Arts & Culture: Diversity Dialogue

Cultural Diversity and Inclusion in the Arts in New York State’s Southern Tier

Labor Day

Labor Day was seldom a day of rest or recreation.  As an artist who earned money outside her art, this holiday for others meant a stretch of time to create.  Any day “off” meant a day to be “on.”  Or more likely, that I could get in the flow and stay in it, which for me means staying up ’til 4 or 5 a.m. and being able to sleep later.  Or not have to be presentable and have the working luxury to  run downstairs to crash the kiln, or start the beater, pick up the pen, or tap on the keyboard.

My mother and grandmother worked outside the home until they died. My father lived long enough to retire. I grew up watching my parents, second generation Americans, manage multiple jobs. Not quite two or three like my grandparents, but sustained “moonlighting” by my father and skilled seamstressing by my mother in addition to their full time day gigs. 

Labor Day: I salute the memory of their beautiful efforts and endurance. Whenever I felt burdened by the call to create ( which is not always a joyous, clarion thing, as there’s tons of practice, prep, hauling  and slogging) vs. the too-justifiable desire to rest, I remember them.

The blessing of living where we, in the Southern Tier of New York State live, is that the need for green expanses, running water or glimpsing wildlife, could be gained any weekend or end of workday.  The landings along the Chemung were a favorite respite, as was Seneca, off-season, Cayuga, midweek, the Caton road to the marsh and the substation, anytime.  So much magic here… that crossroads in Caton/Corning, the back way to CCC once the trailer park was gone, that ever lovely change from town to country driving  5 minutes up that street… was it Pine?, to Spencer Crest.

Steps to River

Steps to River

Caton Cattails Marsh

Caton Cattails Marsh

Rabbit Cloud

Rabbit Cloud

Labor Day makes me think of tools and how wonderful they are.  My favorite store has long been a good hardware store.  I’m not a shopper, but I become that kind of grazer, gazer, feeler of things and imaginer in a hardware store.  So much of what I do includes or involves metal, though I’m no metalsmith.   That ancient formulation of the elements– air, fire, water, metal, wood — in creating, I’m the fifth element, though I use lots of water and breathe/shape air…

And I review the line I’m trying not to cross in this revery: tools vs materials. Materials as the stuff worked on, tools those things I use to manipulate/shape/mark the materials. Whew.

Yet on deeper consideration I use assortments of acorn nuts, beaters, blocks, cotter pins, cans, cutters, daps, drills, elevator bolts, files, flashing,  gouges, hammers, hooks, knives,mills, nails, needles, pen nibs,  pipe cutters, pliers,presses, punches, rasps, saws, scissors, scissors, screwdrivers, screws, setters shredders, staple guns, staplers, T-squares, washers ( o how I love washers), wedges, and wrenches; metal tools.

It is amazing how the right tool will not only solve a problem, but may inspire new work, with the options it makes possible.  That happened for me with two different screw punches, both so efficient and elegant… my Japanese screw punch and my little metal screw punch. The Japanese screw punch enabled my sculpted clasp book series and the little metal screw punch made it possible for me to amend metal heishi ( think tiny washers) re-punching larger holes in them for stringing.

I celebrate those that made these wonderful tools that enable me to create.  That labor aids my labor. Happy Labor Day!

About Akua Lezli Hope

Akua Lezli Hope uses sound, words, fiber, glass, metal, and wire to create poems, patterns, stories, music, sculpture, adornments, and peace. She wrote her first speculative poems in the sixth grade and has been in print every year, except one, since 1974 with over 400 poems published. Her collections and chapbooks include Embouchure: Poems on Jazz and Other Musics (ArtFarm Press, 1995; Writer’s Digest book award winner), Them Gone (The Word Works, 2018), Otherwheres: Speculative Poetry (ArtFarm Press, 2020; a 2021 Elgin Award winner), and Stratospherics (a micro-chapbook of scifaiku available from the Quarantine Public Library). A Cave Canem fellow, her honors include the NEA, two NYFAs, an SFPA award, and multiple Rhysling and Pushcart Prize nominations. She has won Rattle’s Poets Respond twice and launched Speculative Sundays, an online poetry reading series. Her work has also been published in numerous literary magazines and national anthologies, including: The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, The 100 Best African American Poems (Sourcebooks MediaFusion, 2010); Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora (Warner Aspect, 2000), Asimov’s Science Fiction, Gyroscope Review, Pensive: A Global Journal of Spirituality & the Arts, Strange Horizons, Star*Line, SciFaikuest, Eye to the Telescope, The New Verse News, Breath & Shadow, The Crafty Poet II: A Portable Workshop (Terrapin Books, 2016), The Cossack Review, Silver Blade Magazine, Stone Canoe, and Three Coyotes. She is the editor of the record-breaking sea-themed issue of Eye To The Telescope #42, and of NOMBONO: An Anthology of Speculative Poetry by BIPOC Creators, the first of its kind, from Sundress Publications (2021). A third-generation New Yorker and an avid hand papermaker and crochet designer, she exhibits her artwork regularly. She sings songs from her favorite anime in Japanese, practices her soprano saxophone, and prays for the cessation of suffering for all sentience from the ancestral land of the Seneca, the Southern Finger Lakes region of New York State.

2 comments on “Labor Day

  1. Meleny Peacock
    September 2, 2008

    Akua, thank you for your Labor Day message…I’m ever grateful that I had the opportunity to work with you way back when…your message rang true for me…my parents both died still laboring (NO chance to retire), even dying of cancer, both in their mid-sixties…they worked hard every day of their lives to send me and my two siblings to the best schools in the country, just as yours did…so, I, too, salute them on Labor Day and every day of the year…and I keep up my art, writing, as much as I can, if only in tribute to them…I appreciate also what you said about tools, which I, too, marvel at…the hardware store is to this day my favorite store…I spend hours in them…a pair of Japanese scissors is amongst my favorite and most effective tools…and I do remember fondly your sculpted clasp book series…and I salute the tools that enabled those…thank you for doing what you do to enlighten our lives and help us salute those who labored so hard to make our lives possible.

  2. akualezli
    September 5, 2008

    I deeply appreciate your response and sharing! Delighted to read your
    ever insightful words. Wishing you the best in all ways,

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