Poetry has no rules, limits, or norms. It has endless possibilities. Poetry is a form of expression, rebellion, refuge, and affirmation. It helps dealing with complex emotions and making sense of the world and our own identity(ies).
During this term, we had the opportunity to explore poetry as a form of research. Our goal was to understand how poetry is used by the queer community in Brighton to express their individual and political realities. Thanks to an amazing team composed by Ana, Yasmin and Vipin Pokhriyal and to our supervisor Marina Apgar, this experience was deeply transformative to us and led us to new insights on identity and power, which we believe may be useful to other students and development professionals studying these topics. Here, we will share a brief reflection of the outcome of this project. This piece is co-written with our co-inquirers, a group of queer poets who live in Brighton who we met through queer poetry events in different spaces (Queer the Mic, Meet QT, Arcobaleno, The Queery), both in-person and virtually.
The project mixed poetic critical inquiry with participatory and reflective practices. Our methodology included conversations with poets, analyses of some of their poems, ethnographic observations, and the production of poems to process our insights throughout the process.
We have learned that poetry can be a powerful tool to empower a community that has been marginalized. As a writing method, it encourages participation with our whole selves – reason, emotion, contradictions, complexities – and as a practice that challenges traditional academic methods, poetry is a way to challenge dominant and oppressive understandings of the world.
Poetry as a research method helped us get insights into the identity negotiations that is not always easy to capture through traditional methodologies, like the nuances of the journey of understanding who we are, how do we fit (or not) into these categories, the boundaries and intersections of that self in the building, as well as the non-conformity with the labels that come up in the process. Thus, as a method, Poetry allowed us to make space for the variety of experiences and voices of marginalized and stigmatized identities within that community, like queer disabled people.
Poetry, as a form of non-normative expression, is experienced as a way to manifest both personal and political realities. Personal because its format enables an inward process of questioning the self, as well as an exploration of the boundaries and intersections of those self-identities, and political because in the path of embracing them begins a collective process of signifying categories that define the way we are perceived in the world.
We use poetry to embrace our intersectionality, which is multiple, diverse, and fluid. Poetry allows us to be and express our full selves uniquely, even when we identify as part of a bigger collective (e.g. the queer community). Poetry also creates a deep sense of togetherness and empathy through vulnerability. It is used to process difficult emotions, traumatic experiences and triggers caused by political issues that directly affect us. Ultimately, it enables us to create counter-narratives of the world, not only in our imagination, but also in the way we claim spaces to facilitate events and gather the community. In those spaces, we create our own reality – an inclusive and accessible one, where every queer person who has been diminished, questioned, marginalized, can take on a microphone, get up the stage, share their words and receive love and affirmation in return. As one of the poets expressed during an interview:
"Poetry brings all parts of our identity together. [...] But also question them, asses them, deconstruct how we understand that parts of ourselves "
Thus, poetry is not only opening empowering spaces for individuals to embrace their identity(ies), but also empowering the queer community to build power together. Writing poetry is a way to take charge of our story, owning our own narratives, and re-claiming ourselves. It is a courageous practice of transparent vulnerability, that builds community by pushing you to trust those around you will hold and share that emotional experience from a place of empathy, solidarity, and support.
Queer the Mic and other collectives of queer poets are creating and celebrating counter-narratives and spaces that break heteronormative, patriarchal, neurotypical, and ableist logics that dominate the outside world. By, performing in non-queer places they reaffirm their freedom to exist in those places; to be openly vulnerable, angry, and proud, without having to please anyone but themselves.
We would like to share with you a poem that our research teammate Yasmin wrote to encapsulate the different narratives that came out during the interviews and collective spaces:
The Story of Us
When I walked into that room
anxious eyes wondered how
they tried to figure me out
which box will fit my ways
which label shown on my face
which country is my accent from
will I ever
feel at home
they asked me to tell my story
I didn’t know where to start
from when I turned it into art
or when they first broke my heart
from when I played with all my parts
or when I first noticed
I was set apart
they asked me who am I
issue is I’m not just one
I’m the ocean and the earth
I’m all colors of the rainbow
I’m the in-between
the more the less
I’m a mess
all parts of me sing “let me be”
like a wave that can’t be stopped
I’m all stars in a constellation
a child full of doubts
I’m an equation
you can’t figure out
all my colors scream life
let me be
let me be
let me live
and if to live
I have to let die
of your violent words
your arrogant speeches
your disgusting wishes
I’ll hold hands with my anger
turn it into jewels
I’ll be a walking poem
no form no shape no rules
I’ll find life within myself
and let it out
like a narrow river meeting others
a small brick on a tower
with the shape of a flower
that the story of “I”
the story of us
Just like being queer, poetry is fluid, non-conforming, messy. We are walking poems, and if you see our verses out there, we invite you to let yours out as well!
We also invite you to check out the Instagram pages of the poets, community spaces and stages featured in this project to support their work and be inspired!
Click the Instagram handles below to follow them:
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