Black Poetry Writing Month: Bonus Prompt

The first ever Black Poetry Writing Month project ends on a day that only comes once every four years. How poetic! It was fun being your hostess, and I would like to thank everyone who participated, liked, commented, reblogged, retweeted, shared on Facebook, etc. Your positive feedback only motivates me to continue this project every February for years to come.

I’m so proud that my inner procrastinator took a back seat and allowed me to post a new prompt every day (it was a struggle some days, especial on the weekends). Over the next year, I’ll explore new ways to make the prompts more interesting and fun so that everyone can participate, whether you are a poet or not, whether you are black or not. Don’t let the “Black” part deter you. Black Poetry Writing Month, Black History Month, Black Lives Matter, Black “anything” does not mean anti-white. As I said in my introductory post, it’s simply a celebration of how far we’ve come and a reminder that we still have much to do.

As I tell my people who complain about Black History Month being in February, don’t let this month be the only time you write a “black” poem. Write whenever you feel inspired. The prompts are still up. You can come back to them anytime. As I did not write a poem for every single prompt, I know I will. If you missed any of the prompts, or if you’re just discovering Black Poetry Writing Month at its close, here they are again:

Write a Poem that Ignites

Write a Poem for the Activist

Write a Poem for the Voter

Write a Poem for Your Elders

Write a Poem for the Lost Soldier

Write a Poem for Your Sons

Write a Poem About an Incident

Write a Poem for the Mask Wearer

Write a Poem in Dialect

Write a Poem for the “Dark Girl”

I want to interrupt the list on a quick side note. For those of you who follow my Sunday Morning Word series, you know I love spoken word poetry. While spoken word is not exclusively black, there is such raw talent, power, and emotion in the way many black poets perform their poems, especially when the subject of the poem focuses on the sometimes uncomfortable issue of race in America.

I came across two poems that closely relate to the prompt about the underappreciated, “ugly” black woman. I couldn’t decide which one I wanted to share most (they are equally powerful), so I decided on both. The first is called “Stay Woke.” If you recognize one of the poets in this duo, she’s Kai Davis. I shared another poem of hers in one of my first blog posts—a subject that I return to often: “acting white.”

What do you think? Has anyone else awoken from that performance? Ok, let’s pick up where we left off . . .

Write a Poem for the Weary Slave

Write a Poem for the Community

Write a Poem for the Strong Black Woman

Write a Poem for the Black Orator

Write a Song for the Field Slaves

Write a Poem for the Slave Mother

Write a Poem for the “Don’t Care Negro”

Write a Poem of Double Consciousness

Interrupting the list again. I didn’t forget about the second spoken word poem I wanted to share. While the first one was a very animated performance that had a few laughing moments, this one is much more heartbreaking. Titled, “To Be Black and Woman and Alive,” it is again talking about the self-hatred of black women and the unseen beauty of their bodies. Watch.

I hope one of these spoken word pieces speaks to you today. I hope they inspire you to write a poem that awakens an ignorant world, that admires the beauty in everyone equally, inside and out. Maybe it’ll inspire you to take a dab at spoken word poetry. These women are talented wordsmiths and speakers. I would love to one day perform my poetry as effortlessly as they do.

Now, let’s finish the list of Black Poetry Writing Month prompts . . .

Write a Poem About a “Beverly Hills, Chicago”

Write a Poem for the Cool Kids

Write a Song from the Front Yard

Write a Poem Inspired by Music

Write a Poem that Remembers (Black) History

Write a Poem that Promotes Self-Love

Write a Poem of Self-Discovery

Write a Poem for the At-Risk Youth

Write a Poem to the “Ugly” Reflection

Write a Poem that Starts a Conversation

And that’s it! Thanks again to everyone who participated, spread the word, provided insight, or simply just enjoyed the idea of having a Black Poetry Writing Month. See you next February!

By the way, when NaPoWriMo comes around in April, don’t hesitate to come back to one of these prompts for inspiration. Like I said before, BlaPoWriMo shouldn’t be limited to just one month. 🙂

—Nortina

Black Poetry Writing Month: Write a Poem to the “Ugly” Reflection

Lessons from a Mirror

Snow White was nude at her wedding, she’s so white
the gown seemed to disappear when she put it on.

Put me beside her and the proximity is good
for a study of chiaroscuro, not much else.

