The Collective – by Jennifer Carter

My relationship with poetry goes way back to times almost forgotten. If it weren’t for my own poetry that I wrote to guide me along the growing pains of my own adolescence, I could most certainly be an entirely different person than I am today. Poetry has been the blood of my soul; my essence. When I had nobody to turn to, I turned to writing. Reading poetry from other artists, especially artists who grew up differently than I did, or ethnic-centered poetry, has challenged my imagination and conscious beyond my capacity. Recently, I picked up quite an interesting text that was recommended to me that I deeply admire, which turned out to be a sort of experimental choreopoem by poet and playwright Ntozake Shange. At first, I struggled with her poetic performance precisely because of the depths I couldn’t reach. For me, poetry is entirely personal, deeply rooted in one’s own experience, and highly powerful for those living the same message.

When I began reading her work, I was convinced that I was so far removed from Shange’s message, struggling not only with gender equality issues, but also with my ethnic identity in a society so dominantly Caucasian. I tripped over her text and stylistic eccentricities, trying to grasp the dialect of where she came from and what she knew. But then something magical and euphoric happened: I reached a point during my reading where I found I could relate. That feeling went deep into my veins, causing my eyes to open wide and realize that no matter what other boundaries may divide women from each other, there is a collective experience that only women know.

While some of the situations that Shange illustrates in her message are not ones that I can directly compare notes with, there are other, more generally defined, passions that speak directly to my heart and mind. I, too, have hot iron scars upon my arms, calloused feet, and “quik” language, the illustration of pieces of my being that have also been taken by men that I “made too much room for.” There were passages which clearly spoke to me in relation to my own life and experiences in dealing with raw love and the vulnerabilities that come along with that.

Sometimes we read something that makes us stop right in our tracks; something so profoundly poignant in our everyday language; something that we could’ve torn out of the pages of our own lives – and it never leaves you. It finds a comfortable place in your soul and builds a nest there. Time seems to stop and the differences between people seem to dissolve. It makes me feel small in this universe, realizing that we are all alike in so many ways and that our genetic makeup as humans have the capacity of shared intimacy as a whole. In those moments, it doesn’t matter where I came from or what my ethnicity is. The only thing that matters is that the wide range of human emotion flows through each and every one of us. And this is why I open the pages of books.