Friday, February 10, 2012

Staceyann Chin

Our nonfiction editor and poetry aficionado, Danielle Smith, discusses her love of slam poetry, specifically the slam poet Staceyann Chin, in this lively post.

"I wish every c*nt had the courage to bear public witness. I wish every woman had the pen, the clear view, and the support she needs to scream, 'What happened to me was not my fault!'" speaks Jamaican-born writer, performance artist and activist Staceyann Chin, during a guest performance at the 2009 Campus Progress National Conference.

I cannot begin to tell you what YouTube web led me to find and watch the performance, but immediately, I was awed by Chin's humor and stage presence. Chin begins by relating her thoughts on George W. Bush's second term in the form of haiku ("How can you fuck up / So many times and still be / voted president?").

From there, Chin reads a chapter from her memoir The Other Side of Paradise in which she describes getting her first period. Now, one might think that a girl's first period is such a completely "normal" experience, one that is not at all the stuff of memoir. What Chin does is make the normal remarkable. Chin ends with a poem "about [her] va-jay-jay," the same poem that holds the lines I quoted at the start. In it, she references the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of a relative but that is not the whole of it. Chin does not attempt to occupy the position of victim and instead demonstrates how she began to see her body as a source of strength and beauty. At times heartbreaking and wildly funny, Chin's reading captures the intersections of womanhood, race and sexuality beautifully.

The Other Side of Paradise was published in early 2009 and I wonder what I was doing in 2009 that made it possible for me to miss out on it until now. The book is on its way to me via Amazon and once it gets here (and my busy schedule allows me to read it), I will share more with you.

--Danielle Smith

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