Saturday, September 12, 2015

Call and Response: The Gift of Women Poets

Ntozake Shange in 1977
(© Marilyn K. Yee/New York Times)
A month ago, poet, critic, activist, and visionary Amy King sent out a call to an array of writers inviting us to write on a woman poet who had influenced our work and whose poetic gifts to the world we wanted to celebrate. The effort was to be collective and collaborative, producing a micro-anthology commemorating some of the greatest--and in some cases forgotten--voices in and of our literatures, voices without whose efforts many of us would not be writing. 

We were urged to choose writers who either were no longer physically with us or who were getting up in years, since in both cases they are less likely to receive the attention that contemporary, younger women writers do. Most importantly, given the continued sexism and misogyny in the literary and wider worlds, compiling this poetic pageant remains necessary work. Singing these poets' talents, and bringing others to their songs, is one of the most important things we can do. We need their vision, and we need it to shape our own.

As Amy says in her introduction to "Call and Response: The Gift of Women Poets (Part 1)," which now appears on the Poetry Foundation's Harriet website:
While I am very much a fan of recovery projects, this collaborative endeavor is not that. If, as the curator, I must frame it at all, this rich pageant of poets highlights the very worthwhile intersections we all reach individually in our lives: that of recognizing that women-identified poets are of intense, even transformative value, despite living in a culture that often devalues the feminine. Each writer sings out an older or no longer living poet who had a personal influence on them. What you will find is a series of anecdotes and lead-ins to the work & personhood of these female poets who have endured and brought forth, for us, words that have deepened, moved, and given us the gift to see otherwise.

I wrote about the great Ntozake Shange (1948-), an ever-innovative writer who has been and continues to be tremendously influential for me. She is still with us, but several years ago suffered several strokes, in addition to the effects of a neurological disorder, and has experienced trouble speaking and getting around.  Her imagination and artistry are incandescent; most people rightly know her landmark choreopoem for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf, but Shange also is the prolific author of collections of poetry, novels, essays, works for children, and numerous other plays and choreopieces. You can find my celebration of Shange at the second link below; Part 1 encompasses Etel Adnan to Myung Mi Kim, while Part 2 includes Carolyn Kizer through Margaret Walker.

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