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Posts Tagged ‘domestic violence’


I’m lucky to live in the wonderful city of Chicago. It’s my favorite place to live, my adopted hometown, and an important city for poets as the hometown to the Poetry Slam. Recently I traveled to New York and took part in the slam at the world-famous Nuyorican Cafe (the former home to Def Poetry Jam) and noticed a key difference between their scene and ours–feminist poetry was pretty much non-existent, and in fact some openly misogynistic poems scored pretty well. Meanwhile, in Chicago feminist poems are prevalent at pretty much any poetry slam, and often come from unexpected sources.

I like the Chicago poetry scene because political poems are encouraged to be shared from all prospectives, even when it’s a white woman talking about race issues or a black man talking about domestic violence. I’d like to share some of my favorite poems about issues of gender, empowerment, and female oppression that belong to big-time poets and newcomers from the Chicago area. Watch the videos to let the poems speak for themselves, and then let me know what you think.

1. Tony Denis, “Mothers”

One of the few poems that’s made me cry, read by a classmate of mine at Columbia College. He got a perfect score in the slam but, in turn, got slammed by the time restraint (still placing fourth overall despite the 4 point deduction). It still remains a memorable poem, and I was impressed by the insight and empathy young Tony demonstrated. Mothers are understated heroes and I admire that he made an attempt to pay his dues with this poem.

2. J. W. Baz, “Anointing the Hand”

This poem is a poignant statement on what could be called “masculinism” but is nevertheless important in the context of a larger discussion on gender and violence. Baz is a former Def Poet who slams Hillary Clinton (rightfully so) for being old money and equating soldiers to barbarians. I like this poem because as a feminist, it’s easy to forget the everyday struggles that people face other than women, and this poem totally made me see the world differently.

3. Robbie Q. Telfer, “2002 Silver Chevy Cavalier”

Okay, so, this is a feminist poem, huh? Well, maybe not. But I still love it for its hilarious satire of manliness equating to how many “bitches” you fuck and how nice your car is. Robbie Q. is probably my favorite poet, not just for his mad skillz, but also because he’s made a career working with at-risk youths through his efforts with Young Chicago Authors. Respect.

4. Marty McConnell & Tristian Silverman, “The Female Body”

My favorite poetry power couple. I loved them both separately before realizing they were dating, and had the pleasure of hearing them perform this piece in person during class called Queer Poetry. They both are stellar poets apart from each other who are perfect examples of “the personal is political” without being boring, overstated, or pretentious, using their personal stories as vessels for a range of topics from confused sexuality to checking their own privilege. They never isolate anyone with their poems. I think in the context of that conversation, this poem largely speaks for itself, and I like the juxtaposition between Marty’s rambling definition of “the female body” and Tristian’s nervous apprehension when seeing a naked lover for the first time.

5. Andi Kauth, “Orchestra of Bones”

Andi is another old classmate of mine from Columbia who has recently propelled herself to National acclaim as a slam poet (go girl!). This is her signature poem and for good reason–it addresses issues of body image and self-esteem in a completely original way, one that takes gigantic risks through exposing the ways bulimia had failed her and the way the bodies of starving people are commoditized through photographs. It’s a controversial favorite, but one has to admire the fact that she was willing to share her very human story and prospective, even when unflattering, on a national stage.

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On September 25, 2010, I was raped.

There. I said it. So what? Well, I really haven’t spoken much about the experience since it happened. Because I’m knowledgeable about issues of violence against women, I knew exactly what to do in this instance. I called a crisis hotline to calm me down and give me advice. Then I went to the emergency room and did a rape kit. I spoke to an advocate at the hospital who further helped to calm me. I was required to file a police report; a week later, after much deliberation on my part, I decided to go ahead and press charges against my perpetrator. I sought out free counseling at my school, and when that wasn’t enough, I started seeing a counselor at Rape Victim Advocates. I told those who were closest to me about what had happened. But still, despite the existence of this blog and the fact that there is very little about my personal life that’s off-limits in terms of discussion, it’s been excruciatingly difficult for me to speak about the experience. The only thing more painful than my own experience is the fact that once I did open up to people and talk about what had happened to me, so many women I spoke to in private in turn confided in me about their own experience with sexual assault. However, although they all recognized what had happened to them as non-consensual sex, none of them were able to use the word “rape” to describe what had happened to them, in part because of trying to repress the memories surrounding the event, but also because of the blame they had placed on themselves for not being able to stop it.

