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, is a recent graduate of the college preparation program Minds Matter, and is 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.”

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

About Sarah Marcus

Sarah Marcus is the author of They Were Bears (2017, Sundress Publications), Nothing Good Ever Happens After Midnight (2016, GTK Press), and the chapbooks BACKCOUNTRY (2013) and Every Bird, To You (2013). Her other work can be found at NPR’s Prosody, The Huffington Post, McSweeney’s, Cimarron Review, Spork, The Establishment, Cosmopolitan.com, and Marie Claire.com SA, among others. She is an editor at Gazing Grain Press, a spirited VIDA: Women in Literary Arts volunteer, and the Series Editor for As It Ought To Be’s High School Poetry Series: Gender, Identity, & Race. She holds an MFA in poetry from George Mason University and currently teaches and writes in Cleveland, OH. Find her at www.sarahannmarcus.com.
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2 Responses to High School Poetry Series: Gender, Identity, & Race — A’bria Robinson

  1. Saiida says:

    Yesssssssssssssssssss!!!!!!!!!!! Yesssssssssssssssssss!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Maya Elashi says:

    ‘You’re a female, addicted to retail!’
    Not really~~~they be lookin’, like we, for a deeper level of love.

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