Four poets on the new feminism

Daniel Hertzberg

In honor of National Poetry month, espnW asked four poets to reflect on their definitions of feminism, and the importance of movement.

What Leaps from a Storm's Throat, by Patricia Smith

Postcard from Diana Prince on Themyscira, by Tracie Dawson

Start Here, by Carrie Ann Welsh

My Struggle with Feminism is Black, by DéLana R.A. Dameron

What Leaps from a Storm's Throat

Patricia Smith

(for Cynthia Cooper-Dyke)

Beneath the bi***h of buzzer, beneath the crowd's sputtered swear

and bellowed worship, beneath the joint gasping of sweated air as

tree trunk women hurtle fiercely from east net to west, just beneath

the rampaging pummel of their feet on the hardwood and the hurting

screech when they stop short, pivot and slingshot back, beneath

the hissed invective when the wrong swoosh happens, or doesn't,

beneath vendors who heartlessly hawk the stupid slap of sugar, spirit

and salt, beneath the huge held breath of halftime and the rattling hips

of tambourines, beneath shouts of the beautiful tangled names of

women, beneath the bladed blasts of whistle that signal stop and start,

interrupt and erupt, beneath the slow downtempo teasing tock of clock,

minutes down, seconds down, heartbeats down, beneath the unleashed

spill of verb and hot damns into hot mics, just beneath the sudden electric

thumpbump of street beats, double negative drum crafted to cram

every utter inch of downtime, beneath the wails, how could anyone not


the whisper, relentless, of her muscle rollicking like slipsilver beneath

her skin, the precise grind of the cogs in her body, churning toward

what cannot be compromised, talked back to or reversed. The net

taunts her with a storm's throat, all in shadow, with a wind that blows

triumph away from its mouth. How could anyone not hear Coop's golden

engine as she burns toward what has vowed to elude her, as, under her

breath, she measures the distance between what she craves and what she

is destined to own, what she wakes every morning already knowing

is hers? How can she not be the loudest work in the room, drowning

out the blood-blue chaos, the slant rhymed chants, the roar of coaches

straightening their rep ties and doubting their directives? There is nothing

that blares with more foreboding than her outstretched arms, the snort

of can do, will do, has done -- when you are in that huge room where

magic can only do what it does, she is the sound you must cover your

ears against, the sound that says no one can, when--hell, she already has.

Patricia Smith is a National Book Award finalist (2008) and the author of six critically acknowledged volumes of poetry. Her awards and honors include the 2014 Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize from the Library of Congress, the 2013 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets, and a 2013 Phillis Wheatley Book Award. She is a Cave Canem faculty member, an associate professor of English at CUNY/College of Staten Island, and a faculty member in the Sierra Nevada College M.F.A. program.

Postcard from Diana Prince on Themyscira

Tracie Dawson

(also known as Paradise Island)

Picture a riot of blue cliffs, a coastal strip enemies brand as myth and mirage, for

what place, once seen, has ever been but a small blip on man's lusty conquistador

radar? Right. Just think of any gimcrack bar in Nevada headlining GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS

except forget the X's for sex and wet tequila double-dog dares. Here, there's only curls

of cat-scratch rope for a moment's thrilled athletic play. Here, the only courts are made

of kangas, and war's but a drummed timpani rhythm bandied to and fro like a braid

tossed over shoulder. The bondage of ironic bands announces a land called better than might

and how for aeons under the sun we'll be here parading our sashay for no one's eyes.

Tracie Dawson is a writer, teacher, and editor in Columbia, SC. Her work has been featured in New World Writing, Word Riot, and Rabbit Catastrophe Review.

Start Here

Carrie Ann Welsh

The future is female,

we hear,

but the past --

the past is also female.

The past is our beginning

and the future --

is also where we start,

where we come from.

Poetry is a new language.

It is our oldest language.

Before today's tautology we spoke in tongues,

we painted images on our walls,

we told stories that meant less then than they mean today.

Start here,

where we are.

This is the inside of the poem,

the chalked sketch of an animal,

the grunt.

Inside language is not more language.

Inside language is stillness.

Poetry reminds us of that still place.

In order to pay attention

we have to quiet

all the other voices

that remind us

what we should be doing,

what we might could have done,

who is doing it better.

In order to read a poem

we have to be peaceful.

Our breaths soften in our breasts,

our eyes slow in our skulls,

our feet become part of our legs again.

Focus on the noise of the crowd

until it becomes silent.

Breathe it all in.

We come from this moment of surety,

this moment of clear breath

and honest thought.

It is where we began,

resilient and breathing.

This stillness is not a resistance.

We don't dig our heels in;

we root down.

We move like the banyan tree,

our roots widening one step at a time

until our fingertips touch.

These bodies we inhabit are all supposed to be the same,

but what we keep making with them

is never the same.

Today's athletes are yesterday's freaks.

They run too fast, they push too hard, they lift too much,

Their bodies are too dark, too wiry, too big, too fast.

But they don't resist, they don't give up.

They keep on like the river

embedded in their bodies.

The future is female

because it is the present

that does not stand in the way.

It finds a new way,

like the earth,

like a river,

like a riverbed.

Start here.

Carrie Ann Welsh is a writer based in Wisconsin.

My Struggle with Feminism is Black

DéLana R.A. Dameron

After bell hooks "Wounds of Passion"

I knew black women paid a price --

those who went out to work every day

in the service of white folks -- none

of these women are free.

Only black women I knew who had control

over their destinies were single,

childless, and owned property.

I never thought about the place of love

in their lives.

But free, black women

were not free. It never ceased:

why white girls were so willing

to insist on black women's freedom

when there were no black females teaching,

sitting next to them in their classes,

or living in their neighborhoods--

so much for common oppression

and common understanding.

Where did they encounter liberated black women--?

I know my black women working

as maids. One would teach me

Don't let those white girls turn you

into a mammy. You are not there to take care of them,

get yours.

Mine was freedom

black folks believed came through education.

When white girls talk about strong free black matriarchs

they long for a world, do not want to struggle

to liberate us. I know there are plenty

who think that black women are free:

We work. We pay the rent.

We are in charge:

But this is no vision of freedom.

I will not accept it.

Work is not enough.

DéLana R.A. Dameron is the author of Weary Kingdom and How God Ends Us. She is an arts and culture administrator and lives in Brooklyn.

(Editor's note: An earlier version of "Five Poets on the New Feminism" featured Revolution by Dr. DaMaris Hill. We have decided it is not an appropriate selection for our site, and have removed it from the feature.)