High School Poetry Series: Gender, Identity, & Race – Anaika Falcon & Meisha White


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A note from Series Editor Sarah Marcus: Born from a powerful in-class discussion we had about gender, race, and the role of masculinity in rape culture, these poems are an analysis of gendered personal experience and a study of our intersectionality. This poetry series was inspired by a HuffPost essay I wrote called, “Why I Teach Feminism at an Urban High School.” The poets featured here are students from my 12th Grade Creative Writing class whose work I found to be brave, fearless, and progressive. Please help me support their crucial and influential voices.

*

Anaika Falcon is a senior in my creative writing class. She is 17 years old and will be attending Miami University in Oxford, OH in the fall. She will be majoring in AYA Integrated Language Arts Education in the hopes of teaching high school in the future. She is an avid reader and immerses herself in Asian culture, specifically Japanese and South Korean culture. Anaika’s inspiration for writing this poem was taken from the bullying that she went through when she was in elementary and middle school. She wrote this poem because she felt like many people do not fully understand the consequences of bullying. Not only that, but those who commit suicide are seen as taking the easy way out, and she wants to challenge that view because she does not believe killing yourself is easy; therefore, suicide is not an easy way out.

Meisha White is a senior at Saint Martin de Porres. She  She will be attending Spring Hill College in the fall on a full tuition scholarship. She plans to study Psychology and Early Childhood Development. Meisha has always loved writing music, poetry, and short stories. Her talent began to really blossom in her freshman English class and matured as she learned more in her creative writing class. The topic of bullying that leads to suicide was initially Anaika’s idea. When she brought it up, Meisha thought it was great but was nervous about her writings not being deep enough. She writes, “This project meant a lot to me because I included person experiences and I knew the topic was strong. I am very excited about this poem to be shared because it has the power to change people’s view and save a life or two.”

I chose to feature this deeply moving performance piece for its perseverance and persistence. It is devastating and relatable. It speaks to our collective experience of abuse and bullying. I encourage you to take the 13 minutes to witness these young women in action.

Video of Performance: https://youtu.be/MI7akkTB1c0

“We Had the Guns and You Gave Us the Ammo”
By Anaika Falcon and Meisha White

Anaika:
[Walk forward]
I had the gun and you gave me the ammo.
I see it in your eyes
And in the way you spout those lies.
You don’t know that every day I go home and cry.
I cry until the tears overflow into a small river.
I imagine stabbing myself in the liver,

Anaika and Meisha:
But I am not capable enough to be my own killer.

Anaika:
I use knives and cigarettes to feel fuller.
I take the blade and slowly ride it
Across my tender skin.
I watch as the blood trickles out
Leaving me in inexplicable bliss.

Anaika and Meisha:
It reminds me of the sweet kiss
My mother would plant
Across my cold cheek.

Anaika:
But now I am at my peak.
I am 5”3’ and I am not the prettiest.
I am bleak.
I am weak.
I am nothing but an empty carcass
Trying to speak.
I see it in your eyes
And in the ways you spout those lies.
I had the gun and you gave me the ammo.
Your words were my ammo.
How you let them caress my every fault.
You opened up my deepest darkest vault.
You opened up my wounded scar.
You didn’t have to look too far.
To you, I was another hooker at the bar.
I wasn’t a girl I was just another one
Of your women to be judged.
You knew I wouldn’t budge.
I wouldn’t even give you the time of day,
But that just made it all okay.
Now every time I walk the halls
People laugh and watch me fall
Fall into the abyss
Waiting for someone,
Anyone to call
Call my name and make it better,

Anaika and Meisha:
But now all that is left is that letter.

Anaika:
[sigh]
My suicide letter.
Leading me to the greener side of the land.
I walk into the bath listening to my favorite band.
The water encompasses my body
And breaks my bonds.
I was never fond of the heat,
But today it is how I will beat you.
With the serrated edge of my blade
And the heat to drown my sorrows away.

Anaika and Meisha:
I WILL WIN.

[Walk backwards]
I had the gun and you gave me the ammo.

————————————————————

Meisha:
[Walk forward]
I had the gun and you gave me the ammo.

[Same time] Meisha: 1…2…3…4   Anaika: 5…6…7…8

Meisha:
How hard is it to go to school and break through expected doors?

[Same time] Meisha: 5…6…7…8   Anaika: 1…2…3…4

Meisha:
You’re supposed to be a star, first generation great

[Same time] Meisha: 1…2…3…4   Anaika: 5…6…7…8

Meisha:
Once you lose your virginity you become a whore

[Same time] Meisha: 5…6…7…8   Anaika: 1…2…3…4

Meisha:
Pill after pill I contemplate
They say life is great
Live it to the fullest
But how can I be happy
When I’m expected to stay away from “bullshit”
(When I’m expected to be the coolest)
I ask myself…
How many times have you looked back on your life
And said wow
Realized that there’s not many moments
You cracked a smile
I’m supposed to do great in school
But if I complain it’s
“All you do is go to school”
For girls having sex even for the first time
Is a mark of impurity
But I’m supposed to be “the man” right?
It’s funny how friends stay tight
Only if the timing is right
When you’re doing better they put you down
And try to pick a fight

[Same time] Meisha: 1…2…3…4   Anaika: 5…6…7…8

Meisha:
Cam! Please open the door!

[Same time] Meisha: 5…6…7…8   Anaika: 1…2…3…4

Meisha:
What’s wrong with you?
Being negative
And having self-hate

[Same time] Meisha: 1…2…3…4   Anaika: 5…6…7…8

Meisha:
After all that I’ve done for you?!
All of those sacrifices and you want more?!

[Same time] Meisha: 5…6…7…8   Anaika: 1…2…3…4

Meisha:
[Walk backwards]
I had the gun and you gave me the ammo…
So now it’s too late.

———————————————————–

Meisha:
[Walk forward]
I had the gun and you gave me the ammo

Anaika and Meisha:
My breath is leaving my body

Meisha:
My lungs stretching out
Their hands reaching out
For my idle breath

Anaika and Meisha:
Their words of envy strangled my neck

Meisha:
They were an assault on my lungs
They pushed out my air

Anaika:
“She thinks she’s better”

Meisha:
“You have no respect for authority”

Anaika:
“When I first saw you I thought you were stuck up”

Meisha:
“Everything’s your fault”

Anaika and Meisha:
Judgement before a word of exchange

Meisha:
I laugh and it’s

Anaika:
“What’s the problem I thought it was over”

Meisha:
If I’m friends with their enemy I’m the enemy

It’ll be quick

Just stand in the chair

Anaika and Meisha:
Hold your breath

And be free

Meisha:
I loved me as much as I could

But I was hurt by the reciprocated hate

The struggle of being like the girls in the magazines is heavy

So heavy that I decided

Anaika and Meisha:
To drop the weight

Meisha:
Create an escape to escape the hate and release the fate

A fate I couldn’t take

I made my own to correct the mistakes of the ones that hate

I hug the rope
Tied the knot
Stood on the chair
And accepted the fate

Anaika:
The fate of a girl who was too much
So much that she had to escape

Meisha:
[Walk backwards]
I had the gun and you gave me the ammo

———————————————————–

Meisha:
[Walk forward]
[Anaika walk forward and stand behind Meisha]

I had the gun and you gave me the ammo.
Dear God, make me a bird
So I can fly far, far far away from here

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
I’ll make you a bird.
I’ll help you fly away.

Meisha:
His fingers hugged one of the most important parts of my body
And it was so powerful that it took my breath away
Make me a bird

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
You are a bird

Meisha:
Make me a bird

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
You have always been a bird

Meisha:
Is what I repeated but all that I heard was screams of passion
Vibrating my eardrums echoing in my head
It shook me… so I thought the only logical thought
And it was clear…
I’m dead

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
You’re not dead,
You are a bird.
You are a flightless bird.

Meisha:
Dear God, oh dear God, how was this happening?

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
I’ll help you fly away
I’ll take away your pain

Meisha:
Alone in my home with no voice

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
You do have a voice,
The voice of a flightless bird.

Meisha:
Not even the strength to give a whisper
So dry that in the midst of it all it went unnoticed but my face,
My face is where the screams of passion unfolded
Dear God, make me a bird so I can fly far, far far away from here

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
I’ll make you remember
That you are a bird

Meisha:
The wind that I didn’t have then felt great now that I’m so high up

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
Fly

Meisha:
The winter was approaching so I figured
Heading south in that V was enough

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
Fly

Meisha:
Voiceless it cries,

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
A flightless bird

Meisha:
Wingless flutters,

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
A flightless bird

Meisha:
Toothless bites,

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
A flightless bird

Meisha:
Mouthless mutters.

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
A flightless bird

Meisha:
I’ll be free…

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
You’ll be a true bird

Meisha:
It’ll be quick everyone will see how hard it hits
Where kisses go I have scars that will never heal
One wrong touch and I’m that scared little girl
Crying breaking down
Remembering this man of steel
How could this be happening?

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
I’ll help you fly

Meisha:
What was the angle?

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
The angle of flight

Meisha:
What little girl in the 7th grade
Could ever deserve to be strangled?

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
A flightless bird

Meisha:
I took the deep breath
That I couldn’t back then
Trying to pull out the little bird from within

Anaika:
[Peek out from behind Meisha]
You’ll be a true bird

Meisha:
Toes at the edge,
Dressed in camo.
I jumped.

[Meisha falls to her knees]

Anaika:
[Lift head and smile][Walk backwards]
Welcome to my murder of crows.

Meisha:
[Walk backwards]
Because I had the gun and you gave me the ammo.

———————————————————————

Anaika:
[Walk forward]
I had the gun and you gave me the ammo.
Every night
I would lay in my bed soaking in my fright.
When the night fell over my room like a warm blanket
Peace was shattered by the light.
It layered my room in bright hues.
It came in the form of a fuse.
Like the sunset his touch lingered on my skin.
Yellow     warmth
Orange   aggression
Red         penetration
Red like the blood that stained my face and clothes.
With a pace as fast as a wild cat tearing away at its prey.
All I did was lay.
Lay in pain.
Lay in fear.
Wishing he would pour me a beer,
A beer to wash away the fear.
To wash away the feel.
The feel of his body crushing mine
Like a landmine.
The feel of his ring
Touching my torso.
How I wish this was a one night fling.
How I wish the light would leave my sight.
How I wish I could hide his bites.
How I wish I could fight back,
But how could I.
How could I ruin them.
Ruin him like he ruined me.

Anaika and Meisha:
But men don’t get raped
And fathers don’t rape their sons.

Anaika:
I am done.
I am alone.
My secret, his secret has been found.
For every bruise my mother pounds her head against the wall.
She falls.
Falls for him.
For his lies.
Because I am a lie.
She yells I should just die.
I… should… just… die.
I walk away.
Away from the pain and the lies.
I take the gun.
This should be fun.
Now I will make him come.
I let myself become numb
And strum my fingers against the barrel of his gun.

I put it in my mouth just like he taught me to.

The barrel chills my tongue
And leaves my mind in a fuzz.
I can hear my ears buzz.
I pull the safety back.

Anaika:                                                                             Meisha:

I can’t do this.                                                                    You better

I can’t live like this.                                                             You better

No one will care if I die.                                                     You better

No one cares that I’ve already died inside.                       You better

I am a lie.                                                                           Make me

I am worthless.                                                                 Me better

I am pathetic.                                                                     Me better

I am a worthless piece of shit.                                         You better make me better

It doesn’t even matter if I kill myself now.                        You better

No one believes me.                                                         You better

I am a lie.                                                                         You better

I tried not to give up.                                                         You better

No, I didn’t give up…                                                       Make me                                

I didn’t, but you did.                                                          Me better

You gave up on me first.                                                 Me better

You chose him over me,                                                 You better make me better

You betrayed me.                                                            X2

Anaika:
I pull the trigger.

[Walk backwards]
Because you gave me the gun and all the ammo needed.

—————————————————————-

Anaika:
[Walk forward]
I had the gun and you gave me the ammo.

