I’m rarely angry.
Correction: I rarely express my anger.
I hate confrontation, and expressing anger leads to confrontation, or follows it. I grew up in a house with enough anger around me that it didn’t seem worth it to add to it. The anger’s target was never me, but still I was a casualty of it.
When I was what’s now referred to as a “tween,” I became more vocal and expressive if I had a difference of opinion or feeling. I was called a “brat” or punished, by family and teachers, both of whom I’d always gotten along with.
*Today I feel strongly about the way in which girls’ voices can be so easily silenced. It’s basic sexism: at best you’re labeled a bitch or too “emotional”–maybe you have PMS?–at worst, you’re shut up physically. Angry boys are expected, sometimes rewarded, even when violent. Boys are praised for just “settling their differences” through violence, rather than being “catty,” like girls. Our culture loves catty women; reality TV franchises are built upon them.
I teach at a women’s college. At some point we have a conversation about why the students chose to come to this particular college. Amongst praise for the grading system, the friendly, supportive community, and small size, a few students always mention that their one trepidation about enrolling there is the “drama” they expect with an all-women student body. Yet, away from men, and with a common goal of learning and preparing for a career, there’s less drama. Right now the bigger concern in our campus community is racism.
I didn’t realize how angry I was until I put together the first half of my poetry manuscript for a graduate workshop. My fellow poets and professor really brought it home to me as we discussed the poems individually and as a whole. Two of the three men in class appeared to be put off, baffled, or even offended by my poetry. This experience completely changed the way I saw myself as a writer and artist. Being conscious of the ways in which I express anger through poems gave me a mission and confidence. Trying to wrangle a title for the finished manuscript, I chose “If You Aren’t a Girl and Didn’t Already,” a line from a poem about rape culture. Discussing the title, some felt it might be alienating. Fuck that, I thought. If you’re put off by the title, you’re not my audience anyway.
I was dissuaded from including one or two epigraphs at the start of the manuscript. The quotes I wanted to use were both song lyrics, one from Nirvana, and one from the Pixies (my poems make use of popular culture, so it seemed relevant). From “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” I’d take “She’s over-bored and self-assured. Oh no, I know a dirty word.” From “Something Against You,” “I’ve got something against you / Oh yeah, I am one happy prick.” Something appealed to me about using the voices of men in this way.
An old friend (and ex-boyfriend) read a portion of the manuscript in chapbook form, and told me it was “cocksure.” I wryly take it as a compliment; my anger apparently makes me (or my writing) masculine.
When we think, talk, or write about anger, we’re really thinking, talking, or writing about fear, a feeling I’m much more conscious of experiencing. Outside my writing, I’m an introvert, and I tread lightly around the anger of others. I live in a world where expressing or inciting anger would be “poking the beast”; I’m afraid of the beast. In the space of writing, I feel safe, and I’m not afraid to poke that beast, hard.
Some days I can’t bear the slightest hint of violence or misogyny and sexism in the news or popular culture. This morning I was greeted by one such story, about a 15-year old girl, a former victim of human trafficking, who allegedly had sex with 16-25 boys in a high school bathroom. Today began as a day I couldn’t handle the anger such news engenders. Responding to this simple prompt, writing, has allowed me to experience and deal with it in that safe space.
*Note: I’m a predominantly white, middle class American, so my writing reflects my perspective and privilege.