The Overlooked Ladies of History:
Ingrid Jonker was born into an Afrikanner family in 1930s apartheid South Africa. Following her mother’s death when Jonker was ten, she and her sister were raised by their estranged father, with whom she would always have a contentious relationship. As a politician in the pro-apartheid National Party (and the eventual Minister of Censorship), Jonker’s father was constantly at odds with his willful, free-spirited daughter. Finding solace from her tribulations in writing, Jonker completed her first collection of poems when she was thirteen. At the age of thirty she published a collection of poetry entitled “Smoke and Ochre”, a volume of largely anti-apartheid poetry, despite resistance from the government and the complete alienation from her father that resulted. Her poetry became iconic in a South Africa which systematically oppressed black voices. Her most famous poem “Die Kind (the Child)” was inspired by the death of a black child shot in its mother’s arms by soldiers during the Sharpeville Massacre. Almost thirty years after her suicide in 1965, Nelson Mandela read the poem during his address to South Africa’s first democratic parliament. Of Jonker herself, Mandela said that: “She was both a poet and a South African. She was both an Afrikaner and an African. She was both an artist and a human being. In the midst of despair, she celebrated hope. Confronted by death, she asserted the beauty of life.”
The child is not dead
The child lifts his fist against his mother
Who shouts Afrika! shout the breath
Of freedom and the veld
In the shanty-towns of the cordoned heart
The child lifts his fist against his father
In the march of the generations
Who are shouting Afrika! shout the breath
Of righteousness and blood
In the streets of his embattled pride
The child is not dead
Not at Langa nor at Nyanga
Nor at Orlando nor at Sharpeville
Nor at the police station at Philippi
Where he lies with a bullet through his head
The child is the shadow of the soldiers
On guard with their rifles saracens and batons
The child is present at all assemblies and legislation
The child peers through the windows of houses and into the
hearts of mothers
This child who just longed to play in the sun at Nyanga is
The child grown into a man treks on through all Africa
The child grown into a giant journeys over the whole world
Carrying no pass
“Claudia La Rocco is a poet and critic. She founded thePerformanceClub.org, and contributes frequently to the New York Times and Artforum.com. She teaches at the School of Visual Arts’ graduate program in Art Criticism and Writing and is a member of the Off The Park poetry press. Recorded live at Bryn Mawr College; guest curated by Judy Hussie-Taylor, Danspace Project.”
This is wholly wonderful.
layers upon layers upon layers
A week before Thanksgiving
I explained to my abuelita
about the Indians and the Mayflower,
how Lincoln set the slaves free;
I explained to my parents about
the purple mountain’s majesty,
“one if by land, two if by sea,”
the cherry tree, the tea party,
the amber waves of grain,
the “masses yearning to be free,”
liberty and justice for all, until
finally they agreed:
this Thanksgiving we would have turkey,
as well as pork.
Inaugural poet Richard Blanco talks about writing three poems for President Obama’s ceremony on Monday. At 44, Blanco is the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history.
Mary Shelley in Brigantine
Because the ostracized experience the world
in ways peculiar to themselves, often seeing it
clearly yet with such anger and longing
that they sometimes enlarge what they see,
she at first saw Brigantine as a paradise for gulls.
She must be a horseshoe crab washed ashore.
How startling, though, no one knew about her past,
the scandal with Percy, the tragic early deaths,
yet sad that her Frankenstein had become
just a name, like Dracula or Satan, something
that stood for a kind of scariness, good for a laugh.
She found herself welcome everywhere.
People would tell her about Brigantine Castle,
turned into a house of horror. They thought
she’d be pleased that her monster roamed
its dark corridors, making children scream.
They lamented the day it was razed.
Thus Mary Shelley found herself accepted
by those who had no monster in them —
the most frightening people alive, she thought.
Didn’t they know Frankenstein had abandoned
his creation, set him loose without guidance
or a name? Didn’t they know what it feels like
to be lost, freaky, forever seeking who you are?
She was amazed now that people believed
you could shop for everything you might need.
She loved that in the dunes you could almost hide.
At the computer store she asked an expert
if there was such a thing as too much knowledge,
or going too far? He directed her to a website
where he thought the answers were.
Yet Mary Shelley realized that the pain she felt
all her life was gone. Could her children, dead so young,
be alive somewhere, too? She couldn’t know
that only her famous mother had such a chance.
She was almost ready to praise this awful world.
-Stephen Dunn, from Local Visitations
HBO Def Poet Mark Gonzales, who’s a Chicano Muslim, takes on—and takes down—the Islamophobic signs seen in New York City and San Francisco. (via Colorlines)
“how genocidal your language can be”
—Sara Teasdale, Poetry, March 1914
Teasdale was born on August 8, 1884. After turning her attention from one suitor in the spring of 1914, she entertained a short-lived romance with Vachel Lindsay, but finally married Ernst Filsinger in December 1914. She won the first Columbia Poetry Prize in 1918, a prize that was later renamed the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath-
America will be!
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death, The rape and rot of
graft, and stealth, and lies, We, the people, must redeem The land, the
mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain-
All, all the stretch of these great green states- And make America
—Langston Hughes (via vintageanchor)
Gwendolyn Brooks reads “A Song in the Front Yard”