An Interview with Ann Davenport

Can you discuss the origin of "150 Tons"?

Although it’s dedicated to the nine African Americans killed by a white supremacist in Charleston last June, the poem’s origins go back to Michael Brown’s murder. I’ve been thinking a lot about #BlackLivesMatter, learning about anti-racism, thinking about ways I as a white woman, with all my white privilege, might be able to add anything meaningful to the conversation. I strongly believe that white silence is white consent; I wasn’t being silent, but neither did I feel all that useful with my dozen angry Facebook posts a day.

When those nine church members were murdered by a man who’d sat and prayed with them for an hour or more, murdered for no other reason than for being African American, it seemed like such a deep violation of everything that’s most vital in both human and sacred realms. 

I wish it had a more impressive birth story, but, in all honesty, the first line I wrote of this poem was in response to a headline on National Geographic’s Facebook feed that a blue whale’s heart weighs "more than 1500 human hearts" I thought, “We’re going to need a more precise reckoning.” Like somehow maybe this could finally be it, if we reached some magical number all the senseless deaths would suddenly make sense and we could stop killing and start learning to heal the racist wounds at the heart of our country. Absurd, right? If we’re being completely honest, that impulse to somehow justify or redeem those deaths is, at its core, a supremacist impulse. And that was basically my immediate next thoughthow ridiculousnothing can justify these losses of black lives. Somewhere in the middle of that interior conversation is the space where this poem takes shape.