The following is the text that I sent out before the session that I "led" on Citizen. My dear poetry group, the Rogues, has started to lead itself this semester. My assignment did not follow traditional structures. I wasn't sure how to. Still, I share it because I like what I came up with. Because I still wonder, as we did tonight during our discussion, how to write a truly angry poem-- I wonder about the dismissal that risks, about how full on anger might best be effective, or is it more necessary cathartic?
Beautiful discussion with the Rogues tonight-- definitely not limited to the sketch below.
Citizen: An American Lyric
An example of the kind of reactions I want you to write out and bring to share. What do we find anew in new points of entry? What keeps haunting? What do we still resist? What do you feel like you have learned as a poet?
Some initial reactions:
Please let it be want I want it to be. It’s good. It’s better. I’ve run out of sticker tabs to mark the pages that I particularly like. Something about this paper makes me not want to write in it. Or it’s that I would underline too much. I teach annotation—I know what this mess would look like. So instead I have a lot of tabs until I run out.
I’m excited about what I initially read as layers—seemingly disparate, but of course not, not with the way this—the world—is all so connected. Honestly, probably annoyingly (some versions of yous are in my head dears), it confirms what I am trying to do in some of my poems—the way I try to smash things together or gently juxtapose and build on tone.
This forces questions of what is poetry. How this language isn’t what so many call “poetry” even if they like this here now. Even if this is so good in all the other ways that “they” can let it be poetry enough. Or not—those who will deny the nuances that they could never comprehend let along conjure. I’m planning defenses or some shit.
The intentionality. How very good this is at the beginning, how with my wary lens I didn’t see all of that. The repetition and call backs. I think I was a little off on that layers stuff in that she gives/crafts more. This feels combed. But still honest. Still raw. Like careful sushi, familiar but ocean fresh.
Best line(s) of the moment: All of page 159. All.
Some themes/ideas/challenges/engagements/errors that I come back to:
I don’t care if it isn’t poetry—this is what I want poetry to be.
The writing assignment that might ruin your day.
But it’s Halloween, let’s engage with what really scares you.
A while back, we read that Sharon Olds poem, the one about her husband leaving her for another after all those years, the one about eating the whole car of her anger. That one. And one of the critiques of that book was that she wasn’t angry enough. She told my friend, “I ate the whole car. That’s not angry?”
Nope not enough. And not the right kind of anger. This is more than 1 and more than 2. Turn to page 24.
I have a shit memory, and theories that that might be a coping mechanism, but here is what I remember a smart friend calling me on: I was really upset about something. I was hurt. I was, in one of those epic phone conversations with a fellow hopeful, trying to explain while simultaneously subduing myself. I didn’t want to be angry. I didn’t know how to be angry. I didn’t think it was productive. I didn’t want to be that stereotype. Another black friend, another man who I would also spend hours on the phone with, had joked that I was being treated like the “angry black man” and I shared that too and tried to articulate the nuances of how I wasn’t that—how I felt so trapped between wanting to resist and wanting to be heard and not being heard and not being seen. You know me—I rambled. Plaintive. And my friend, the one I was on the phone with now, pushed me, now pushes us,
“What’s so wrong with being angry?”
Turn to page 24…46…
Which reminds me of a memorial that Asia Russell recently wrote and shared with me and a few others about Gloria Casarez, a local activist and inspiration who died at 42 about a week ago. Asia said that years ago, when they were both younger, she interviewed Gloria:
I think my first question to her was "What is the social justice organizing work you do and how do you define it?"
Her response started this way: "I'm angry."
And then I think back to Teju Cole’s brilliant Atlantic article, “The White Savior Industrial Complex” and how he talks about how we operate with such neutered language and expect to get anywhere.
And Maya Angelou talking with Dave Chappelle on the only truly good episode of that mutual interview show, and he, about watching so many people get killed, asks something like: “weren’t you angry? How could you not be angry?” and she says “Yes. Of course. If you aren’t angry you’re not alive. You must be angry, but you cannot be bitter. Bitterness is cancer.”
So write an angry poem with un-neutered language.
· Anger directed at many more than one.
· Notice when you are self-consciously resisting your anger and cut that part. Don’t be ashamed.
· Try a layering technique to show the anger or create tension?
· Trust your reader.
· Go for the gut punch that reminds us we are alive.