Cornelia Barber: ‘Girls stealing is inevitably a stealing back’

Poetry News

By Harriet Staff

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Holy smokes: Cornelia Barber’s new essay on Fanzine writes across “bad” writing, focusing on the work of Jasmine Gibson, Diana Hamilton, Jennifer Tamayo, Dolores Dorantes, and Jen Hofer. (You might recall Hamilton’s poem “Essay on Bad Writing.”) Writes Barber: “The initial cover up is that Diana is actually a good writer, writing a ‘good poem’ which at the time of publication appeared true because people really liked her piece and thought about it a lot and it got written up in Lithub and was well received. But a less palatable and therefore fascinating theory is that maybe Diana didn’t give a shit if it was good or bad or well received or criticized.” More from this must-read:

Women who write poetry are bad. Sometimes they are bad at their jobs, bad at friendships, bad at love. Sometimes they are bad at being bad. Sometimes they are bad at poetry.

In her poem “Bender” published in The Felt Jasmine Gibson writes:

“What are we going to do when politicians and superstars

aren’t problematic

Will you let the enemy in

when they say they appreciate the way yr ancestors died

to give you that pretty brown skin that looks good

under the flood lights or how nameless dead bodies are now the ultimate

aesthetic to accepting the bourgeois death drive

and how radical is that when our want

for freedom gets recuperated in the shape of an ugly boxy silk dress

All the women I know,

and not women are returning to points of youth

to regain something they lost”

Recuperation. The opposite of Jennifer [Tamayo’s] “Whiteness Is The Desire To Free Oneself From History.” Return. How many women do I know who are returning to herbs and homeopathy, who are becoming doulas, body workers, and song healers, who are attempting to discover or rediscover histories that have been hidden or stolen from them “to regain something they lost”? Outside institutions. Body parts that have been stolen. Traces of Mothers and Grandmothers whose voices have been stolen. Girls who are attempting to manifest the traces, confront their violences and move through their reality deeply awake and fighting.

Girls stealing is inevitably a stealing back.

And what about Jasmine’s question about the plasticness of celebrity, capitalistic recuperation? About liberation without blood-letting? About Beyoncé and Rihanna and Oprah and fancy dresses without the critical history of Claudia Jones, or Sun-Ra or Angela Davis? Will you let the enemy in? Will I?

As a white woman one of my enemies is my own history. The history of white women projecting sexuality onto black slaves, becoming jealous of them, contributing to their violent treatment and sexual abuse. The history of voting to imprison black men, to segregate neighborhoods, to gentrify, to flaunt privilege, to speak over, to look down on black people, and on immigrants. To underpay workers. To de-humanize women. My family’s known history begins in the small cities of Vienna and Germany and in the mountains of Russia and England. There are stories of witches, dancers and writers. There are stories of men who left, abandoned, and killed. There is a combination of Jewishness and Christianity and no one is exactly sure what started where, or how, though my father would beg to differ.

In attempting to understand this history I am aware of two sometimes conflicting stories…the stories of immigrant women who came across the ocean and who had their own dreams and troubles, and whose blood is in my blood. And the story of white women in America today. I am a white woman in America today. I accept both as my history. As women of color recuperate a stolen history, it is white women’s duty to do the same, to confront our violence, to confront our choices, to confront our blood.

This is the same for poetry. “All the women I know and not women are returning to points of youth to regain something they lost.”

Read all of “Bad Poems for Girls Who Steal.”

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Posted in Poetry News on Friday, March 10th, 2017 by Harriet Staff.

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