SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: SARA BIGGS CHANEY

BiggsChaneyauthor

ST. EUGENIA DECLARES HER ALLEGIANCES
By Sara Biggs Chaney

The girl said: I am not skin,
but sackcloth.

She said: I am not spoke,
but symphony.

My rib bones, how they burn
for the Son.

For Him, I will suffer
this harmonic ache–

I will pin my maiden head,
a moth wing,

I will bear the shames
of a thousand men,

I will wear the hands
of a healer.


Today’s poem was originally published in Thrush and appears here today with permission from the poet.


Sara Biggs Chaney received her Ph.D. in English in 2008 and currently teaches first-year and upper-level writing in Dartmouth’s Institute for Writing and Rhetoric. Her most recent chapbook, Ann Coulter’s Letter to the Young Poets, was released from dancing girl press in November, 2014. Sara’s poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in RHINO, Sugar House Review, [PANK], Juked, and elsewhere. You can catch up with Sara at sarabiggschaney.com.

Editor’s Note: Today’s poem, like the famous Walt Whitman quote, contains multitudes. Relaying an epic history in a few swift couplets, the interplay between referentiality and alliteration is as precise as it appears effortless. Discreet moments—brilliant vignettes—are carefully pieced together to reveal the story of a life: “The girl said: I am not skin, / but sackcloth;” “I will bear the shames / of a thousand men, // I will wear the hands / of a healer.” As readers, we are as transported by the world of the poem as we are transformed.

Want more from Sara Biggs Chaney?
“St. Barbara, Locked Away” in Atticus Review
“St. Theodora in the Brothel” in Tinderbox Poetry

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SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: GEORGIA DOUGLAS JOHNSON

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BLACK WOMAN
By Georgia Douglas Johnson

Don’t knock at the door, little child,
      I cannot let you in,
You know not what a world this is
      Of cruelty and sin.
Wait in the still eternity
      Until I come to you,
The world is cruel, cruel, child,
      I cannot let you in!

Don’t knock at my heart, little one,
      I cannot bear the pain
Of turning deaf-ear to your call
      Time and time again!
You do not know the monster men
      Inhabiting the earth,
Be still, be still, my precious child,
      I must not give you birth!


(Today’s poem is in the public domain, belongs to the masses, and appears here today accordingly.)


Georgia Douglas Johnson: A member of the Harlem Renaissance, Georgia Douglas Johnson wrote plays, a syndicated newspaper column, and four collections of poetry: The Heart of a Woman (1918), Bronze (1922), An Autumn Love Cycle (1928), and Share My World (1962). (Annotated biography courtesy of The Poetry Foundation.)

Editor’s Note: Some poems are so powerful they speak clearly to us across the span of time. Nearly one hundred years after its publication, “Black Woman” is such a poem, telling a story that resonates today as strongly as it did in 1922.

Want to read more by and about Georgia Douglas Johnson?
The Poetry Foundation
Academy of American Poets
University of Minnesota

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High School Poetry Series: Gender, Identity, & Race — A’bria Robinson

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.

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A’bria Robinson is a senior poet in my Resistance Writing class. She is involved in our school’s recruiting force, Volleyball, and Campus Ministry. She participated in Cleveland’s Effective Leadership Academy, she is a recent graduate of a college preparation program called Minds Matter, and a committed advocate with the Cleveland Renaissance Movement community activist group. I chose A’bria’s poem, “Lady,” for its passionate rhythm, its clear message, and its use of deeply personal and relatable experiences.

A’bria’s commitment to impacting our community is nothing short of inspirational. She says, “I lost a friend freshman year to violence, so I’m a huge advocate for raising awareness for youth violence and expressing the importance of education, because that is the key that will change the world.” The advice that she offers to young writers is to “be open to having different experiences, especially allowing something uncomfortable to happen, because it can inspire great art.” I love her poem and I love A’bria for her honesty, fierce moral compass, and her ability to embody an empowered voice.

See A’bria read her poem here.

Lady

I be damned if you walk out my house looking like somebody’s prostitute
I never did understand how the way I dressed would constitute
I be damned if you walk out my house looking like a tramp
How in the world is my self worth proclaimed by my style, my stamp?
Cross your legs, what is wrong with you?

You are a female
Pregnant at 16 and addicted to retail
Single black woman addicted to retail
Pretty faces always sell
Sex in the magazines always sells
What were you thinking?
Dye your hair back black
I’m already black
Police don’t respect our pact
Supposed to serve and protect
Instead they keep going back.

Curls all down your back
You look classy like that
Forget ponytails
And snap backs
You are a lady,
You would never wear that.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t like it
That’s just the way that it goes
When you were a child
I mean, you will always be my child
You’ll always be mommy’s baby
And daddy’s maybe
But at the end of the day
You better remember you are a lady
And I’ll be damned if you walk out of my house looking like somebody’s prostitute.

