We’re reading Kim Addonizio’s Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within over at TweetSpeak Poetry. We’re into Part 2, “Inner and Outer Worlds,” and the author has continued to come up with a whole array of exercises to stimulate thinking, inspiration and creativity.
One exercise she suggested, however, went a bit over the top. Encouraging the reader to rethink gender roles, she suggested that men apply makeup – or have someone apply it to them, and put on women’s clothes, to see what it felt like. And then write about the experience.
I noted various exercises that I could do (or be willing to do), and then came to the suggestion to “write about your relationship with your racial/cultural identity. When were you first aware of being Asian, Caucasian, Jewish, ‘different’ from other people? Did you grow up within a certain group, and/or as an outsider to other groups? See if you can recall a specific incident when you experienced your ‘otherness.’”
That was it.
I grew up in the South. I grew up in segregation. I remember the separate water fountains and bus seating. I remember the separate bathrooms for “white and colored.” I remember the segregated schools, which were giving way just as I was entering high school.
As significant as racial differences were, other differences were equally profound for me – religious ( I know what it is to be a religious minority amidst a religious majority), ethnic, and economic – and the difference between living in a region more akin to the Caribbean than to the United States yet growing up in a what was a very Americanized suburb.
Sometimes the differences and conflicts were so pointed that you didn’t feel “whole.”
I Am Halves, I Am Pieces
I am half redneck and half coonass
I am half north Louisiana and half south
I am half Southerner and half New Orleanian
I am half city and half suburb
I talked like Indiana in a town full of yats and chawmers
My family was half Catholic and half not
I grew up Protestant in a Catholic sea
My Americanized suburb was full
of French and Spanish names
The ground felt solid but rested on liquid
My family still fought the Civil War
(and still lost)
I am smorgasboard and melting point
I am English and Irish and French and German
with African-American cousins
I learned Beatles in a place of jazz and blues
I have half-brother and half-sister
from twice-married mother and thrice-married dad
I am halves
I am pieces
To join in the discussion and see what our leader Lyla Lindquist is up to, take a look at today’s post at TweetSpeak Poetry.
Photograph: New Orleans Streetcar 1950 by Robert Frank.
This was as brave subject to consider as gender re-thinking. The poem is about you and yet also stretches out to encompass so much more; it's a bigger poem for that, and I mean "bigger" in the sense of containing some universal truth about America. I think it also begs to be read aloud.
Good job, Glynn ... as always.
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