Being a woman in the 21st century is sometimes a conundrum but as writers, we can help one another. As an English teacher, I’m surprised by the amount of teenage girls who declare themselves: Feminists. It makes me proud, not only to be their teacher, but to also be a Feminist myself. When I grew up, in the 80’s and 90’s, I don’t think I saw being a Feminist as something “cool.” I think I was afraid of it. Afraid of saying it aloud. It was a secret that I carried inside me, along with my heroines. The more I read about strong women, the more I turned a light on for them inside my heart at night when I went to sleep. Soon, there were floating votives everywhere…
Here are two poems with a feminist edge: one is by Rachel McKibbens and one is a poem of my own.
Rachel McKibbens’ “Sackett Represent,” is a poem I love because of the way discusses motherhood and womanhood in such a razor-sharp way.
My poem, “The Thick of the Real World” is a poem about Feminism and womanhood that is inspired by the HBO remake of Mildred Pierce and can be found in my book, Domestic Uncertainties.
Sackett Represent by Rachel McKibbens
On trash day, the air pulses
with the scent of soiled diapers and grey meat
left too long on a kitchen counter.
I’ve learned when to turn my head
before the lukewarm filth of Brooklyn can grab my face
like a naughty Labrador and rub my nose in it.
Women travel in twos down Henry Street,
grinding their mouths into gossip, pushing
matching strollers with matching white babies –
gold haired, blue eyed tots who will inherit
thick Jamaican accents from their nannies.
Men sit outside the barbershop in lawn chairs
tuning radios with wire hanger antennas,
just two blocks from where Al Capone
married his startled Irish darling.
I want my daughter to grow on these streets,
want this life to bend towards her borrowed green eyes.
I want these cobbled sidewalks to remind her to keep unsteady.
I want the boy who will break her heart
to first scratch her name into the meat of his Italian forearm.
I want her to sneak a beer out on a fire escape,
get fucked in a basement, curse God for the first time
on a rooftop over the Hudson.
RACHEL McKIBBENS is the author of the critically acclaimed volume of poetry, Pink Elephant (Cypher Books, 2009) and most recently Into the Dark and Emptying (Small Doggies Press, 2013) McKibbens is a legend within the poetry slam community. She resides with her family in upstate New York where she teaches poetry and co-curates the monthly reading series Poetry & Pie Night. She is currently working on a memoir about growing up as a child misogynist. Read more at http://www.rachelmckibbens.com/
The Thick of the Real World by Leah Umansky
In the thick of it all, it is always the women. The muse to the flame; the untouchable; the staple of our self-help culture. We combine the masculine conventions; we fold it over neatly; like a shirt in a drawer – carefully to nip the creases before they cause a fold. We try not to be melodramatic; planting our heroines in attainable truths; compostable flower-pots.
We are a conflicted genre: a hybrid of long-suffering and va-va-voom. Forget the familial betrayals; what fits the description is the un-sparingness of the breast. The way it nourishes and patronizes [doesn’t it?] So many stories about women in houses; women out of houses; women in and out of love – we should open a shop and fill it with Kleenex and booze.
It’s not a mystery – being female. We are all uncloistered now: free. Use us sparingly before we become less-honest; indecent; less-sacrificial. In the thick of it all: there will always be a longstanding attraction here in our shape and form. There is so much youthful enthusiasm in every woman’s pinky. Watch me call you over. Watch me.
Leah’s first collection of poems, Domestic Uncertainties is out from BlazeVOX Books. She is also the host & curator of the COUPLET Reading Series in NYC. She has been a contributing writer for BOMB Magazine’s BOMBLOG and Tin House, a poetry reviewer for The Rumpus, and a live twit for The Best American Poetry Blog. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in such places as: POETRY, Thrush Poetry Journal, Barrow Street, and The Brooklyn Rail. She is proud to call herself a FEMINIST! Read more at http://iammyownheroine.com. Follow: @Lady_Bronte