Tag Archives: women and poetry

Allison Joseph: Taking on Both Racism and Sexism

International Women’s Day this year, galvanized by the misogyny of President Trump, showed the world a powerful presentation of the importance of women and their essential contributions, calling for both recognition and justice in so many ways.

At the same time, just last month, the shortest month of the year, was Black History Month, for which I barely found enough time to do a few posts, despite that even a 31-day month would not be sufficient time to do bring up a tenth of the poets we need to hear about. One important poet being Allison Joseph.

Allison Joseph’s poetry addresses both concerns: that of racism and its insidious dehumanization of people of color, and civil rights, and that of women’s rights and the fight to be respected and given their due. Here are two strong poems demonstrating what a strong voice she is indeed on both issues.

SUNDOWN GHAZAL

By Allison Joseph

A sundown town was a town, city or neighborhood that was purposely all-white. The term came from signs that were allegedly posted stating that people of color had to leave the town by sundown. They are also sometimes known as “sunset towns” or “gray towns.” The highest proportion of confirmed sundown towns were in the state of Illinois — Wikipedia

Don’t show your face in a sundown town,
or forget your race in a sundown town.

What ancient shame flushes my cheeks?
Reminded of my place in a sundown town.

“How’d you get so good-looking?” said with a wink.
Old white man loves my grace in a sundown town.

Lost in a neighborhood where dogs snap chains,
my body’s a dark space in a sundown town.

Shotguns, gun racks, Dixie stickers, rusted trucks.
Should I stray, armed with mace, in a sundown town?

Crimes thrive in black, white, every grade between.
Are you just another case in a sundown town?

Kink of your hair, curl of your lip,
be careful who you embrace in a sundown town.

State police, city cops, small-town hired hands.
All give chase in a sundown town.

Burned houses, riddled with junk and meth.
Hatred creeps its petty pace in a sundown town.

Black father, white mother, coffee-colored daughter.
What can love erase in a sundown town?

Rivers, tires, bodies—a confluence that cannot hide.
Hard not to leave a trace in a sundown town.

And here, first published on the PBS website:

Kitchen

By Allison Joseph

I remember this as her kitchen,
the one room in our house where no one
questioned my mother’s authority—
her cast iron pots bubbling over
on the stove, cracked tea cups
in the sink. How I hated
the difficult oven always hanging
off its hinges, so loose a clothes hanger
rigged it shut, gas range whose flames
leapt beneath fingers when I turned
its knobs too quickly, floor tile
that never came clean no matter
how much dirt I swept from its
cracks. This was her domain—
kitchen for frying fish
and stewing chicken, for rice
and peas, plantains and yams,
for grease and hot sauce and seasoned salt.
Only she could make that faulty
oven door stay, only she could master
the fickle flames of the rangetop,
only she could make those worn dishes
and chipped plates fill a table
with food so rich and hot
my father could not complain.
And though I am her daughter, this house
no longer hers, her body deep in holy ground,
I know she’d want me to save all this—
decades of platters and saucers, plates,
glasses—every chipped cup, tarnished fork.

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Filed under African American poets, Civil Rights, Formal poets, Human Rights, Poetry, Poets, women poets, Women's poetry

Remembering Monica Hand

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Monica Hand’s powerful and unique voice will be an enduring one through her poetry. In her own words: “My best poems express ideas concerned with civil rights and the human condition and do that in a way that the energy of the poem is felt in the gut, the heart, the throat and the head.” Sadly, she passed on December 15, 2016, unexpectedly and much too soon. She had published her first poetry collection in 2012, nina and Me. She was already an award-winning poet, despite having begun her writing career relatively late, and had almost immediately been recognized as an important voice, having discovered, through study and travel, much information about the African Diaspora, those displaced from their homes by the slave trade. Her poems deal with and recognize that, honoring those who had been treated with such dishonor, and raising the painfully real awareness of that history and its need for honest dissemination.

