Where Does it all Lead?

In the end, we see how social justice poetry has grown from a history of speaking out and seizing an identity. Now, it is all around us, flowing through poems and voices, stretching from the page to the voice to the ear. We are the audience and the speaker. Rachel Rostad is a young poet, carrying on the legacy. But she is also a college student, a person. An individual with words and experience, bringing back the history of social justice to the public sphere.

 

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Speaking Circles: A Look at Patrick Rosal’s Poem “About the White Boys who Drove by a Second Time to Throw a Bucket of Water on Me”

ABOUT THE WHITE BOYS WHO DROVE BY A SECOND TIME TO THROW A BUCKET OF WATER ON ME
By Patrick Rosal

 

…there shall never be rest
’til the last moon droop and the last tide fall…
– Arthur Symons

 

The first time they merely spat on me and drove off
I stood there a while staring down the road
after them as if I were looking for myself
I even shouted my own name
But when they cruised past again
to toss a full bucket of water
(and who knows what else) on me
I charged–sopping wet–after their car

 

and though they were quickly gone I kept
running Maybe it was hot that August afternoon
but I ran the whole length of Main Street past
the five-and-dime where I stole Spaldeens
and rabbits’ feet past the Raritan bus depot
and Bo’s Den and the projects where Derek and them
scared the shit out of that girl I pumped
the thin pistons of my legs all the way home

 

Let’s get real: It’s been twenty-five years
and I haven’t stopped chasing them
through those side streets in Metuchen
each pickup b-ball game every
swanky mid-town bar I’ve looked for them
in every white voice that slurred and cursed me
within earshot in every pink and pretty
body whose lights I wanted to punch out

 

–and did to be honest I looked for them
in every set of thin lips I schemed to kiss
and this is how my impossible fury
rose: like stone in water I ran
all seven miles home that day and I’ve been
running ever since arriving finally
here and goddammit I’m gonna set things straight

 

The moment they drove by laughing
at a slant-eyed yellowback gook
they must have seen a boy
who would never become a man We could say
they were dead wrong but instead let’s say
this: Their fathers gave them their rage
as my father gave me mine

and from that summer day on we managed
to savor every bloody thing
that belonged to us It was a meal
constantly replenished–a rich
bitterness we’ve learned to live on for so long
we forget how–like brothers–
we put the first bite in one another’s mouths

Here is a link where you can listen to Patrick Rosal read this poem live. There are other poems which you can listen to by Patrick Rosal.

http://www.fishousepoems.org/archives/patrick_rosal/about_the_white_boys_who_drove_by_a_second_time_to_throw_a_bucket_of_water_on_me_live_bates.shtml

In this poem, the idea that prejudice and the anger that arises from prejudices is cyclic in its patterns. The end of the poem grows to this idea of feeding; the speaker is fed by the actions of the white boys. Yet, the speaker asserts that the food is also something that grows from tradition and what parents think. Therefore, the poem ties into the epigraph’s assertion that there is no rest. There is no break from the prejudice. This is emphasized by the poem’s lack of punctuation, especially periods which would give the poem a complete stop. As a spoken word poem, the rise and fall of the speaker’s voice brings back this idea of reaction. The poem is a reaction to something that happened, but it is also a call for change because it points out that which is absurd. By pointing out the cyclical sensation of this prejudice, the poem stands as a call for justice, for an awakening to the source of all the prejudice that goes on in the world. Thus, the poem stands as an interaction between audience and poet that calls awareness to the current situation in hope of change.

 

Poetry “In Times Like These”

“We may feel bitterly how little our poems can do in the face of seemingly out-of-control technological power and seemingly limitless corporate greed, yet it has always been true that poetry can break isolation, show us to ourselves when we are outlawed or made invisible, remind us of beauty where no beauty seems possible, remind us of kinship where all is represented as separation.”  – Adrienne Rich, Social Justice Poet

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Quick Facts About Robert Hayden

1. Born on August 4th, 1913 and died on February 25th, 1980.
2. Raised by foster parents in Detroit, Michigan.
3. Extremely nearsighted.
4. The first African American appointed Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.
5. Deeply religious; belonged to the Baha’i faith (an Eastern religion that believes in a coming world civilization).
6. Rejected label of “black poet” although his poetry focuses on the black experience.

Robert Hayden, American Poet

What is Social Justice Poetry?

It is difficult to come up with a clear-cut definition of Social Justice poetry. So, to approach this idea, here are some definitions from the Oxford English Dictionary about what Social Justice and Social Action itself means, outside of the realm of poetry:

“social justice   n. chiefly Polit. and Philos. justice at the level of a society or state as regards the possession of wealth, commodities, opportunities, and privileges. Much of the debate surrounding social justice has been concerned with the precise nature of fair distribution, and to what extent this may conflict with individual rights of acquisition and ownership.”

social action   n.  (a) deliberate action that results or is intended to result in a change in the institutions or conditions of social life; an instance of this;  (b) (Sociol.) action that takes place in a social context; action involving or oriented towards one or more other individuals; an instance of this.”

From these definitions, the poetry’s background is set. Social Justice/Action poetry then refers to poetry that pays special attention to individuality, rights, and ownership.