One of my students writes, "I can understand it but I can't speak it." in her poem "Fillipino Ako". The poem's title, which translates to "I am Fillipino" is about her experience learning about her own culture through an academic foreign language course because, as she states, "I was never taught my native tongue." Her manuscript Identity encapsulates the ideas we've exchanged over the semester in my Women and Poetry course.
A feminist poetics, something we've defined as a way of making art that breaks patriarchal structures in language, has helped my students imagine their lives beyond boundaries, dichotomies, and hierarchies. After today's class "exam," a poetry reading where each student chose one poem that best represents their poetry project - a manuscript that embraces a feminist poetics - I've learned something I already knew about poetry and teaching. It changes you. I'm overwhelmed with gratitude that each student had intimate conversations with at least one of the texts we read and discussed in this class. These conversations made their way to the classroom, which became a safe space to create and respond to poetry. I have students that, if they choose to and keep at it, can markedly change the direction of poetry in the future. I hope they will all keep writing. I hope they'll keep on reading our poetry mothers, like Sappho, Anne Carson, June Jordon, Sylvia Plath, Minnie Bruce Pratt, Gertrude Stein, Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, and Alice Notley.
The first book of poetry I ever bought was Audre Lorde's hefty The Collected Poems. I was fourteen years old, in a small Mizner Park bookstore on east Boca Raton called Liberties, which closed over a long, drawn out tenant-landlord dispute. I think it's now a restaurant called Uncle Julio's, where they make guacamole tableside. However, I'll never forget flipping through the pages of that book while sitting on the floor of the cushy bookstore. I was mesmerized by the white space and line breaks, and the line I still remember "Do not remember me as a bridge nor a roof," which somehow resonated in my teenage girl heart.
"Liberties" is a good name for this kind of place; a bookstore, a classroom, a poetics.
I collected and assembled some of the lines of poetry from each student to create a Cento as a kind of keepsake for the class. I've gotten attached to the poem, to the students, to the experience of crossing literary boundaries with them. As one student put it, "Everything shifts." This is the poetics of ENG 273, Spring 2012.