THE BACKSTORY

The stories behind the words: Poems from Gina Athena Ulysse (“I am a storm,” from Because When God Is Too Busy) and Claudine Nash ’92 (“The Problem with Loving Ghosts,” from Parts per Trillion).

GINA ATHENA ULYSSE

Because When God Is Too Busy: Haiti, Me & The World

(WESLEYAN UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2017)

Gina Athena Ulysse is an anthropologist, performance artist, and multimedia artist. She is professor of anthropology at Wesleyan University.

“I am a storm” is the oldest piece in my latest book of poetry, performance texts, and photographs. It is a song I wrote when I was sixteen years old during my wannabe rock star years. I have vivid memories of holding a fake microphone and belting out the hook, sometimes with tears streaming down my face. I always think of it as my personal anthem. Over the years, I figured out it was about self-acceptance and selflove. I recognized with my rebel spirit, I would always be dissent in the mainstream of our unjust world. My acute sensibilities, righteous anger, and unrelenting commitment to social justice often put me at odds with power. One must be fearless and have conviction to usher in change that at times demands great sacrifices. I reworked the second stanza of the lyrics in 2010 to honor Haiti’s place as the avant-garde, given the global significance of the Haitian Revolution. The earthquake was another one of those moments in history where great change was possible.

Music and poetry, and the arts in general, are central to my professional work now, which is primarily performance oriented. I refer to myself as an artist-anthropologist-activist because of the immense value I place on the arts, not simply for their transformative possibilities, but as an infinite organic source of connection and contemplation. —GAU

I am a storm

BY GINA ATHENA ULYSSE

showers of teardrops

are falling

they carry memories

of the beginning

when shadows of the wind

wrap the sky with its clouds

when the aged innocence

released her anger

she declared me a storm

I am a storm

I am a storm

I am thunder

I am lightning

I’m the grey

I’m the grey

I am thunder

I am lightning

I am the one you will call

when the guards are changing

there’s no beginning

without ending

you are the one they call

the world needed changing

shadows of the wind

wrapped the sky with your clouds

and the aged innocence

released her anger

and made you into a storm

You’re a storm

You’re a storm

You are thunder

You are lightning

You are grey

You are grey

You’ve been thunder

You’ve been lightning

You’re the one they call

World needed changing

no new beginnings

without ending

you are the ones we’ll call

when the guards need changing

when shadows of the wind will

wrap the sky with its clouds

and the aged innocence

released her anger

and declared you a storm

I am a storm

You’re a storm

We are thunder

We are lightning

We’re the grey

We’re the grey

We are thunder

We are lightning

We’re the ones that they call

when the world needs changing

—from Because When God Is Too Busy: Haiti, Me & The World, by Gina Athena Ulysse (Wesleyan University Press, 2017)


CLAUDINE NASH ’92

Parts per Trillion

(ALDRICH PRESS, 2016)

Claudine Nash is a New York-based clinical psychologist and the author of three collections of poetry.

Although poetry was my first love, I put writing aside for many years to focus on a psychology career working with people suffering from schizophrenia and other forms of severe and persistent mental illness. However, poetry always remained part of who I was and I never stopped hearing it in the words of the people whom I had the honor to treat. When I eventually started writing again, I found my poems deeply impacted by the years of bearing witness to loss, longing, and the complexity of human emotion.

No doubt influenced by my experience as a double English and psychology major at Wesleyan, my psychology and poetry practices very quickly became intertwined as I set out to write poetry meant to inspire healing.

“The Problem with Loving Ghosts” was part of a series of poems that I wrote about the liberation that accompanies releasing the memories, feelings, or patterns of behavior to which we cling even though they may no longer serve us in our present lives. My poems often start to take form when a quirky image pops into my head while I’m busy doing something else. This one began with the image of a noisy and disruptive ghost from the past occupying the adjacent seat in a movie theatre.

I’ve always loved poetry for its parsimony and ability to cut straight to the heart in a handful of words. It’s why I find it to be such an incredible tool for connecting us to the feelings that lie just beneath the surface. It calls upon us to understand ourselves and others. In these divisive times, we need poetry not only for our own personal healing, but to help us empathize with each other’s emotional and societal experiences so we can appreciate our different realities as well as our common humanity.—CN

The Problem with Loving Ghosts

BY CLAUDINE NASH ‘92

The problem with loving ghosts

is that they rarely keep up

with politics. That nice

Prosecco you were saving

passes right through them

and they emit a somber

charge when your fingers

stretch to touch their cheeks

They leave fragments of

crushed coral and seaweed

all over your travertine floors

and when you take them to

the chamber orchestra or

latest foreign film, they rattle

or float from their seats so

you can’t read the subtitles.

They can’t drive your stick shift

to the emergency room

when that new antibiotic makes

your eyes swell shut or leaves

your legs and arms a messy

mound of hives. And no matter

how many millions of times

you remind them, when

they roll through your heart

they tend to leave

the door ajar.

—from Parts per Trillion, by Claudine Nash ’92 (Aldrich Press, 2016)