When Daddy’s never home
No one to teach me right from wrong
Boys disrespect me
If I never let them get it
They ask how much do you love me
But to them I’m nothing
I’m nothing but my body.

Daddy’s never home
Man this life is rough
Like Loretta said,
Somebody walked in my house.

Tried to take all my stuff
And yet I still walk with class and grace
Still feeling like I’ve been a disgrace
Confused and misguided
My beauty was a threat.

I be damned if you walk out my house looking like somebody’s prostitute
I never did understand how the way I dressed would constitute
I be damned if you walk out my house looking like a tramp
How in the world is my self worth proclaimed by my style, my stamp?
Cross your legs, what is wrong with you?
You are a female.

Addicted to retail
Single black woman addicted to retail
Pretty faces always sell
Sex in the magazines always sells.

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High School Poetry Series: Gender, Identity, & Race — Jazmyn Alexander

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.

*

Jazmyn Alexander is a senior poet in my Creative Writing class. She loves hair, hanging out with friends, shopping, and reality T.V. shows. To be perfectly honest, Jazmyn and I got off to a rough start this year, but as the year progressed, Jazmyn felt incredibly connected and engaged with the material that we were learning. She says, “Before this class, I really didn’t care about feminism or women being treated poorly in the media. I didn’t pay much attention. I just thought a woman being degraded was the norm. When we learned about it, I felt like women have so much more to offer than being objectified for men. And we’re beautiful; we don’t have to get naked to show that we’re beautiful.”

Jazmyn’s rap is incredibly powerful. She addresses the wrongful deaths of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Mike Brown. She says: “Writing this rap came easy. I knew I wanted to tell a story about justice. I wanted to stick to one person for each verse.” I feel especially connected to this poem’s chorus. I love the way it subverts our conception of what a contemporary rap encompasses.

See Jazmyn read her poem here.

He’s Gone

Verse 1:
Now Trayvon walkin down the street, swagged out with a hood and J’s on his feet.
Ain’t doing nothing but lookin at his phone, no worries but it was gone be a long way home.
He wasn’t ready for what was comin, if he only knew that he was gone get into somethin.
Tryna fight… for his life, with Zimmerman on his back he knew that something wasn’t right.
So he kept on walking, noticed he was being followed so he started talking…
The man was cruel, knew what he wanted to do.
With all the break-ins on his street this was a justice move.
Tray’s girl on the line, she wanna know if it’s okay, is it all fine?
He let her know, he had to call back, time to fight for his life cus he under attack.

Chorus:
And he’s gone, Tray lost his precious life to a bullet hole
Not smokin’ on nothin’, nor sippin on somethin’
But the color of his skin showed that his life wasn’t nothing

And he’s gone
Yeah he’s gone
And he’s gone
Trayvon is gone

And wasn’t smokin’ on nothin’, nor sippin’ on something
But the color of his skin showed his life wasn’t nothing, alright.

Verse 2:
Then there was Eric too, chilled on the block listening to the humming blues.
He didn’t know how this day would go… Wasn’t knowing that he wasn’t gonna make it home.
Then a fight broke out, he tried to break it up but he got struck out.
(Make noise) he gasp for air, I can’t breathe, please let me go, please let me go
Cus I can’t breathe!
The police they choked him tight, aware of his asthma as he gasped for his life.
They didn’t care, they didn’t stop
Black man down, was the evidence that they got.
Taking this man’s life away, the public watched like dim to a brighter day.
This gotta end, where do we begin?
Rest in peace… Tray, Eric, Mike, and all black men.

Chorus:
And he’s gone, Eric lost his precious life to a choke hold
Not smokin’ on nothin’, nor sippin’ on somethin’
But the color of his skin showed that his life wasn’t nothing

And he’s gone
Yeah he’s gone
And he’s gone
Eric is gone

And wasn’t smokin’ on nothin’, nor sippin’ on something
But the color of his skin showed his life wasn’t nothing, alright.

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Things to Worry About

Norah Vawter Parents

The author with her parents, Skip and Denise, 1985.

Things to Worry About

by Norah Buckley Vawter

Dear Mothers,

Things to worry about:

  • Worry about the planet.
  • Worry about your children’s welfare.
  • Worry about your family and friends.
  • Worry about not wasting your life.
  • Worry about kindness and love.

