Poetry is Not a Luxury: Poetry As Power

by Kiki Nicole

   White people love to tell me how lyrical my writing is, how the rhythms of my words flow so well, how every verse is so political, so eloquent. Outside of past college workshop classes, however, white people love to scrutinize my Black existence. They love to touch my hair (especially when it’s pastel colored), invade my personal space bubble, whistle and holler out of truck windows, and sneer as I walk through suburbia.

   Trying to pursue a writing career is like always walking through suburbia. It’s in prestigious literary communities, in academia, in the long list of declined submissions in your Submittable account. You are always afraid. You are always faced with the threat of dismissal from a face far whiter than your’s. You are always expecting failure. You are always faced with the threat of being dismissed because whatever you create will be Othered, and therefore, not important enough for non-POC to engage with. This can look like the awkward silences in your creative writing class when you read a piece on misogynoir, which is a type of sexism no white feminist wants to admit exists. 

    This can look like reading poem in a poetry slam about the anti-black consumerism that keeps white entertainers afloat in the music business because you know it will make every white person very uncomfortable and therefore you will have to win.  This can look like invalidation. Like everyone is afraid of you, but still wants something from you. Like being Queer. Like being Woman. Like being Black.

   Looking back through my old poetry, I realized that I was always trying to make myself smaller, in my life and on the page as well. I would write every piece using only lowercase letters, sign my name in lowercase and seal the signature within closed parentheses for added shrinkage. I realize now that this was not done in a bell hooks kind of way but more in that unflattering, internalized sexism kind of way. I wrote like this so as to not seem too bold and brazen, too loud and angry Black girl; I didn’t want to force my words on anyone because they weren’t important. I wanted to let the world know of everything I had to say but felt like I had no right to shout it from the rooftops, so I kept my poems down to a whisper (and still apologized because even that seemed too loud).

    Women, especially women of color, are constantly being reminded that their art and their voices do not matter and it’s really difficult to not take that in. Living unapologetically while not white/straight/male is a dangerous existence. In her TED talk “We Should All Be Feminists” and as featured on Beyoncé’s Flawless track, writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says, “We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller.”  I subconsciously wanted to remain palatable to any readers, to become small enough until I was deemed consumable. Because there is still a part of me who believes that I should not be taking up space as a Black feminine person. Because there is still a part of me who believes I do not deserve to be recognized, that I do not deserve validation, and that I should not try. There will always be a white artist who is inherently “better” than me. There will always be a white voice who deserves to be listened to more than I do.

    I think there is a bravery to poetry. Especially for Black and femme-identified writers. We are often lumped together in the destructive “strong Black woman” trope and art allows us to explore that vulnerability and weakness we are not supposed to have. In my opinion, poetry creates a platform for healing and growth; poetry is a powerful tool. In a world in which we are consistently being denied that opportunity, poetry is power. Something Black femmes are usually stripped of. It challenges the sexist and racist negative self-talk that I used to dwell in. I am tired of my work being denied because it is too personal, too Black, too much. I am tired of internalizing from our sexist-racist world the idea that my work is not Literary enough, not Good enough, or not Enough because most of it focuses on my identity.

    I am giving myself strength when I navigate the complexities of Blackness and womanhood in my poetry. I am giving myself courage to be important when I capitalize my Blackness. I am giving myself back the right to exist without feeling threatened, without anticipating someone talking over me. I am giving myself  back the space I was denied as a Queer, Black femme. Through writing, I am choosing to believe in myself  in a world full of constant reminders that my life does not matter. That, in itself, is a revolutionary act.

Kiki Nicole is a 20 year old girl ghost currently living in Portland, Or. She is a full time employee for Where Are You Press and a part time poet (which you can check out on her new blog!) She writes for quiet, colored girls hiding inside the margins. She is very much into critically thinking about the intersections of race and gender in everyday life, drinking water, reading too many books, and watching Sailor Moon. She would like you to know that she is trying. And that, in itself, is a great poem.

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