In honor of National Poetry month, espnW asked four poets to reflect on their definitions of feminism, and the importance of movement.
(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.
(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.
Carrie Ann Welsh
The future is female,
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.
where we are.
This is the inside of the poem,
the chalked sketch of an animal,
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.
Carrie Ann Welsh is a writer based in Wisconsin.
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,
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.)