by Nikki Skies
All women need to know the height of fire, and the depth of its smolder. Women should experience the thread of insurgent veins with splintering ice and the unbend of the wind. All women need to hear their voice bounce from apartment corners to symphony set stages. A writer daring to her individual passion during a time of “we,” Chicago-born artist Carolyn Rodgers, is someone to know.
Carolyn Rodgers was an essayist, critic and a leading voice of the Black Arts Movement (BAM). Rodgers’ ideas about women’s roles conflicted with more traditional ideas of the African-American sub-culture which many then referred to as “revolutionary.” Reading Rodgers’ writings, I hear the wave of impulses she created within the audience. I relax in knowing her free verse style of poetry was criticized for its themes of religion, revolution, street slang, and sometimes its ruminative search for identity.
My art has been called “fiery, powerful, revolutionary” -- I never take my pen choosing to scribe such adjectives or emotions. I have always felt the need to express my breath in the now. Behind walls of portrait-filled designs, unbeknownst to fellow artists, I’ve heard them call me selfish and arrogant. I’ve simply always wanted to live my vernacular and connect with another beating heart while performing.
Rodgers was criticized for her use of profanity, which male leaders of BAM considered inappropriate for a woman. The most infamous poem, with cuss words woven throughout, is The Last M.F. Rodgers used this menacing vernacular to explicate men’s perceptions of how women should speak and behave. Considering the BAM movement was the timeframe when the writings and politics were to unify African Americans against defying stereotypes, Rodgers used the spirit of the movement for self-preservation. That is empowering. It is freedom. It’s why every woman should study Rodgers’ literary works and natural progress she grants it within her lifetime.
During the dominance of Sonia Sanchez, before bell hooks, Rodgers set the stage for my voice to express in unique solidarity. My art is not always committed to the agenda of Amnesty International. Nor does it always express the perfect shade of lipstick or bouquet of flowers. It is forward brave. It is the color palette and the garden Rodgers wrote about in the poem Breakthrough:
“… my mouth has been open most of the time,
But I ain’t been saying nothing but thinking about ev’rything
And the partial pain has been how do I put myself on paper the way I want to be
And be not like anyone else in this Black world but me…”
“…there are several of me and all of us fight to show up at the same time
And there is uh consistent incongruity.”
Editor's Note: Thanks so very much to Nikki Skies for closing out the 2013 Women's History Month! I'm so grateful to her for sending Carolyn Rodgers our way! Rodgers was a student of Gwendolyn Brooks - one of my absolute favorite women you should know... Please read the rest of our guest bloggers posts, too -- Angelique Palmer, Ruthanna Barnett, and Caroline Rothstein! The Zestyverse feels very grateful to be surrounded by such taleneted, generous, and spirited artists!