Poetesses of color unite in activism

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Summer Dawn Reyes of the In Full Color organization hosted the “Poetry As Activism” writing workshop with the Women’s Center last night. 

In Full Color is an organization that seeks to empower artistic women of color while also informing the public of issues that affect all WOC. In Full Color’s repertoire features numerous artistic ventures outside of writing workshops, including hosting poetry readings, publishing zines and even performance activism; in the organization’s grand opening, the corps writers of In Full Color stood proudly and silently against the audience to convey WOC empowerment.  

While the rapturous “Barracuda” by 70s female led band Heart roared in the virtual meeting’s background, the “Poetry As Activism” workshop began by imploring its attendees to use one word to describe their feelings about activism. The words used were ones that perfectly embodied In Full Color’s ethos: Among them were “powerful,” “hopeful,” “energizing,” “determined” and “liberation.”  

When asked for the definition of activism, students agreed that activism consists of lasting and collective change, no matter how miniscule, through individual leadership.  

Connecting the module to the theme of activism with an artistic slant, Reyes described that, “Art creates empathy. Empathy creates change … It’s hard to hate from up close, and art brings you hella up close!”  

Using the Black feminist and abolitionist Sojourner Truth’s widely renowned “Ain’t I A Woman” speech to construct her argument, Reyes highlighted the intersectionality of Truth’s identity as a Black woman that was responsible for the birth of art with lasting profundity. 

The workshop featured two speakers to perform live readings of their written works. The first was Stephanie Dinsae who recited her poem “Mannequin.” With the piece having been inspired after witnessing the racial profiling of her friend on the University of Connecticut Storrs campus, Dinsae employed metaphorical language in poetic free-form to compare the functionality of Blackness in a racist society as being that of a mannequin’s:  

“Do you see how that goes? / How they want the labor from your body, the creativity from your brain, but not for you to stick around? / They want the mannequin of you / For you to be stiff and rigid and be made of plastic or marble or metal, but never flesh / They never want to acknowledge that you are breathing, that you are breathing, until you stop / Even then, they may let you rot…”  

Dinsae stated that her work not only mechanizes itself as a call to action but also as a form of personal expression. Though the piece was mobilized more chiefly by race, Dinsae commented that the femme-of-center WOC identity allows for the same feelings.  

“You can always see the tropes falling through the cracks … Even in my own relationships, I’m sometimes worried about that … Feeling like a mannequin, or feeling like somebody who’s just providing all of this emotional labor, and that’s not really being reciprocated,” Dinsae said.  

The second speaker was Crystal Letters with the poem “Complexion.” Letters soulfully and powerfully addressed her audience on the meaning of identity, stating that its divisions are arbitrary in the grand schema of life.  

“You also experience the same common pain as me / Express your truth / In your stress, are your shoulders weak and heavy?”

“You also experience the same common pain as me / Express your truth / In your stress, are your shoulders weak and heavy? / Does the tension give you hell? / Do you ache at the weight of heavy boxes? / Do you cry out of pleasure and of pain through birth and death?” Letters said. “Do you bleed after you’ve been injured? / After you’ve been cut? / What shade do you bleed? … You and I both know this answer all too well.”  

Following the recitations, Reyes led a 25 minute writing exercise with the prompt, “Turn your passion into poetry.” Participants followed the posted guidelines of activist poetry, which were said to be describing the problem, sharing experiences, engaging audiences, planting food for thought and manifesting a solution to said problem. Reyes concluded the workshop by sharing her piece that perfectly encapsulated the themes of empowerment espoused throughout the “Poetry As Activism” event: “Remember that you are vulnerable / That prejudice is truly blind / But also remember that you are powerful.” 

Follow In Full Color for more projects on their website infullcolor.org and/or their Instagram/Facebook @infullcolorus. 

Stephanie Dinsae’s Instagram is @writesumdinsightful. Crystal Letters’ website is crystalletters.com and she can be contacted on Instagram @crystallettersofficial and/or by email at crystallettersofficial@gmail.com. 

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