Things not to worry about:

  • Don’t worry about conversations you had yesterday.
  • Don’t worry about what other people think of you.
  • Don’t worry about what other people think, period.
  • Don’t worry about jogging strollers.
  • Don’t worry about jumperoos vs. exersaucers.
  • Don’t worry about getting a fancy anything unless you really want it.
  • Don’t worry about worrying.
  • When holding a newborn, don’t worry that he is so tiny and fragile you might break him just by holding him. If babies were that fragile, we wouldn’t have a human race.
  • If you had great parents, don’t worry about living up to impossible expectations of what parenting should be like. Your parents surely, surely had days when they made mistakes, maybe even huge ones.
  • If your parents were awful, don’t worry about doing everything differently to create some magical world full of goodness and light for your own child. Just do your best. There will probably be plenty of magic and goodness and light.
  • Absolutely don’t cry yourself to sleep thinking you are the world’s worst mother. You’re probably doing better than you think. In fact I bet you are strong and beautiful. I feel certain that you deserve happiness and love.
  • Don’t worry about the dark circles under your eyes from lack of sleep and lack of makeup and just being plain tired and wrung out every day.
  • Don’t worry about the fact that Mom X gives her kids all organic food when you don’t.
  • Don’t worry about what Mom X must think when you pull out a bag of Honey-Nut Cheerios and food-dye-ridden Goldfish crackers for your toddler, while she feeds her kid homemade flaxseed bread and homemade yogurt with a smattering of wheat germ.
  • Don’t worry about anything anyone posts on Facebook. Ever.
  • Don’t worry about haters in general.
  • If you had your heart set on nursing, don’t worry if you can’t.
  • And don’t you dare let any parent bottle-shame you. When you are sitting at the park with your baby in your lap, and you pull that bottle of formula out of your bag – hold your head high because you are feeding your baby.
  • If your own parents are gone like mine are, don’t worry that your kid will grow up never knowing them. They’re around – somewhere. They’re inside of you. They’re inside of your kid. They’re in photo albums and in the books they read to you, the ones you now read to him.
  • Don’t worry about how you will eventually have to explain what death is, and where Granny Denise and Grampa Skip are.
  • When your kid starts to point out “Nise” and “Skip” in the family photos on the wall, because you’ve been doing that, don’t worry if you cry in front of him. When he says, “Mama sad” – don’t worry about what to say. Something will come. And then he’ll probably want to hug you, and it will be the best hug in the world. Ever. And then you can say, “Mama happy,” and mean it.
  • Don’t worry about being the perfect mother.
  • Don’t worry about perfection, period. It doesn’t exist, and if it did, life would be a hell of a lot less interesting.

Things to think about:

  • How can I be a mother and still be a human being in my own right?
  • If I’m not happy, how can I get there? If I’m not happy with how I fit into my world, how can I fix that?
  • Am I doing my best, as a parent, as a human being, in general, etc.?
  • What tangible, specific things can I do to make my life better, or others’ lives better, and maybe even make my world a better place to live?
  • If I want to make my mark on the world, how can I do that?

Love always,

Norah Buckley Vawter

Things to Worry About Parenting

The author with her son, 2015.

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Inspired by Scott Fitzgerald’s letter to his daughter, Scottie, dated August 8, 1933

Norah Vawter wishes time travel were possible so she could party with Scott Fitzgerald and then talk literature. She earned an MFA in fiction from George Mason University and  has work published or forthcoming in Extract(s), The Nassau Review, and Agave. Currently she stays at home with her toddler while at work on her first novel.

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SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: HEMISPHERE

hemisphere


From HEMISPHERE
By Ellen Hagan:


RIVER. WOMAN.

I.
Downriver is always long
& always flailing, finding

where our lives begin,
intersect?  You, your bones

the humped slope of nose
browned skin of home.

You, sand. You, ocean.
You, bending & me.

How many nights we sleep
alone, our bodies rising—

what it means to miss you.
What it means to expand.
What it means to be birthed.
What it means to be sacred.
What it means to go home.

Place of birth, birthing
ground. Ground that is sacred.
You that is sacred.

Bones that hold together.  Bind.
Bound to you.  My mother.

II.
Me
I am bound to you.  My mother.
You stitch me from inside.  Hollowed.
your split sheath of self, your letters
the slow cursive of your language,
can’t I hear your voice, always?

Her
Lock the doors.  Latch the locks.
Shut the windows.  Close the blinds.
Cover up.  Clean your room.  Do
the dishes.  Wash the clothes.  Behind
your ears, yourself.  Clean the floor.  
Scrub.  Mop the remains every day
is one that you can use to erase all
the mistakes.  Blemish free.
Shine the doorknobs, pine, every
crease of space.  Cabinets.  Don’t leave
food out.  Food brings mice.  Mice
bring disease.  You will die.  You could 
die.  Don’t die.  Don’t ever die.  You 
stitch me from inside.  I am bound
to you.  Can’t you always hear
my voice?



