Feminist Poetry by Thalia Rose

Last Tuesday, CW alumna Mollie Cueva (Class of 2013) visited CW1 and taught a lesson about feminist poetry and intersectionality.

Definitions (convened by Mollie Cueva)

  • Feminism: the belief in the social, political, and economic equality of women
  • Gender: range of socially ascribed characteristics pertaining and differentiating between masculinity and femininity (and other)
  • Sex: the 2+ major forms of individuals that occur in many species on the basis of reproductive organs and chromosonal structure. may or may not agree with gender identity.
  • Intersectionality: the acknowledgement of the different and overlapping spheres of oppression/oppressional forces on a person’s life
  • Womanism: the acknowledgement of the specific discrimination and inequality experienced by black women

After an introduction to feminist poetry with the definitions shown above, CW I read and discussed the essay “Poetry is Not a Luxury” by Audre Lorde. Poetry is Not a Luxury was predicated by a brief summary of the first two waves of feminism, which illustrated that while the first and second waves of feminism granted women the right to vote and opened up more opportunities for them, these early movements excluded trans women and women of color from the movement.
In modern time, intersectionality is still often disregarded. It was important for us to discuss this, because addressing a problem is a step towards working out how to make things less unjust. It was beneficial to me that I could learn about my privilege as a white person (and feminist).

Anna (class of 2018) pointed out how in last year’s poetry unit, the book we studied from was predominantly the writing of white men, and that it lacked diverse perspectives. Audre Lorde, a lesbian poet, presented different styles and ideas than we had read last year. In Audre Lorde’s essay, she wrote, “This is poetry as illumination… From which true poetry springs births thought as dreams births concept, as feeling births idea, as knowledge births (precedes) understanding.”

Furthermore, we read “Translations”, a poem by Adrienne Rich. The poem introduces the concept of the nuclear family. The nuclear family concept prioritizes gender roles. It was initially created by sociologists as an oppressive device. The archetype of a woman as a docile housewife harms and isolates women. The poem mentions the sexism and internalized misogyny that is a result of the nuclear family concept.

“The phone rings endlessly
in a man’s bedroom
she hears him telling someone else
Never mind. She’ll get tired.
hears him telling her story to her sister /
who becomes her enemy
and will in her own way
light her own way to sorrow.”

These two stanzas tell of an affair, presumably of the husband of the narrator and the narrator’s sister. The vagueness of the poem makes it so that what the husband says open to interpretation. It also brings a tone of powerlessness. In discussion of this piece, it was brought up that there is a double standard for men and women regarding sex. For women, there is “losing your virginity”. In life and literature, there is an odd fixation on virginity, specifically the breaking of the hymen during first sexual experience. Women are objectified as sexual objects in media and American culture, yet a woman with sexual desire is shamed for it. In the ultra-patriarchal world of the novel Chronicle of a Death Foretold, a newlywed woman is beaten by her husband once he discovers she is not a virgin. The man who took the newlywed woman’s virginity years ago is murdered by the woman’s brothers in a machismo sense of honor. Today, when a man has sex with multiple partners, he is called a stud. When a woman has sex with multiple partners, she is called slurs.

“ignorant of the fact that this grief
is shared, unnecessary
and political.”

With that in mind, Heather Woodward mentioned that when she decided to prioritize teaching over writing, she reflected on the decisions she had made throughout her life and realized that, for her, they all correlated with being a woman. She felt that, by being raised to be nurturing, teaching was the path she had naturally selected.

Personally, being raised a girl, I had personal experiences with sexism and was weighed down by being treated as lesser. I had been silenced in classes, or spoken over by men who repeated my ideas. This year I’ve been practicing empowerment with statements like, “You interrupted me when I was talking” and “I wasn’t done with what I was saying” and “Don’t make comments about my body”.

My relationships with others have been influenced by sexism. Even with girls, my relationships have been affected by internalized misogyny and the petty envy and competition that is instilled by it. I am woman-aligned agender person, yet feminism is still one of the most important things to me in my writing. I was shaped as a person from being raised as a girl, and from only having strong women figures in my life when I was growing up. I think that being raised a girl and facing discrimination from being assigned female at birth is why feminism is so important to me and in my creative work.

