North American Time/ Sisters in Arms Question 1

To protest is to strongly oppose something and act upon that disapproval. Protesting can be used in many different forms, such as a hunger strike or a mass petition. In Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich’s cases though, protesting was used through the form of lyric poetry with the poems “Sisters in Arms” and North American Time”. Lyric poetry is a great way to protest because it spreads awareness of the cause through creativity.  The poet can write a poem based on the perspective of the  victim or the one victimizing, which broadens the range of who the poem is affecting.

Audre Lorde’s “Sisters in Arms” protests the extreme racism that occurs in South America. The first stanza of the poem describes how little power she holds, even though she wants to help fight against the racism in South Africa. It seems that she’s telling her friend that she wanted to help in a violent protest, but wasn’t able to. She couldn’t “plant the other limpet mine against a wall at the railroad station” (9-10), even though she truly wanted to, assuming that the railroad station was ran by the whites in South Africa. Instead she sends her friend a ticket to travel to Durban. This shows the helplessness that the narrator has, because instead of putting a mine by the railroads, she’s supporting the railroads by buying her friend a ticket.

Furthermore in the next stanza, Lorde speaks of the silence of the media, specifically in America. She calls out the New York Times, saying that they “finally mention” (20) South Africa, but speak of the white South Africans dying, and not of the black children being massacred and imprisoned.

I was a bit confused about what Adrienne Rich’s “North American Time” was protesting. Right now, it seems the me the poem is protesting the act of misconstruing a poem for the wrong purposes. Rich expresses the fact that writing down words “become responsible and this is a verbal privilege” (25-26) because those words can have a great affect on the world. Those words “can be blazed on a wall in spraypaint” (19), symbolizing a certain movement or protest even though that’s not what the words were intended for.

Question 1: In “North American Time”, is Rich promoting the idea that it’s bad that one’s words can be used differently because words can also be used for good?

Question 2: In “Sisters in Arms”, is there anything else that Lorde is protesting?

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7 Responses to North American Time/ Sisters in Arms Question 1

  1. In answer to the first question Rich is worried about what will happen to the words after the poet has written them down. At that point the words are no longer the poets as they are out for the general public to analyze and determine the meaning of. Everyone will have a different way of interpreting it and despite their best efforts some will ‘ruin’ the poem by interpreting words or style wrong thus taking all of the intended meaning out of the poem. Rich seems to be worried that his work won’t be interpreted correctly.

  2. Rani says:

    In addition to racism, I think Lorde is also protesting her reaction to the racism and the mistreatment of blacks. Rather than raise awareness of these injustices, the speaker seems to turn away from these issues. Although she describes the murdered African Americans, she describes the narrator and her friend as “leaving their dead behind them”. I think the fleeing of the narrator and her friend represent the ignorance of the white community due to the media’s failure to report on such issues. Rich is examining the detrimental relationship between words and negativity surrounding the English language. Words can be used to hurt others, including friends and family. But I think she thinks of herself as a messenger to revolutionize the negative connotations surrounding words. She describes herself, saying “I have felt like some messenger/ called to enter, called to engage/ this field of light and darkness”. The field may be a metaphor for the English language, and the messenger would be her and her various works.

  3. In “North American Time” I found that Rich was not so much saying that changing words from the original meaning is bad, but rather that words written by a poet can be criticized or scrutinized by a people that wish to oversimplify the art. When Rich writes “Everything we write will be used against us”, she is alluding to the fact that her art cannot stay hers forever, and that people will look at her art and scrutinize and theorize why she wrote what, what agenda she had, how she is outdated etc. She does not have so much of a grudge against analysis as she does to being irrelevant.

  4. Marc says:

    In my opinion, Rich is protesting the fact that written words, especially in the form of lines from poetry, often take upon a life of its own as far as its meaning or original intention. Rich views this as unfair since the poet is still held responsible as being the source of an idea the poet may not have intended to convey to the readers in the first place. She emphasizes this by repeating the line “Everything we write will be used against us” (11-12). Although there will also be times where a poets writing may take on some great meaning or cause an important movement, there will always be times where the poet’s words will be skewed. Whether the result of these varied interpretations are good or bad, the poet is always held responsible for words he or she writes.

  5. In “North American Time,” Rich presents an interesting problem: the misconstruing of words. She states, “Everything we write will be used against us or against those we love,” and she doesn’t place much emphasis on the benefits of the written word. However, one thing that is interesting is that despite the seeming pitfalls of expressing oneself with words, Rich ends her poem with, “and I start to speak again.” With that, it can be concluded that Rich believes it’s worth the risk to express oneself with words and although she doesn’t focus on the benefits of doing so, it clearly outweighs the downfalls of doing so.

  6. Steven says:

    I think Rich is saying that it is bad how words are used against a person. This is common today with social media. Because people write so much online, it has been used against them in crimes, politics, and even employment. Even though Rich did not use facebook, a persons words still held a lot of responsibility. In section V of her poem, she is making a statement to the over analysis of a person’s words and how without every detail, it could be troublesome. This idea of verbal privilege is strong. It tells us that what we could say what we want as long as we own up to the consequences. Even though words can be used for good, Rich is saying that there is a held responsibility for when they are used against you.

  7. Bella Rubin says:

    To answer Max’s first question I think Rich promoted the idea that it’s bad that one’s words can be used differently but ultimately she shows that you have to speak up regardless of the consequences. Rich writes out “Everything we write will be used against us (11-12) with this in mind one should be conscious of what they are writing.” Like max points out “Rich expresses the fact that writing down words “become responsible and this is a verbal privilege” (25-26)”. Here Rich portrays that it is the responsibility of the writer similarly to one who speaks. Like Winston Churchill brilliantly puts it “We are masters of our unsaid words but slaves to those we let slip out.” Rich gives the option to choose to “remain silent”(43) but a person will not be able to make a difference if they choose to keep to themselves. So Rich is promoting the idea that its bad one’s words can be used differently. However, since they can be used for good, in the last line Rich writes “and I start to speak again.” Showing us her conscious decision the harm is worth it because there is much to gain.

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