“If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s the power of using your voice.” — Michelle Obama
On March 1st, 2022, I was appointed for my second term as Lake County’s Poet Laureate. It just so happened to be the first day of Women’s History Month, and every day since my proclamation I have been reflecting on my voice and presence in this position. I’ve repeatedly expressed how rich of a literary community we have here in Lake County and when I say this, it includes writers of all genders, race and ethnicities, ages, and more. But if you attend a virtual or in-person writing gathering, you may notice there are more women present than men. It has become inevitable that countless, nameless women inspire me, and support me in return. Sure, there are some who criticize me, however, the genuine encouragement and kindness outweigh the negative.
So often women writers share their words with me and those words sit in my throat and stomach, echoing a call back to me to continue responding to the world through poetry. A sort of call and response ensues as we do our work as magical creatives. A number of these same women have gifted me willow trees and wine, handwritten notes and snail mail letters with tea packets; the literary relationship sometimes crosses over to friendship. Building community through poetry often extends beyond the virtual classroom or the open plan art gallery. When we women support each other by holding each other’s voices in our hands, minds, and hearts, and assuring each other that our vulnerabilities and experiences are safe and accepted, sharing poetry and other creative writing goes beyond the pen and paper, beyond the occasional dinner and drinks together; it becomes community.
The women I have interacted with over the past five years, since I decided to start sharing my voice with the public and before I became Poet Laureate, have experienced wildfire, disaster, abuse, trauma; self-doubt, loss, chronic physical and emotional pain; anxiety, and so much more. These same women also exemplify grace, beauty, resilience; persistence, creativity, passion, and gusto. I am one of these women. I am proud to be and I am so proud of this community that continues to toss their truths into the world through poetry. I am proud of the women who think about doing this but are not quite ready. I am proud of the women in our community who are still learning what they want and who they are.
I leave you with a striking hybrid poem from a dear friend of mine. When we first met years ago, her poems danced in color as she spoke them aloud. Then I recently appeared in one of them.
Home Star & Our Elliptic Orbit: Poetry by Brenda Yeager
Solstice I // Summer 2021 It is impossible to eat birthday cake alone. No matter how many hours of daylight you’ve got to swallow. I am born on the summer solstice, so I can tell you this firsthand. This is something the pandemic taught me. Solstice II // Winter 2021 At 7:58am, I wake up inside the darkest walls of the year. All night I wanted so badly to be post-modern, to talk irony until dawn and watch very smooth heads nod: mmhmm, that’s exactly how the world is fracturing. But the stars kept begging me to tell their story. The density and glow of that calling. Always overhead. Never ironic. In the darkness, I glimpse a new constellation. Its coordinates: 1. Whoosh of the cold glass streaking along the wooden bar toward its drinker. Water or wine, your pick. Liquid overflowing its own shape is called an accident. Or a monsoon. Or mourning. 2. My heart slips off my sleeve. Everyone is very polite and tries to ignore it, lying there, too soft and wet to navigate the crowd. 3. Pulse, prismatic, strobe lights embrace the dance floor. Do you remember? 4. Musk and longing of the parenthetical bodies. 5. And, just below the surface: silver tears in everyone. A quivering of salt and human fragility. These points form the image of a room and the Tuesday night life within. All around, the black sky takes one long breath to gather us in. And, to answer the out-breath, the band slides into a wide groove and we follow: warm sax, sweet keys, the guy on the drums forgets that the taxicab splashed gutter rain up his pants leg on his way to the gig and gives everything to the beat, down to his bones. The entire room crosses over the threshold at once and becomes a people, rhythm mercy spilling over us. We open our eyes. And, in an instant, the dark days of winter tip toward a southern light. It was such a quiet event, we were all thinking we could get away with a few more bad habits. One more scotch and a brief evening of atrocities. But this is not the case. Because the band and its music are metaphors and the season of the colonizer is over. You see, this was all happening in my head. And my heart, which, I suppose, makes it a prayer instead of a dream. The truth is, I am at home, because I love the deep luxury of the longest night. And Zoom suits my social anxiety just fine. And because no one is going anywhere without a negative test result and I’m really bad at thinking these things through beforehand in enough time to make them happen. Even in the age of 48 hour delivery. But our home star and our elliptic orbit don’t care if we’re at the computer or on the dance floor or on the back step watching the earliest darkness descend. A solstice is a transition and, this year, the human family needs one of planetary proportion. But first, there was a lesson. Six days earlier, we were stacked safely in our Brady Bunch squares. Our poetry group meeting for the last time in 2021. The sun groaning low to the horizon, daylight pooling at its ankles, almost fully undressed by the approaching solstice. I watched the grid, familiar faces, friends and poets. And so, at first, I did not understand what I was hearing. The white beatnik poet’s discordant protest. As the young Mexican American poet offered her feedback about the insensitive portrayal of Black lives within the piece the woman just read. Another white woman joining in, etching little blind words into her brown skin as if it would not bleed. Censorship! they cried in unison when asked to lay down their sharp tools. How a denial of color snuffed the light from the screen. My heart flew to her but she was alone in her cube, cornered in a geometry of white faces. And when I spoke, it was not enough to speak second, the damage being done. And so I spoke a prayer for the solstice to make its move. The human family has gone as far as we can into darkness. New Year’s Eve // 2021 I hate to say goodbye: father, dog, jasmine nights, birthday parties, lover, indigo shadows and sunlight braided beneath the oak branch that burned. I suppose we all do. How the zero hour is a regret. Which explains the human buffering we’re all up to lately. But we’ve borne too much loss together to pretend to be strangers anymore. I don’t know how long each one of them cried about it or what they learned because they never spoke to us again. I’m sure they did suffer, though, being poets and friends. I would still love to hear that poem. Her tears made a wide green place of this loss. She stood at its center and roared in her quiet way. How a woman becomes a conversation about truth. Her midnight bravery. Because we are never turning back. Midnight // 2022 It is done. The light of the stars is reaching us, after all this time. And they aim to enrapture us. Theirs is a great love, lit millions of years ago and still burning. So great it transcends their own death. They only have one thing to say to us: dust. It is an urgent message. About ourselves. We have been bright for so much longer than we realize. And we are their stories, playing out. It is time to notice this new pattern, emerging, or be left behind. Now our ocean and the white buffalo and the little seedlings are rising. No matter the cost. A season of truth arrives. At first: a howling lament for those who walked before and were cut down. Then: what the heart sings into the smoke of their pyres. Now: the unfurling, quiet as a poet’s daffodil. Sweet and earthly. This change has been happening at the root, longer than fear and its sulphur. It was all unnecessary. It was all inevitable. See the bright we pierce in the velvet dark with our broken—and we are all a little broken, aren’t we?— how the light shines through On this side of the eye is a spectrum New Year // 2022 The moon, half-open, in the morning sky Narcissus lift their fragile white heads to an early spring Rosemary expresses fluoressence in purple Work to be done to clear an honest path for the colors blazing in