I use my poetry to confront the violence against women | Elizabeth Acevedo | TEDxMidAtlanticSalon


Translator: Mohand Habchi
Reviewer: Ellie Green Some young men possess disjointed psyches, makes them destroy our discs and joints
with swollen fists and coveted Nikes. I have turned the last age you ever knew and know what it is like
to fear both love and being left. Although his knuckles never kissed
fractures into my bones or flesh, I have been consumed and made excuses, thrown myself at his words
though they were fenced with barbed wire and then cried about the acquired bruises. I do not know how many times
I passed you in the hall. Did you press prayers
like duct tape onto your brokenness? I only ever noticed your smile,
now I notice your ghost, and too many girls,
it could have been any one of us, who love enough
to actually return Adam’s rib. Did he ever ask if you would die for him? And did you unknowingly answer,
attracting fate with feverish promises? I want answers from you. I want to know how to carve
your name on the wind because that will never die. I want you to tell me
this is the last poem I will ever write about a girl who danced
with the night in her palm. I wrote that poem 10 years ago, after learning
that a high school classmate had been brutally murdered
by her boyfriend. That last question, “is this the last poem
I will write about a girl like you?” haunts my work. The last 10 years, I keep writing
about violence against women: physical violence, sexual violence,
psychological violence – my work cannot get away from it. I think it’s partly because I know
that poetry can immortalize a topic. And so often, when violence
against women happens, it’s a quick hashtag or a short byline, and then the names
and the stories are forgotten. And this work of art is to elevate
those stories, to elevate those pieces. On the other hand, I really, really hope I don’t have to perform
these poems ever again. A part of me is really trying
to work toward obsolescence. I do not want to feel
that this poem is useful. I want it to be antiquated. I want it to be a bygone era
where we feel like poetry is the only way that we can talk
about this kind of violence. My partner and I have been talking
about having children. Awesome, right? Because you’re like, “Yeah, I have
a partner, we’re going to have children.” (Laughter) But on the other hand, my work has started
contemplating what that would look like. And now, I find myself
writing all these poems as advice to my future self
upon being a mother. And I find myself writing guide books on how I’m going to have to raise
a daughter to deal with this world. And it’s scary. It’s scary to contemplate
how you will raise a kid, particularly a girl, in a world that oftentimes sees them
as something that can be easily dismissed, or easily abandoned, or not worthwhile. I won’t raise my daughter to be nice, to give her laugh away, to smile polite as some men plot and plan
to turn her body into a weapon of war. And if they try, she will know
how to wield herself. Don’t tell me it’s wrong to want
to raise a child from this kind of fear. I know for every finger that we loosen,
another knuckle grows back crooked. Another knuckle is looking
to crack into my daughter’s skin. And I can’t trust this world to teach
their sons how to treat my daughter. So I will raise her to be
a sword, a spear, a shield. To turn clasped hands into heated hatchet.
To hold razors between her teeth. To cut unkind advances
with the sharpest eyes. To hold all of this together
with leather or lace. To be chiseled, prepared
for rebellions against her flesh. My daughter will be carved
from hard rock, sharpened, shrapnel, a spear –
her whole body ready to fling itself and arrow the hand of the first man
who tries to cover her mouth. I think poetry is amazing because it is so easily
carried in the body. We know how to deal with rhythm, right? Most of us know how to deal with rhythm. (Laughter) And we know how to deal with song.
And we know how to deal with stories. And poetry allows us to carry these names. It allows us to live knowing
that we’ve all these other women with us. Specifically women because that’s the challenge
I want to give you on a little bit. And to me, poetry is
a type of artifact, right? It distinctly says,
this is the life and times what someone recorded based
of what they thought was important. And I truly, truly hope
that these poems I’m writing will one day be artifacts
at the bottom of a dusty box, at the bottom of a museum,
no longer considered necessary. But I know that that’s not the time
we’re in right now. That’s not where we are
in this current moment. And so, I have a challenge
for everyone in this room. I want you to find a woman poet;
I want you to memorize one of her pieces. And on the days when things
feel really heavy, when equality for women
seems unattainable, when one of your male
co-workers says something they don’t even recognize
is a microaggression, when yet another person asks you, “When are you going
to get married and have kids?” And you’re like, “Bro,
I don’t want none of that.” (Laughter) On the days when you hear yet another
story about a girl who’s disappeared, a woman who’s been brutalized, when it just feels like
we can never escape this reality, recite that poem to yourself. Because at the end of the day, all poetry, even when dealing
with these heavy topics, our poems, they’re hope. The whole point is for hope, right? Hope to be heard,
hope for all of us to heal, and hope that these poems
will be obsolete. That we don’t need them. I want to close with a poem
that’s not my own, but it’s from one of my favorite poets,
and is one of the first poems I ever memorized
by someone other than myself. It’s what I recite on my heaviest of days, that I give to myself as a gift
and that I give to another woman whenever I know
that she’s struggling with something. And so hopefully it will inspire you
to find a poet for you to memorize. So that’s your challenge. Think about a poet,
find a poem, memorize it. It doesn’t take much
to memorize twelve lines. And then you have it
for the rest of your life. This is a poem by Lucille Clifton. Won’t you celebrate with me
what I have shaped into a kind of life. I had no motto, born in Babylon,
both non-white and woman. What did I seek to be except myself. I made it up, here on this bridge
between stars shine and clay. My one hand holding tight my other. Won’t you celebrate with me
that every day, something has tried
to kill me and has failed. Thank you. (Applause)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *