Dark Phrases: My Journey To Poetry Onstage And Off

Happy Black History Month! Throughout October we will be celebratig the achievements of black women past and present through our SHEroes series. To kick things off, here is a ‘Poessay’ (Poetic essay) by our newest writer, Jasmine Jones. 

 

“dark phrases of womanhood

of never havin been a girl”

13 – You are walking down an aisle in a supermarket when you realize a

man has been following you. This man must be at least five years your

senior and he soon tries to call after you. Even as he sees you running

away – he persists. As you run all the way home you are not just running

from the man. You are running from the idea that you – year 8, pre-GCSE –

could be pursued by an adult man. That in that man’s eyes you were no

longer a girl but – an adult woman. When you finally reach home you are

gasping for air. Your brother asks you what’s wrong but when you

respond all you can say is: nothing. Why? You can’t help but feel that

maybe you were too rash just running away like that, perhaps even

impolite.

After all: how was he to know that you were 13?

shadow photography 2

 

This is just the first – and certainly not the last – time men much older

than you will stop, beep, whistle and follow you. Some will stop you in

mini skirts and cropped shirts. Sometimes you will be completely covered

up. But what you are wearing is irrelevant – because the sight of your skin

should not be an invitation for intrusion. You don’t owe anyone a smile,

an ear or a second – much less five minutes – of your time. Even if you

appear tall for your age men have no right to harass you or intrude your

space. For some men, your gender and your blackness renders you

automatically sexually experienced no matter what your age is. It’s for the

same reason you will sit frustrated behind a computer screen two years

later when you see Nicki Minaj criticized for utilizing her bodily

autonomy while numerous white models have done the same with barely

any uproar. You, like Nicki, are not responsible for the perceptions of

others. You do not have to grow up. Live in your childhood. Go on

neopets. Watch Disney channel. Go shopping with your mum. Be the

young girl you want to be and still are.

“distraught laughter fallin

over a black girl’s shoulder”

 

shadow photography 3

14 – By this age you have tried every hair extension type on the racks of

black beauty supply stores. You have tried every hair variation you could

find by google searching “black woman hairstyles”. And frankly you are

tired of making hair choices that only please your peers. One day, while

on youtube, you come across a secret port of black natural hair tutorials.

You have never seen black women style their hair with this sense of pride

before. And so it’s no surprise that that sense of pride begins to rub off

on you.

On the first day of the new term you make sure your hair is puffed to

perfection. It may be slightly lopsided but at least you’re happy with it. At

school you arrive to sniggers and glares from people who claim to be

your friends. They lecture you on the health of something you have

extensively researched and spent ages conditioning and twisting. They

ask: Why don’t you just put your hair back in extensions? Never give into

their pressures – you are your own person. All your life there will be

people badgering you about a fibre that is dead once it grows out of your

scalp. No doubt – in the future you will experiment more with extensions

and so it is certainly not the last time you will be called “horse hair” or

“fake”.

People will tag you with names and touch your hair without permission

no matter what it looks like and no matter how long it has taken you to

do it. Voice your objections to fumbling hands and stand up to your

critics. Most importantly, never let anyone tell you what to do with your

hair.

“are we ghouls?

children of horror?

the joke?”

shadow photography 1

 

15 – The shade of your skin and other black women will continue to be

scrutinized. You will be called names like “beetle” and “ugly” by

keyboard warriors on social networks. Even men of your own race will

think they can escape their oppression through retweeting degrading

stereotypes and memes designed to try and decrease your femininity.

Your best friend will phone you enraged by the ignorance of it all and

trying to work out how people could be so cruel to attack the emotional

health of pre-pubescent girls. Blue Ivys. North Wests. Girls being

sexualised and commodified before they’ve even learned how to speak.

You will be angry but compartmentalise as you always do. Your GCSEs

are more important right now. You cover your head with a scarf as your

hair begins to fall out your scalp. You hide as you do when you are

scared. Behind history textbooks, Of Mice and Men and numerous past

papers. But you are not happy. Sometimes maybe. But not in the way that

you would like to be.

You come out of secondary school with 11 GCSES A*-A. And on results

day you cry but only because you’re still not satisfied. You feel empty.

You have realised you are not a follower of a crowd. You have realised

you don’t fit. But you haven’t accepted it. I admit this will be something

that at 17 you are still struggling with. Do yourself a favour and don’t

apologise or hide. Instead approach the future with pride. Feel don’t

think. Don’t be afraid to worry about yourself before others and

remember like Audre Lorde said: self-care is an act of political warfare.