Meisha: 3:00 AM

Anaika: I wake to the sound of my slaughtered cries.

Meisha: 3:05

Anaika: The sweat rolls off my body like all of your lies.

Meisha: 3:06

Anaika: My mind begins to crumble and die.

Meisha: 3:07

Anaika: The binds that have kept me tied down release themselves from me.

Meisha: 3:08

Anaika:
I realized there is only one way to free my mind.
Free my mind of your destructive slurs.
They echo in my mind causing a blur.

Fag

Meisha: Pussy

Anaika: Fruit

Meisha: Fairy

Anaika: Nancy

Meisha: Pansy

Anaika and Meisha: Queer

Meisha: 3:09

Anaika:
My salvation lies on my bedside.
It weighs heavy on my mind and in my hands.

Meisha: 3:10

Anaika:
As I imagine a new kind of euphoria and a new land
My mind fades into the darkness.

Meisha: 6:00 AM

Anaika:
I awake to the sound of a harmless noise
That shows me the starless sky
In the heartless morning.

Meisha: 6:01

Anaika:
But today I will not be in mourning.
I will feel the sun across my face
And I will let a smile spread across my face

Anaika and Meisha: Because today is a good day.

Anaika:
Today salvation will follow me to school.
Today salvation will free me from ridicule.

Meisha: 7:15 AM

Anaika: The doors to the school feel cool against the push of my hands.

Meisha: 7:17

Anaika:
The cafeteria is crowded with students and teachers.
They are all make believe preachers.

Meisha: 7:18

Anaika:
My salvation is nestled in my pocket.
Questioning its power,
But no flower is going to stop my salvation.

Meisha: 7:19

Anaika: I pull out my salvation.

Meisha: 7:20

Anaika and Meisha: Everyone runs

Meisha: 7:21

Anaika:
But I am having fun
And no one can out run my salvation.

Anaika and Meisha: I found salvation in a gun.

Meisha: 7:22

Anaika:
Bodies hit the floor.
Their screams hit me at my core.
Their blood begins to pour.
My heart begins to soar.

Meisha: 7:23

Anaika:
I have found euphoria
And I won’t let them take that away from me.

Meisha: 7:24

Anaika:
And with a loud bang
I let salvation take me away…

Anaika and Meisha: Away to euphoria.

Anaika:
[Walk backwards]
I had the gun and you gave me the ammo.

——————————————————-

Anaika:
[Walk forward]
Your words cut us like knives.
Your stares blew through us and
Nested themselves within us.
Our guns were holstered at our sides
Ready to save us from all of you,
But only if you give us the ammo.

[Walk backwards]

Meisha:
[Walk forwards]
It only takes one bullet,
It only takes one round,
It only takes one shot
To break our souls
To shatter our hearts.

[Meisha and Anaika move to stand side by side]

Meisha and Anaika:
We are not strong,
But do not believe that what we did was weak.
Have you ever tried to kill yourself?
It takes time.
It takes thought.
It takes a broken person.
It was us.
We were the broken,
The irreparable.
We had the guns and you gave us the ammo.

[Meisha and Anaika walk backward and turn around]

 

 

 

 

 

High School Poetry Series: Gender, Identity, & Race – Bianca Capeles


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A note from Series Editor Sarah Marcus: Born from a powerful in-class discussion we had about gender, race, and the role of masculinity in rape culture, these poems are an analysis of gendered personal experience and a study of our intersectionality. This poetry series was inspired by a HuffPost essay I wrote called, “Why I Teach Feminism at an Urban High School.” The poets featured here are students from my 12th Grade Creative Writing class whose work I found to be brave, fearless, and progressive. Please help me support their crucial and influential voices.

*

Bianca Capeles is a 17-year-old senior poet in my Creative Writing class. Her future aspirations include a United States Presidency and many, many book publications. She is a member of the Poetry Club and the Drama Club. She enjoys writing and engaging in heated political debates on Facebook. She continues her fight for equality because she “doesn’t understand how someone could advocate for one life over another.”

Capeles’s poem is a re-imagination of biblical lore. Her second person point of view and her steady and engaging rhythm reveals and insists on a historical pattern on repeat.

I chose this poem because of its clear message: a woman’s value is incalculable and should not be determined by men. The moment I heard this poem performed, I knew it needed a larger audience. Please join me in enjoying this untamed, bold new voice!

Elysha

Jezebel,
Explain the glances in your direction.
I guess it doesn’t help to stand beside Elijah,
newly turned prophet,
felt called to bring you to church.

Jezebel,
It must be the skirt you chose to wear,
just tight enough to curve around your legs,
evoking lust, causing Christian men to sin:
Mesmerizing beyond faith to break a commandment,
to devalue the worth of wedding rings…

Jezebel,
It must be the leather you chose to wear,
zipped up to your neckline,
covering what you thought would label you temptation.
Instead, you become rebellious in the eyes of the priest:
He sees your eyeliner and deems you troubled,
criminalizes your modesty,
sends women to patronize:

They say, “God changed me,”
and shows you a picture of a happier woman.

Jezebel,
Explain the whispers in your direction:
Pastor mentions his lovely wife –
You only notice the shrinkage of a woman under constant scrutinization.
You notice her limbs are completely covered in the same church Jezebel is shamed.
She looks as if making up for Eve.

Jezebel,
You remain unconvinced.
Elijah looks over for affirmation,
mentions later that his congregation asked about you:
But you hear the intentions behind every invitation to go out.
They want to discern your spirituality through the clothes that you wear,
if your inherent reflex is to smile if a man is caught staring.
They want to compare your faith to your fashion sense,
despite never having sex, Jezebel.

Elijah,
You are committed to God first, and then wife 1, 2, and 3.
She stands beside you with her child,
the offspring of another man,
and you bask in the reverence that is your position right now:
What a respectable man of God you are
for taking over the responsibilities
of used goods.

Elijah,
You feel above reproach.
You will raise your daughter to shun women like her mother,
wear clothes that attract men like you,
and associate her worth with her virginity,
even while having sex with drunk women,
conceiving a child out of wedlock,
and denying her.

