This article was written by freelance contributor Maggie O’Byrne
Poems aren’t usually given explanations, but I think it is warranted in this case. This is a found poem, meaning all the words are taken from other sources. The words contained here are from feminist articles, books, speeches, and poems. Taken together, the poem represents the combined voices of feminist scholars and activists speaking together in the fight for a better future. The I’s were changed to we’s in order to fit the poetic narrative. Academic writing is, in essence, a conversation. I wanted to represent this conversation artistically. I wanted the reader to feel a sense of belonging, both to feminists and feminist scholars. Included are lines from my own poems, taken from my blog. This was my way of inserting myself into the dialogue while also taking responsibility for my personal feminist work.
The poem goes back and forth between talking about ourselves (feminists) and talking to the systems we are fighting against. The title plays on the phrase used by Audre Lorde, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Many contemporary feminist scholars are poets. I don’t think this is accidental. For centuries, women have used poetry and verse to critically examine the world around them. Similarly, artwork has been used by feminists and activists to make visible what people would rather ignore. Poetry and music are heard at protests, riots, and marches. In short, art and poetry have been staples of the oppressed, the marginalized and the downtrodden. These are tools that the White, hetero-patriarchal system has never been able to smother. It is this tool, the pen, that will help dismantle oppressive systems. This poem is a call to action, an act of solidarity and a push to keep going. It speaks aloud the anger we carry inside of us. It is a battle cry. Like our ancestors, we use the written word to speak when we cannot. To vent when we are forced to cross our ankles. Women are told to be quiet, submissive, and complacent. We are not taught to be angry or messy or loud. Angry women are considered anti-social, dangerous, un-feminine and hysterical. Allowing ourselves to be angry is a form of dissent.
I am not good at being angry. It is not particularly in my nature and it was quelled from a young age, directly and indirectly. It was unseemly but it was also dangerous. Expressing anger only increased my chances of experiencing violence so I learned to please people. I learned to smile and stay calm. Now, when someone on the street tells me to smile, I smile. Not ironically, but actually. I look directly at them and smile as nicely as I know how and then walk away angry at myself. Poetry has been a way to lessen the anger that I don’t yet know what to do with.
Today we awoke on unceded earth
This Indigenous land so often called Canada
A country of which we cannot divest ourselves
Where the legacy of enslavement lives on.
Concentrated surveillance and punitive targeting
Billions for the expansion of police forces and prisons
Only alludes to the
Level of pain they are willing to inflict on their citizens.
You might be ignorant of this reality but we
Do not live single-issue lives
To embrace this struggle
Feminism must be a movement of many senses.
So much history in a word, so much it too has picked up
United in our distaste, we are still taboo
Too loud, too angry, too radical.
They wanted us to be robots, under their control
Begging for assistance
These are what the white fathers told us was precious
which has become the model for every other form of exploitation.
Those wolves siphoned marrow from our bones
And convinced us it was love
But if we painted the nation red with
The blood of those it’s persecuted,
We would see no other colour.
We must remain in good spirits and synchronize our hearts and minds
Until we are all free
When living in structures defined by profit, by linear power, by institutional dehumanization
our feelings are not meant to survive.
While living in trenches made out of our bedsheets
We scarred, braided, kinked, and inked our bodies to show our refusal
To show the courage to see, to feel, to speak, and to dare.
To courage to live with anger
To feed upon that anger and to use that anger.
Language embodies the way society thinks
Loud acts of refusal and rebellion are written
Co-conspirators, abolitionists, radical resurgents
Calls to demolish
The converging and interwoven systems
That we will not grin and bear for the sake of propriety
You are not our burden to carry
And we will be judged as judgemental
The moment when we do not take it anymore
You feed us poison, tell us that
Back, queer, gay, trans, leftist, radical motherhood is a threat
You make us colorblind,
Because we cannot dismantle what we cannot see
You teach us to preference the performance of masculinity
over the rights and needs and words of children and women.
But our bodies are drums
Our bodies will be painted with the revolution and
Our blood will run.
It will run through the streets
and it will dry in the cracks for the next generation to see.
So, go ahead and thrive
on that wretched taste you call freedom
But drop our bodies on the steps
of the people who sold it to you.
We will pay for our actions, but we will be in good company
Because we rely solely on our ideas to make us free
This is poetry as illumination
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