The Voices of #MeToo
Poetry Anthology Series
Joanna C. Valente, editor
Yes Poetry, 2018
Not long ago, Yes Poetry, a literary space for LGBTQIA, non-binary, POC, and marginalized writers, released a free poetry anthology where 10 poets confront sexual abuse and assault through their work. These are poems of survivors telling their stories in an on-going attempt to live beyond their abuse.
The poetry community is one often quick to response to cultural surges. Over the last three years, activist poets (honesty, a redundant term for our contemporary moment) have presented work challenging racial bigotry, gender discrimination, gun violence, and sexual assault survivorship with a quickness and deftness that only the genre could capture. Regularly this is because the online communities poets travel in are intersectional and more empowered now to speak than ever before.
The Voices of #MeToo is only forty pages long but the poems contained possess a brutal gravity. Julia Knobloch opens the anthology with her poem ‘Memphis’ lasering in on abuse in a dissolving marriage and attempting to dispel himpathy writing, “His mother knew I would not return/to their gated community,/that explains the way she dismissed me,/when we set out on our road trip back to New York,/when the sister stood behind the screen door,/a blind cat on her arms./I, the mean bitch, who prevented/ their son’s and brother’s happiness.” We read here and in other poems in the collection a tone that refuses to stay put, that is, stay subjective or isolated. This is because these poets know abuse and assault isn’t something solely manifest in a single, abusive monster. Rather, it is a condition allowed to fester through the inaction, disbelief, willful ignorance, or simply contempt of others. An abuser acts, they are guilty and so are we who never stopped it from happening, enable it, or stifled the abused.
These are poems locking eyes with us as they speak. Poems not just attempting but succeeding in imbuing us with the terror and anger of the poets’ experience. Take for example Caitlin Wolper’s ‘The Rules of the Road Aren’t Fair’:
Yellow, for “slow down,” not “stop,”
the word I should have said before a coward-
colored bruise bloomed like highlighter
over my heartbeat. A bruise was a kiss
made with teeth in his bedroom, hands held
down without real holding. I learned
to be intimate with the ceiling,
to be silent with my shirt collar high.
At a crosswalk–years after the bruise paled
into skin, the capillaries closed tight, the leaks
of red blood cells plugged–a red hand
on a street corner bid me and another to stop.
The light that saved me from oncoming traffic
trapped me on the corner beside him.
Here the survivor narrator is thrown back into the abuse by the casual encounter at a stop light where their abuser stops as well next them. It is riveting in its banality and depth of terror, a poem showing powerlessness and regulation of that powerlessness. Wolper’s poem is also one saturated with self-loathing, the kind of white hot anger often causing one to completely seize up.
Brian Spears in his ‘Invitation’ taps this rage directing it outwards addressing his abuser, “In my imagination you forgive because you’re a monster human which is to say you are capable of justifying anything given time and motivation. Perhaps in your imagination you have spent your life mourning your choices, doing good works as penance for the harm you did to me. Perhaps you have been a better person because of this than you ever would have been otherwise. Perhaps it is movie-worthy, well, tv-movie worthy. Maybe one day I will write it, your life. Right now I write my own.” Spears with that last line doesn’t forgive or forget, but exorcises, and it feels like a process that is ongoing, work that must be done daily and this is how it will be done, “I’ll be damaged but still here, a father to daughters. You’ll be a child molester.” It is this chilling matter-of-factness that can kill the guilty. At least, one hopes.
These ten poets give their voices to the #MeToo movement with the hope of rousing and heartening others to do so. They take their subjective experience and make of it something beautiful even in its horror placing it before us and demanding we see it, respond to it. This poems implicate you. Other survivors will, hopefully, find in them the tones of strength they need to endure their own abuse. Abusers will read these poems and recoil, Kavanaugh-style, at the willfulness of these thought broken at the hubris of the abused to reclaim their dignity. Collections like The Voices of #MeToo show us the intensity and scope of poetry to articulate ourselves to ourselves. It is a powerful anthology that all ought to read.