. Instead, you present ambivalence as a mode of survival. Can you develop what a poetics of ambivalence might look like?
Ambivalence, as I choose to understand it, does not undermine the survival process. Ambivalence means anything can happen. I will let anything happen. I will let life be life: unpredictable. Surprising. Entertaining at times, devastating at other times. What remains factual is my sense of entrepreneurship, my sense of perseverance and my ingenuity which allow me to invent a way forward.
This makes ambivalence different from indifference. Indifference means “I don’t care”. No, I care about one parcel my happiness and my health, and the happiness and health of the people I love. It also makes ambivalence different from irreverence, where nothing matters. No, things matter. People matter! We have social movements dedicated to this fact. And so ambivalence cannot be irreverence or indifference. Ambivalence is “I believe in myself”. I believe in my potential to be dangerous to the power systems in place. I believe in my ability to exceed my own expectations, to surpass myself, even when I have no role model. And no matter what, I’ll find a way, or invent one.
The poetics of ambivalence is therefore a poetics in which I am not “aligned”. I was very aligned with a sort of narrative structure where the speaker of a poem is either the victim or the victor. I always needed someone else, another system or another force, to be the bad guy. It absolved me. But ambivalence forces me to see myself more fully, more honestly. Most of the time, I was my own villain. Most of the time, I was far from flawless and far from triumphant. Ambivalence means I really have to look at the truth, accept it for what it is, and articulate it as such.
It’s a lot like those superhero movies when our protagonist says, “Do whatever you want. I have nothing more to lose.” This is ambivalence. This is when you say to yourself, “I don’t care,” because you know you’re going to win. You have disinvested and are therefore free. You let go and you become unstoppable.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
All the flowers on their knees is available now from Penguin Random House.
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