Elijah,
You enjoy the air that Jezebel gives you:
Men glare and envy you,
all unhappy in marriages you have been able to avoid up until now,
with children not claimed to be yours as of yet.

Elijah,
You convince yourself that your interest is her salvation:
That the conversations you have could never find themselves materializing into something more than seeking God,
positioned beside the riskiest threat introduced to church since implemented dress code,
because you’ve brought her to church.

Elijah,
Explain the thought process that makes you innocent beside her:
Your tightened tie and shaved face would not exclude you from rebellious titles,
the tattoo on your arm is similar to the criminalization of eyeliner in Pentecostal churches,
And yet you remain a higher stature than assumed Jezebel,
Because you are assumed to be Elijah, Elysha.

A Review of Sarah Marcus’s Backcountry

Sarah Marcus Backcountry

A Review of Sarah Marcus’s Backcountry

by Karen Skolfield

In my review copy of Sarah Marcus’s chapbook from Finishing Line Press, Marcus includes a friendly, cheerful handwritten note to me which she signs “Love & Bears.” Love – a not-unusual sign off, and she knew my gender, so it’s the salutation between two women writers, but bears? And I look at the title: Backcountry. Of course. Where there are bears.

Turns out, in the backcountry there’s also plenty of love, so Marcus was giving me a succinct preview of her book. There’s love and its near-opposite, a couple we see struggling in their relationship, their lives. By placing the couple so often in the outdoors, the usual trappings of domesticity disappear: no one’s fixing the indoor plumbing as a sign the romance has gone out of the relationship, no one’s passive aggressively leaving dishes in the sink. Instead, they’re looking at maps, watching for storms, telling stories and dreaming, building a fire, building a fire again, that deep symbol of made and shared warmth, the collapse into coals, and is that good or bad? – Marcus lets us answer that question ourselves, even as this couple cycles through unhealthy behavior that may or may not be healthier than the lives they lived without each other.

The couple flashes in and out of the backcountry and a more urban and expected life, both offering their unique dangers. The way a simple rain can turn into a flash flood, “how water steals faces but leaves bodies.” A car rusting in a driveway as the woman contemplates the relationship. What a boat’s spinning propeller can do. When a coyote follows the woman and the couple take up a gun and bow, it’s clear this is not a real coyote but the specter of the relationship’s disintegration they’re warding off.

We hear that howl. We wish the couple well.

I should say: We sort of wish them well. This is a couple we sense shouldn’t be. Still, if this invented couple were all prairie paintbrush and squeaking marmots, all fireweed – the flower that blooms prolifically and purple after wildfire has scarred the landscape black – we’d be disappointed. We need their struggles and their troubles. We know those troubles, and hope we’re mostly beyond them, or won’t stumble into them again. We’ve been the man, telling her “not to make this more difficult than it needs to be.” We’ve been the woman saying everything’s fine, but “annoyed they’ve hiked all these miles to have the same conversation they’ve had at their kitchen table hundreds of times before.” We’re the looming need for rehab, the possibility of prison or a psych ward, the needle scars, the parent dying, the waste of looking for completion through another person instead of through the self.

Though I’m spending time telling the stories, that’s not to say it’s the only reason to keep reading. The narrative arc is pleasing, no doubt, but it’s the fineness of the poems and the finesse of language that makes each poem worthwhile. Like a tracker, I follow Marcus’s language, looking for the misstep in the mudbank – the classic mistake of a creature not wanting to be noticed – but there are no missteps here. Marcus’s chap is the literary equivalent of walking on rocks, each line firm and carefully placed. The endings are an absolute pleasure, never forced, and when I go back through and read them I notice that all but three or four of them end on the woman’s actions or point of view, and maybe this shouldn’t be surprising but I’m enormously pleased by this. Toward the end of the book, the softer third person switches to first person, the hammer of it – there’s been a major shift in the relationship – and it’s dizzying and perfect, both sad and triumphant.

And not to give too many spoilers, but there are bears, though not, perhaps, the bears you might expect. Take a woman and a man. Add some hardships and addiction. Have the adults deal with those things again and again. Now add bears – see how the wildest things go on and live or die without us, see how they move on, as in dreams? That’s how it is, Marcus tells us, for good or ill. That’s what happens in the backcountry.

Sarah Marcus, Backcountry. Finishing Line Press, 2013: $14

***

Karen Skolfield is the author of FROST IN THE LOW AREAS (Zone 3 Press, 2013). She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two kids. She teaches technical writing at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she also earned her MFA. She is a contributing editor at Bateau Press and the literary magazine Stirring, and her poems have appeared in 2011 Best of the Net Anthology, Cave Wall, Memorious, Painted Bride Quarterly, Rattle, Tar River Poetry, Verse DailyWest Branch, and others.

 

 

High School Poetry Series: Gender, Identity, & Race — Dion Pride

Poet and teacher Sarah Marcus with her high school students.

Poet and teacher Sarah Marcus with her high school students.

A note from Series Editor Sarah Marcus: Born from a powerful in-class discussion that we had about gender, race, and the role of masculinity in rape culture, “Be A Man/Be A Woman” poems are an analysis of gendered personal experience and a study of our intersectionality. This poetry series was inspired by a HuffPost essay I wrote called, “Why I Teach Feminism at an Urban High School.” The poets featured here are students from my 12th Grade Resistance Writing class whose work I found to be brave, fearless, and progressive. Please help me support their crucial and influential voices.

*

Dion Pride is an eighteen-year-old senior poet in my Creative Writing class. In his free time he enjoys writing, watching film, and participating in Cleveland’s community advocacy. At school he is involved with our Take Back the Night Campaign and event, he is an active member of Campus Ministry, and he participates as a member of the Men of Strength Organization.

I am constantly inspired by Dion’s compassion towards his family and his classmates. He is an activist who cultivates a culture of empathy in our classroom and community alike. I most enjoy the imagined conversation that takes place in this poem. This vital dialogue considers the courage needed to empower each other to stand up for equality.

In his own words: “Like in the past, no one person can get us there, we have to get us there. The energy of the youth and the wisdom of our elders. Together we can be the greatest force of change. Today, let us make the negro proud and show them how far the African American can go. Show them we won’t stop this time, until we are all free at last.”