Wounding Corpus

By Monica Hand

This body – its muscles and its bones
its sagging milk glands no use as fare,
slightly curved back and arthritic knees
no good for carrying. Lost vessel.
Here resides asylum & dangerous
thoughts, capillaries of grief & greed
equally measured. A load like skin,
just like the mammoth’s, I cannot keep
myself cool. This body walks inside
bodies of wounding diction, a fit
inarticulate in its meaning.
To disappear, these unstable bones
rustle across continents, crippled,
a senile beast stuffed into a box.

And here is an ekphrastic poem, one that finds in this iconic painting a greater truth that goes to the heart of justice, a place where art, beauty, and transcendence itself can be applied to the human condition. To, as the poet herself put it, “heal traumas of the heart and the spirit” and to “resist injustices.” Now we are becoming painfully aware of how much we need her voice, still living in her words.

Water Lilies

By Monica Hand

—after Monet

I watch the light change its many colors.
Here, from my little boat on a little pond,

sky, clouds, algae, weeping willow without
edges, no horizon just changing light.

The mutable landscape floats round leaves.
To hold light in a frame is for the bourgeoisie.

Who would try to possess the water’s surface?
Who would flatten prisms of changing light?

Today I’m green. Tomorrow I may be white.
It’s all the same. Light is more than one color.

Black is an invention of man. Colors change,
close up and from the bottom of the pond.

Day-by-day, night-by-night, I see
my visions shift in the light, ever-changing

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Filed under African American poets, Civil Rights, Human Rights, Poetry, Poets, Remembering Poets, women poets, Women's poetry

Warsan Shire’s “Home” Speaks to Refugee Crisis

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Kenyan-born Somali poet Warsan Shire, whose star I hope will keep rising, expresses in powerful words the complex and gut-wrenching situation of refugees, especially from wars and outrageous oppression. She is a rare voice with such impact. In this time of atrocity, as the world watches Aleppo being annihilated by the brutal Assad regime, we need her voice in all its raw force. This is poetry for sheer survival.

Home
By Warsan Shire

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
pitied

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

the
go home blacks
refugees
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
savage
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home2
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
drown
save
be hunger
beg
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
saying-
leave,
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here

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Filed under Human Rights, Poems and War, Poetry, women poets

My Review of The Lillian Trilogy published!!

Autostraddle has published my review of Mary Meriam’s comprehensive poetry collection The Lillian Trilogy here! It’s a fantastic book for anyone to read, a delight. Feminist, Lesbian, Sensual, full of subtle and penetrating rhyme and rhythm, seething in its exposure of injustice and moving in its declarations of pain and sorrow. Check it out!

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Filed under Book Reviews, Books, Formal Poetry, Formal poets, Poetry, Poetry Books, Poetry in forms, Poets, Publications, Siham Karami, women poets, Women's poetry

Mina Loy: Woman as Visionary

The discovery of this poem on Poetry Daily, and knowing the timeframe of its author, was transformative. Her language is so direct, honest, to the bone, of the experience of being a woman, that it creates a visceral response, the sense of being there in it with her. And to think she wrote like this “over a hundred years ago” (oh find me the date!), according to Tiffany Atkinson’s commentary. Note that although the formatting looks correct on this page prior to publication, it appears what will be published loses the actual formatting, for which you will have to go here and read it on Poetry Daily. Enjoy.

Parturition

by Mina Loy (1882-1966)

I am the centre
Of a circle of pain
Exceeding its boundaries in every direction

The business of the bland sun
Has no affair with me
In my congested cosmos of agony
From which there is no escape
On infinitely prolonged nerve-vibrations
Or in contraction
To the pinpoint nucleus of being

Locate an irritation without
It is within
Within
It is without
The sensitized area
Is identical with the extensity
Of intension

I am the false quantity
In the harmony of physiological potentiality
To which
Gaining self-control
I should be consonant
In time

Pain is no stronger than the resisting force
Pain calls up in me
The struggle is equal

