#iNeedFeminismBecause # intersectionality #maleprivilege
A white woman poet using a black poet’s invention… No actual reflection done by the poet, so the problem with *using* is still there. But that can be changed! Both poems are beautiful in different ways.
This is the striking original:
The Pool Players.
Seven at the Golden Shovel.
We real cool. We
Left school. We
Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We
Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We
Jazz June. We
White poet: “What right did I have, though, to use a form invented by an African American poet to write my “Goodness in Mississippi,” a poem about anorexia nervosa, which has been called “a white girl’s disease”? What right did I have to use the “we real cool” to “we die soon” template to speak of my friend Barbie’s death, years after I knew her, of complications from the disease? But something about the form—perhaps how it acknowledges its debts—gave me the courage to write about a particular “we,” two friends from “school,” one of whom did “die soon.” It allowed me to finish a poem I’d worked on for twenty years.”
Goodness in Mississippi
After Gwendolyn Brooks’s “We Real Cool,”
with thanks to Terrance Hayes
My friend said I wasn’t fat but she was, and we
would go on that way, back and forth. She was my first real
friend, the kind who changes everything. Her mother was so cool,
didn’t shave down there for the country club pool where we
sat beside her. I saw a gleam of her secret, silver hair and was left
dreaming of lime floating in a clear drink. I started saying hi at school
and people smiled back. Smile first, my friend said, and we
were a team. The cheerleaders who would always lurk
by the field, showing off their muscled legs—of late
I’d hardly noticed them. We talked about art, we
attended science camp in Gulfport. That’s where her mother got struck
by a car the next year. She must have thrown the new baby straight
as a football to save her. Their family was on vacation, and we
found out at Sunday School, waiting for the choir to sing.
She was so good she comforted me. People saying, “It’s just a sin,”
her mom like Snow White under glass, red lipstick, platinum hair we
knew was genetic. You’ll still look young, I said. I think you’re thin.
We’d skip lunch, drink Sego (“good for your ego”). Last year I drank gin
and called her ex. “She passed,” he drawled, like it was the weather. We
tried powdered donuts with the Sego, sweated to the Beatles and jazz.
Her whole life was beginning. We moved away from there one June,
Mississippi tight-mouthed as a lid on fig preserves. And we—
we white girls—knew nothing. The fire-bombed store, the owner who died
for paying his friends’ poll taxes. Anorexia would be famous soon.
(The Georgia Review, Winter 2013)
- Walters states the poem she uses. That is acknowledgment of using.
- Walters writes in Mississippi Haze about the background of her poem, civil rights era, but does not show the poem she used. Poem is erased, hidden. The poem she used is easy to find, but you have to want to be aware of appropriation to look for it. Most people won’t look. “Showing” is the poetess’s responsibility towards a black poet.
- Walters does not reflect on her *use*, only states there is a question whether it is right.
- You can use someone’s idea, sure, the poem came out great, but if it comes from someone oppressed, erased, someone part of a group kept under white people’s boots/books, she has to give back.
- How do you give back?
- Make room for black poets in the places you get published.
- Ask your publishers to print new black poets, as a personal favour to you, a white person, ask them to publish great poems, because it is not a given when you are a great black poet.
LaWanda Walters has work to do. And a white male poet needs to use his cred to support her in doing that.
It is more tiring to face racism every day, than to work your privilege in fighting racism.
LaWanda Walters discusses the psychology of civil-rights era Mississippi—drawing parallels between the injustices of segregation and a childhood friend’s illness from anorexia nervosa—and her use of a form of poetry called “the golden shovel” in her Winter 2013 poem “Goodness in Mississippi.”
Gwendolyn Brooks, “We Real Cool” from Selected Poems. Copyright © 1963 by Gwendolyn Brooks. Reprinted with the permission of the Estate of Gwendolyn Brooks.