“Who Said It Was Simple” – Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde | Poetry Foundation
Audre Lorde (1934-1922); pic creds. poetryfoundation.org
There are so many roots to the tree of anger
that sometimes the branches shatter
before they bear. 

Sitting in Nedicks
the women rally before they march 
discussing the problematic girls 
they hire to make them free. 
An almost white counterman passes 
a waiting brother to serve them first
and the ladies neither notice nor reject
the slighter pleasures of their slavery. 
But I who am bound by my mirror
as well as my bed
see causes in color
as well as sex

and sit here wondering
which me will survive
all these liberations. 

This poem, “Who Said It Was Simple” was published in Lorde’s third volume of poetry, From a Land where Other People Live in 1973. Some things to note about Lorde is that she was an American writer, feminist, womanist, librarian, and civil rights activist. She described herself as “Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” and dedicated her life and works to confronting and addressing injustices of racism, sexism, classism and homophobia. Furthermore, this poem was written during a time in which abortion was made legal (Roe vs. Wade 1973), and five years earlier, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, and President Johnson expanded the Civil Rights act of 1964.

In this poem, Lorde scrutinizes those who define themselves as feminists but do not act when other groups are oppressed, and even benefit from the oppression. She portrays this in the first stanza with the “tree of anger,” for she is furious at the exclusivity of the so-called feminists who are sexist, racist, and homophobic. Her “tree of anger” has roots that go down to encompass hundreds, if not thousands, of years of oppression—denying basic human rights or protections just because of her race, gender identity, and sexual orientation.

The second part of the poem talks about her experience “sitting in Neidicks,” an East Coast chain restaurant, and listening to the white women talking about the non-white ‘girls’ that they employ to clean their houses and/or take care of their children, right before they go to a women’s rally where they march for women’s rights. They want equal rights yet they benefit from the oppression of the girls that they employ.

Lorde’s intersecting identities as a black, homosexual women make her more oppressed and each one pulls her to and fro to lead her to some sense of liberation, but she wonders “which me will survive / all these liberations.” The women’s movements seems to solely wants her to focus on women’s rights, while the civil rights movement wants her to focus on black rights. Either way, a part of her identity is denied.

Sources:

https://prezi.com/fek2r6_6drxm/who-said-it-was-simple/

https://poetryisnotaluxurysite.wordpress.com/2017/06/08/who-said-it-was-simple-by-audre-lorde-and-intersectionality/

Transcript of Amanda Gorman’s Inaugural Poem – The Hill We Climb

At 22 years old, Amanda Gorman is the youngest inaugural poet and a National Youth Poet Laureate.
When day comes we ask ourselves,
where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry,
a sea we must wade
We've braved the belly of the beast
We've learned that quiet isn't always peace
And the norms and notions
of what just is
Isn’t always just-ice
And yet the dawn is ours
before we knew it
Somehow we do it
Somehow we've weathered and witnessed
a nation that isn’t broken
but simply unfinished
We the successors of a country and a time
Where a skinny Black girl
descended from slaves and raised by a single mother
can dream of becoming president
only to find herself reciting for one
And yes we are far from polished
far from pristine
but that doesn’t mean we are
striving to form a union that is perfect
We are striving to forge a union with purpose
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and
conditions of man
And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us
but what stands before us
We close the divide because we know, to put our future first,
we must first put our differences aside
We lay down our arms
so we can reach out our arms
to one another
We seek harm to none and harmony for all
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:
That even as we grieved, we grew
That even as we hurt, we hoped
That even as we tired, we tried
That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious
Not because we will never again know defeat
but because we will never again sow division
Scripture tells us to envision
that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree
And no one shall make them afraid
If we’re to live up to our own time
Then victory won’t lie in the blade
But in all the bridges we’ve made
That is the promised glade
The hill we climb
If only we dare
It's because being American is more than a pride we inherit,
it’s the past we step into
and how we repair it
We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation
rather than share it
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy
And this effort very nearly succeeded
But while democracy can be periodically delayed
it can never be permanently defeated
In this truth
in this faith we trust
For while we have our eyes on the future
history has its eyes on us
This is the era of just redemption
We feared at its inception
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs
of such a terrifying hour
but within it we found the power
to author a new chapter
To offer hope and laughter to ourselves
So while once we asked,
how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?
Now we assert
How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?
We will not march back to what was
but move to what shall be
A country that is bruised but whole,
benevolent but bold,
fierce and free
We will not be turned around
or interrupted by intimidation
because we know our inaction and inertia
will be the inheritance of the next generation
Our blunders become their burdens
But one thing is certain:
If we merge mercy with might,
and might with right,
then love becomes our legacy
and change our children’s birthright
So let us leave behind a country
better than the one we were left with
Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest,
we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one
We will rise from the gold-limbed hills of the west,
we will rise from the windswept northeast
where our forefathers first realized revolution
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the midwestern states,
we will rise from the sunbaked south
We will rebuild, reconcile and recover
and every known nook of our nation and
every corner called our country,
our people diverse and beautiful will emerge,
battered and beautiful
When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid
The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it
If only we’re brave enough to be it

To support and read more of Gorman’s Work, buy one of her books through this link!

Today, January 27th, marks one week since President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris’ inauguration ceremony (January 20, 2021). One prominent event was the recitation of “The Hill We Climb” by Amanda Gorman. Gorman finished this poem the night after pro-Trump rioters sieged the Capitol building. Regarding her poem in an interview with the New York Times, she said, “In my poem, I’m not going to in any way gloss over what we’ve seen over the past few weeks and, dare I say, the past few years. But what I really aspire to do in the poem is to be able to use my words to envision a way in which our country can still come together and can still heal. It’s doing that in a way that is not erasing or neglecting the harsh truths I think America needs to reconcile with.” It was written to call for unity and collaboration among the American people.

LET AMERICA BE AMERICA AGAIN – LANGSTON HUGHES

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine—the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

LANGSTON HUGHES

Langston Hughes | Biography & Facts | Britannica
Langston Hughes; picture credits: Britannica

To my mind, it is the duty of the younger Negro artist, if he accepts any duties at all from outsiders, to change through the force of his art that old whispering ‘I want to be white,’ hidden in the aspirations of his people, to ‘Why should I want to be white? I am a Negro—and beautiful!’

Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

Brief Biography of Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes, born James Mercer Langston Hughes was born February 1, 1902, in Joplin Missouri. He is an American poet that is most known as the central figure in the Harlem Renaissance—an intellectual, artistic, and cultural explosion of African American that took place in Harlem, New York. Hughes sought to portray the joys and hardships of working-class black lives, avoiding the idealization and negative stereotypes that it typically connotes to.

ODE TO THE ONLY BLACK KID IN THE CLASS – CLINT SMITH III

You, it seems,
are the manifestion
of several lifetimes
of toil. Brown v. Board
in the flesh. Most days
the classroom feels 
like an antechamber. 
You are deemed expert
on all things Morrison,
King, Malcolm, Rosa. 
Hell, weren't you sitting 
on that bus, too?
You are everybody's 
best friend 
until you are not. 
Hip-hop lyricologist. 
Presumed athlete. 
Free & Reduced sideshow. 
Exception & caricature.
Too black & too white
all at once. If you are successful
it is because of affirmative action. 
If you fail it is because
you were destined to. 
You are invisible until 
they turn on the Friday
night lights. Here you are —
star before they render
you asteroid. Before they
watch you turn to dust.