See Dion read his poem here.

Be A Man

Yea, I’m a FEMINIST, I believe in equality.
So you believe that a woman is just as equal as you?
I do.

Do you think that we can have a woman leader?
There’s this real smart sweetie that live on Cedar
She can do the job.

There’s no way a woman can lead our nation–
We’ll be at World War III by her next menstrual cycle.
You say that now, but you would follower her
Like a boy on his bicycle
While you try to catch her in that Benz.

Women need to stay in they place.

So what is their place?

In the pages of a Secret catalog.
Let me tell you a secret real fast,

That girl is way more than a pretty face.
She can out school you and fool you.

When you were getting C’s and D’s,
She was getting A’s and B’s, trust and believe.
More than just a pretty face,
All women of all shapes and sizes
Meant to be equal by our God the highest.

But girls with bodies should show them and expose them.
Not for you, it’s not slavery, their sexuality is not for you to own.

But the media says…
Forget what the media says.
But politicians say…
Forget what politicians say,
They remind me of Homer from The Simpsons: rude, crude, and dumb.

It’s time for the wake up call,
It’s time to put your glasses on,
You don’t have to be worried about those wolves.
You have to worry about those foxes, those vixens–
Not those video vixens.

 

Feminism, Culture, and Poetry: An Interview with Lisa Marie Basile

Lisa Marie Basile

Feminism, Culture, and Poetry:

An Interview with Luna Luna Magazine Editor Lisa Marie Basile

by Sarah Marcus

This interview originally appeared as part of Gazing Grain Press’s feminist-author interview series by co-editor Sarah Marcus and is reprinted here with permission.

Sarah MarcusYou are the editor-in-chief at Luna Luna Magazine, which is self described as “a diary of ideas and a place for dialogue.” From your website, it seems as though this publication encourages a wide range of views and opinions. Although you “do not tolerate sexism, misandry, homophobia, ageism, racism, sizeism, religism, classism or transphobia in comments or in our published work,” you do allow articles from authors and comments from people who openly disagree and may have controversial stances on a variety of issues. How was Luna Luna Magazine founded, and how do you view its role and importance within the greater feminist and literary community?

Lisa Marie Basile: When I started Luna Luna I wanted to create a conversation. We are almost entirely run by women, and that is something I’m very proud of and want to continue. We of course allow voices from everyone, but I have never published anything I consider problematic or hateful.

I allow a very specific level of autonomy with regard to our contributors and staff writers; our disclaimer very clearly says that while we may not all agree with one another, we allow conversation and opinion. I want people to be able to discuss race, society, gender, sexuality and lifestyle in an open way. I will say, though, that I’ve never, ever published anyone who I felt was harmful to the public dialogue. We do publish comments to our articles that may be in opposition to our ideas (unless they’re blatantly rude or disgusting) and even then, sometimes (rarely), comment moderation slips through the cracks.

We do this because it gives our readers a chance to discuss the issue and it gives our writers the opportunity to provide a teaching moment. If I feel that there is ever a exploitative comment or if a commenter gets out of hand I’ll certainly discuss with the author and editors. I firmly believe in the discussion of differing opinions for the health of all – to an extent. We want to provide a platform for idea, and even confession of flawed idea, but I would not allow hate speech. We haven’t even come close, and if we had, our editorial staff would have had a very detailed discussion about it.

As far as feminism is concerned, our feminism is innate. We provide feminism in action. We are written by (mostly) women. We feature, spotlight and promote women. We actively seek diverse opinions on feminist issues, and we actively take a stance against everyday sexism. No opinion or delivery will be perfect for everyone, but we certainly try to at least get people talking about issues that affect them. We’ve had a lot of interaction with (either through content share or cross-promotion) other feminist organizations and magazines, and we’re really proud of that.

I’m not comfortable with labels but I will say our writers are gay, straight, bisexual, transgender, asexual, religious, atheist, parents, soon-to-be parents, and those who don’t want children. We have writers of almost every race, socioeconomic background, and size, and we’re determined to welcome people from every path of life.

In the end, we want to offer opinion of lifestyle, culture and the arts – and we welcome writing in those areas through a variety of lenses.

SM: You are also a co-editor & co-curator at DIORAMA: Poetry/Shape/Sound, the NYC editor of The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, and the editor at Patasola Press. Can you please tell us a little bit about each of these projects and about the experience of being an editor for so many different, interesting projects?

LMB: I am inundated, but luckily these projects don’t all come to life at once. Patasola is a small press. I publish a handful of chapbooks or books per year and have found it very difficult to do any more than a few.  My goal here is to publish beautiful words, because I love the authors I work with.

I curate content from writers in the NY area for The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, which is on break right now. I also teach a class for their workshops. DIORAMA is a poetry and performance event that incorporates the idea of musicality in poetry and live music into one intimate, vulnerable event where the reader and the audience isn’t separated by podium and harsh light. We’re very interested evocation and reading style and sound – how sound affects the listener’s experience. We host this event (myself and co-curate Alyssa Morhart-Goldstein, who runs SOUND Lit Mag, the associated journal of contemporary musico-poetics) every few months. We’re like a live action lit-journal; we select poets and their poems for the event. We also pair them with musicians who set their poems to music. It’s amazing.

I love to support writers and do beautiful things. I’m probably stretched too thin (no, I am), but I work best when busy. I am just lucky to be around the best people.

SM: I am so excited that your first full-length book, APOCRYPHAL, is due out this summer from Noctuary Press. Can you give us a synopsis of this work and tell us what inspired you to write these poems?

LMB: Thank you!!! I am so excited, too. It’s a weird, almost anti-climactic feeling; sort of like a death and a birth at once. I am already well-past the experience of those poems and I moved through a lot when writing it. Now it feels like a world I vaguely remember in a dream, but it’s still a world I know as home.

