This past autumn, BathHouse Events had the honor of hosting Jackie Wang as part of our Fall 2021 reading series. This event featured a powerful reading and discussion of Wang’s books Carceral Capitalism and The Sunflower Cast a Spell to Save Us from the Void, leaving the audience with a “vibrational awakening” as Wang calls it. In other words, Wang incited an inspirational call to action to consider, or even participate in, the prison abolitionist movement.
This BathHouse Event ran concurrently with the Creative Writing @ EMU graduate course CRTW 550: Community Outreach for Creative Writers, which nourished a creative collaboration with incarcerated women at the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility, while examining the prison industrial complex. Through this partnership, the class researched the history of the prison system, and built solidarity with the women writers inside the prison. The class also studied abolition in an effort to imagine a world without prisons. Yet, perhaps this imagining and need for prescription prevents the actualization of abolition. Abolition involves drawing on language of critical resistance; a vision with the goal of eliminating imprisonment, policing, and surveillance and creating lasting alternatives to punishment and imprisonment (unweaving architecture of society and developing practical strategies), as well as settling into the unknown and unanswered.
Below you will find the original poster of the event as well as the formal introduction composed and presented by Creative Writing M.A. student Parker Wilson:
“Poet and multimedia artist Jackie Wang comes to us as a fellow abolitionist and author of
the 2018 book, Carceral Capitalism. Jackie Wang received her Phd from Harvard University last year as a black studies scholar in the department of African and African American Studies, where her work focused the political economy of prisons and police in the United States. She currently teaches American studies and ethnicities as an assistant professor at the University of Southern California. This year she is a national book award finalist for her work of poetry, The Sunflower Cast A Spell To Save Us From the Void, whose poems “read like dispatches from the dream world,” as her publisher puts it.”
In Carceral Capitalism, Wang describes, “a mode of thinking that does not capitulate to the
realism of the Present,” which very much agrees with our class’s own abolitionist poetics that
seeks to make meaning beyond what passes for a “common sense” of language.
Complementing her rigorous but also personal analysis of the carceral logics that shape our
everyday lives, Wang’s final chapter on what she refers to as “The Prison Abolitionist
Imagination” evokes a dreamscape, that of abolitionist poetics. Here she imagines a world of
“low freedom songs” that emerge from a “vibrational experience.” I personally
like the idea of a “low” song or a quiet voice that need not shout to communicate its power in
resistance. These “songs” vibrate with the lineage of abolitionist poetics; and they invite us–by
way of our own abolitionist poetics– to tap into a long line of imaginaries who dream of another world not built on systemic oppression and racism. Wang’s use of multiple voices at the end of Carceral Capitalism is a powerful invocation of the first-person plural and has the feel of an abolitionist’s chorus. Wang doesn’t just analyze state violence but does so while placing that violence comparatively and dramatically against that which it destroys or oppresses. What I’ve learned from Wang’s work is that a poetics of abolition has a real ability to manifest the future by means of the imagination. Wang knows the imagination can’t ‘fix everything,’ but, she writes, “it can do some of the work: the work of creating openings where previously there were none.” In other words, there is real power in poetry.”