This week’s prompt features the idea submitted by LR reader Chris, whom we’ve chosen as the second runner-up in our National Poetry Month Prompt Contest (sponsored by Kaya Press).
Chris’s prompt was short, but we felt that it aroused a number of interesting possibilities. It made me, in particular, think of the “beautiful witch” archetype that’s present in so many myths, legends, fairytales, and folklore (from the Greek sirens to Snow White’s stepmother) and which is often sinisterly underwritten by the deep-seated fears of people in power (men, whites, imperialists, US ‘nativists’, etc.) about those who are ‘under’ them (women, racial or political minorities, colonized and indigenous peoples, immigrants, etc.). In some cases, especially under colonial rule (and here I am thinking particularly of the line of questioning that Barbara Jane Reyes explores in her books Poeta en San Francisco and Diwata), culturally powerful local figures have been forcibly re-coded as demons, monsters, exiles by imperial powers. How the faces of those obscured behind such imposed masks of monstrosity might be reclaimed, even amidst the violence cast upon them by history, is something with which many writers of color, women writers of color, immigrants and descendents of immigrants, colonized peoples and descendents of colonized peoples, must wrestle on a daily basis. Chris’s prompt thus resonates with me in the sense that it asks us to explore the possibility of celebration, even from within (and, in fact, despite) a position in which individual identity has been marginalized by culturally- or socially-imposed images of monstrosity.
Take something that (or someone who) is frightening and write a poem about why it (or he or she) is beautiful.
If you’d like to investigate the approach I’ve described above a little further, here are a few books that deal with rehabilitating the voices of figures who carry the weight of “monstrosity” in some way :
Poeta en San Francisco (Barbara Jane Reyes, Tinfish 2006)
Diwata (Barbara Jane Reyes, BOA 2010)
Habeas Corpus (Jill McDonough, Salt 2008)
Brutal Imagination (Cornelius Eady, Putnam 2001)
(Know of more collections that we should add to this list? We’d love to hear your recommendations; please let us know about them in the comments!)
Congratulations to Chris, and thank you once again to all who submitted! Stop by next week to see who we’ve chosen as our first runner up.