A Woman’s Voice: The Power of Art

I started missing my art.

Because I’m busy trying to launch a business, while continuing to work my day job, I’ve had precious little time left over for Creative Me. I started feeling depressed, but couldn’t figure out why at first.  I felt an intense void.

It went on for more than a day before I realized why. I hadn’t had time to write! I hadn’t even read any poetry, let alone written any. And I certainly hadn’t had time to paint. I’ve discovered I really don’t do well if I’m separated from Creative Me for too long.

I have had time to read, however.  It’s so easy to sneak in little snatches while waiting for something else: standing in line, waiting for someone to get ready, riding the bus, etc.

I’ve been reading Anathem by Neal Stephenson. It’s a science fiction story that is centered around a main character who is a kind of monk/philosopher/agnostic/rebel. The story is set on another planet, in another time. It’s fascinating! The book is 932 pages long, and I’m only on page 382, so I have a ways to go. But this book is my little friend for the next several weeks.

However, I’ve still been craving poetry, so I decided to share a poem that I read today. The poem (below) is called Case in Point. It was written by June Jordan and can be found on page 121 of the anthology Poems from the Women’s Movement, edited by Honor Moore, published by American Poets Project, The Library of America, 2009.

The poem is painful, and comes with a ****TRIGGER WARNING**** as it contains graphic references to rape. But this is an important poem. It elucidates the common experience women have of lacking a voice – and, therefore, power – in many aspects of life, particularly when it comes to control over our own bodies.

Men are bigger than us, louder than us, control almost all of society’s institutions, and sometimes use violence – both physical and verbal – to reinforce their dominance. Every woman has experienced the voicelessness that comes from being shouted down and dismissed by an egocentric male. Most women have also had cause to be afraid of a man at some point.

These events can be frustrating on the light end – and terrifying on the heavy end. Sometimes poetry, art, and music are the only ways to have a voice in a world that cannot always hear us. Interestingly, the speaker in the poem is arguing against the point of another woman – a woman who has apparently bought into society’s view of women. This, too, is common among oppressed groups – the desire to side with the oppressor.

 

Case in Point

by June Jordan

 

A friend of mine who raised six daughters and

who never wrote what she regards as serious

until she

was fifty-three

tells me there is no silence peculiar

to the female

I have decided I have something to say

about female silence: so to speak

these are my 2 cents on the subject:

2 weeks ago I was raped for the second

time in my life the first occasion

being a whiteman and the most

recent situation being a blackman actually head of the local NAACP

 

2

Today is 2 weeks after the fact

of that man straddling

his knees either side of my chest

his hairy arm and powerful left hand

forcing my arms and hands over my head

flat to the pillow while he rammed

what he described as his quote big dick

unquote into my mouth

and shouted out “D’ya want to swallow

my big dick, well, do ya?”

 

He was being rhetorical.

My silence was peculiar

to the female.

Letting Go of a Beloved Before the Relationship Even Begins

Sence You Went Away

by: James Weldon Johnson

 

Seems lak to me de stars don’t shine so bright,

Seems lak to me de sun done loss his light,

Seems lak to me der’s nothin’ goin’ right,

Sence you went away.

 

Seems lak to me de sky ain’t half so blue,

Seems lak to me dat eve’ything wants you,

Seems lak to me I don’t know what to do,

Sence you went away,

 

Seems lak to me dat eve’ything is wrong.

Seems lak to me de day’s jes twice ez long,

Seems lak to me de bird’s forgot his song,

Sense you went away.

 

Seems lak to me I jes can’t he’p but sigh,

Seems lak to me ma tho’oat keeps gittin’ dry,

Seems lak to me a tear stays in ma eye,

Sence you went away.

 

This poem spoke to me because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the nature of relationships – their cyclical nature, their evolution, and the fact that they come with no guarantees. The bittersweet motion of these facts is reflected in the rhythmic repetition of the poem. The rhythm of the repetitive words mirrors the repetitive thoughts we tend to think, both at the beginning and the end of relationships.

In the beginning, we experience repetitive thoughts of our beloved’s beauty. At the end, we wrestle with unending flows of thought loops, obsessive thoughts of longing and regret. Both the end and the beginning are one and the same in consciousness. The joy of the beginning is inextricably linked to the pain of the end.

