the dark side

Nov 25, 2021 poetry appreciation

Next week we’ll have a quietly uplifting poem to remind us of those unexpected moments of connection and shared humanity which can transform our day. Today, however, I offer this disturbing-but-important-to-read poem which offers us a glimpse into a darker side. Here is ‘Litany of Ordinary Violences‘ by torrin a greathouse.

Transgender Day of Remembrance is/was the 20th November, and this poem arrived in my inbox then. I think it’s an extraordinary, charged piece of writing whose very title is masterly: not just violence but ‘violences‘; and these are merely the ‘ordinary’ ones, not the exceptions. So many telling details: the way it starts with ‘Today’, underlining the fact that this happens all the time; the un-emphasised reference to living in a state of high arousal, with ‘fight or flight’ only ever an encounter away; that it is a ‘commuter in pinstripes & oxfords’, someone “respectable”, who feels licensed to be violent, and that casually, literally in ‘passing; that all this horror and terror is ‘lucky’…

The poem smokes with hurt and anger—'[t]his law itself another kind of violence, weapon smelted from a certain bloodline’s fear’ rises up off the page—and yet does not want to end in violence; indeed, wants to make violence ‘a stranger in my mouth’. Perhaps being able to suffer all this without lapsing into retaliation is made possible, in part at least, by the act of speaking out (‘I can’t bear to let it go unspoken’): the finding of the voice, the refusal to be cowed into silence. The speaker is courageous enough to trust that she can be accepted without violence—that some will hear, receive, compassionate (I do love compassionate as a verb: suffer with). Perhaps that’s why it’s a litany, a prayer in which the reader participates by offering attention. It’s our chance to take part in this crucial act of bearing witness.

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