Spoken word poet Elizabeth Acevedo issues a challenge to rape culture (via PBS)

Watch the poem here!

Poet Elizabeth Acevedo is writing to understand.

That process began at a young age, growing up in a Dominican family of oral storytellers, she said. It flourished with her high school poetry club, with whom she would attend open mics around the city, watching poets perform at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, Bowery Poetry Club and Urban Word NYC.

Poetry became “one of the ways I knew how to speak and be heard,” she said, while discussing race, gender and culture. Her poems discuss the oppression of those systems through the lens of personal experience, always keeping in mind that “the personal is political,” she said.

Her poem “Spear” follows a speaker in the aftermath of her daughter’s sexual assault. Acevedo began writing the poem while on a trip to South Africa around the time that Amanda Berry and her six-year-old daughter escaped from the home where Ariel Castro had held them and two other women for more than 10 years, leading to his arrest.

That incident made her think about the role of mothers in the recovery process of assault survivors, she said. In particular, the poem is “a direct response [to] the fear of one day being the mother to a young woman and feeling like I cannot trust this world with her,” she said.

The poem’s images transform the body into a weapon against abuse — but the self-defense that Acevedo addresses in the poem is no replacement for a larger cultural shift against sexual assault and rape culture, she said.

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PBS | Elizabeth Acevedo

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