LESSONS ON SPELLING

Bring the snakes in their skins, sly
& surrender. Simple bodies of grass
& clover, their slithering and sleuth-ness.
& the earth & the dusty fisherman
in from their boats, bobbing. Bring
piano, bring pain. That yellow skirt
pocked w/ fuchsia & the halter
of your mother’s pixie 60’s ways.
Let out the hems from your dresses,
the vertebrae in your back, body
forget skeleton—be loose, let it be dirty.
Get there. Call the black cat promenade,
lazy through the streets. Let your hair
down. Let it crawl, crowd the length
of your back. Bring soca & fiddle,
that record player your father bought
your mother in 1974. Bring all the days
from 1974 & on because time is a revolver.
A bag of limes on your back porch
squeezed & bitter & neon & orbiting
over you. Is your neighbor calling.
Is satsumas bursting on your tongue.
Bring your shiny shoes & arched soles
for the flapping pageant of second line
parade, the 100 parades from now until.
Autumnal. Hymns. Prayers.
Ways to say yes. Bring with you
your rope of hide, your many rings
of muscle & the washcloth
for your stomach, your feet
for the laying nape of your neck.
Bring danger & ways to hold your lips,
your lips, bring them too.
Spanning the whole of you.
You become.



WATER SIGN

Already a lullaby inside.
Your palms to belly, breath
on hip.  You are changing,
beginning. Too.  And you,
baby girl, or boy. Or two.
Are just gills. Still. Heart in
mouth. Red burst of newness.
Fins.  Fish or fowl. Shrimp
are larger than you.

Still, you are breaking me
apart. Him too. Our hearts
and lungs, and gills. Bursting 
You are stretching all,
all of us. Open.


Today’s poems are from Hemisphere, published by TriQuarterly Press/Northwestern University Press, copyright © 2015 by Ellen Hagan, and appear here today with permission from the poet.


Hemisphere: The poems in Hemisphere explore what it means to be a daughter and what it means to bear new life. Ellen Hagan investigates the world historical hemispheres of a family legacy from around the globe and moves down to the most intimate hemisphere of impending motherhood. Her poems reclaim the female body from the violence, both literal and literary, done to it over the years. Hagan acknowledges the changing body of a mother from the strains of birth from the growing body of a child, to the scars left most visibly by a C-section €”as well as the changes wrought by age and, too often, abuse. The existence of a hemisphere implies a part seeking a whole, and as a collection, Hemisphere is a coherent and cogent journey toward reclamation and wholeness. —TriQuarterly Press/Northwestern University Press


Ellen Hagan is a writer, performer, and educator. Her latest collection of poetry, Hemisphere, was released by Northwestern University Press in Spring 2015. Ellen’s poems and essays can be found in the pages of Creative Nonfiction, Underwired Magazine, She Walks in Beauty (edited by Caroline Kennedy), Huizache, Small Batch, and Southern Sin. Her first collection of poetry, Crowned, was published by Sawyer House Press in 2010. Ellen’s performance work has been showcased at The New York International Fringe and Los Angeles Women’s Theater Festival. She is the recipient of the 2013 NoMAA Creative Arts Grant and received grants from the Kentucky Foundation for Women and the Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts. National arts residencies include The Hopscotch House and Louisiana Arts Works. Ellen recently joined the po­etry faculty at West Virginia Wesleyan in their low-residency MFA program. She teaches Memoir, Poetry & Nature, and co-leads the Alice Hoffman Young Writer’s Retreat at Adelphi University. She is Poetry Chair of the DreamYard Project and a regular guest artist at the Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts.


Editor’s Note: I fell in love with the poems in Ellen Hagan’s Hemisphere for their language: earthy, sensual, gritty. Unafraid of blood and birth, of mud and heat, of nature, of relationship, of what is real and lush and vivid, of what is primal and complex. I am reminded of the swamp, of the first creatures that dragged themselves forth from the murky depths, crawling forward, always, evolving for the sake of life. I am reminded, also, of witchcraft, of alchemy, of drawing down the moon. Of things my mother taught me, of that which has been handed down from woman to woman through the ages.

Today’s poems were meant to be, here, today. Because they are about the twin experience of birth—both as child and mother. Because much of this book is about the relationship between mother and daughter, the circle of life as only mother and daughter experience it: “where our lives begin, / intersect;” “what it means to miss you. / What it means to expand. / What it means to be birthed. / What it means to be sacred. / What it means to go home.”

In honor of Mother’s Day, and of the magic that grows from the rich soil of today’s poems, today’s feature is dedicated to my mother, the water sign, from your daughter, the water sign. “You that is sacred… I am bound to you. My mother.”


Want to see more from Ellen Hagan?
Ellen Hagan’s Official Website
Ellen Hagan’s Blog
Duende
Drunken Boat
Buy Hemisphere from Indie Bound

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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.

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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.

 

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