I love how the speaker universalizes this pain. In the first three stanzas, he sees nature itself as mirroring his personal pain. In each of the first three stanzas, “eve’ything” reflects his pain. Our sad thoughts, like our happy thoughts – when they are linked to circumstances outside ourselves – are self-centered and appear to be reflected in the world around us. Everything around us gets distorted through the filter of our thoughts.

When we’re hurting, especially from some kind of relationship dissolution, it feels like everything in our life is messed up, not just the romantic portion. But, in this poem, even from the beginning, we know the speaker will eventually experience healing because he repeats “seems lak” in the first three lines of each stanza. In other words, he knows, even in the midst of his suffering, that what he’s experiencing isn’t real. It’s just how things seem in his mind. It’s not really universal. It just feels like it!

The speaker moves tangibly towards healing by the final stanza. He finally narrows his focus away from the stars and the sky and brings it back to himself: “I jes can’t he’p but sigh,/Seems lak to me ma th’oat keeps gittin’ dry,/Seems lak to me a tear stays in ma eye,/Sence you went away.” It’s not nature or the world that is sad; it’s just him.

Although the poem ends here, we have hope for the speaker. We know that he is now facing his pain as something individual, not universal. The universe is neither conspiring against him nor joining in his pity party. Likewise, when we emerge from any hurt, we move away from “why me’s” and “life sucks” statements to taking charge of our experience, allowing ourselves to feel the emotions and move through them.

It is the nature of all things to end, disappear, die, dissolve, change, evolve, and resurrect. Acknowledging and embracing this fact does not exempt us from pain, but it can help us process our emotions more quickly and prevent us from suffering needlessly.  “Sence You Went Away” is a poem we can write to anyone we love, whether the relationship is ongoing, has ended, is just beginning, or is beginning again. We get to enjoy people for however long we get to enjoy them. And then they go away. And we are better off for having known them.

I wish you all a beautiful and safe 4th of July.

Peace and Love,

Raven

Discussion of The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost, and an original poem

The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost

 

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

 

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

 

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

 

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

 

I feel like this poem represents my life so well. I’ve experienced so many forks in the road; I have so many interests. I’ve tried Chinese Medicine, hairdressing, skin care, insurance sales, tax preparation, veterinary medicine, and phlebotomy, to name a few. It’s easy to look back and think, “What would have happened had I taken the other road?”

As Frost’s poem implies, the roads are basically all the same. There’s no way to see around the corner, knowing what the result of any one choice will be. We make our choices, “way leads on to way,” and we follow the path our choices lay before us.  Only when we look back on our lives do we try to impose a sense of order on it all, claiming that the path we chose was somehow pre-ordained, more special than any other choice. My belief is that, given our individual characters, talents, gifts, and circumstances, whatever path we take will land us in essentially the same place.

There was an episode of Friends that illustrates what I mean. In the episode, they go back, and the show imagines what would have happened had their paths been different. There were some changes, such as Monica still being fat, and Rachel dating Joey before Ross. But ultimately, they all end up basically exactly where they had been before.

So, when I look back on my life, I see that my consistent loves are spirituality, writing/literature, art, and physical fitness. Through all the other diversions and detours, these four core passions have remained the same. And, so, as an ode to Robert Frost, here’s my version of The Road Less Traveled. I call it:

To All the Roads I’ve Traveled

an ode to Robert Frost

Many streets diverged in a bustling city

And, sorry, I could not travel them all

Being one soul, so long I pondered

And stood on the edge of one

 

Looking down each, as far as could imagine

Where weak eyes lost the view and blurred

And, taking one, t’was just as good,

And possibly more lucrative, pleasant would prove,

 

Because it sparkled, bright asphalt freshly paved,

Though ‘side from name and zoning laws,

Each street glittered much the same.

After tiring of one, ‘nother street down I wandered,

 

Lively and lost, shoes consumed like children’s erasers

Daylight fantasies, other streets smiling, teasing

One by one embracing each street’s charms

Till worn-out, satisfied, returned to first loves

 

Never one to limit self to One Love

Looking back, the dear ones rise to mind

Four roads diverged in a city

I took each and every one of them

And that has made all the difference.

–Raven Burnes