Sonia Sanchez is an African American poet, civil rights activist, women's rights activist, and professor. During The University of Georgia's fiftieth anniversary of desegregation, she gave a poetry reading and lecture, which for Poetry Managing Editor, JoyEllen Freeman, embodied reconciliation and prompted her to invite Sanchez to contribute to the journal. The following conversation resulted from a series of emails, faxes, and phone calls between Freeman and Sanchez in early 2011.

JoyEllen Freeman: Reconciling with others is difficult, yet reconciling with ourselves is even harder. It requires a special determination in our spirits that allows us to accept the past while still feeling liberated to move into the future. The power of self-reconciliation came to life for me in January of this year during a reading and lecture by Sonia Sanchez.

Sanchez talked about the power of words and how they can be both potent and healing. She explained that in her past, she often used words to cut people down. This comment interested me because I, like many others, knew Sanchez as a Black Arts Movement poet. Often abbreviated as "BAM," the Black Arts Movement emerged as a sister to the Black Power Movement, and it sought to empower and unify African Americans through art. This unification however, often bred hostility and anger towards white Americans, who were seen as the oppressor.

Sanchez acknowledged the feelings that she felt when she wrote her Black Arts Movement poetry, but she did not harp on this subject. Instead, she discussed her mental journey towards peace, love, and healing, concepts that now characterize her recent work. Something else that I noticed about Sonia Sanchez is that she calls everyone "my sister" or "my brother," and to me, this is beautiful. Her ability to see the connections that lie within us all as a result of our innate humanness is both inspiring and admirable.

By the end of her talk, I felt rejuvenated with the zest for life. I also felt that the 2011 issue of Mandala Journal simply would not be complete without Sonia Sanchez's take on reconciliation, and I invited her to participate. After a long process of back and forth phone calls and faxing, I finally received two poems from Sanchez that she felt were appropriate for the reconciliation theme. The poems "For Sweet Honey in the Rock" and "Aaaayeee Babo (Praise God)" are from her 1999 volume of poetry Shake Loose my Skin, and each poem takes a different look at what it truly means to reconcile. My conversation with these poems and our theme this year follows.

Sonia Sanchez:

"For Sweet Honey in the Rock"

I'm gonna stay on the battlefield

I'm gonna stay on the battlefield

I'm gonna stay on the battlefield til I die.

I'm gonna stay on the battlefield

I'm gonna stay on the battlefield

I'm gonna stay on the battlefield til I die.

i had come into the city carrying life in my eyes

amid rumors of death,

calling out to everyone who would listen

it is time to move us all into another century

time for freedom and racial and sexual justice

time for women and children and men time for hands unbound

i had come into the city wearing peaceful breasts

and the spaces between us smiled

i had come into the city carrying life in my eyes.

i had come into the city carrying life in my eyes.

And they followed us in their cars with their computers

and their tongues crawled with caterpillars

and they bumped us off the road turned over our cars,

and they bombed our buildings killed our babies,

and they shot our doctors maintaining our bodies,

and their courts changed into confessionals

but we kept on organizing we kept on teaching believing

loving doing what was holy moving to a higher ground

even though our hands were full of slaughtered teeth

but we held out our eyes delirious with grace.

but we held out our eyes delirious with grace.

I'm gonna stay on the battlefield

I'm gonna stay on the battlefield

I'm gonna stay on the battlefield til I die.

I'm gonna stay on the battlefield

I'm gonna stay on the battlefield

I'm gonna stay on the battlefield til I die.

come. i say come, you sitting still in domestic bacteria

come. i say come, you standing still in double-breasted mornings

come. i say come, and return to the fight.

this fight for the earth

this fight for our children

this fight for our life

we need your hurricane voices

we need your sacred hands

i say, come, sister, brother to the battlefield

come into the rain forests

come into the hood

come into the barrio

come into the schools

come into the abortion clinics

come into the prisons

come and caress our spines

i say come, wrap your feet around justice

i say come, wrap your tongues around truth

i say come, wrap your hands with deeds and prayer

you brown ones

you yellow ones

you gay ones

you white ones

you lesbian ones

Comecomecomecomecome to this battlefield

called life, called life, called life. . . .

I'm gonna stay on the battlefield

I'm gonna stay on the battlefield

I'm gonna stay on the battlefield til I die.

I'm gonna stay on the battlefield

I'm gonna stay on the battlefield

I'm gonna stay on the battlefield til I die.

JF: Response to "For Sweet Honey in the Rock"

"I'm gonna stay on the battlefield til I die" is one of the first lines of "For Sweet Honey in the Rock." Growing up in a Baptist culture, my mind couldn't help but think about the verse of an old Christian hymn entitled "I Am on The Battlefield for My Lord." In the hymn, the battlefield serves as a metaphor for life. I think that this metaphor holds true in Sanchez's poem as well. The poem's battle imagery describes "rumors of death" and "slaughtered teeth," but at the same time, it speaks of the triumphant peace of those who do not cease to move "to a higher ground." Despite the individuals who desire to mentally and physically kill, the poem challenges us to "treat everybody right." No one is excluded from this challenge; the fight for freedom, justice, tolerance, and life is a fight that requires every human of every color to put aside their differences and "comecomecomecomecome to this battlefield / called life, called life, called life..." Even though we like to isolate ourselves and act as though our differences define us, the poem reminds us that in the end, we are all in the journey of life together.