APOCRYPHAL is sort of set in three parts: a genesis, a world of secrets (apocrypha) and a paradise. For me, these “parts” are fluid; they’re from dreams and realities and half-remembered memories and secrets. Sometimes I don’t know which are which, but I use form and lineation to explore this. The book examines the woman’s relationship to sex and desire and being desired, but I think I try to subvert what we’ve been taught to “be” and “perform” and “look like.” I wanted to create a world that was as superficial and dramatic and broken as I felt and was taught when I was younger, insecure, and frightened. A lot of it deals with my father, who left when I was young and has always been a figure of relative mythology to me: how we talk about fathers, how we let them influence us, how we let them “define” men  – these are all topics I encounter. It’s written from not only my perspective but a sort of omnipotent camera. It pulls from my life as an Italian-American in a religious family, and from life on the beach and in cars and from the younger me who connected sex with validation. It’s my way of consoling my younger, more sunless self.

SM: What are you working on next?

LMB: I’m working on a book of fiction-it details the extreme side of friendship: obsession, co-dependence, ownership, lust and manipulation. I’m frightened of how natural it feels. But I’m excited for it to exist.

***

Lisa Marie Basile in a NYC-based poet. She is also the author of the chapbooks Andalucia (The Poetry Society of NY) and triste (Dancing Girl Press) and the forthcoming full-length APOCRYPHAL. She is the founding editor of Luna Luna, a diary of art, sex and culture, curator for the musicopoetics performance salon, Diorama, and the NY editor and a writing instructor for The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review. A graduate of The New School’s MFA program, she has been named a top contemporary NYC poet to read by several publications. She tweets at @lisamariebasile and works as a writer.

Sarah Marcus is the author of BACKCOUNTRY (2013, Finishing Line Press) and Every Bird, To You (2013, Crisis Chronicles Press). Her other work has appeared or is forthcoming in McSweeney’s, Cimarron Review, CALYX Journal, Spork, Nashville Review, Slipstream, Tidal Basin Review, and Bodega, among others. She is an editor at Gazing Grain Press and a spirited Count Coordinator for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. She holds an MFA in poetry from George Mason University and currently teaches and writes in Cleveland, OH. sarahannmarcus.com

A Review of Leah Umansky’s Don Dreams and I Dream

Don Dreams and I Dream

A Review of Leah Umansky’s Don Dreams and I Dream 

by Sarah Marcus

As a binge watcher of the television show Mad Men and as a feminist reading through a feminist lens, I was interested to discover the manner in which Leah Umansky would address the main character of this AMC drama, Don Draper, a mysterious and not so mysterious cheating-hero. Umansky accomplishes the difficult task of both honoring this fictional man and exposing his distorted idealism and chauvinism in her compelling work, Don Dreams and I Dream. To begin with the end, in her final poem, “The Times,” Umansky admits, “I thought I’d hate Don, like everyone else, but I don’t. I long/ for him the way kids long for the turning of the Ice Cream Man.” Umansky’s pining for Don is matched by her insight and mastery of language as she navigates the boundaries between a public and private sense of past and present and of intimacy and distance.

While these poems absolutely can and do stand alone without knowledge of the show, the experience of this chapbook of 15 poems is much enhanced by understanding the intricacies of each character and relationship. As I entered the world of poet-advertising, I was most struck by how, at first glance, these poems seem to be concerned with the past but are in fact very much about the future. These poems not only look forward, they often exist in a landscape of fearing things to come. In the TV show and in our current lives, there is an ever-present anxiety that what we do will eventually be considered irrelevant, and that we are, perhaps, living too much in this moment. Much of this work touches the very core of our search for worldly permanence.

Love, although not necessarily romantic, is a strong narrative thread tying together each poem in this collection. In these pages, the reader finds love of work, love of self, love as “an advertisement,” and love as “sold and bought.” While considering the many ways in which love is made visible or tangible, Umansky makes sure to remind the reader that they are not in charge here. For example, in the very first poem, “Simple Enough For a Woman,” as if the title was not enough of an affront, the reader is uncomfortably directed to “be happy.” Here, we are also enabled to consider the notion of value. These poems give life to the decision of who and what is valuable and asks us to determine how value is measured. The model of worth and of knowing what we are worth, and to whom, is the cornerstone, the key, to entering this world of consumerism.

To be your “own engineer” is the goal, and to be able to accomplish this, as seen in the poem, “Days of Sterling/ Days of Yore,” one must “[live] the dream” like Don. In the poem, “In My Next Life, I Want to Be an Ad Man,” we receive another bold direction: “Make me look good; the world is dangerous.” Appearances are of the highest import and looking good is always preferable to safety.

The world is dangerous, but these poems inhabit a world of what feels like distant danger, as if there is an awareness of impending doom, but there is inherent fun to be had within this instability. The dangers include not only the extravagant lifestyles (of women, booze, and parties), but also the rise of physical and emotional manufacturing: the steel machinery and the coolness of selling an idea. Near the end of this manuscript, there is even a poem titled, “Beauty is in the Machinery,” where Umansky writes, “It is easy to get turned or turned on,” as if chaos is necessary to vulnerability and the threat of losing yourself is not only worth the risk but is sexy and desired, even mandatory.

Generous wordplay and insistent internal rhyme contribute to a feeling that these poems are flirtatious and lighthearted despite their focus on identity and personal significance. The reader is reminded in poems like “It’s the Selling,” that “[we] want to be told” what to think, what to do, and how to feel. We are essentially being asked to buy these poems and these ideas.  And again, in the poem “How Advertising Works,” we are told to be bold and confident (forceful, even), to “be a stallion.” One cannot walk away from this chapbook without considering what they are selling and what they are being sold.

These poems reveal a meticulous planning and careful stepping, where everything feels on purpose and orchestrated. Perfectly arranged in the poem, “Creation without Design,” Umansky writes, “I want the color/ to repeat itself/ down your neck;/ So you remember/ that lipstick/ wasn’t made for you,/ but for me;/ So that I can remember/ what a man does/ to his woman.” A stunning image, but moreover a statement that a system is already set-up and composed. Something already existed and was done for you and in spite of you.

