Our Poetry is Our Power: Notes on Audre Lorde’s Essay on Black Womanhood

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by Gizelle S

Black women: I am taking the liberty of invoking the voice of Audre Lorde, as I urge us all to recognize the poetry that lies in wait within us. Poetry, she says, is a “revelatory distillation of experience.” Our poetry is our power, what lies at our core; a magic that thrives even in darkness and sparks our destiny for making a change in a disgustingly corrupt world.

Black women live as second-class citizens, disrespected by mainstream media, erased by legislation, ignored by other raced and gendered individuals as one to be neither seen nor heard. Black women are the fastest growing prison population in the United States, and one in three of us have been sexually disrespected/abused in our lifetime. Our language, our dress, our bodies, our skin tone and color, our hair, our mind, our values and our opinions are scrutinized, delegitimized, criminalized and bastardized by the powers scared of our sacred Power. Understandably, then, the most oppressed of us all have difficulty seeing the magic resonating within our existence: “For within living structures defined by profit, by linear power, by institutional dehumanization, our feelings weren’t meant to survive.” Our poetry is hidden under the debris of an AIDS crisis, high unemployment rates, and a lack of education formed by prevalent racist, sexist and classist ideology. We distrust ourselves and our worth based on the messages propagated in every crease and crevice of society that tells black women that we have no value.

But still, like air, we rise. Our poetry sources from a deep and resolute trust of our own feelings, experiences, sense of self worth. It thrives when we place less emphasis on what we are told, and acknowledge that the din of culture has manipulated our external senses and thought. When we trust our struggle and bask in our difference rather than allow it to be bastardized, we begin to agitate for change. Audre Lorde says our poetry gives name to the nameless, and transforms continuously from language, to idea, to action. Harriet Tubman spoke that language to the hundreds of slaves she helped escape. Rosa Parks shouted messages of justice and respect across the US in that language. Angela Davis, bell hooks, Toni Morrison, Staceyann Chin and Lauryn Hill speak and sing and rap and write and cry and laugh and share that language with us through many, many media. We are where the better society begins.

Our creativity extends from our poetry, and with it, each day, we challenge the popular notions of our worthlessness. We transcend boundaries set for us by society and live by our own conception of our essence. We reclaim words, inscribe values on our bodies, stand up in defense of our loved ones and re-assert our agency in a world that tries to deny us the right to a voice. We refuse to be subjugated. We refuse to be silenced. We are the very backbone of our communities. We organize food drives; we agitate equally for black power and civil rights; we support our communities and comfort our wounded; we sign petitions and rally with the rest of them; we stand trial and defend our own. And though we’re disrespected and omitted from these integral points in history, we survive. The more they attack, the more our poetry allows us to survive.

Our poetry is our womannness; it is our truest self. A self that does not pay homage to the precepts of an industrialized, capitalistic, society, but reclaims her right to full personhood. “Our poems formulate the implications of ourselves, hat we feel within and dare make real (or bring action into accordance with), our fear, our hopes, our most cherished terrors.” Poetry affords us insight into ways of navigating the earth that is creative, sustainable and revolutionary. Our poetry is our weapon of self-defense, and heart of hearts that mothers and inspires. Because of our poetry, we survive. Because of our poetry, we thrive. Our poetry is not a luxury.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

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