Poetry In Society Ep.03: Women ft. Maya Angelou, Amanda Gorman, and Siphokazi Jonas.

Women have shaped the world since the beginning of time. Civilizations have come and gone, and women have been there to walk them through human life. Either by birthing us or nurturing us, women are the primary contact to society a human child has. In some cultures and traditions, woman are what defines royalty, the bloodline of rulership over lands and peoples has always been passed on through women lineage. Case in point, the Bemba of Northern Zambia from the Luba-Lunda Migration, always choose their Chiti-Mukulu ‘Great Tree’ from their women, their sisters children. These are matriarchal societies.

Photo of Dr. Maya Angelou from the Obama White House Archives delivering an Inauguration Poem

By nature and nurture, women have always had unique roles to play in society. To be human first, and then to share all they are with the rest of the society. Some societies from intimidation it may seem are uncomfortable with the light women carry within themselves and so they are bent on dimming it. At every point, in these societies, women’s urgency are thwarted and opposed as if unwelcome or abnormal even when women have long been alive as long as men. With this kind of attitude, you can only image the degree of lacking such societies suffer from when they restrict what women can aspire to and become; restrict what women can offer and hide from public view.

Off course, traditions and customs are like laws in the field of science very necessary yet every upgradable. So, as with every innovation the goal is not in the innovation but in how it serves its purpose in the grander scheme of things. Most traditions, to much detest, are open graves burying healthy pieces of society slowly, and daily. One such healthy piece of society being buried, is the dignity of being woman, of enjoying all the liberties accorded to a human being as per a number of declarations and charters and by their uncountable contributions to the fully functional shape of society.

Sometimes religion and politics come and discard women into small corners or back seats of decision making. Women and girls, start being seen as if tenants on earth while men walk about as if owners of everything. What is so saddening is sometimes how such wicked societies, many a time, even choose to own womanhood—what they are not and do not know jack about being! This is what happens each time we let women out of the door when discussing things pertaining to their wellbeing and lives. It has been noted that in some circles men, being mostly leaders by how crookedly set these societies are, sit to discuss women matters as child birth, maternal health, and other women realities without a woman in the meeting. How unrealistic?

Photo of Siphokazi Jonas from The South African performing her SONA Poem

A normal society knows that women (and other genders) should be involved directly and fully in all manner of decision making, more so those decisions that have dire consequences if wrongly decided upon. The move to ignore the need for women to be seen, felt, and thought of is not only wrong on the victims but for all of society. Today, most societies are dealing with challenges of literacy in technology, science, mathematics, and other fields that have for a long time been male dominated and practiced because while men were being exposed to such education their women counterparts where secluded in some kitchen somewhere blowing out smoke under a readying fire or doing some other domestic chore.

In the premise of this article, I began by showing how everyone enters life, the world, and society through one channel—a woman. Even then, women must not remained tied down on birthing beds their entire lives to acquire any other skills, education, prestige, and freedom. For if women are kept away from accessing or producing knowledge that advances society, then we as a society will continue moving in circles, will be a serpent that has its tail stuck in its mouth!

Photo of Amanda Gorman from Oprah Daily performing her Inauguration Poem

Poetry as a mouthpiece that it is has been used by and for women to sound loud their grievances in protecting their rights, their lives, and their being. Women have used poetry from time immemorial to express their hurt and hope; their sorrow and smiles; their rights and light, their being and experiences of being. Poetry as we might all know is a river that ferries anything that is in it. Poetry does not discriminate between gender or sex so long opportunity has been shared to all.

As such—as a stage—poetry has given a platform to women to perform and exhibit their truth, denied realities, and injustices weighed on them. In other instances, poetry has as well allowed women to dream and command into being publicly a tomorrow they are safe in and are in control of in the cases of American inauguration poets Maya Angelou’s ‘On the Pulse of Morning’ and Armanda Gorman’s ‘The Hill We Climb’ and South Africa’s SONA poet Siphokazi Jonas’ ‘What Does Not Sink’.

Excerpt of Dr. Maya Angelou’s ‘On the Pulse of Morning’ inauguration poem:

Each of you, a bordered country,
Delicate and strangely made proud,
Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.
Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.
Yet today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more. Come,
Clad in peace, and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I and the
Tree and the rock were one.
Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your
Brow and when you yet knew you still
Knew nothing.
The River sang and sings on.

There is a true yearning to respond to
The singing River and the wise Rock.
So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew
The African, the Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheik,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.
They hear. They all hear
The speaking of the Tree.

They hear the first and last of every Tree
Speak to humankind today. Come to me, here beside the River.
Plant yourself beside the River.

Excerpt of Amanda Gorman’s ‘The Hill We Climb’ inauguration poem:

We will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.
We will rise from the gold limbed hills of the West.
We will rise from the wind swept to Northeast where our forefathers first realized the revolution.
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the middle Western States.
We will arise from the sun baked South.
We will rebuild, reconciled and recover.

In every known nook over our nation and every corner called our country.
Our people, diverse and beautiful, will emerge, battered and beautiful.
When day comes, we step out of the shade of flame and unafraid,

The new dawn balloons, as we free it.
For there was always light.
If only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.

Excerpt of Siphokazi Jonas’s ‘What Does Not Sink’ inauguration poem:

There is a flood inside our house.
The water climbs up the wall when we weep;
it does not let us breathe.
Everything is wet with grief.
Before this pandemic, we would cast a funeral song into the dark like a flare,
and the neighbours would come to hold our arms as we drove the water
out the door.

Before grief reached our ankles.
Before it swept us to our knees.
Before it flowed into our pots and our beds.
To mourn meant a community gathered,
like a bank between you and the river of death.

Now death has dampened this ritual –
We mourn alone.
The neighbours lift their arms to relieve the water in their lungs –
We are drowning.
This flood has reached into the inner rooms
and quenched lives young and old.

It has taken what we are not ready to lose.
It spits the stories of the living into the street as injured furniture.
Like a pensioner in line for a social grant
whose life has no space to protest a beach,

but she still returns home, clothes soaked.
Or the man who dies for a beer in his backyard.
And the nurse tying a tattered mask together with prayer and is still unprotected.

Or the artist who contemplates eating her own words to ease her hunger –
and art starves.

This flood ruins us all.

In all, women have voices and when they speak they deserve to be heard.  Women have songs in their chests, and whenever they sing them we must heed. Any society that blinds or deafens to women’s plight or happiness endangers itself and robs itself of monumental growth. When there is so many people in the room, it is only wise to take note of their thoughts on an issue that’s gathering you there, to learn of its many faces and its many selves. It is very foolish, to close out doors on women for it is why we are stuck in the first place as a people, and poetry in society attempts to resolve that once and for all.

Gerry Sikazwe is the Communication Lead at Word Smash Poetry Movement, a seasoned literary voice and enthusiast of youth development. He lives and writes from Lusaka, Zambia.

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