Fall 2020: Visiting History Scholar: Community-Generated Poetry Activity (Virtual)

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Visiting History Scholar Poetry Reflection session: THURS 11/19/20 6:00-7:30p “Poetry and History: Community-generated poems”

The 2020-2021 Visiting History Scholar series invited Dr. Robin Morris to LCC’s campus Spring 2020 to engage with her work on the Conservative Women’s Movement which included explorations of anti-ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) activism. As with so much Spring 2020, plans regarding the series had to change drastically.  Professor Anne Heutsche persisted, and the engagement happened virtually Fall 2020 in a three-part series.  The last of the series included reflecting on the ideas and themes in Dr. Morris’ work through the lens of an historical range of feminist poetry/poets.  The following poems were created by participants in the Visiting History Scholar Poetry Reflection session via a community-generated poetry activity using the following steps/process:

 

  1. I read and then posted in the chat two “inspiration” quotes – one from a feminist poet/poem, and one from Dr. Morris’ work (either a quote from an activist or a quote from Dr. Morris’ writing)
  2. I then asked the participants to take a few minutes and write a couple of lines in response to the inspiration lines.
  3. Then the poets shared their lines in chat while I copied/pasted to another document as the lines were posted.
  4. Initially, I had envisioned then crafting the order of the lines together, as we would have done in a face-to-face session, but that proved unwieldy via WebEx
  5. So, after participants had shared their lines, I just read the lines in the order I had copied/pasted them.
  6. Somehow that worked and ta-da, poems! 🙂
  7. I have only slightly tampered with these poems where line breaks and adding/or modifying punctuation helped with flow/sense. I’ve also given each poem a title that marries concepts from the two inspiration quotes with what emerged in the poem.

 

The poets who contributed lines to the poems are: Barb Clauer, David Guard, Nea Harris, Anne Heutsche, Jeremy Hockett, Melissa Kaplan, Kali Majumdar, Erika Schieberl, Pamela Smith


 

Poem 1: Anger and Privilege

“There are so many roots to the tree of anger…/which me will survive/all these liberations.” (opening line + last 2 lines of “Who Said it Was Simple” 1973 by Audre Lorde)

“Why should we lower ourselves to ‘equal rights’ when we already have the status of special privilege? — Phyllis Schlafly (1972) re: her Anti-ERA stance

 

Who said it was simple

to push our resilient roots through patriarchal concrete

buckle the sidewalk and

forge our own path for the special privilege of this uphill journey?

 

There are many feathers in the wings of desire

hopes soar to become what we want

 

The righteous roots of feminist rage creep above the ground

and threaten to uproot the tree of equality and freedom.

Will woman survive this anger or will they be destroyed in the struggle?

 

The privileged picture equal rights a bed of smoldering ash,

stinking and sodden

I picture liberation privilege’s explosion,

a fury of flames,

spreading the sweet scent of freedom

 

What are the roots of this privilege?

From which tree have they burrowed

Into the soil seeking to nourish

A self-righteous and wrathful woman

 

There was no practice for this anger I felt.

Sudden, and unknown

“Hush, now”

But, the blood pushing through scattered veins had never learned how.

 

Liberation – no glory for me, special privilege – above what is usually considered privilege.

it posits how we will survive liberation

gender equality is a reduction

To leave swinging her sisters from its branches of liberation?


 

Poem 2: Sons and God

“wishes for sons” the title of a 1987 poem by Lucille Clifton

“Women have babies and men don’t. If you don’t like this fundamental difference between men and women, you will have to take your complaint to God.” — Phyllis Schlafly (1972)

 

Are you there God? It’s me, mother of sons and I have a complaint:

I cannot find the ear where I might whisper my wishes for sons

for my sons…

I wish them epiphany without blindness, revelation without suffering

but for others?

I wish the pain of childbirth, the haunt of assault,

keys poised as claws in self-defense as they walk in darkness

and the eternal weight of women’s collective memories:

epiphany by revelation

 

childfree women

desire fulfillment

wonton women

 

How men hunger to understand a women’s world?

To be able to create another life within herself is the power

that God endowed to women. She was pleased.

Sons long to return to the womb of where they sprang.

Sons wish to have the power of life.

 

My son, were I to ever have one, would be my baby too.

I’d show him how to swim against the world’s tide

And hope that one day others join him

 

reckless desire

all god’s creation

 

wide eyes to see all the ways of love –

brave hearts to feel beyond the fear –

For unknown reasons

would your god want any less for your sons…or daughters?


 

Poem 3: Human and Woman

 

“That she somehow is not a human thing…/A wing, a branch, an extra, not mankind—” (From stanza #6 of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 1911 poem “The Anti-Suffragists”)

“Women who Want to be Women” — (WWWW) A Texas women’s group formed by anti-ERA activist Lottie Beth Hobbs

 

Can the hawk fly wingless?

Does the oak survive without its branches?

 

Her presence is unique to those who seek her company.

what is a woman, a man, a human

a woman who wants to be human

a man who wants to be a woman

As you see me.

a woman, as strong as her roots

 

Keep your rib, sir, I have my own, full breasted and meaty

Women formed from a rib, a bone and not a human thing.

Not of mankind, women are bones and part of the earth.

They will be worn down to ash and then provide

sustenance for women who want to be women

 

Tell me once more what makes me a woman.

Tell me what appearance will satisfy,

and bind me to this world once more,

As a woman


 

Poem 4: Living and Battling

 

“Live not for battles won./Live not for the-end-of-the-song./Live in the along.” – Gwendolyn Brooks 1991 poem “Speech to the Young”

“The women began fighting both battles in the name of the American family” — Dr. Robin Morris writing about GA STOP ERA – 1972 (the 2 battles = STOP ERA and abortion)

 

How do we understand anything beyond “battle”

cooperate is even an odd word with too much emptiness within it –

how do we measure our loot?

wagin wars to heal souls

I find happiness in every day. Lord I thank you!

who is the medicine woman

Where is my justice?

 

The women understood they were planting

the seeds of liberation for the next generation.

They were living to provide the words,

the stanzas the tools to survive and thrive.

Women know how to craft together families from the scraps of their lives.

The women were fighting by resisting, persisting and creating

songs that cry for battle seeking justice

 

I see nothing within the battle

It is from along the sides of the fight that the picture becomes clear

warriors of the quiet moment, the crying moment,

once in the battlefield graves, the fight fell away

and all the souls shared the same stars

leave no one behind

 

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