The manuscript’s final line, “It’s a man’s world, but not for all of us,” references the act of a young woman, one of Don’s protégées, rising in the advertising ranks and accepting a job with a competitor company. She is leaving the nest, so to speak. For her, and for a moment in our solidarity with her (we can taste the us), the world feels wide open and possible—but, it is a man’s world, and Don Draper is the man, and Umansky, like the show’s writers, never lets us forget that we are very much at his patriarchal mercy. This last line of Don Dreams and I Dream reasserts ownership of our delusion in thinking that things could, in fact, ever be different from how they have been. We are dared to want this, but as Leah Umansky cautions us in “Don Discovered America,” “wanting and having/ are two different things.”

Leah Umansky, Don Dreams and I Dream. Kattywompus Press, 2014: $12

 ***

Sarah Marcus is the author of BACKCOUNTRY (2013, Finishing Line Press) and Every Bird, To You (2013, Crisis Chronicles Press). She is also a Count Coordinator for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts and an editor of Gazing Grain Press. Read more at sarahannmarcus.com.

 

Women Are “Just More Emotional”

Paula Modersohn-Becker “Die Klagender Frauen” (1902) Public Domain

 

 

Women Are “Just More Emotional”

By Sarah Marcus

 

“Hey, the 1950s called, they want their stereotype back,” I said during a somewhat intense debate last night. I was asking a new friend, let’s call him Adam, what he thought of Garance Franke-Ruta’s recent article in The Atlantic called “Why Isn’t Better Education Giving Women More Power?

If I’m being honest, I probably already knew his response; I just really wanted it to be different, because… I like him. The article is basically about how even though women are generally more successful in school, the same behaviors and tools that helped them to succeed in the academic arena don’t necessarily translate into the workforce. The article gives statistics on the disparity between genders and points out that studies show women in the workplace are criticized more, make less money, and are generally judged more negatively. But the most important piece of this essay, and the part that I am most interested in, deals with the root of the problem:

The university system aside, I suspect there is another, deeply ingrained set of behaviors that also undermine women: the habits they pick up—or don’t pick up—in the dating world. Men learn early that to woo women, they must risk rejection and be persistent. Straight women, for their part, learn from their earliest years that they must wait to be courted. The professional world does not reward the second approach. No one is going to ask someone out professionally if she just makes herself attractive enough. I suspect this is why people who put together discussion panels and solicit op‑eds always tell me the same thing: it’s harder to get women to say yes than men. Well, duh. To be female in our culture is to be trained from puberty in the art of rebuffing—rebuffing gazes, comments, touches, propositions, and proposals.

Bingo. This makes total sense to me. I am a woman. I have all too well mastered the art of rebuffing. It’s March: Women’s History Month. There are signs in stores that are supposed to be “celebrating” women. They read: 60% of our employees are women! But, it’s a party trick. “Hey, look over here!” Because when you look at upper management, it’s only 4% female. Now, Adam’s initial response to this article was to also look at the numbers. He’s very logical. He’s very smart. I like him. He would like to see the holistic ratio of employees in business. He’s had a 50/50 ratio of male to female bosses. Then, he gives me a word problem: If there are 100 employees in the office and 10 are women, and there are 10 spots to move up from that 100, then 1/9 women should be promoted and 9/90 men should be, too. His point being that no one thinks about the actual numbers, they only look straight to the top and see that there are 9 male bosses and 1 female boss. I acknowledge that he is speaking from a place of privilege, and in my mind, this isn’t the problem either.

The problem is much deeper; it’s much bigger. The problem is that there are only 10 women who are employees going after that promotion in the first place. The problem is that we (women) have been taught all of our lives to accept our position, to be submissive, and to self-objectify. These behaviors and states of being are so deeply ingrained that sometimes I’m not even aware that I’m participating in this dynamic. From a very early age, we lose belief in our own political and social efficacy. We learn to see ourselves and value ourselves how the media and the collective consciousness see us.

Still, the real problem is even more insidious and subtly woven into our social makeup. The REAL problem is that we still exist in a time and place that perpetuates an accepted culture of violence against women. At some point in our debate, Adam says that men and women ARE different, right? He brings up the obvious difference: our physical traits. This is the in. Yes, I think, herein lies the issue at the core of our patriarchal power dynamic. Our physical traits have been held against us and kept us repressed since the beginning of time. This is usually where I lose my male readers. They hear sexual assault/domestic violence and distance themselves, because they would never do that, so this part doesn’t apply to them. This is where we’re all wrong. Let me give you a scenario that most of the women in my life can relate to:

I am joking around with my boyfriend. Maybe there’s a mutual nudge or a thrown pillow (all in good fun—remember, we are being hilarious and having a great time). Then, he holds me down by the wrists (not maliciously, still joking around, maybe even in an effort to transition into something more intimate). But, I have a moment of panic. Being held down, in that split second, I am utterly terrified when I realize that I am completely helpless, physically. He is still laughing, and when I suddenly say, “let go,” and he (of course) does, he is caught completely off guard by my reaction. He asks, “What’s wrong?” and says, “I was just joking around.” AND he was just joking around… and he didn’t do anything wrong, but what I realize in that moment is that he will (hopefully) never feel that specific kind of complete helplessness. He doesn’t get it. He doesn’t know what that violation feels like. He doesn’t understand that even the threat, the possibility of violation, is intimidating. He doesn’t know how to empathize. We MUST have these conversations. If we don’t talk about it, if we don’t express the legitimate danger, then people (and men, specifically) simply don’t think about what’s actually at stake here. What feels like small, insignificant attitudes and actions are actually monumental in this way.

Circling back to my debate with Adam, he says, “Women take things more personally than men do.” I have a heart palpitation, and I want to call him out on it, but I make a joke instead. He says, “Women are more sensitive by nature.” I use that 1950s line, and then I urge him to read the fabulous piece on emotional gaslighting by Yashar Ali, “A Message to Women From a Man: You Are Not ‘Crazy’.

This article essentially explains that “it’s a whole lot easier to emotionally manipulate someone who has been conditioned by our society to accept it. We continue to burden women because they don’t refuse our burdens as easily. It’s the ultimate cowardice.” Ali also argues that he doesn’t “think this idea that women are ‘crazy,’ is based in some sort of massive conspiracy,” but rather that this idea is instead “connected to the slow and steady drumbeat of women being undermined and dismissed, on a daily basis. And gaslighting is one of many reasons why we are dealing with this public construction of women as ‘crazy.’”

