Monday, April 13, 2009

Poetry is the human voice

I blame Claudia and Rich for getting me hooked on this blog meme. For this week’s C.O.R.A. Diversity Roll Call, participants are asked to post and discuss a poem by a woman of color.

1)Post a poem by a woman of color. Your choice must be a poet who has written in the last forty years. Do your best to avoid the most anthologized, popular poets unless poetry is new territory for you. In that case, check out why the popular poets are well loved.

Poetry, I tell my students,
is idiosyncratic. Poetry
is where we are ourselves,
(though Sterling Brown said
“Every ‘I’ is a dramatic ‘I’”)
digging in the clam flats
for the shell that snaps,
emptying the proverbial pocketbook.
Poetry is what you find
in the dirt in the corner,
overhear on the bus, God
in the details, the only way
to get from here to there.
Poetry (and now my voice is rising)
is not all love, love, love,
and I’m sorry the dog died.
Poetry (here I hear myself loudest)
is the human voice,
and are we not of interest to each other?

This is a poem called "Ars Poetica 100: I Believe" by Elizabeth Alexander. Yeah, she's famous now because of Obama's inauguration, but a few months ago she was merely a successful, if a bit obscure, academic poet.

2)Tell us why you like the poem you chose. Don’t worry about the technical aspects of writing poetry, devices or forms. Give us your reader’s response. How does it make you feel or what does it make you think about? What questions does it raise for you?

I generally like "Ars Poetica" poems (even when they're not called "Ars Poetica," like Amiri Baraka's "Black Art"--"Poems are bullshit unless they are/ teeth or trees lemons piled/ on a step.") and this one resonated with me immediately. I love the urgency and the passion of it, as the speaker desperately tries to communicate something fundamental to her students. I love that there is a sense that, despite her best efforts, she's hasn't quite gotten her point across. She knows that they haven't heard her, but she's going to keep trying ("here I hear myself loudest"). I feel like that a lot in class.

3)If you are a poetry reader and you can recommend a contemporary woman poet of color, who do you recommend and why? I would really love to hear about emerging or lesser known poets. Introduce us to poets from around the world.

Ai is a poet who is grungy and bluesy and kind of depressing actually, but always a really provocative read.


Tea said...

I love that poem. It's the first one I've read by Elizabeth Alexander. I did hear her during President Obama's Inauguration. Thank you for posting this one.

Claudia said...

Oh yes, this is a winner, Consuela. I will definitely be using this the next time I teach poetry. I think the parenthetical asides are what helps to convey her longing to thwart the old ideas and assumptions about what poetry can do. It also reminds me of Langston Hughes' comments in an essay about poetry not being moonlight and roses...

Color Online said...

I was going to post something by Ai, but like others, I went with a favorite, a poem that calls me back again and again. Thanks for participating. It introduced me to your blog. I'll be back.