Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Witty Militancy of Carolyn Rodgers's M.F. Poem

If you have been conditioned, like many, to view the works of women poets as quiet and genteel, prepare yourself for an unusual yet enjoyable experience as you read Carolyn Rodgers's poem "The Last M.F." Of course, as a skilled poet, her use of that signature curse word is witty and militant, not simply profane.

[Related: Evie Shockley's Radical Typography]

In the poem, Rodgers explains that black men have advised her "that i should not use the word / muthafucka anymo / in my poetry of in any speech i give."They inform her that "respect is hard won by a woman / who throws a word like muthafucka around / and so hey say because we love you / throw that word away, Black Woman."  What makes the poem humorous is that Rodgers repeatedly uses the word as she explains that she is listening to the suggestions that she should no longer use it.

[Related: The Radical Typography of Sonia Sanchez's Coltrane Poem]

Her smart, playful (over) use of the word also carries some militancy, as she resists the apparent expected speaking and writing roles of a black woman. She writes toward the end of the piece that "this is the last poem i will write" using variation of m.f. for "wites" and black people. Even though she will not use the word "we all know that none of us can relax until the last m.f.'s / been done in.

Rodgers's poem appeared in Stephen Henderson's anthology Understanding the New Black Poetry: Black Speech & Black Music as Poetic References (1973). For some reason or another, the poem has not appeared in collections or received much attention over the years, decades. It's a shame too, because that kind of powerful poem with its wit and militancy and, yes, profanity, still deserves a readership.

A Notebook on the Black Arts Era

1 comment:

Tara Betts said...

Honestly, I think there should be some efforts to bring her work back into print. I think that could have happened before she passed because people like Evie Shockley were bringing her back into the larger poetry conversation. I just wish it were easier to find her collections and share them with newer audiences.