Saturday, September 18, 2010

Tara Betts's poem "Switch"

I almost can't wait to introduce the first-year black women in the program I work with here to Tara Betts's poem "Switch." The brothers in the other program will like the poem; the folks in my lit courses will too. But those first-year lil sisters....they're really going to feel it.

The poem includes five stanzas focusing on varied sketches of a young black woman. The end of each stanza contains the refrain "switch girl." For example, the opening stanza reads:
crushed zirconium gloss & glory
glides across her lips. she looks
in the mirror, puckers, pops her gum,
knows what would
happen if mama saw her
The end of the last stanza of the poem reverses the order of the refrain and instead using the line "girl switch."

Betts's refrain operates on multiple levels. For one, the "switch girl" suggests that vernacular statement to "go girl; work it." The lines convey sister-to-sister speak. The "switch" also announces a scene shift from one stanza to the next.The "switch girl," especially the change at the end "girl switch," functions as encouragement or perhaps advice for the young sister to make a change.

I can't wait to witness the sisters in the program making the connections and alerting me to new discoveries with the poem.

The focus on the young girl's "pelvic metronome" in "Switch" makes Betts's poem a descendant of Lucille Clifton's well-known piece "Homage to My Hips." There's also kinship between Betts's poem and Patricia Smith's "Hip-Hop Ghazal."

Related posts:
Following Tara Betts
Tara Betts's Arc & Hue

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