ALL THE FEMINIST POETS features a single poem and an interview from a feminist poet that we love.
LaToya Jordan is a writer from Brooklyn, New York. Her poetry has appeared in Mobius: The Journal for Social Change, MiPOesias, Radius, and is forthcoming in Mom Egg Review. She is the author of the chapbook Thick-Skinned Sugar (Finishing Line Press). She received an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles. Her biggest fans are her husband and pre-schooler.
White sashes embroidered
with gold letters
showcase our locations:
Bottom of the East River
Abandoned Lot Southwest of Philly
Burnt House in North Carolina
Buried in a Park in Seattle
Last year’s winner pins
the crown to my head.
From Miss Ditch in Ashland County
to Miss Missing.
Mascara tears and black eyes
There she is, Miss Missing.
You probably saw my college graduation
photo on the news and in the papers.
All-American face and form. Flawless skin
now dressed in tiny red mouths
trapped in rigor mortis screams.
I pray for someone to hear
our remains. We sing a raspy song,
reenactment of last breaths
to welcome the new pageant girls.
The newest sisters of our piecemeal gang
include the one with fingerprint tattoos,
a girl who carries her head like a purse,
and the woman whose baby trails behind her,
still connected by the umbilical cord.
The girls add pushpins to the map
on the wall backstage. X marks the spot.
A rainbow of pins, thousands of them
crisscross with our limbs
like cross country railroad tracks.
Find any of the other contestants,
Miss Landfill Los Angeles or
Miss Abandoned Car in Brooklyn,
and I bet that beneath brown decomposing skin,
their bones are as pale white as mine.
(published by Radius)
Marisa Crawford: Can you talk a bit about the poem you chose, and why you consider it feminist?
LaToya Jordan: I was inspired to write this poem after reading an article in the Los Angeles Times titled, “Not Only Natalee is Missing.” This article led me down an internet spiral and I stayed up all night reading various articles about missing people of color, especially women. I ended up stumbling onto other articles that talked about “Missing white woman syndrome.” I had never heard of this syndrome before but once I read the words I knew what it meant. The media loves to tell the stories of pretty young missing white women. Media coverage of a missing person is important to families, it can help bring in tips to the police, it gets people talking. It must be devastating to be in a situation where your loved one is gone, but I imagine it’s also heart-wrenching to have a missing loved one that no one seems to care about. No posters going viral on Facebook or images and constant stories on the nightly news.
I felt like I had to write something about all of these missing women of color. At first I struggled with who my narrator would be. I originally wrote it from the POV of a missing woman of color, to give this fictional woman a voice from the dead. But then I thought about who would reach the largest audience? I decided to have a white woman, the winner of the Miss Missing pageant (no doubt this pageant is hosted by a media conglomerate) use her platform to elevate the voices of all missing women. The voices of women of color often get muted in these conversations about equality and what it means to be a feminist so I went back and forth on whether she should be white or a POC, but ultimately because of the last two lines of the poem I went with my gut on it. (This poem has been revised many times over the years, a special shout out to Radius for helping me get the poem to its current form.) Miss Missing is saying look at us, look at ALL of us, not just at me, but at them, too: we are equal and our stories are just as important.
MC: In your new chapbook Thick-Skinned Sugar, there is such a presence of female bodies, especially in relationship with reproduction and motherhood—hysterectomies, pregnant bellies, babies—from the poem “Miss Missing,” for example:
“a girl who carries her head like a purse,
and the woman whose baby trails behind her,
still connected by the umbilical cord.”
What are your thoughts about the role of female bodies, and of motherhood, in your work?
LJ: In a lot of my poems I like to use the body as a way to tell a story. I mean, that image of a girl holding her head like a purse, that’s horrible. But it happens, women are beaten and murdered every day and when you strip the story bare sometimes, and break it down to focus on the body, I feel like it’s really harrowing. Maybe if we are deeply affected we can do something to change some of this messed-up shit. In this chapbook I mostly explore the stories of women and girls. I’ve learned through my own experiences that talking about the body is a good way to explore trauma. When I was 19 I was in a car accident that changed my body and seriously affected my self esteem. For me, the way to move on from trauma was to write about it and keep writing until I could find something beautiful in it, even if it was just a nugget. It’s why I write about missing and dead women, it’s why I write about my unplanned C-section, a girl who was burned by acid, a dead sex worker. What can we learn about the resiliency of a body after it has been cut open to deliver a child? What can we learn about strength from a girl who continues to go learn in school with an acid-scarred face? What can we learn from the stories that are hard to read or listen to, hard to face? These things are not beautiful, but here they are. I think my car accident created a razor-sharp focus in me on bodies and how we move through this world in our skin, in our varied experiences. And as a woman it’s so fascinating to me that some of our bodies can create human beings. That we are sometimes treated like second-class citizens because some of us have vaginas and/or breasts or we are sometimes put on pedestals because of the way our bodies look.
I should also note that I went to see Human Centipede in the theater. Only a person who is obsessed with the human body could go sit in a theater for that movie.
MC: What are some other ways that feminism is present in your life, work, etc.?
LJ: This is a funny question to me because I’ve been working on a poem about feminism that is an erasure of celebrity women who say dumb shit like they are not feminists but are about equal rights. They need hugs, a dictionary, and a good shaking of the shoulders. I’m not saying everyone needs to be a feminist, but I am saying at least know the definition, people.
I am an unapologetic feminist. I think some people are afraid to use that word because they associate it with specific movements or they think it means elevating women above men or hating men. Nope, just nope. Anyway, I just left a job as a grant writer for a great organization, The Center for Anti-Violence Education. CAE is an awesome anti-violence organization that was founded in the 70s and teaches self defense and violence prevention to women, girls, and LGBTQ communities. I miss being in that atmosphere of being able to feel comfortable and completely free with being a feminist, talking with other women and allies who just get it and who are working to level the playing field.
MC: Favorite feminist poet(s), living or dead?
LJ: Audre Lorde. And she’s not a poet but I feel like it’s a must to throw Octavia Butler into the mix. Her work is inspirational to me as a writer.
MC: Last awesome feminist poetry book you read?
LJ: This is kind of tough. Does the poet have to be a feminist or the book itself? I read Seam by Tarfia Faizullah and loved it. I’ve been reading a lot of individual poems, but not books of poetry. I’m writing a novel so I’m all about fiction right now.
MC: Favorite girl band, “chick flick,” or reality TV show (or all of the above)?
LJ: I used to love TLC so much! I was in awe of them when they first came on the scene. Those ladies came out swinging, wearing condoms on their clothes and singing about their sexuality. I love them.