Black Pen writer Yvvana Yeboah Duku's poem in response to What Matters Most: Photographs of Black Life.
Unknown photographer. [Three children posing with fists stacked], 1978. Colour instant print [Polaroid SX-70], overall: 10.8 × 8.8 cm. Art Gallery of Ontario. Fade Resistance Collection. Purchase, with funds donated by Martha LA McCain, 2018. © Art Gallery of Ontario 2018/1348
What Matters Most: Photographs of Black Life enshrines the role of the family photograph in shaping Black identities. Co-curated by artist Zun Lee and AGO Curator, Photography, Sophie Hackett, the exhibition of over 500 instant prints drawn from the AGO’s Fade Resistance Collection underscores the moments that matter most in the everyday – births, deaths, portraits, graduations and family gatherings among them.
We commissioned six graduates of Black Pen, a Toronto-based literary program for emerging Black-identifying writers, to compose personal responses to one or more of the photographs on view in a style of their choosing. The Black Pen alumni were first given a guided tour of the exhibition, which proved inspiring for each of them, and the results blew us away.
A moving contribution by African-American poet and essayist Dawn Lundy Martin to the What Matters Most catalogue inspired this commission. She writes about the implications of the Fade Resistance Collection being acquired and placed on view at a major art museum. She then turns her reflections inward, analyzing two of her family photographs and revealing the complex narratives they represent.
Take a moment to read this poem by Yvvana Yeboah Duku below.
By Yvvana Yeboah Duku
I am a voyager, small and tender yet resilient as could be
Glee, and playfulness; that is what we make; and are binded by; my friends and me
Moments in time I will not remember when I am old enough to stand in the big boots
An innocence that does not know what it means to be hardened by life
Inexperience that coexists with the soundest bliss; incoherent to the seriousness of an
existence that will morph me into fragments of the things I knew; the things I do; the people I
meet; the memories I keep
I do not know why I laugh, or why my cheeks hurt when I smile
I do not know why my mother’s gaze makes me sleepy
I do not know why my tears taste like potato chips
I do not know what hurts so much, what it’s called that makes me cry
I am a waddling child with endless possibilities
Ignorant to the cap the world will mandate for me
There is agency in my small steps, and I am on my toes, eager for the big ones
In a bubble I could not imagine one would burst
I might grow up to question the things that once felt familiar
Until they do not feel comfy at all
I might hold this moment on film in hands that are less soft, with bigger palms
Begging to feel the esteem that would shine my teeth like this again
I might count my fingers to 10
I might run out of reasons to be peter pan when I am knees deep in quicksand
I am a primary form of a humanity that I have yet to define
A waddling voyager
In this moment, I am freezing time
Yvvana Yeboah Duku is a Ghanaian-Canadian creative. She is 20 years old. Her passion for writing began when she would write letters to herself and others as a child. It was a tool of expression that blossomed into her default mode of creativity. Her poems, prose and memoirs visit trauma and navigating society as a young Black woman. She co-authors Griot: Six Writers Sojourn into the Dark, and you can find more of her work on Medium under Thesoftfire.
Black Pen is a Toronto-based literary program for emerging Black-identifying writers, founded by Nia Centre for the Arts. The program’s first six graduates published GRIOT: Sojourn into the Dark in 2022, their first chapbook of fiction and non-fiction. Read the writings of Yvvana Yeboah Duku, Adeola Egbeyemi, Onyka Gairey, Saherla Osman, Kais Padamshi and Omi Blue, all on Foyer.