Thalia Rose, class of 2018

by Mollie (’13)

The first time I read a poem into a microphone on the SOTA main stage in my sophomore year, my voice squeaked and quivered, my face grew pink, and my hands moist. This was not what I was expecting—no, I expected my voice to radiate around the auditorium with the gumption of David Sedaris and the emotion of Maya Angelou—instead, my poem dribbled out of my mouth, muffled, and incoherent, and fell flat. After this experience, I said I didn’t like to present my work on stage, but this simply was not the case. Since the age of eight, I have danced with Fogo Na Roupa (translated from the Portuguese to Clothes on Fire) an Afro-Brazilian dance troupe. I have adored every performance I have ever had—adored the samba I perform on stage and the feeling of my feathered, sequined costume moving with my body. What I meant when I said I didn’t like to read my work on stage was that I wasn’t very good at it. If I wasn’t a good reader, I could not like it. Nobody would listen to me, or care about what I was reading. And plus, if I sucked at performing and didn’t love what I was reading, why should I even care.

I once read that poet Paul Celan once said, “I see no basic difference between a handshake and a poem”. My god, what pressure! So through our writing, we introduce ourselves to the world?! We affirm our identity through our stories, and poems, and essays?! Yes. Writing, as I’ve come to learn, requires the writer to be vulnerable. Said vulnerability is challenging. Writing say, a poem about my experience as a light-skinned Latina and societal expectations of me because of my skin color, is vulnerable. One could compare it to walking naked through a crowd of fully-clothed people. Performing that poem to an audience of two-hundred people should be compared to doing naked lunges through a crowd of fully-clothed people (that is, very, very vulnerable).

Writing, as I’ve learned in my three years in the Creative Writing Department, is a creation of the writer’s experience. Not only does one have to be fully invested in the story one is telling during the process of transcribing this experience to paper, but in the act of performing the piece. As a sophomore, I tried to write around my experiences—attempting to omit my life from my writing, and discuss the objective—to protect what was potentially difficult or scary from the outside world. It didn’t work out very well; I didn’t have much to say. Added, I hated performing these pieces because I usually embarrassed myself, because I didn’t like what I was reading, because I wasn’t writing any work I cared about. It took me my sophomore year to discover this.

Last summer, when deciding what I would write about for my senior thesis, the culminating project for any Creative Writer at SOTA, I finally decided to write a thesis about my biracial identity. It’s challenging to talk about the people, events, and experiences that are, themselves challenging. It sometimes makes me feel transparent, or naked. Yet, this process if validating. Not only do I care about the work I produce, but I’ve realized how political the personal can be. Plus, I think I’ve become better at reading my work. For the Senior Poetry Café, I read pieces from thesis about my relationship to my father, grandfather, and my memories of my childhood in Ecuador. For our October show, I read a poem about feeling alienated from my Ecuadorian culture because I don’t speak Spanish. These topics are hard to write about and hard to perform, but I want to keep doing both. I noticed my voice didn’t quiver, and my knees didn’t shake during these performances. In fact, I was invigorated. During the final lines of the last poem I read at the Senior Poetry Café, I paused between the final words of my poem, looking up, and observing the audience looking at me. I paused before uttering the last words of my piece. I did not feel vulnerable, I felt powerful. As I finish up my time in the Creative Writing Department, I know this trend of being vulnerable in my writing will continue. It has to, otherwise how will I speak with the world, how will I tell people what I think or what I hold dear to me, and how will I grow as an artist?

The Blatant Racism of Joseph Conrad

by Mollie (’13)

Polish writer, Joseph Conrad, is most known for his acclaimed novel Heart of Darkness. Heart of Darkness follows Marlow, a British sailor in search of adventure, while traveling up the Congo River and into the depths of the Congolese rainforest in the late 1800s. While acclaimed for its literary merit and considered to be one of the Western canon’s best contemporary short novels, Heart of Darkness is heavily debated over for its portrayal of Africa. As Nigerian novelist, Chinua Achebe, so eloquently states in his essay, “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness,” the thoroughgoing racist Conrad dehumanizes, stereotypes, and creates the image of Africa as insubordinate to the Western world. Thus, as Achebe proves, through Conrad’s dehumanization of all Africans, his fixation on Africans’ dark skin, and his “exotification” of African culture, Conrad presents himself as an undeniable racist, and this most acclaimed novel simply perpetuates stereotypes, racism, and an illusory image of Africa and Africans. Continue reading

