Prior to reading Rukeyser’s “The Book of the Dead,” we’re looking at some examples of poetry that may be unexpected. Like we turned literature on it’s head, so to speak, by reading a graphic novel, we’re going to cover poetry through a performative lens. I am not concerned here with celebrating the mystery of language or the special skill “required” to understand poetry, but rather the very practical, personally applicable function(s) of poetry in our everyday lives. Poetry is everywhere, in song lyrics, in advertising, in novels, in our minds, but poetry is also met with extreme resistance. We’ll discuss some of the reasons why. I hope to break down these barriers by turning our attention toward slam poetry; while these poems cover material that may be difficult to talk about, by bearing witness to these performances we can perhaps know more than we might otherwise have if we had read these stories in a traditional, paragraph-oriented text to be read in a quiet room, alone.
Prof. Lonsdale’s ENG 132 Poetry Playlist I’ve enabled the option that allows people to add videos to this playlist; if there are poems you want to see included that I can show students in future semesters, please contribute!
“Allowables” by Nikki Giovanni
“The Brown Menace or Poem to the Survival of Roaches” by Audre Lorde (more Audre Lorde here)
“Let America be America Again” by Langston Hughes
“not an elegy for Mike Brown” by Danez Smith
“humanity I love you” by ee cummings, read by Amanda Palmer
I’ll leave you with these words, from the podcast On Being, an essay by Audre Lorde on the necessity of poetry for women:
For within structures defined by profit, by linear power, by institutional dehumanization, our feelings were not meant to survive. Kept around as unavoidable adjuncts or pleasant pastimes, feelings were meant to kneel to thought as we were meant to kneel to men. But women have survived. As poets. And there are no new pains. We have felt them all already. We have hidden that fact in the same place where we have hidden our power. They lie in our dreams, and it is our dreams that point the way to freedom. They are made realizable through our poems that give us the strength and courage to see, to feel, to speak, and to dare.
If what we need to dream, to move our spirits most deeply and directly toward and through promise, is a luxury, then we have given up the core-the fountain-of our power, our womanness; we have give up the future of our worlds.
For there are no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt, of examining what our ideas really mean (feel like) on Sunday morning at 7 AM, after brunch, during wild love, making war, giving birth; while we suffer the old longings, battle the old warnings and fears of being silent and impotent and alone, while tasting our new possibilities and strengths.
from “Sister Outsider: essays and speeches” page 36. Published by Crossing Press, 1985.