Three Yaddo Poets Reclaim Power for the People

June 25, 2020

A moment of stillness, a zing of recognition, a window opened on the soul— these are among the rewards of poetry, each of them sorely needed right now. Join us here for an occasional Yaddo series, curated by Soren Stockman.

Alice Walker Photo: Ana Elena

“The World We Want Is Us” by Alice Walker

Copyright © 2014 by Alice Walker. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database

Walker’s speaker addresses a gathering crowd, remarking “It moves my heart to see your awakened faces; / the look of ‘aha!’ / shining, finally,” capturing the warmth of spirit inherent to a demand for collective justice. Walker implores her audience, assembled by a common imagination of a peaceful future, to see their own present actions as the slow fulfillment of that vision: “all of us / refusing to forget / each other.” Efforts to actualize change need to capitalize on the momentum of their progress to further their goals. Walker mirrors this success by fulfilling the promise of her title in the poem’s penultimate line, having steadied her reader to see “the world we want is Us; united.” — SS

Sharan Strange Photo: Don J. Usner

“Streetcorner Church” by Sharan Strange

Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Published in Volume 3, Number 1, Winter 2002.

Strange invokes a divine accountability that communal energy makes possible, particularly when its goal is liberating glory from the purview of a few to the possession of all. Her speaker witnesses a congregation worship outside of its familiar institution, and asks “Is grace delivered / on twilight wings of air?,” a question that becomes rhetorical when she sees that outside, “the ceiling dispatches prayer / straight upstairs.” Strange clarifies that any gatekeepers assigned to any kingdom must, as a direct result of that position, live outside of it. There, they may see that in the celestial close of day, “the sun seeps burgundy, / gone-to-glory behind the altar,” regardless of human boundaries. — SS

Pamela Sneed Photo: Patricia Silva

“Never Again” by Pamela Sneed

Brooklyn Rail, March 2019

History is woven from competing patterns. Sneed retraces the steps of state-sponsored harm, and does not spare the individuals who propagate its legacy. “At the end of every holocaust film I’ve seen,” her speaker is left “wondering how it could have ever happened at all,” before realizing “it is again / as I look at the deportations.” Confronted by a reader over the presence, and therefore value, of race in her poems, Sneed “wanted to scream HELLO haven’t you seen the news? . . . And no one even cares what happens to women/ / Black lesbians or lesbians of color / There’s no public outcry.” We must follow the thread by which “at rallies, at protests, they show the coat hangers . . . women were forced to use.” We must amplify the legacy of resistance over a system of violence. — SS