I should start off by saying that it may seem that the title of this article is aimed at only women, rest assured that it isn’t. And no, women are not weaker for inheriting menstruation. And…ok you know what…this is what happens when a man uses a natural feminine quality to symbolize anything that’s unfavourable. So all apologetic protocol observed…
In 2004 I wrote a poem I got booed off stage for performing. I wasn’t upset with the audience, mind you, since it meant that they were listening. The piece began:
“I don’t necessarily take well to
the lady that takes my writing pad
wedges it between her legs
to release nothing but discharge
“ No thanks, keep the pen.”
she don’t need no blood-ridden ink
cause she bleeds every month
and not just down her thighs
but out her nose and mouth as well…”
That’s the point I got booed off stage.
However this was a significant victory for me. See, I’d gotten to the stage where I hankered for a lot more than habitual applause, cheers and daps and where many sought after acceptance I longingly craved for reactions that unsettled audiences and drew them into morbid silences, or tears, or indeed anger. I’d learned the power of words and a platform, and couldn’t wait to restructure this poem and shove it down their throats yet again, and watch them hungrily lap it up. I would make them love this piece. Don’t judge me, that’s what power does to most people.
The poem is called The Art Rights Itself, a play on the art’s extraordinary ability to create (write) itself and somehow all the while also correcting (right) itself. This was a rant against a poetry trend that was prevalent at the time, of poems, predominantly from the mouths of women, which were really just bedecked diary entries…I suppose this is the point where I say…in my opinion.
Who was I to pass such harsh judgement on young poet wannabes? Well, to be brutally honest. I felt that I had some say on the quality of work that was being paraded as South African poetry, being one myself. I knew through my own experiences that it took a lot out of a person to write a poem. A lot of crafting, editing, writing, rewriting, hating, tossing away or deleting, then rewriting, tearing chests open, opening up one’s darkest demons, accepting them, dusting them off, then polishing them demons into shiny poems that you present to audiences. Yes, writing a poem is somewhat the same as polishing granny’s rusted old silverware. But I digress, I genuinely felt insulted that my arduous journey and outpouring thereof could be used as an opening act for a trend of poetry that clearly didn’t exhibit matched effort. So…yes of course I felt I had some say on the matter. And I know that there’ll be plenty people reading this that’ll support my claim. You go to a poetry event/reading and there’s a poem on stage telling you that men a dogs, sans talent, sans wisdom, sans tact, simply ranting…as if the audience was their personal Sis’ Dolly.
Now before you start creating mass wedgies of anger understand this… See the last decade has seen various women in performance poetry come to fruition…and correctly so. Many deservedly I might add. However this liberation also saw numerous “Oh woe is me” style poetry come out of the woodworks from copious first-pen upstarts. And this is whom my poem addressed.
Many years later, many of those upstarts, men and women, are respected artists. Some of the work produced I actually have a lot of respect for. 2004 seemingly stamped a large chauvinistic badge on my sleeve and has left it draping there still, like walking sleeveless with a swastika tattooed on your arm in Israel.
I do stand by my word though, that the art-form should not be taken for granted and should be treated with the respect and toil it deserves, particularly if you intend to share it with others. See writing has been proven to be therapeutic and can often supplement psychiatric assistance; however this is often mistaken as poetry. To be honest, this is exactly how I started writing myself, but developed the writing, learning the tools, rules, and breaking them whenever I wanted. But I also learned that people listen, and can be persuaded, inspired, duped, brainwashed, moulded or indeed liberated by words. And while our versions of knowledge will differ, let’s at the very least agree to grant the title poet and the stage to those who have actually toiled with the words they aim to share. And how exactly do we protect the dignity of poetry without coming across like bigots?
See, I am genuinely happy that certain people didn’t give up their writing (Eish…I would I could mention names). See there’s no right or wrong here, because I realised that it isn’t my duty to make sure other poets don’t give up, that duty sits solely on the shoulders of the poet wannabe. My duty is to maintain a high standard of poetry as I see it. This standard will differ from person to person. But with regards to giving women in particular a stage that they’ve otherwise been starved of, I say well, why give it to them charitably. Why not give it to them with the same colour of drudgery as other respected poets that came before them got? So you think telling weak female poets they’re weak is chauvinist? What more, telling weak female poets their good? #PatroniseMuch?
So maybe instead of criticising, let me try inspire this time, this is a pledge that me and my people (P.E.R.M.) had when we got together for our poetry cyphers and this is what we kept in mind when we’d put pen to paper. Perhaps it’s not something that you relate to directly, but you’re more than welcome to adapt it to your current setting.
“We represent the art form
Men and women died for
It’s called poetry by my peoples up north
But you and I know it represents much more
The earth calls for all your voices to cause
Speak out be heard reclaim what always was yours
No time for R&B encore
PoEthnic RhythMix, get with it or step the fuck off!”