"Getting Uppity" Kathi Wolfe Scene4 Magazine SPECIAL ISSUE "Arts&Politics" January 2014

Kathi Wolfe


January 2014

"Ew!" a friend once whispered in my ear at a poetry reading, "that poem was just too political."

"Those poems were good!" another pal said to me after another gathering of bards, "but where was the sense of witness?"

If you try to write poetry that has social justice in its compass, you're bound to run into one or both of the above reactions.  On the one hand, your peers, readers – your muse – will admonish you with the famous Samuel Goldwyn quote, "If you want to send a message, call Western Union."  (In today's terms, this would be phrased if you wanna send a message, start a Twitter hashtag.)  On the other hand, your peers, readers, people oppressed by injustice (from prejudice to poverty) – even your self-indulgent muse – will nag you to write (what the poet Carolyn Forche has called) "poetry of witness."

W. H. Auden famously said that poetry makes nothing happen; and it's true: poets aren't legislators.  Yet, poetry, often poem by poem, can change hearts and minds.  Line by line, stanza by stanza, it can make us thirsty for justice. Metaphor by metaphor, rhyme by rhyme, poetry can make us not only envision but work for social change. Think of Adrienne Rich, whose poetry helped generations of women find their history – to name themselves — or of Allen Ginsberg who bravely and openly battled a repressed culture.  More than any lecture or sermon, engaging poetry can make us see, touch, hear, taste and smell any kind of prejudice from homophobia to sexism to racism to ableism (disability-based prejudice).

The old feminist saying that the political is personal still rings true. "Political poetry starts out with the personal – with a personal story," poet and playwright Grace Cavalieri told me once over the phone, "it starts with, {for example} a little boy, holding his father's (a veteran's) hand, and listening to his (his dad's) story."

I'd never claim that my poetry has changed the world.  But in quite small ways, it's opened a few eyes.  A couple of years ago, I read from my Uppity Blind Girl poems at the University of Pittsburgh.  The audience was small – polite, but not leaping with enthusiasm. Yet after the reading, a young blind woman came up to me.  "I used to be afraid to go out beyond my neighborhood," she told me, "because I never know if people if people will say hurtful things about my blindness.  But now I channel Uppity and I'm not nearly as scared."

Humbly, I offer these Uppity Blind Girl poems as "poetry of witness":

Kathi Wolfe
from the Uppity Blind Girl poems

ScentsSpeakeasy.com: Blogspot

Dear Editor,
You wonder how, I, sightless, can compare
a warm-blooded, full-bodied
fragrance to a Rubens, or liken
a wild, disheveled beer
to Dennis Hopper biking
in a pot-filled haze.
I should take up piano-tuning, you insist.

Tin-eared scribe, your vision
ensnares you.  Can you see
if a beer tastes like rubies
or smells like unwashed hair?
Unhitched from sight, I devour secrets.
Unripened pineapple, with a touch
of papaya is my latest fave.
As a scientist maps genes,
I decode aromas, divine spirits.


from the Uppity Blind Girl poems

Uppity's Prayer

MSNBC suspended Alec Baldwin...after a...gay slur that he made in a
confrontation with reporters...The New York Times

Cock suckers, fagots, dykes – wounded,
cootie-infested creatures beaten down
by the raging rapids in a leech-filled river–
Bogie and Kate, gods of the African Queen,
heal their wounds with your booze
and prayers.  Delouse their scales,
bandage their bloody fins, so they'll escape–
dry, unbloodied, with heads unbowed.


from the Uppity Blind Girl poems

Your Mind's Eye

If I were Queen of the World,
ruling with my Royal Smart Phone,
Bluetooth in tiara, walking
my besotted, blue-blood dogs,
regally motioning to my worshipful
subjects to stop curtsying,
only my bejewelled cane
would dig its way
into the tunnel of your vision.

If I won the Nobel Prize for cracking
the passwords of the gods
and the secret murmurings of the dead,
only my encrypted, blinkered eyes
would register in your retinas.

If Sabrina and I were making love,
nymphs on the loose in the mid-day sun,
out of the grasp of sight, beyond
the clutch of sound – clothes, purses
mindlessly abandoned on the ground –
only my blind gaze would meet your mind's eye.

Post Your Comments
About This Article

Share This Page

View other readers' comments in Letters to the Editor

Scene4 Magazine - Kathi Wolfe | www.scene4.com
Kathi Wolfe is a writer, poet and a Senior Writer and
Columnist for Scene4. Her reviews and commentary have
also appeared in an array of publications. Her most recent
Book of Poems, The Green Light, has just been published
by Finishing Line Press.
For more of her commentary, articles and poetry,
Check the

Search Kathi Wolfe

©2014 Kathi Wolfe
©2014 Publication Scene4 Magazine


January 2014

Cover | This Issue | Blogs | Comments | Contact Us | Recent Issues | Special Issues Masthead | Contacts&Links | Submissions | Advertising | Subscribe | Books | Your Support | Privacy | Terms | Archives
Search This ISSUE

Search This Issue


Search The Archives

 Share This Page


Share in Facebook



Scene4 (ISSN 1932-3603), published monthly by Scene4 Magazine - International Magazine of Arts and Media. Copyright © 2000-2014 AVIAR-DKA LTD - AVIAR MEDIA LLC. All rights reserved. Now in our 14th year of publication with Worldwide Readership in 118 Countries and comprehensive archives of over 8000 pages.


Hollywood Red: The Autobiography of Lester Cole  ©2013 Scene4 Books  www.aviarpress.com
Character Flaws by Les Marcott at www.aviarpress.com
Scene4 Magazine - Thai Airways | www.scene4.com