April 07, 2005

Poem for national poetry month

Since it is :

I am a Dangerous Woman

the sharp edges of clear blue windows
motion to me
from the airport's second floor
edges dance in the foothills of the sandias
behind security guards
who wave me into their guncatcher machine

i am a dangerous woman

when the machine buzzes
they say to take off my belt
and i remove it so easy
that it catches the glance
of a man standing nearby
(maybe that is the deadly weapon
that has the machine singing)

i am a dangerous woman
but the weapon is not visible
security will never find it
they can't hear the clicking
of the gun
inside my head

by Joy Harjo

When we discussed this poem in class on Wednesday, several of the women spoke up and said things like, "Oh, I really loved this poem" or "This poem was my favorite in this section." The men in the class said nothing. Not. A. Single. Word.


Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

Reminds me of the Stiff Little Fingers song "Suspect Device"

"Inflammable material is planted in my head/ It's a suspect device that's left 2000 dead"

ok, not poetry, but it had a cool baseline and the guy sounded great shouting "sus, sus, sus, suspect device" on the chorus

New Kid on the Hallway said...

Ha. Poor little boys.

I wish the student in a colleague's class had been in your class - this is the student who asked, "Since we've reached gender equity, why do institutions like NOW still exist?"

Awesome poem.

Songbird said...

That's awesome. I sometimes feel dangerous in my head, but I'm not so sure it's a danger to others...

Scrivener said...

Does your classroom experience mean that I need to keep my mouth shut about the poem too? I do really like this one, too--agree with New Kid: "poor little boys."

I guess I do have one eensy little concern, now with the whole poetry month thing: is posting this gonna get you in trouble with the Homeland Security people? Or worse, are you gonna alert the men in charge over there to the fact that women have guns in their heads and invisible, dangerous weapons at their disposal? Yikes.

Friday Mom said...

I LOVE THIS! Post more Joy Harjo this month,jo(e). Better yet, which of her published works would you recommend to start with?

Sergei C. said...

. . . .

Nels said...

Hmmm, no men at all? Maybe that's why my prof freaked out when I was an undergrad and wanted to write about Harjo in one of my lit classes.

Dr.K said...

Maybe they were afraid. Do you think they feel like targets?

jo(e) said...

Friday Mom: I'd recommend anything by Joy Harjo. The book we are using in class is an anthology of poetry by native women called That's What She Said editd by Rayna Green. If you liked this poem, I think you would like the anthology.

dr. m(mmm) aka The Notorious P.H.D. said...

Maybe the men were stunned by the critical commentary your students provided. OK, that's not fair--but, what did people have to say other than that they liked it? I certainly love the imagery and imagination of silent resistance and the sense of a kinder, gentler rage. But, how many students are able to say smart things about topics that are alive with uncertainty? Few of my students ever say anything useful. I usually have to engage in rebound teaching; that is, rebounding back poorly formed comments by putting a huge positive spin on it and doing a lot of work to steer it toward something discusssable. (I teach at a very large state research university who will admit nearly any student who will pay the application fee; I teach in a department that often is made up of people who couldn't make it in other departments or programs).

I think Dr. K is onto something, but I don't think it is fear. I just don't think that many students have any positive experiences talking a bout difference or privilege. Try talking about whiteness in class and no white student will make a peep for another example. I think we need to ask ourselves if there is anything we can do to entice these students to say something--to have something to say.

profsynecdoche said...

What a happy coincidence -- I'm reading Harjo this week for the class I'm teaching. My own favorite, I think, is "New Orleans."

jo(e) said...

Dr.M: Students had lots to say about the poem: from the implied sexuality when the man watches her take off her belt, which led to several rants about all the ways our culture fears and tries to repress women's sexuality .... to the presence of the sandias in the poem, the landscape which gives the woman her strength because she is rooted there. We did about ten Harjo poems in class that day, moving fairly quickly from one to another.

The male students talk quite a bit in our classroom discussion -- our student body is predominantly male and our faculty is 90 percent male so men are used to dominating discussions on campus -- so I am pleased when we hit a poem that gets the men to quiet down and the women speak up.

I think the men were startled by the eagerness with which the women discussed this poem, all talking at once and very fast, jumping quickly to a critique of American culture. I don't think I said a word about the poem myself. I didn't need to.

dr. m(mmm) aka The Notorious P.H.D. said...

Thanks, jo(e); and I'm sorry if I sounded like an asshole. I'm at a school that's 50-50, and I often teach things that no one seems to want to say anything about--so I get super frustrated about that come this time of year. And I take it too personally and start to think that I'm failing as a teacher--until I can come to my senses and remember that students have to take responsibility for their own learning.

I was talking about your post (and this poem) with my Yidg (see teaches poetry sometimes) and her immediate reaction was "Good! They should shut up for once and let the women say something." It can be very productive in many cases for silence to carve out a space for another voice.

I used to teach an essay on pedagogy by a 60s radical named Jerry Farber called "The Student as Nigger." It was written around 1966, and that is another one that brings the room to silence.

jo(e) said...

Dr. M: Yes, your yidg gets it. Exactly.

I didn't think you were being an asshole. (That's a term I resolve mostly for politicians. And you don't seem at all like a conservative politician.) Not your fault that you didn't know the context in my classroom. I talk about my students so much in real life that I forget that my blogging friends don't know that much about the dynamics on my campus.

In the spring literature courses I teach, my students talk a lot. Mostly this is because the students are seniors, so they are pretty self-confident, and the course is an elective. They take the course because they WANT to talk about poetry. This make my job pretty easy.

Several of the men in my class are engineering majors, and I give them credit for choosing to take a course that is so different than what they have been studying for the last four years. They are required to write responses to the readings for each class, and one man finished his response to Joy Harjo's poems with the sentence: "I'm trying really hard to understand this all but I'm a forest engineer, after all, and these class dicussions are making my head explode. In a good way."