Written, once again, for the edX Art of Poetry course I'm doing. This week we gathered seven poems that mean something to us and wrote about them. It was a wonderful experience--a lot of work for one sitting but to see how they all folded together was a blessing.
- Sugarskulli: “Ode to Boyhood” (USA)
- Eileen Kernaghan: “Mohenjo-daro: a poem” (Canada)
- Seamus Heaney: “A Sofa in the the Forties” (Ireland)
- Julian of Norwich: “I it am” (England)
- Togiram (Emile Célestin-Mégie): “M’ap Ekri Youn Powèm/I’m Writing a Poem” (Haiti)
- Thich Nhat Hanh : “Please Call Me By My True Names” (Vietnam)
- Mirabai: “The Plums Tasted” (India)
Sugarskulli is Alex Barr (b. 1998, USA), a sixteen-year-old transgendered girl. She says she’s not a poet, but “Ode to Boyhood” shook me as good poetry can when it strikes a personal chord.
She tells about a girl who’s a boy inside, and the clash with family expectations, fellow students, self.
A pink dress, hanging in the/
chains in the pearl necklace./
Weight, and the color of shame./
blocks in the shape of high heeled shoes,/
a mother who makes too many tomboy jokes./
“That’s my girl,” she says “You’re just like your/
dad.” The role of the daughter never fit./
More than just clothes are in that closet.
Recently, a young man I know (now a young woman I know) dove into self-harm, shutting inward, grief. In my youth, I rejected the stereotypes of girlhood—if this was what we were allowed, I wanted out. Then later, the uneasy awareness that though men are cute—so are women. Say that out loud in 1970? Puhleeze.
I could write yards about this, but I won’t, only that Sugarskulli’s pain hits close to home. Her last stanza is one line:
Dysphoria is the ugliest poet.
Eileen Kernaghan’s (b.1939, Canada) “Mohenjo-daro” introduces her beautifully written novel about the Indus Valley, Winter on the Plain of Ghosts. I find Kernaghan’s writing absolutely magical, whether in prose or poem; here I’m swept off to a long-dead yet vibrantly once-living place.