Social Justice Poetry Capstone

This video is a collection of three poems by social justice writers on the topic of race in America. The pictures connected with the audio are meant to further attach words to their images in the mind, to depict more easily the comparisons from the poet’s method to our own thoughts.

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Listen to It

Many things can be learned from the reading of a poet’s work.  Their style, their purpose, their form, and their word choice all fall into a distinctive voice that is left caught in your mind seconds after the last word of the last line leaves your lips.  That is when social justice poetry has the most power.  When it is spoken.  You can read a poem out loud and feel the frustrations of the author channelled into these letters.  You have to work to get it out, and they form their poems in a way that make you think about what you’re saying as you speak it.  That is when the issue comes alive.  When you speak it aloud, when it can not be hidden or ignored.  And that is how changes are made.  Someone hears the words and takes steps to make fight the problems the voice is speaking against.  Reading social justice poetry has helped me make a connection not just with a poet and their work, but a society and its problems.  Reading social justice poetry has helped me reach back into the dark past of this country and understand the influence of one man’s work. Reading social justice poetry has helped me better comprehend the importance of form and given me further insights into the craft of writing.  Next time you see a poem regarding a social issue, read it aloud.  You might be doing a favor to more than just yourself.  Let other people listen.  Let them understand.  Let them help.

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.

 

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.

 

Taking Control Of Identity: Sarah Kay’s “The Type”

The following is a poem written and spoken by Sarah Kay:


The Type

 

Everyone needs a place. It shouldn’t be inside of someone else. -Richard Siken

 

If you grow up the type of woman men want to look at,
you can let them look at you. But do not mistake eyes for hands.

 

Or windows.
Or mirrors.

 

Let them see what a woman looks like.
They may not have ever seen one before.

 

If you grow up the type of woman men want to touch,
you can let them touch you.

 

Sometimes it is not you they are reaching for.
Sometimes it is a bottle. A door. A sandwich. A Pulitzer. Another woman.

 

But their hands found you first. Do not mistake yourself for a guardian.
Or a muse. Or a promise. Or a victim. Or a snack.

 

You are a woman. Skin and bones. Veins and nerves. Hair and sweat.
You are not made of metaphors. Not apologies. Not excuses.

 

If you grow up the type of woman men want to hold,
you can let them hold you.

 

All day they practice keeping their bodies upright–
even after all this evolving, it still feels unnatural, still strains the muscles,

 

holds firm the arms and spine. Only some men will want to learn
what it feels like to curl themselves into a question mark around you,

 

admit they do not have the answers
they thought they would have by now;

 

some men will want to hold you like The Answer.
You are not The Answer.

 

You are not the problem. You are not the poem
or the punchline or the riddle or the joke.

 

Woman. If you grow up the type men want to love,
You can let them love you.

 

Being loved is not the same thing as loving.
When you fall in love, it is discovering the ocean

 

after years of puddle jumping. It is realizing you have hands.
It is reaching for the tightrope when the crowds have all gone home.

 

Do not spend time wondering if you are the type of woman
men will hurt. If he leaves you with a car alarm heart, you learn to sing along.

 

It is hard to stop loving the ocean. Even after it has left you gasping, salty.
Forgive yourself for the decisions you have made, the ones you still call

 

mistakes when you tuck them in at night. And know this:
Know you are the type of woman who is searching for a place to call yours.

 

Let the statues crumble.
You have always been the place.

 

You are a woman who can build it yourself.
You were born to build.

In this poem, the speaker’s address to woman comes as a call of arms. Throughout, the poem places the ‘you’ as the direct agent of the verb, the subject that is acting. Thus, the poem strains against the objectification and mistreatment of women, while simultaneously striving to give identity to women that is not limited to ideas of victimization. The final lines emphasize this call to action, taking a typical anecdote and twisting the meaning; men usually are the ones who are associated with building things, but here, it is the woman who does not need to rely on man in order to build, she is just able to build by herself. This is played out in the poem’s agency. The woman can ‘let’ the man look at her, but it is a choice, an action. This claiming of agency makes this poem very much rooted in defining an identity. Similarly, it brings to play a social topic of sexuality and the idea of equality between men and women. The call for action places this poem directly under the realm of social action.

The Spoken Word Legacy: Patrick Rosal and Sarah Kay

As a major re-birth of the oral aspect of poetry, the effects of slam poetry can be seen in many living poets today. Two poets with different backgrounds offer insight into how claiming an identity and interacting directly with an audience has shaped contemporary social justice poetry.
The son of Philippine immigrants, Patrick Rosal has published three books of poetry: Boneshepherds, My American Kundiman, and Uprock Headspin Scramble and Dive. He has received many different awards and fellowships such as a Fulbright Fellowship to the Philippines. 

Sarah Kay is the co-director and founder of Project VOICE, an initiative to bring poetry to youth. The author of the book B, she works as an editor for Write Bloody Publishing and has given many talks about poetry including one presented at the 2011 TED Conference. In 2006, she was the youngest poet competing at the National Poetry Slam.

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