Black Feminist Poetry by Tessara Dudley

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I have thought of myself as a poet for over a decade. To me, poetry is a language of negotiating space, of building movements, of dreaming possibilities. Poetry is a path towards justice, and I love to read the work of my ancestors in struggle. Black woman poet-activists have paved the way for us to use our voices in service to community, to honour Blackness, queerness, womanness — all the different ways we exist in the world. They invite us to have the hard-complicated-intense-unsettling conversations that can lead to real change. For instance: Maya Angelou’s poem Family Affairs:

You let down, from arched
Windows,
Over hand-cut stones of your
Cathedrals, seas of golden hair.

While I, pulled by dusty braids,
Left furrows in the
Sands of African beaches.

Princes and commoners
Climbed over waves to reach
Your vaulted boudoirs,

As the sun, capriciously,
Struck silver fire from waiting
Chains, where I was bound.

My screams never reached
The rare tower where you
Lay, birthing masters for
My sons, and for my
Daughters, a swarm of
Unclean badgers, to consume
Their history.

Tired now of pedestal existence
For fear of flying
And vertigo, you descend
And step lightly over
My centuries of horror
And take my hand,

Smiling, call me
Sister.

Sister, accept
That I must wait a
While. Allow an age
Of dust to fill
Ruts left on my
Beach in Africa.

 

Maya Angelou’s born-day: April 4th. A passionate, wise, beautiful, amazing person, she was a friend and sometimes “angelic troublemaker” who organized with and for Malcolm X, MLK, Jr, and other great leaders of the Civil Rights movement. She used her writing and her voice to create change in the world. When MLK was assassinated on April 4th, she was devastated, and refused to celebrate the day for years to come.

Last year — May 28, 2014 — she passed on. As I was riding the bus, I composed a poem in her honour, a tribute to the work she did in her life. But I also committed myself to understanding the ways her poetry invited me into dialogue about my own country and the world I share with seven billion other human lives.

When I write, I am moved by her spirit. My poetry is in conversation with her work and the work of other Black woman warrior-poets, and in service to a greater world. I am ever ready to accept the challenge laid before me: using the beauty and pain of words to continue the long trek to equity. Poetry is the map that will get us there. Though the journey be long, poetry will ease our sorrows, soothe our wounds, calm our minds, uplift our spirits. It is the compass and the road, the traveler and the destination

I am thankful for the movement mothers who came before me; may they rest in power.

 

Tessara Dudley 1

 

A writer, educator, and activist living in Portland, OR, Tessara Dudley writes poetry and personal essay from the intersection of working class Black queer disabled life, and hopes her art will help to build a better world. She can be found at http://tessaradudley.com

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