Last week I ordered a book of poetry called New American Best Friend by Olivia Gatwood. Gatwood’s sharp bite has made her one of my favorite contemporary poets, and inspired my blog post this week. I wanted to share some feminist poetry with you guys from Button Poetry, a group that “produces and distributes poetry media, including: video from local and national events, chapbooks, collaborative audio recordings, scholarship and criticism, and many other products” (buttonpoetry.com).
Reading through Gatwood’s book and ceaselessly getting lost on Button Poetry’s YouTube channel has helped me realize how important and useful art (feminist art in particular) can truly be. The poems I’m sharing here, and their read-aloud slam poetry format, are wonderful for getting a message across quickly. People are much more likely to watch a 3 minute video clip shared by a friend than they are to watch an entire documentary about feminism, or even take a class on the subject. These short bursts of feminism are perfect for exposing people (especially those most reluctant to participate in anything “feminist”) to things they may have never considered, while keeping them engaged. Feminist poetry can cut so deeply so quickly and pack such loaded punches, it would be difficult to not get the point. This makes these quick injections of feminism perhaps one of the best ways to make sure a feminist’s point is made, as having a back and forth conversation with people who do not see the need for feminism is sometimes quite unproductive.
Feminist poetry covers a wide range of issues women deal with. For example: period shaming.
And rape culture:
And Black feminism:
Charles’s poem gives listeners a quick introduction to Black feminism, spit out quickly and straight to the point in a way that makes things clear. A couple of my other favorite Black feminist poems are “To Be Black and Woman and Alive” by Crystal Valentine & Aaliyah Jihad and “Angry Black Woman” by Porsha O. if anyone would like to see more on Button Poetry’s channel.
Poems like these expose people to things they may not have known were problems before, or may cause people to realize that things they think of as normal are actually sexist. Blythe Baird addresses this phenomena in her poem “Pocket-Sized Feminism.”
Baird says, “We accept this state of constant fear as just another component of being a girl.” I am reminded of the old story about a frog in boiling water. If you throw a frog in to a pot of boiling water, of course the frog jumps out; but, if you put a frog in room temperature water and slowly heat the water up to a boil, the frog will stay put until it dies from being boiled alive. We have been indoctrinated by society to believe all the horrible, sexist things that happen to us are “normal.” This poem helps show how sexism is not dead just because we’ve made it the new norm, and gets the point across before listeners get bored and change the channel.
Olivia Gatwood uses feminist poetry to celebrate things society has taught us to be ashamed of, as in her poem “Ode to the Selfie.” One of my favorite of her poems is called “Ode To My Bitch Face.”
She comments on the fact that we are not born with bitch faces, and yet we do not wear them like a mask every day either. Somewhere along the way, our bitch faces get put in place by the constant barrage of sexism we deal with and are hardened by. We are taught to be this way and then blamed for it, as with many other things. Plenty of people use the phrase “resting bitch face” without ever thinking about why such a thing is necessary. Poems like Gatwood’s can teach those people to think before they speak.
In “Say No,” Gatwood and Megan Falley both show us how ingrained sexism and rape culture are: “Somewhere a girl is told if she doesn’t want to hear the song about rape, then don’t listen to it. But it follows her in the supermarket, the gym, the girl’s clothing aisle, and now she knows all the words.” Gatwood and Falley demonstrate the impossibility of trying to ignore sexism and pretend everything’s fine. Poems like this succinctly display the necessity for feminism and reform.
(For anyone interested, some of my other favorite feminist poems of Gatwood’s include “Manic Pixie Dream Girl,” “Alternate Universe in Which I am Unfazed by the Men Who Do Not Love Me,” “Collapse the Economy,” “Directives,” “Ode to the Women on Long Island,” and “Princess Peach Speaks” with Megan Falley. (Really, just buy her book, I love everything she does.)
Feminist poetry can make us feel less alone. While we are sad that we can relate to these poems, we are at the same time so glad that someone else gets us. Feminist poetry is empowering. It can make us realize that we are able to actually make a difference. In the 1950s, unhappy housewives didn’t have such easy access to other women or their art. They had no way of knowing that everyone else felt the same way they did, and did not realize their own potential to create a united front. Now, we can easily share a 3 minute lesson to all our friends on the internet, and maybe teach someone something they didn’t realize before. This kind of art has the power to spread movements.