The open window is full of a voice
A fashionable portrait painter
Running upstairs to a woman’s apartment
Sings
“All the girls are tid’ly did’ly
All the girls are nice
Whether they wear their hair in curls
Or —”
At the back of the thoughts to which I permit crystallization
The conception Brute
Why?
The irresponsibility of the male
Leaves woman her superior Inferiority.
He is running up-stairs

I am climbing a distorted mountain of agony
Incidentally with the exhaustion of control
I reach the summit
And gradually subside into anticipation of
Repose
Which never comes.
For another mountain is growing up
Which goaded by the unavoidable
I must traverse
Traversing myself

Something in the delirium of night-hours
Confuses while intensifying sensibility
Blurring spatial contours
So aiding elusion of the circumscribed
That the gurgling of a crucified wild beast
Comes from so far away
And the foam on the stretched muscles of a mouth
Is no part of myself
There is a climax in sensibility
When pain surpassing itself
Becomes Exotic
And the ego succeeds in unifying the positive and negative poles of sensation
Uniting the opposing and resisting forces
In lascivious revelation

Relaxation
Negation of myself as a unit
Vacuum interlude
I should have been emptied of life
Giving life
For consciousness in crises races
Through the subliminal deposits of evolutionary processesHave I not
Somewhere
Scrutinized
A dead white feathered moth
Laying eggs?
A moment
Being realization
Can
Vitalized by cosmic initiation
Furnish an adequate apology
For the objective
Agglomeration of activities
Of a life.
LIFE
A leap with nature
Into the essence
Of unpredicted Maternity
Against my thigh
Tough of infinitesimal motion
Scarcely perceptible
Undulation
Warmth moisture
Stir of incipient life
Precipitating into me
The contents of the universe
Mother I am
Identical
With infinite Maternity
Indivisible
Acutely
I am absorbed
Into
The was—is—ever—shall—be
Of cosmic reproductivity

Rises from the sub-conscious
Impression of a cat
With blind kittens
Among her legs
Same undulating life-stir
I am that cat

Rises from the sub-conscious
Impression of small animal carcass
Covered with blue bottles
—Epicurean—
And through the insects
Waves that same undulation of living
Death
Life
I am knowing
All about
Unfolding

The next morning
Each woman-of-the-people
Tip-tœing the red pile of the carpet
Doing hushed service
Each woman-of-the-people
Wearing a halo
A ludicrous little halo
Of which she is sublimely unaware

I once heard in a church
—Man and woman God made them—
Thank God.

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Filed under Poetry, Poets, Remembering Poets, women poets

Unsplendid Women & Form Issue with Two of My Poems!

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The long-awaited, spectacular double issue of Unsplendid, a very sophisticated site for and about poetry written in form (traditional or invented), with the theme of Women and Form, is now online! And it includes two of my poems, written in a form I invented, a form I call “strangled alphabet” because one can only use the letters that are in the title to create the entire poem (plus the letters’ frequency in any one word can’t exceed their frequency in the title).

It sounds more like an acrostic or puzzle perhaps than a form, but it really does provide constraints, something poetic forms do, which can produce very striking sonic results, and can also take the poet out of their normal creative pathways into something more surprising. Which is what I need. It requires, of course, some work in deciding on a title that won’t be too restrictive, and more preparatory work prior to the actual composition than other forms, but… For an obsessive person, it just may balance puzzle-solving obsessiveness (am I guilty?) with creativity…

The quality of poetry in this issue is staggering! All the authors are women, and several essays on the subject of women and form are also included. The editors’ sixth sense of what engages and fascinates a reader pays off. You can scroll down and savor the poems one by one, or skip around through the amazing titles. I’ve always wanted to be in Unsplendid, perhaps one of my all-time favorite poetry venues, so this is cloud nine (or more accurately, cloud seventeen) for me. My first-ever foray into reading my own poem as an audio clip also appears here. I decided to push myself out of my own box.

And so here it is, poetry that comes entirely out of the box, yet delightfully contained in some of the most inventive uses of form I’ve seen. Enjoy!

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Filed under Poetry, Poetry in forms, Publications