The Master’s Pens Can’t Write Poetry

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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.

Feminism

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

Their power

 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

References

Ahmed, S. (2017). Bringing Feminist Theory Home. Duke University Press. 

Chemaly, S. (2018, November). The Power of Women’s Anger . TED Conferences. https://www.ted.com/talks/soraya_chemaly_the_power_of_women_s_anger?rss=172BB350-0001. 

Cole, D. (2020). The Skin We’re In: A year of Black resistance and power. Penguin Random House Canada. 

Crenshaw, K. (2016, October). The Urgency of Intersectionality . TED Conferences. https://www.ted.com/talks/kimberle_crenshaw_the_urgency_of_intersectionality. 

Done

Hunt, S., & Holmes, C. (2015). Everyday Decolonization: Living a Decolonizing Queer Politics. Journal of Lesbian Studies, 19(2), 154-172. https://doi.org/10.1080/10894160.2015.970975. 

Kendi, I. X. (2016). Stamped From the Beginning: The definitive history of racist ideas in America. Bold Type Books. 

Little Bear, L. (2000). Jagged World Views Colliding. In M. Battiste (Ed.), Reclaiming Indigenous Voice and Vision (pp. 77-85). University of British Columbia Press.

Lorde, A. (2007). Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Ten Speed Press. 

Lorde, A. (1997). The Uses of Anger. Women’s Studies Quarterly, 25(1), 278-285. http://www.jstor.com/stable/40005441. 

Maynard, R. (2017). Policing Black Lives: State violence in Canada from slavery to the present. Fernwood Publishing. 

O’Byrne, M. (2018, November 1). Taboo. Maggie O’Byrne Poetry. https://maggieobyrnepoetry.wordpress.com/2018/11/21/taboo/. 

O’Byrne, M. (2019, September 21). Conform. Maggie O’Byrne Poetry. https://maggieobyrnepoetry.wordpress.com/2019/09/25/capitalism-kills/. 

O’Byrne, M. (2019, September 25). Stains. Maggie O’Byrne Poetry. https://maggieobyrnepoetry.wordpress.com/2019/09/25/stains/. 

O’Byrne, M. (2019, November 5). Red. Maggie O’Byrne Poetry. https://maggieobyrnepoetry.wordpress.com/2019/11/05/red/. 

O’Byrne, M. (2020, January 15). Marrow. Maggie O’Byrne Poetry. https://maggieobyrnepoetry.wordpress.com/2020/01/15/marrow/. 

Rich, A. (1986). Blood, Bread, and Poetry. Norton. 

Saad, L. F. (2020). Me and White Supremacy: Combat racism, change the world, and be a good ancestor. Sourcebooks. 

Talaga, T. (2018). All Our Relations: Finding the path forward. House of Anansi Press. 

Ware, S. M., and Dias, G. (2020). Revolution and Resurgence: Dismantling the prison industrial complex through Black and Indigenous Solidarity. In R. Diverlus., S. Hudson., & Ware, S. M. (Eds.), Until We Are Free: Reflections on Black Lives Matter in Canada (pp. 32-56). University of Regina Press.

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