Her name aggravates me most, as if I need to be told
what’s white and what isn’t.

Judging strictly by appearance there’s a future for me
forever at her heels, a shadow’s constant worship.

Is it fair for me to live that way, unable
to get off the ground?

Turning the tables isn’t fair unless they keep turning.
Then there’s the danger of Russian roulette

and my disadvantage: nothing falls from the sky
to name me.

I am the empty space where the tooth was, that my tongue
rushes to fill because I can’t stand vacancies.

And it’s not enough. The penis just fills another
gap. And it’s not enough.

When you look at me,
know that more than white is missing.

—Thylias Moss, from Pyramid of Bone (1989)

 

Earlier this month, I wrote a post about Sarah Baartman, an African freak show, for lack of better terms, who was paraded around Europe, her body put on display for white people far and near to marvel and its strange features (large breasts and buttocks), and measure her against white woman (even after her death). In an effort to elevate themselves as the superior race, they declared that fair, virginal Victorian age white women were the image of beauty and portrayed Baartman as the abnormal “other.”

Hundreds of years later, and black women are still experiencing this kind of marginalization.

Moss’s poem alludes to the tale of Snow White, in which the evil queen/stepmother asks the magic mirror who is the fairest of them all, and it tells her Snow White. Like the evil queen, black women are told daily, whether directly or indirectly, that white women are prettier, that white women are purer, that white women are more desirable lovers. We are forever living in the shadow of their “beauty.” The few times that black women are complimented, it is for their European features, which overtime created the problem of colorism within the black community (light skin vs. dark skin).

dark_girls_caro_page-bg_29012
Source: Ebony

Black women are constantly pressured to look more like white woman—never mind that most white women don’t even look the world’s imaginary “beauty standards.” Whether it’s a daughter being expelled from school because her hair was too distracting, a model’s dark brown skin being lightened on a magazine cover, a female rapper or celebrity with a very round derrière being slut shamed, or a business woman being fired from her job for refusing to straighten her hair or wear a weave or wig because her boss thinks her naturally outward growing hair is unprofessional.

What’s more insulting is that many black men (not all, but a lot) often praise white women while degrading black women at the same time. While I’m a huge advocate for interracial dating—you love who you love; skin color shouldn’t matter—I do have a problem with black men who only date white women because they hate black women. Excuse me, sir, but your mother is black. Your daughter, no matter how much you try to mix that blood around, will still be black. What’s more demeaning is their worship of “exotic” or “foreign” women, or “white girls with a fat ass,” while the most a black woman would hear is, “You’re pretty for a dark skin girl,” “I only date light skin girls,” “Hell must’ve froze over for me to date a black girl.”

It’s hard to stomach some of the hurtful things I’ve heard black men say about black women. I often wonder where all this animosity comes from. Is it a form of self-hate or did all these men really have the same bad relationship experience with a black woman? I’m leaning more toward the former.

The last two stanzas are the most heartbreaking of this poem. I’m sure all women have that occasional fear that they’re not good enough for their man, that one day a smarter, prettier, nicer woman would come through and take him away. For black women, especially black who’ve heard their men say the above comments, we fear that woman will be white. No matter how hard I try to please him, will he still leave because I’m not white enough for him, because I’m too black? When you enter a relationship thinking this way, you quickly realize that “more than white is missing.”

For today’s BlaPoWriMo prompt, write a poem for the black girl staring into her reflection, for the black girl pinching her skin to bring up the white. Tell her she’s beautiful. God created her in His image and likeness. Tell her she doesn’t have to alter her body, God’s body, to feel loved.

#BlaPoWriMo: Push-Up (poem)

I push myself off the ground,
neck muscles, upperarms
bulging under weight of
restless earth dancing
between shoulder blades.

—Nortina


Written for BlaPoWriMo prompt: write a poem for the Strong Black Woman

Black Poetry Writing Month: Write a Poem for the Strong Black Woman

Credit: Reuters

The Heart of a Woman

The heart of a woman goes forth with the dawn,
As a lone bird, soft winging, so restlessly on,
Afar o’er life’s turrets and vales does it roam
In the wake of those echoes the heart calls home.

The heart of a woman falls back with the night,
And enters some alien cage in its plight,
And tries to forget it has dreamed of the stars
While it breaks, breaks, breaks on the sheltering bars.