He goes on to talk about how men are conditioned to feel uncomfortable with emotional expression, because they are discouraged from emotional expression from an early age. Ali’s conclusion is in the form of a question. He asks: “Isn’t the issue of gaslighting ultimately about whether we are conditioned to believe that women’s opinions don’t hold as much weight as ours? That what women have to say, what they feel, isn’t quite as legitimate?” I think, yes.

Adam reads the article, but I am still met with more defensiveness, and I realize as we go back and forth that we are essentially having two completely different conversations. Adam initially interprets the article as an accusation. When he reads Ali’s plea to stop telling women that they are “crazy” or “too sensitive,” Adam thinks back to that one time with that one woman who said/did that super crazy thing and he “rightly” told her she was acting crazy. He feels like the message is: “Don’t do that. You’re wrong.” I see this interpretation/reaction all the time. My students, my friends, my family, most people do this. I realize then that Ali’s audience is “the choir.” He is essentially speaking to women who can already relate or men who already know not to do this, and this problem doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

As a teacher, a daughter, a friend, and a potential partner, the question for me has now become this: How can we enter into this conversation from a place of empathy? I have this hope that my attitude will inspire empathy in those who have a difficult time relating (coming from a place of privilege, or lack of exposure/experience) to the women who are being gaslighted. How do I talk to Adam?

Firstly, we need to recognize that men and women are taught to act and react differently. It is so important to take these kinds of articles and suggestions seriously, because I believe that this basic common respect, and our ability to value each other as equals, is the only way we will eradicate our culture of violence against women. This is how we stop victim blaming. This is how we end rape culture. This is how we become better humans, partners, family members, etc. We have to teach men not to violate women. We have to unlearn what we already know so well. This, as Adam points out to me, is essentially the Golden Rule: treat others the way you want to be treated. He asks, “What can I do that would be acceptable in the context of this article?” This is exactly what we all should be asking ourselves.

I think about Adam: He is a good human with a good heart… did I mention that I actually like him? So, what do I need to change about the way I am approaching this conversion? It dawns on me that we are all universally connected. We all have mothers, and sisters, and daughters, and friends. We all only have control over one thing in this world: our behavior. I try to shift our conversation towards this focus: “Don’t you want your partner/mother/sister/friend to feel valued? Shouldn’t we all (men and women) strive to put ourselves above emotional manipulation?” And the answer is obviously, yes. But Ali is also pointing out that we even enter this conversation on unequal footing.

The incredible documentary film, MissRepresentation, points out:

“Little boys and little girls, when they’re 7 years old, in equal number want to be president of the United States when they grow up. But then you ask the same question when they’re 15, and you see this massive gap emerging.”

Undeniably, there is a hierarchical structure of power in our society, and women are not at the top.

Our conversation shifts back to us as individuals, and Adam starts to talk about what he can do about the “problem.” So, in the context of raising a family, and in the workplace, and in relationships, he says that he’s been taught, harshly, to take responsibility for his actions, period. That he should own up to his mistakes and not make excuses. He’s been taught (like so many of us) that everyone is the same, and that it’s important to surround yourself with people that make you better regardless of their sex, race, or sexual orientation. He then asks, if he is operating under that fundamental mentality, in the way that he should, then what should he do differently within the context of his everyday life? This is an awesome question; one that I think about constantly.

My response is something that I have to work on every single day of my life.  It’s what I am working on in this moment: even when I believe that someone is being too sensitive or emotional, I try to listen with an open heart. Instead of poking holes in a belief or argument, I try to look for ways to be helpful and to empower people who feel as though they have lost efficacy. And then, Adam says something really powerful. He says that “in reality, if someone is being too sensitive, I listen to them, and I ‘empathize’ as you’d say. The only time that I say [the] things [in the article] is when I am at the end of my rope in a relationship and acting out. It’s my actions that cause it; I realize that. The good thing to do would be to cut it off or to not say those things at all.” While what Adam is saying seems so very simple, it is in practice, truly profound. It’s hard to act well, especially when our social instincts feel like they’re being threatened, and when we’re taught that vulnerability is “bad,” it’s no wonder we get so uncomfortable when people express themselves so directly.

All roads lead back to compassion. How do we teach and inspire compassion? I’m not saying that women shouldn’t be angry. I am furious. Everyone should be furious about violence against women. This is an issue that impacts all of us. Most of the men I know seem to be unaware, even, that 1 in 4 women in their lives have been sexually assaulted or an attempted assault has been made on them. Or maybe they (we) hear these numbers but can’t connect them to ourselves?

I imagine that our lack of information is primarily due to the fact that assault is difficult to talk about and difficult to hear about. We don’t really have safe spaces (especially in the public opinion arena) to talk about such things. We tend to retruamatize survivors. I want to know how we can express our anger in a way that doesn’t shut people down.

It is a travesty that there’s so much negativity connected with the Women’s Rights Movement. People are terrified to be a part of the feminist community, to call themselves FEMINISTS. I’m scared, too. I know, it’s hard to believe with my incessant facebook posting and boycotting and protesting that I feel scared, but I am human. I care about being judged just like everyone else. I wonder, because of the negative connotations surrounding the “F” word, whether I will “scare” off a potential partner or friends. I’m afraid it will scare Adam. What will my future employers think? These thoughts are persistent, though I have learned to move past that fear and do what I think is right regardless of how I feel.

Still, it’s important to continue thinking about and asking how feminism and the feminist community can become more inclusive. If a feminist is “anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men,” then we should certainly all call ourselves feminists. If not, I think we have a whole lot of explaining to do to our wives, daughters, sisters, and friends.

A version of this article originally appeared in So to Speak. It has been reprinted here with permission from the author.

***

Sarah Marcus is the author of BACKCOUNTRY (2013, Finishing Line Press) and Every Bird, To You (2013, Crisis Chronicles Press). She is also a Count Coordinator for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. You can read some more things about her at sarahannmarcus.com.