“I Want to Argue Like Dancing” by Surendriya Rao

Surendriya Rao


weaving words like angoleiros
moving smooth esquivas,
under rabo de arraias,
like numbered tile
puzzles I loved as a child,
enough space to give and take,

I want to argue that way.
These days, we feel the drums of war
pulsing beneath ordinary speech,
but the atabaque calls the ginga also,
toques to swing to, dance two
by two, we can dance too.

They say Shankara debated
Maṇḍana Miśra for months:
now where can you find anyone
to dance words, to make
the ladainha’s long patterns,
the berimbau sing its song?

from Poets Respond
March 4, 2018


Surendriya Rao: “Earlier last month, hip hop recording artist Talib Kweli canceled a concert in Kansas City because the venue had also booked Taake, a Norwegian metal band allegedly sympathetic to white nationalist ideas. On Monday (February 26), Kweli published an impassioned essay on Medium titled “Free Speech or Die?” This led to further recent reporting by Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, and other media outlets of subsequent announcements by Taake that they were canceling their North American tour, alleging an oppressive climate of paranoia akin to McCarthyisn. As a practicing lawyer and litigator, I have been fascinated from a distance by the new speech wars exploding across American campuses and institutions, and the Federal and Supreme Courts’ invigorated interest in First Amendment issues. But as a person of Indian origin, a child of immigrants, and an American, I feel deep sorrow in witnessing the apparent disintegration of American political and civic culture and ascendancy of populism and tribalism. In this climate, it seems speech is often conflated with violence or directly leads to it. I wrote this poem as an oblique comment on the Kweli-Taake scuffle, and a general comment on the mood of our contemporary political culture. The poem is basically a lament, one translation of ‘laidanha.’ It uses the framework of Capoeira Angola, an art form that inextricably combines dance and fight, aggression and play, danger and beauty. Capoeira Angola is also intensely tied up in the politics of black freedom struggles in Brazil and the oral traditions of African slaves.” (web)

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