—Georgia Douglas Johnson, from The Heart of a Woman and Other Poems (1918)

 

Black women have been subjected to many harmful stereotypes throughout history: the hypersexual “Jezebel,” the welfare queen, the emasculating angry black woman, the strong black woman who carries the world on her shoulders. Ironically, the last image is probably the most damaging of them all. We can quickly counteract the other negative stereotypes with positive models—the emasculating angry black woman with a woman who uplifts her man and others around her; the welfare queen with a hard-working, financially independent woman who strives for excellence every day; the hypersexual with a classy, educated, modest woman who prefers to be covered up.

Credit: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

The strong black woman is arguably a positive stereotype; however, it is still a stereotype, and there is constant pressure to live up to that imagined standard. Single mothers struggling to make ends meet with little to no help, smart women hiding their successes and downplaying their accomplishments so as not to belittle their fruitless husbands, caring women becoming “therapists” to friends, family members, complete strangers who lay all of their problems on her shoulders hoping to get good advice—these women (along with many others) are all considered “strong (black) women.” Unfortunately, they are usually the most lonely, their sacrifices often go unappreciated, and if they ever deviate from the trope, they are severally criticized.

The single mother with the dead end minimum wage job, struggling to feed her children and herself is labeled hypersexual and a welfare queen when she has no other option but to ask for assistance. “Where are their daddies?” “Stop having babies!” “Just get another job!” “American tax payers shouldn’t have to take care of your kids!” the people who once praised her for her strength suddenly sneer.

The quiet wife comes home with news of a raise or a new job, and instead of congratulating her, her husband beats her because, with her higher paycheck, she has joined the white man in bringing him down, taking away his masculinity.

The “therapist,” sick of hearing the problems of people who never heed her advice nor listen to her own struggles finally says enough and is characterized as angry.

So much for the mythological Strong Black Woman.

loveblack

For today’s BlaPoWriMo prompt, write a poem for black women who lose themselves in the negative and positive stereotypes. Show them their real selves and love them for it.

—Nortina

#BlaPoWriMo: the lady from Gabu

#ThisIsMyPoetryBlog

I watched, mesmerized,
as she danced,
the lady from Gabu,
her lips moving slowly
her hips moving slowly
to the lyrics.

Our lines of vision
crossed. She looked
surprised, amused,
and walked towards me.
“Bailamos!”

Dusky brown,
light of step, smiling.
I said, sheepishly,
I´d try to keep up.
“You’ll do just fine.

“You are a good dancer,
but how is your Crioulu?”
You are a good liar.
My Crioulu is limited –
bu misti & ca tang.

“I want” and “I don´t have.”
“That´s a good start.
Spend 7 days & 7 nights with me
in Gabu and you will speak
um bom Crioulu.”

It seemed her feet
never touched
the floor. We danced
the night long.
I never returned to Gabu.

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Black Poetry Writing Month: Write a Poem for the “Dark Girl”

To a Dark Girl

I love you for your brownness
And the rounded darkness of your breast.
I love you for the breaking sadness in your voice
And shadows where your wayward eye-lids rest.

Something of old forgotten queens
Lurks in the lithe abandon of your walk,
And something of the shackled slave
Sobs in the rhythm of your talk.

Oh, little brown girl, born for sorrow’s mate,
Keep all you have of queenliness,
Forgetting that you once were slave,
And let your full lips laugh at Fate!

—Gwendolyn Bennett, from Caroling Dusk: An Anthology of Verse by Negro Poets (1927)

 

Saartjie “Sarah” Baartman is recognized today as the first video vixen, probably the most degrading “first” of an African or person of color in all of history. Similar to the video vixens of today, who shows off their bodies to the pleasure of men in raunchy (usually rap) music videos, Saartjie Baartman was paraded around Europe in a traveling circus, her body put on display under the title, Hottentot Venus.

Black women’s bodies have always been a topic of discussion; since Saartjie Baartman, they’ve always been “on exhibit.” European explorers marveled at the African woman’s larger breasts, buttocks, and labia. They described their physical traits as abnormal to that of white woman. African women were characterized as hypersexual while white women were viewed as pure and delicate. White men put their wives on pedestals—frail, virginal angels, barely able to withstand childbirth—while at night they snuck into the slave quarters and lived out their sexual fantasies with the “jezebel” slave women, usually without consent.

jezebel-large

This why so many slave mothers dreaded having daughters, because they knew the stigma of their bodies would force them to grow up too fast, that their masters’ eyes would soon be wandering. This is why fugitive slave and author of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl,  Harriet Jacobs, hid in an attack for seven years before finally escaping to the North. This is why Margaret Garner, the inspiration behind Toni Morrison’s Beloved, killed her two-year-old daughter with a butcher knife rather than allow her to be recaptured into slavery.

