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A Black Man & A White Woman Trade Voices In This Moving Poem
Alexander has written a poem in three parts, with at least three intertwined topics: the first part stands—or could have stood—independently; the second complements and partially reverses the first; and the third completes, and corrects, the first two. Alexander begins unassumingly, with an anecdote whose emotional weight only later becomes clear. Alexander begins the poem with both a place of origin and an allusion: Tuskegee is famous for the Tuskegee Institute, founded by Booker T. Washington in Washington wanted black Americans to prove themselves by excelling at mechanical, agricultural, and other practical occupations, striving to avoid direct conflict over civil rights.
A Magazine of Literature and the Arts
Darius Simpson and Scout Bostley begin to speak into their individual microphones -- but then they stop, switch mics and start talking again. In the video below from the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational, the two Eastern Michigan University students perform their spoken word poem "Lost Voices" and discuss white privilege, reproductive rights, male privilege and dating while black. But instead of telling stories from their own lives, Bostley and Simpson tell one another's experiences. The result is a powerful commentary on white privilege and male privilege, respectively. When the two trade their respective privileges they're allowed to say things they normally wouldn't be able to. Bostley says things that Simpson cannot because he is black, while Simpson says things Bostley cannot because she's a woman.
I once attended a debate between two distinguished poets, both women, who were to discuss whether one wrote as a woman poet, or as a poet who happened to be a woman. The book is notable not only for the way it navigates questions of identity and politics, but for the variety and virtuosity of its use of form. Form, for Shockley, begins with music. Sometimes Shockley will use sound echoes to guide the movement of her writing from phrase to phrase—a form, like rhyme or anaphora, liberates the poet from saying the predictable thing. In some of her prose poems the effect is similar to what we see in similar works by Harryette Mullen. There is, or can be, a magic to this sort of prose poem in performance, an incantatory quality and a wit that we still feel, if we want to, when the words lie silent on the page. Ordinary and a little overwhelmed, containing modest multitudes, Shockley is always with her poetry and her protest, but not only with them.
Skip navigation! Allies rule. The poem reflects the individual struggles of growing up African-American as well as growing up female. The performance, with the two speakers jumping back and forth, robbing each other of their voices, is jarring — but intentionally so. Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated the author of the poem.