Let’s back track a little bit. In my first semester of college, I took a little class called “Service Learning: Women’s Issues.” I didn’t know exactly what the class entailed, but already being a raging self-proclaimed radical feminist at the time, I signed up. The class, taught by Michelle Sayset, a wonderful woman who deserves more credit for all the work she has done with students and survivors, focused specifically on educating us about rape and domestic violence through direct action in protest and volunteer work, reading and critical responses, class discussion, and lectures given by guest speakers. It was there that I learned about the sobering statistics surrounding rape, as well as what to do in situations where you or a loved one have been assaulted. In a world where college women are 25% more likely to be victims of sexual assault, the importance of such a class is not to be understated.

The semester culminated in facilitating The Clothesline Project along with featuring student performers. It was at this event, more than three years ago, that I met my perpetrator, who was bandmates with a classmate I had befriended and would come to be a part of a large group of friends who I’ve subsequently all lost in the aftermath of the assault. He came to be my best friend, my confidant, my collaborator in terms of my art work, before he drugged me and took advantage of me while in a semi-unconscious state. If the fact that someone who had enough insight to speak out against rape would also have the balls to do it themselves wasn’t enough of a unpredictable twist in the epic of my life, I was coincidentally wearing a free t-shirt I had gotten through doing volunteer work with a women’s shelter as part of the class at the time of my assault. So, last week, when someone from this semester’s class stopped by my student poetry organization’s meeting to invite us all to read at The Clothesline Project’s open mic, I had a feeling of my experience coming full circle. I made the decision to get up in front of a room full of people–some strangers, some colleagues–and speak about my experience through my poetry and through discussion, not only because I felt it was an opportunity to exemplify how to combine the knowledge gained from the class with artistic craft to a room full of art students, but because I felt it was necessary in the process of healing myself.

(Here is a video of an older version of the poem I read; you can read the version from the event here.)

Although I was personally motivated in my performance, something happened after the event that had already occurred too many times–someone I had known for several years opened up to me about her own experience with rape. Apparently she had never thought of what had happened to her as an assault; her perpetrator was her then-boyfriend who was sleeping next to her. And apparently, like all the other women who had opened up to me, she had never considered it as rape because she blamed herself for not stopping it. I had, apparently, inadvertently lifted the blame from herself by recognizing my own experience as rape. As with all the other women I had confided in privately about my experience who in turn shared their stories with me, she didn’t use the term “rape” to describe what had happened to her–and who am I to label her experience–but the fact that I could take my traumatic experience and use it to help someone else somehow has made everything I’ve gone through (which, believe me, could be an entire blog in and of itself) completely worth it.

I can’t say that everyone who has ever been raped should speak to a room full of strangers about their personal experience. Doing so doesn’t necessarily exemplify strength or help in the healing process of such an experience, as it did for me. But I will say this: because I mustered up the courage to speak about what had happened to me in a safe space, I felt a huge sense of fulfillment. Using my experience and my art to reach out to people, and, hopefully, help them, while in turn helping myself, made me feel that some justice had been served. The legal process of prosecuting someone for rape is a strenuous thing (something that’s all-too topical given the charges surrounding WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange)–I’ve made almost no process in my own case, and even if my perpetrator is behind bars, it won’t undo the damage that has already been done. We can, however–as survivors, as women, as people who feel the need to do something about it–speak out about these issues and educate men and women as a form of prevention against rape. Although these issues are something I’ve come to know all too well, unfortunately most people don’t realize how common place rape is. Not all men recognize their actions as rape even when it’s clear to the victim, and not all victims know not to internalize their blame. As I already mentioned, being educated about what to do when it came time to deal with being raped myself has helped a lot. Unfortunately none of the women who had confided in me were provided that privilege.

This blog post is a call to action. Whatever you know of rape, whatever you are comfortable speaking about, and whatever you can say without causing harm to victims, say it. Say it publicly outloud. Tweet about it or update your facebook status. Start a discussion at your school, workplace, or among friends. Do what I did and blog about it. You can’t always be there to physically intervene and prevent a rape from taking place, but you can raise awareness about the issues surrounding rape. You never know whose life you’ll be changing.

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