Field Day: Creative Winning

As many of our readers probably know, Creative Writing became the first ever art department at SOTA to win Field Day more than once. It’s an honor, guys, and here are some words on it:

By Mollie (’13)

There are several misconceptions about the Creative Writing Department: that we spend our two hours of art discipline time only writing, that we rarely leave our room, and that the muscles of “CDubs”, as we’ve named ourselves, have atrophied from disuse. However, on Field Day the misconceptions of our department as dry, pasty, and un-athletic was destroyed as all members of our department consistently exceeded our resting heart rates, scoring point after point (albeit surprising point), finally earning the revered Field Day trophy. My favorite part of Field Day, however, is not the glory of winning. More than the great pleasure I get of smugly informing people of how Creative Writing, the smallest department in number and physical size of students, has now been Field Day champion twice, I enjoy the festival itself. Field day is a day for the eccentric and inherently SOTian student. On Field Day the different departments flamboyantly bathe themselves in their department colors: Creative Writing, yellow, Tech, green, Vocal, pink, and so on. During Field Day a sea of jubilant and raucous teens make their way to the field beside our school to celebrate our individuality. Where else will you find adolescent boys so willingly dressed in pink tutus and girls in grape-colored Teletubby outfits? Societal norms and restrictions seem to fall to the wayside at SOTA and rightly so. SOTA is filled with those who do not conform, artists as we’ve come to name ourselves. If San Francisco is a liberal bubble and artistic Mecca within the United States, SOTA is the same within the San Francisco Unified School District. As a senior, winning my last Field Day, I am ecstatic, but more so, I am pleased to go to a school where we can have this riotous event. During Field Day glitter, gloriously-costumed people, and music fill our field for a day, and we celebrate ourselves as artists.

By Hazel (’13)

I love my department. I can’t say that I tend to exhibit a great amount of enthusiasm or school spirit, but truly, if I were not at SOTA, in Creative Writing, I do not know where I’d be.

Now, as I said: not a lot of school spirit. I doubt that that makes me an exception in a school of brooding teenage artist-types, but I believe it bears mentioning. At this point, I barely dress up for spirit week, I tend to avoid interaction (with pretty much anyone at school) whenever possible both because it terrifies me and does not hold great weight in my mind. But on Field Day, I found myself screaming and cheering while hardly aware of it, and when we tallied up our points (even before the winner was announced) I could not stand still for excitement. When our department was called up and presented with the trophy (or rather when we ran out onto the track and claimed it), I was leaping and celebrating with all the competitive types who made a point of practicing our pyramid until it could be done in less that five seconds. When people began gushing about their joy over winning back in room 202, I found myself nodding and smiling.

In retrospect, I had to wonder why this meant so much (or really anything) to me. I have little interest in athletics (if you want to call Field Day “athletic”) and am distinctly uncomfortable with intense competition. Why did I care if we won or lost?

I came to the conclusion that what I was so excited about was not the victory itself but our ability to win. As I said, my department has become an integral part of my life and I love everyone in it, even those I don’t know as well. It is a department full of interesting, kind, and talented people, both because those are the type of people admitted and because being around such wonderful humans tends to influence your opinions and behaviors in positive ways. I cared about winning Field Day both because I knew it would make others in the department happy and because it is further tangible proof that we are a bunch of innovative, in-synch, and miraculous kids (plus Heather and Isaiah, who I think deserve honorary child status).

So I thank you all for being who you are. Creative Writing is perhaps the most close-knit department out there, and one of the few institutions I am comfortable referring to as my second family. You help me function and you make me my best. We kicked ass out there and I am so proud to stand beside you in that ridiculous color we call ours.

As an afterthought, I sort of hope that no other departments read this blog. I feel like my excessive affection could be construed as elitist sentiments and casual gloating. This is not at all my intention. We’re just pretty cool.