There will be breakdowns at family dinners and when you are asked to

phrase your feelings you will be speechless but know that this is also

okay. How can you possibly say what’s wrong with you when you don’t

even always know yourself?

“somebody/anybody

sing a black girl’s song

bring her out

to know herself”

16. “There is a light at the end of the tunnel.” Sometimes there is even a

little light poking through a hole in your tunnel while you are still on your

journey. You will find erykah badu. You will be near moved to tears by

window seat because you recognise the need to want to be free and

completely open, honest and true but for some reason not being able to.

You will find debbie tucker green and eventually for colored girls – the

play not the film. You will read dark phrases and feel – no, know – that

she is talking for you, to you and about you. You will feel her hand rest

on your shoulder and know that your experiences are not uncommon and

that you are not abnormal.

Know that, despite what your friends past – and even present – may say:

you are the typical black girl. Because blackness is alternative. Blackness is

experimental. Blackness is radical. In all its infinite possibility your

blackness is wonderful and nothing you should possibly shy away from.

You will want to make the same impact as the women before you. You

will be frustrated by not one ceiling but a few above you and by the fact

that the only holes in it are pigeon-shaped. Don’t be disheartened. Be

angry. And know that you’re anger is justified because in the words of

Toni Morrison: “Anger is better”. As long as it is inspiring you to invoke

change don’t feel as if you are fulfilling some cookie cutter stereotype.

Reserve your right to rage. Be angry and be damn proud to be.

“she’s been dead so long

closed in silence so long

she doesn’t know the sound

of her own voice”

shadows 4

 

16 years and 353 days – You are on the bus scrolling through facebook

and something sublime happens. You are enraged by Sandra Bland’s

mural being defaced you can barely speak. Then from the deafening

silence, words start to come out: rhyme. From this great injustice a form

starts to emerge: poetry. Suddenly you find yourself writing everyday. It’s

less like writing in the mechanical, structured way you have known it in

school textbooks. No – it’s more appearing before your eyes and forming

in your mouth before you can even think about it. You are not thinking

but your emotions and your life are exploding onto a blank canvas. A

blank piece of paper. And you have found freedom – a type at least. Even

if you can’t always control the way you are feeling and the things that are

happening to you at least you can write about them. At least, you have a

record of the injustices committed against you and others like you. At

least you have a record of your truths. At least, even if you are vocally

silent about your pain, the black ink on the page won’t be.

“let her be born

let her be born

& handled warmly”

 

Shadows

17 and a day – You stand up behind a mic with a bright light shining right

in your face. You can barely see who you are talking to but all you know

is this stage is a safe space. And anything you want to say you can. Here

you can speak for every coloured girl who has considered suicide when

the rainbow was enuf. For every coloured girl has ever doubted her

beauty. For every coloured girl who has ever questioned her blackness.

For every coloured girl who has wished at some point that she was not a

coloured girl. The poem ends, the private space you have made for

yourself onstage is pierced and as you sit back down people smile at you

and applaud. You feel heard. You feel acknowledged. You feel

recognised. And above all you realise that even if others won’t always let

you feel free, the written word and speech will always allow you to be.

 

Jasmine Jones is a 17-year-old theatre student who has a passion for words, art and the rhythms of spoken word and alternative 90s hip-hop.  At college and in her spare time, she enjoys performing her own writing and the writing of others. Follow her on twitter: @twicemilitant.

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3 thoughts on “Dark Phrases: My Journey To Poetry Onstage And Off

  1. Reblogged this on movingblack and commented:
    Home. Where we come from frames everything we see later, everywhere we go. Whether we liked home or not, whether we’re aware of it or not.

    The recourse to reading this young poet talks about totes reminds me of my childhood and adolescence. Different authors, soothing the same pain.

    If anyone’s never witnessed me explain why I’ve never dated anyone more than 3 years older than me or won’t go to ‘school uniform’ themed parties, ’13’ says it beautifully. I’m pretty sure the first 20 men who asked for my phone number were all at least 10 years older than me. It reminds me of my innocence with the first few, when I wasn’t sure why they enjoyed a brief conversation so much that they’d like a second one. I still remember the revulsion mixed with fear I felt at the sight of men obviously in their late 40s slowing their cars down to chirpse me and my school-uniform clad friends.

    Having said that, growing up as a black girl was great training for becoming a black traveller! The writer, Jasmine Jones, articulates the home I first travelled from.

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