Written by Tallulah Gray
The Poetess Heart is a series of articles dedicated to women writers of poetry and their poetic explorations into girlhood, womanhood, and femininity.
What’s the first image that conjures itself in your mind at the word
What does she look like? What does she sound like? Is she adored by everyone?
From a tender age, young women are taught by their parents and society what a “beautiful woman” is. As we grow, this image of the woman aesthetic is continually built, torn down, and remolded on both conscious and subconscious levels according to ever-changing trends mixed with ancient traditions.
As I was reading a chapter on voice and style in The Poet’s Companion, authors Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux reference two poems by Lucille Clifton, “Homage to My Hips” and “The Women You are Accustomed To” in order to demonstrate the power of a writer’s presence on the page. They note, that Clifton is known for her more casual voice which brings her close to her readers, and many of her works echo that voice as a strong, black poetess who takes on large subjects in brevity.
“The Women You are Accustomed To”
Written by Lucille Clifton
wearing that same black dress,
their lips and asses tight,
their bronzed hair set in perfect place;
these women gathered in my dream
to talk their usual talk,
their conversations spiked with the names
of avenues in France.
and when i asked them what the hell,
they shook their marble heads
and walked erect out of my sleep,
back into a town which knows
all there is to know
about the cold outside, while i relaxed
and thought of you,
your burning blood, your dancing tongue.
Note the strength in Clifton’s voice and tone throughout the poem as she describes these marble women: they all wear a sexy black dress, their hair is bronzed and perfectly set, and their bodies are toned and youthful. She highlights their lips and gluts which radiate sensuality.
But why are they present in the tender dream of a man she adores?
Disturbed by these identical, marblesque women inhabiting her subconscious, Clifton casts the statues away from her daydream and asks the gathered women (and herself), “What the hell?” just before powerfully kicking those insecurities to the curb to relax and enjoy the thought of being with the object of her affection.
As I reflect on this poem, I ask myself, “What do my marble statues look like? Do they, at times, barge in and stop me from being comfortable in my own skin, making me believe that I am not beautiful enough?”
I notice a difference in my personality on the days I skip doing my hair or putting on makeup just because I was too tired to make everyone else happy. I am more closed off, my eyes stay focused on the ground, and I avoid looking at others because I don’t want to see judgement in their faces for my “shabby” appearance.
Equipped with those parental, cultural, and societal standards, I’ve chiseled a statue from marble of who they want me to be, clothed how they want me to be clothed, and set in a pose they deem attractive.
Television, pop culture, and the media, in general, continue to build upon and shape these subconscious statues we have all erected in our minds. We are fed a continual stream of “beauty”: skinny, physically fit, no stretch marks, no cellulite, clear skin, thigh gaps, curves, perfect(ly messy) hair, Sephora-clad, and don’t you know every woman should have a Coach handbag? Subconsciously, by method of scoffs, scowls, and disapproval we are taught what a beautiful and worthy woman isn’t. Let’s figure out what a beautiful and worthy woman truly is, shall we?
Let’s come together and discover the power of our voice in writing.
Let’s use it to cast away the marble heads that invade our daydreams.
Let’s reclaim our womanhood and celebrate the beauty in our individuality.
Join me in writing a poem that proudly celebrates your beauty as a unique and authentic woman.
Take your pen to paper like a hammer to the anvil, and use your voice to deconstruct those statues once and for all.
If you’re willing, please share your poem on Instagram with the tags #thepoetessheart and #morethanmarble. You can also message the poem directly to me @tallulahgray. I’ll be reading!