The poem says that reconciliation occurs through action, and although it may seem like a paradox to associate reconciliation with fighting in a battle, I think that this is accurate. Life is not always pretty, and working together with others often requires us to go places that are outside of our comfort zones. As the poem states, we must "come into the rain forests / come into the hood ... / ... come into the abortion clinics / [and] come into the prisons." Coming together, despite the circumstances, is how we demonstrate our dedication to reconciliation. Sanchez's choosing this poem for the issue may be read as a call for reconciliation through action and change. We have to continue this struggle until the battle is won.

SS:

"Aaaayeee Babo (Praise God)"

1.

There are women sailing the sky

I walk between them

They who wear silk, muslin and burlap skins touching mine

They who dance between urine and violets

They who are soiled disinherited angels with masculine eyes.

This earth is hard symmetry

This earth of feverish war

This earth inflamed with hate

This patch of tongues corroding the earth's air

Who will journey to the place we require of humans?

I grow thin on these algebraic equations reduced to a final

common denominator.

2.

I turn away from funerals from morning lightning

I feast on rain and laughter

What is this sound I hear moving through our bones

I breathe out leaving our scent in the air.

3.

I came to this life with serious hands

I came observing the terrorist eyes moving in and out of Southern corners

I wanted to be the color of bells

I wanted to surround trees and spill autumn from my fingers

I came to this life with serious feet - heard other footsteps

gathering around me

Women whose bodies exploded with flowers.

4.

Life.

Life is

from curled embryo

to greed

to flesh

transistors

webpages obscuring butterflies.

Our life

is a feast of flutes

orbiting chapels

no beggar women here

no treasonous spirit here

just a praise touch

created from our spirit tongues

We bring the noise of mountain language

We bring the noise of Sunday mansions

We enter together paddling a river of risks

in order to reshape This wind, This sea,

This sky, This dungeon of syllables

We have become nightingales singing us out of fear

Splashing the failed places with light.

We are here.

One the green leaves

On the shifting waves of blues,

Knowing once that our place divided us

Knowing once that our color divided us

Knowing once that our class divided us

Knowing once that our sex divided us

Knowing once that our country divided us

Now we carry the signature of women in our veins

Now we build our reconciliation canes in morning fields

Now the days no longer betray us

and we ascend into wave after wave of our blood milk.

What can we say without blood?

5.

Her Story.

Her story smiles at us.

Little by little we shall interpret the decorum of peace

Little by little we shall make circles of these triangular stars

We shall strip-mine the world's eyes of secrets

We shall gather up our voices

Braid them into our flesh like emeralds

Come. Bring us all the women's hands

Let us knead calluses into smiles

Let us gather the mountains in our children's eyes

Distill our unawakened love

Say hello to the mangoes

the uninformed men

the nuns

the prostitutes

the rainmothers

the squirrels

the clouds

the homeless.

Come. Celebrate our footsteps insatiable as sudden breathing

Love curves the journey of these women sails

Love says Awoman. Awoman to these tongues of thunder

Come celebrate this prayer

I bring to our common ground.

It is enough

to confound the conquistadores

it is enough to shape our lace,

our name.

Make us become healers

Come celebrate the poor

the women

the gays

the lesbians

the men

the children

the black, brown, yellow, white

Sweat peeling with stories

Aaaayeee babo.

I spit on the ground

I spit language on dust

I spit memory on the water

I spit hope on this seminary

I spit teeth on the wonder of women, holy volcanic women

Recapturing the memory of our most sacred sounds.

Come

where the drum speaks

come tongued by fire and water and bone

Ogun and Shango and

Olukun and Oya and

Jesus

Come praise our innocence

our decision to be human

reenter the spirit of morning doves

and our God is near

I say our God is near

I say our God is near

Aaaayeee babo Aaaayeee babo Aaaayeee babo

(Praise God).

JF: Response to "Aaaayeee Babo (Praise God)"

One of my friends traveled to Benin, West Africa last summer. She always tells me about the time that she visited the village church. The service was conducted in Fon, the tribal language, and she had no idea what they were saying. However, it did not matter. Everyone was at church to praise God, and there was a sense of spirituality that transcended language or geography. I think that Sanchez's poem "Aaaayeee Babo (Praise God)" expresses the same type of unified spirituality, a spirituality rooted in reconciliation.

The poem acknowledges the isolation and tribulation that plagues our societies. It calls earth a "hard symmetry," that is "inflamed with hate" and a place where we reduce ourselves into divisions based on race, gender, sexual orientation, and religious beliefs. Yet there is hope in life. If we come to the realization that "we are here" together in body and in spirit, we can learn to embrace the differences that once divided us. The poem also reminds us that coming together involves knowing. "Knowing once that our places divided us ... / ... color divided us ... / ... sex divided us" is crucial to reconciliation because it tells us that we cannot forget the past. Instead, the poem invites us to "come praise God" despite these differences. Whether we call Him "God," "Jesus," "Olukun," or "Shango," the fact that we are human and have spirits is what allows us to reconcile. While "For Sweet Honey in the Rock," challenges us to reconcile through actions, Sanchez does not want us to forget that reconciliation is also something that is deeply spiritual. Even though our past may have been bleak, it is never too late to reunite and praise God together.

About the Interviewer

JoyEllen Freeman is a sophomore at The University of Georgia. She is pursuing dual degrees in English and English Education. As an undergraduate researcher, she conducts research for the Civil Rights Digital Library. In her spare time, she loves to watch movies, listen to music, play the piano, and talk about the Civil Rights Movement.