After her death in 1815, Saartjie Baartman’s body was dissected, her genitalia and buttocks analyzed as if they were scientific specimens. Her skeleton and body cast was put on display until 1974 and 1976 respectively when feminist argued for its removal on the grounds that it was a degrading representation of women. However, her remains weren’t returned to her home soil in South Africa until 2002, after endless legal back and forth.

I love Gwendolyn Bennett’s poem because it pays homage to the Dark Girl like Saartjie Baartman. She was physically characterized as abnormal and ugly, and was exploited as a sex object, but she is still a Queen. From her brown skin, to her round buttocks, to her full lips and wide nose, she is still beautiful. From the pain and depravity she had to endure while enslaved, she has only grown stronger. This is why Beyoncé’s new song “Formation” has quickly become and anthem for black women. Like “To a Dark Girl,” it expresses racial pride and affirmation of black female beauty.

OK, ladies, now let's get in formation, 'cause I slay . . .
OK, ladies, now let’s get information, ’cause I slay . . .

For today’s BlaPoWriMo prompt, write a poem for the dark girl. What delicacies do you see within her that the world has historically turned a blind eye to? Now is her time to be raised up on a pedestal. Debunk all the stereotypes. Admire her for her royal, brown elegance and grace alone.

—Nortina

Black History Month: Black Women

People often said that being black and also a woman is a double negative, and although a double negative equals a positive in math, that’s not always the case in the real world. I read in a book once—the title of the book escapes me at the moment—that black women are the most oppressed. They were the last to gain their freedom, the last to be recognized as citizens, the last to vote. How black women are view, portrayed, treated, etc., in society is evidence of whether or not a society is still backwards in its treatment of its own people.  If we see successful, strong, and respected black women, we have finally overcome the issues of the past. While we do see successful, educated black women, and one of the most well known, respected, and idolized, women in the world is the First Lady, Michelle Obama, a black woman, I still feel like there’s still some marginalization being practiced. Black women are still portrayed as oversexed and expendable: twerking, rap music, baby mamas, thots. Black women still have to fight stereotypes: they’re all on welfare, they infantilize their men, they’re always mad, i.e. the angry black woman. Movies like Tyler Perry’s adaptation of For Colored Girls wouldn’t be as difficult to watch if we knew that black women didn’t still face those obstacles, but the painful truth is that they do.

Here’s a poem written by African American poet, Toi Derricotte, that explores one of the issues that is inherent to being a black woman. Do you think there is some truth in these lines even today?

On the Turning Up of Unidentified Black Female Corpses
By Toi Derricotte

Mowing his three acres with a tractor,
a man notices something ahead—a mannequin—
he thinks someone threw it from a car. Closer
he sees it is the body of a black woman.

The medics come and turn her with pitchforks.
Her gaze shoots past him to nothing. Nothing
is explained. How many black women
have been turned up to stare at us blankly,

in weedy fields, off highways,
pushed out in plastic bags,
shot, knifed, unclothed partially, raped,
their wounds sealed with a powdery crust.

Last week on TV, a gruesome face, eyes bloated shut.
No one will say, “She looks like she’s sleeping,” ropes
of blue-black slashes at the mouth. Does anybody
know this woman? Will anyone come fourth? Silence

like a backwave rushes into that field
where, just the week before, four other black girls
had been found. The gritty image hangs in the air
just a few seconds, but strikes me,

a black woman, there is a question being asked
about my life. How can I
protect myself? Even if I lock my doors,
walk only in the light, someone wants me dead.

Am I wrong to think
if five white women had been stripped,
broken, the sirens would wail until
someone was named?

Is it any wonder I walk over these bodies
pretending they are not mine, that I do not know
the killer, that I am just like any woman—
if not wanted, at least tolerated.

Part of me wants to disappear, to pull
the earth on top of me. Then there is this part
that digs me up with this pen
and turns my sad black face to the light.