Editor’s Note: As the #metoo movement that originated ten years ago with Tarana Burke reached a critical mass this week, together we bore witness to innumerable traumas. Perhaps, like me, you felt far more than you were able to articulate. In times like these I turn to poetry to find the words there are no words for. To that end, today I turn to poetry of witness and testimony. To poems that are unafraid to call out sexual assault and its aftereffects. To poetry that says: me, too.
Patrick Phillips’ Elegy for a Broken Machine was published in 2015 by Alfred A. Knopf. A recent Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellow in poetry, he is the author of two earlier collections, Boy and Chattahoochee, and translator of When We Leave Each Other: Selected Poems of Henrik Nordbrandt. His work has appeared in many magazines, including Poetry, Ploughshares, and The Nation, and his honors include the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, a Pushcart Prize, and the Lyric Poetry Award from the Poetry Society of America. He lives in Brooklyn and teaches at Drew University.
Editor’s Note: I came across today’s poem on the New York subway as part of the MTA/Poetry Society of America collaboration, “Poetry in Motion.” Whenever I see a poem on the subway I read it. Of course I do. How often does one come across poetry in public spaces in America these days? But not since I came across Reznikoff’s “If There is a Scheme” on the PATH train has a poem in a public space so moved me.
What is so wonderful about today’s poem? Is it the way it plays with time, making the future of the past? “It will be the past / and we’ll live there together.” Is it the subtle way the poet uses rhyme and repetition, as if the poem were a lullaby — “together / remembered / together / remember / forever”? Or is it the promise of the poem? That within our future lies our past, that heaven is where we might relive our memories over and over, that we will be reunited there with everyone we ever loved, “And it will last forever.”
about their cocks, naming
Ashley—we see these girls
all lined up, waiting to admire
the boys’ cocks. And the boys
talk about size of their cocks,
seven inches becomes ten, then
thirteen. They tell us how
they measured their cocks
after their first wet dream: they
woke up sweaty, quick-covered,
got their cocks hard again, pulled
out the ruler. Boys and cocks
everywhere. A boy shows his
cock to a girl on the playground.
Another boy watches girls from
a parked car while he touches
his cock. On the subway, boys
unzip their pants, put cocks
on display. Baby boys discover
their tiny cocks during every
diaper change. I didn’t see
my own clit was until I was
twenty-three. I had to hold
a mirror just to see it rise
like slow-motion stalagmite.
Had to hold back my own skin
just to show it to myself.
WOMAN AS HUMAN BEING
“Attitudes Toward Sex” was originally published in iARTistas. “The Boys Are Always Talking” was originally published in Muzzle. “Woman as Human Being” was originally published in Toad Journal. These poems appear here today with permission from the poet.
Laura E. Davis is the author of Braiding the Storm (Finishing Line, 2012), founding editor of Weave Magazine, and founder of Submission Bombers. Her poems are featured or forthcoming in Toad, Stirring, Corium Magazine, So to Speak, Muzzle, and others. Laura teaches for Poetry Inside Out, a K-12 a bilingual poetry program in San Francisco, where she lives with her partner, Sal.
Editor’s Note: This week I had the honor of working with an artist to create an artistic response to the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision. I have already written an editorial response to the ruling, but I wanted to speak out against this injustice in many ways, through many voices.
Today’s poems speak for womankind. They speak for our bodies, for our vantage point within a man’s world. When read together today, they are meant to be a shout from the rooftops. That no one exercises control over our bodies but ourselves. That we are human beings whose rights are superior to the rights of corporations. Yes, that we are human beings. Beautiful, complex, powerful human beings who are as capable of a battle cry as we are of “a vigorous and radiant sigh.”
Editor’s Note: The What Would I Say app is turning all of us into weird, self-involved robot poets. Stephanie Goehring shares some thoughts on this social media phenomenon and an in-progress poem composed entirely of her own What Would I Say results:
What Would Stephanie Say?
Probably That I’m a Narcissist (But That’s OK)
By Stephanie Goehring
A friend of mine, a fiction writer, keeps joking on Facebook about how obsessed poets are with the What Would I Say app. And it’s true: Just about all of the What Would I Say posts in my news feed have come from writers, and the poets are the ones who seem to be totally losing their minds over it.
When I first used this website, my thought process went something like this: Oh, this is hilarious. This is really interesting. This is beautiful. This is nonsense. But then I started thinking about how many people were posting results from the website that only seemed to fall into the latter category. So why were they flooding all of their friends’ news feeds with this garbage? And of course the answer is because they think their bot-self statuses are hilarious or interesting or beautiful. Even when the reality is that the particular post is bullshit. But we post it because it’s our own bullshit. In fact, it’s bullshit made of our own bullshit. It’s something we posted on Facebook (so, really, what’s the value of the initial language the bot is working with?) and then we repost it, garbled, as if that means anything.
But it does mean something. It says something about our collective narcissism. It says something about how we are constantly recording our own lives rather than and in addition to living them, how we all repeatedly throw ourselves against the wall of the Internet so that we can hear the echo. And that’s disgusting, but it’s also amazing. Because we aren’t the only ones who hear the echo.
And for poets in particular, I think that’s part of what makes What Would I Say so enticing: It’s replicating the experience of writing a poem. Language comes from you (meaning from everywhere else, too), is ordered (or disordered) and then thrown against the wall of the world so that it can become a sound that made another sound.
I wanted to do something with that: take the Facebook Stephanie that the Internet threw against the wall of itself and try to get that Facebook Stephanie to make a sound of her own—one that might matter to someone else. And I wanted to avoid using this bot-generated language to write a poem about poetry itself because that would just be an example of this kind of narcissism: A poem that gazes at its own navel to me seems far worse than a person who does (even if that person does so while taking a selfie and then posts it on Facebook).
In the parking lot when photographing your own intense feelings
only you should be disgusting like the march of the national anthem.
I don’t have a state dance. We need more than my empty living.
I had a lengthy conversation with the whole world
in a sequined dress and eating cold south winds gusting to go.
I like to recognize me, squeeze the tornado threat,
watch crowds of my blood, the dancing girl who tells me
I hear someone who intimidates people like a swimsuit model.
I’ve decided to be able to be italicized.
We need to reach me. You can do it
if you are the time, all of the supermoon.
Oh I still feel like four hours ago
except that I keep rereading my phone.
I’ve decided to be the word.
Fun fact for sale:
You can make a disciple. They lay eggs
in the box, looking for creative writing like you.
I hear you, and mentally, so hot tub connected.
I’m saying a word is cheap and get the stomach flu.
You can love YouTube.
Did you know it’s a fucking universe?
A blind contour drawing of drunk girls
losing someone else’s virginity?
When I rotate my arm, everything will take forever.
I will trigger scattered thunderstorms,
break his neck in his elementary school,
eat the playground and then venture out.
Even music wouldn’t do this listening to the rest of its life.
So am I. So if you
get punched in the universe,
try to write a cute photograph
thinking about the seasons as if we need you.
*The language in this poem is bot-generated in its entirety, with only capitalization and punctuation changed.
Stephanie Goehring is co-author, with Jeff Griffin, of the chapbook I Miss You Very Much (Slim Princess Holdings, 2011/13) and author of the chapbook This Room Has a Ghost (dancing girl press, 2010). She is also a visual artist. Find her online here.