“It is not enough to be a woman writer. It is imperative that we are women writers who write about other women, responsibly. Otherwise, we’ll continue to write rebuttals on misrepresentation or the utter absence of our literary presence.”
Recently I returned to the city that grew my art, Los Angeles, California. It is not the city I was born and reared in, however; it is the city that I consider home. Where I grew into a woman and an artist.
Not expecting anyone to write my story, a few years back I had the audacity to write a piece of Los Angeles poetry HERstory that was not talked about. What prompts this post is, during my recent visit to Los Angeles when I spoke about this information in front of a crowd, I was asked to be mindful and tell the “whole story” of LA women in poetry. Interestingly enough, I’ve never seen the “whole story” written by my male comrades nor during my visit did I hear any conversations that announced the “whole story” of women in poetry. The four day span I was in Los Angeles, when “the good ‘ole days” conversations came up, there was a repeated rundown of the male figures that were prominent in the foundational game but the women were harmoniously absent from the listings.
It is imperative that we are women writers who write about other women… I come from the school of teachers that had rules of not being able to write my own poetry until I committed to memory, “We Real Cool”, “Dream Deferred”, “Ego Tripping”, etc. Afterwards, I had to learn the art of interpretation. Which included the technique of breath execution and the art of arching and dropping words. Only after this, was I allowed to pick up a pencil and write original work. So the edification of reverence and history is significant with me.
My audacity of writing my piece of LA poetry HERstory is me stamping the first “all-woman feature poetry performance” in Los Angeles during the resurgence of poetry that came in the late 1990’s. After years of seeing the art of poetry marketed as a man’s game, only male promoters, male hosts and male poetry features booked, I thought it was very important that I announce the piece of HERstory that sold out a club on Hollywood Blvd.
Of course there were women in poetry on the Los Angeles scene before me. Were they at the urban/valley open mics at 10pm and 11pm seeking a spot at being a performance poet? That answer is an emphatic “no”. I was there so I know who I was standing next to. I know who I was saving a seat for and who was saving a seat for me. I know who I would talk to on the sidewalks afterwards discussing how we were called to the mic at the end of the show when the majority of the audience had left. It was a handful of women insistent we get our take at sharpening our skills not only as poets on the page but also as performance poets with paid feature spots. I was personally told to my face that, “women can’t hold the attention of the crowd like men.” I was not considered for Poetry Performance Feature Shows. That changed when a woman named Rachel Kann came up with this idea to do a show of our own. At a club. On Hollywood Boulevard. In Hollywood, California.
I am certain this will not be the last time I am challenged about representing my story or even the feminine story. When the Harlem Renaissance is told, the majority of stories represent men. The same with the Black Arts Movement and even the Slam Poetry community. I see articles that make mention of the “must read” materials when studying literature in fiction and non-fiction and it is grossly imbalanced. A convenient or unconscious use of partriarchy. With the feminine energy absent, it is clearly not holistic and it never will be. We can continue with the zillion, billion conversations/debates on patriarchy and/or sexism or we can have conversations about women courageously writing our own stories. Being proactive in writing our truths then putting our pens down and walking away.
This post is to encourage you. There are no comparison analysis to the paged works of Etheridge Knight to the performance of Amiri Baraka. Their art forms are clearly different and equally powerful and relevant. But for convenience, perhaps, I was asked to clump all the women together and tell the “whole story” of page literary poets who sell books and performance poets who wanted to sell books AND get paid for featured poetry performances. I’m not sure what happened in your city but in Los Angeles, the women that pushed that wall down were Jaha Zainabu, Rachel Kann, Bridget Gray and Nikki Skies.
(Nikki Skies, Rachel Kann and Jaha Zainabu 11/2015)
(Bridget Gray is pictured below)
So again women, “It is not enough to be a woman writer. It is imperative that we are women writers who write about other women, responsibly. Otherwise, we’ll continue to write rebuttals on misrepresentation or the utter absence of our literary presence.”