President-elect Donald Trump. Ever since Donald J. Trump was chosen as America’s next president, multiple protests have occurred in cities like New York and San Francisco, and hate crimes against minorities have spiked. Looking at Trump’s campaign, which was built on insulting and degrading Muslims, Latinos, and women, it’s easy to see why. He has labeled Mexicans as rapists, called for the ban of Muslims into America, and boasted about sexually assaulting women. And of course, who could forget Mike Pence’s blatant anti-LGBT stance? Though Trump and Pence give bigotry a voice, racism, misogyny, and homophobia have always been present in America, leaving minorities voiceless, afraid, and feeling like they’re “others.”
But this otherness is rooted in resistance and power. The spotlight can shift away from minorities, cast them in the dark, neglect their existence. And each time, marginalized groups will create their own spotlight and stand up taller than ever before. Each time, they will scream, “Yes, we are others. Yes, we are beautiful. We will not be ignored.”
Poetry is the embodiment of this survival mantra. It offers a blank slate and wonders, “Tell me, what is itching inside of you?” It tightens and expands with the poet’s breaths. It is loyal, endlessly waiting for the poet’s return. Poetry serves as a space for marginalized groups to reclaim their voices. With modern technology, poetry has become accessible and a link to the past, present, and future. Here are some of my favorite poems on strength and exploring otherness.
1. Still I Rise by Maya Angelou
“Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
The speaker of Maya Angelou’s poem is oppressed for being a black woman. Throughout the poem, the speaker directly addresses her oppressors as “you,” showing that she isn’t scared of confronting them. Her tone is prideful; she knows that despite the gravity of the hate and cruel remarks that are hurled at her, she will always rise. She pays homage to her ancestors, who were slaves stripped of their freedom and humanity. She says to those who oppressed her ancestors —and tried to entrap her as well—that she will carry on the legacy and hope of her roots. I find myself repeating with the speaker as she declares “I rise.” The phrase is empowering, and I feel almost invincible when the poem ends.
2. Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou
“Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
In this poem, the speaker shares why she is admired by other women and men. Though she does not fit societal beauty standards, she carries herself with poise and pride that makes her irresistible. The speaker tries to instill confidence in insecure girls and women by urging them not to pay attention to other’s criticism. With the repetition of “phenomenal woman” and a confident tone, I am uplifted by this poem.
“steals the wind from the tornado. casual kleptomaniac,
even as they yell blasphemy, yell soul sick bone deep
wrongness. there is no story where two girls
get a happy ending. she tells me fine, we’ll write it ourselves, sings the beginning in the poetry of sunrise,
and i can’t help but dream of the wildflower epiphany
of maybe things will be okay after all.”
This poem’s speaker reveals how she and her lover are marginalized for being queer. I’m engrossed by the nature imagery that is consistent throughout the poem since it conveys how the two lovers are like powerful natural forces. They refuse to succumb to hate, and fight it with love and delicacy instead. After finishing this poem, I’m certain that their love, passion, and beauty can never be extinguished.
That sums up my list of empowering poems. Which poems do you find moving? What is it about them that captures your attention? Share your inspiring poems about resistance and otherness!