Compelled to Speak

This morning I learned that Speaker Man had a truly not-cool interaction with another black man at one of these meetings several months ago. I learned this as I was on my way out the door because …

Today was a Girls Write Now workshop day. And today’s genre was poetry. And I was thinking about Speaker Man and his shenanigans. So, when it became clear we were going to write poems in the voice of some person or animal or object, I knew I was going to write as Speaker Man. And then I remembered a wonderful poetry exercise I did a few months ago, writing one side of a conversation. Then, after lots of pre-writing and discussion, we got to the “Compelled to Speak” exercise and had to actually craft our poems. And so …

Compelled to Speak

I. Call

You say you notice a pattern?
In my behavior?
Listen —
I know myself.
I know what’s in my heart.
Any “pattern” you think
you see —
that’s about you.
I sleep well at night.
I can look in the mirror and like who I see.
Whatever pattern you see,
that’s your imagination.

Listen —
I have black friends.

I have a black friend.
And if you asked him about me —
How long have I known him?
For years.
How do I know him?
Does that matter?
I think you’re straying from —
What’s his name?
Do you think I don’t know his name?

Well, I don’t know his name, exactly,
but we get along fine.
He doesn’t care
what I call him.
Well, I call him “Chief,” or “Boss.”
Well, of course I know your name.
I’ve confused you with Margaret?
Have I? Called you her name?
Talked to you about her program
as if it were yours?
Don’t be so sensitive.
I meet a lot of people.
Sometimes I get confused.
Listen —
none of this creates a pattern.
Why do you have to make everything about race?
Why are you so angry?

And then we did some small-group reading and discussion and everyone wrote out questions they had about each poem, things they wanted to hear more about. One of the questions I got was: What was the tone on the other side of the conversation? Is it your intention to let the reader decide?

To the second question, yes. Yes, I want the reader to imagine what the other speaker’s tone might be. For the first question, I wrote a second poem during the final workshop activity:

II. Response

Do I make everything about race?
Okay, maybe. Probably.
But would I have to
if you didn’t shower me in microaggressions?

You’re right — I’m so angry.
I’m always angry.
I’m glad you can hear it.

Do you think
I enjoy making everything about race?
I would rather
talk, just talk.
I would rather live. Just live.
But you brought us here.
You let your inner white supremacist out.

You brought us here.
And you’ve got me by the throat,
so I can’t help but follow.

I’m not particularly fair to Speaker Man here. (Big surprise.) He’ll have to write his own poems if he wants kinder treatment.

I, in all my stubbornly-proud not-a-poet-ness, like both of these. Not because they’re great poems, but because it was a great exercise, thinking about what confronting Speaker Man might have been like was a great way for me to think through yesterday.

It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge, hosted by the wonderful people over at Two Writing Teachers! Every day this month, hundreds of writers will be posting their stories. Head on over and check out the other slices!

SOL image 2014



FYI: My apologies to anyone who subscribes to the blog who got a message about a different post this morning. You may have clicked over here and found there was no such post. Yes, that would be what happens when I click “publish” instead of “save draft.” I hadn’t written much of that post, and then I went to Girls Write Now and was inspired to write a whole other post, so I’ll get to the “Leland” post tomorrow.

8 thoughts on “Compelled to Speak

  1. Interesting to see how yesterday’s interaction gave way to today’s writing – you are working out somethings that are so hard to wrap one’s head around. I’m thinking about today’s memorial service in Selma…that dreadful billboard that went up near the bridge, our President and John Lewis in all their quiet dignity…what a complicated time we live in.


    1. Oh, that billboard! :/ And the (of course) claim that it was simply put up to invite tourists to explore the areas 19th century history. Yes. Complicated times indeed.


  2. Powerful the way you used perspective and one side of the conversation to emphasize each point of view. News events as well as your words have me thinking a lot about this. These are messy, uncomfortable, disturbing issues and sometimes I just want a break from it. But near the end of Poem II you so clearly capture why I need your words to continue to push me to understanding. Understanding that inequality exists, everyday, and there is no “just talking and just living” for people of color. Even if you don’t want it to be it is about race. How can change continue if just because I don’t experience it I don’t acknowledge that. Keep using your voice and I will keep listening (and praying because that is my way, too).


    1. Thank you, Kim. You zeroed in on the thing that keeps coming back for me. I have friends who insist on telling me that they don’t like having to think about these things, that they get tired of the constant focus. And I get that. I get tired, too. But I live inside the focus, so there’s no getting away. Of course, I take breaks — the post I thought would go up yesterday that I’ll finish writing for today is evidence of that — but the focus never really goes away.


      1. Stacie, you are such a gifted writer! Like this illuminating statement “But I live inside the focus, so there’s no getting away.” That explains to me so precisely the scrutiny you feel and live with. There is acknowledging that without letting others define you, a tightrope walk to be sure. Writing is a mighty tool. I so appreciate letting me in on the journey, even, maybe especially when it is hard.


  3. your poem “I. The Call” so clearly speaks that voice, and I wonder how well, or how poorly, Speaker Man would be at putting himself into the voice of Edward. And “II. Response” is so heartfelt. And the structure of the “Call” and “Response” so exemplifies the problem: the white person sets the agenda, and the black person is forced to respond to that agenda. And the last lines: “you’ve got me by the throat,/ so I can’t help but follow.” says it right there.


    1. Thanks, Sonia. I’m still surprised that I was able to make poems from that meeting. That was eye-opening for me. I’m glad the tension of the relationship came through. I don’t imagine Speaker Man taking a turn at poetry, and don’t imagine him giving much thought to what happened on Friday. That meeting is tense even without exchanges such as the one I wrote about, and I’m sure he feels that. I would guess he thinks what happened with Edward was nothing more than a little of that tension bubbling to the surface.


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