National Poetry Month: “Have You Ever Tried To Hide?”

The iconic feminist poet Pat Parker was known not only for her printed work but also for her powerful performances. Parker’s activism with the Black Panther Party and the Black Women’s Revolutionary Council in the 1960s shaped her poetic voice. Her poetry, rooted in the African American oral tradition of call and response, grapples with the complex intersections of the personal and the political for African American women, often asking black men and white women to examine their own privilege.

Parker’s first poetry collection, Child of Myself, was published in 1971 by the California-based Shameless Hussy Press, which would later publish Ntozake Shange’s landmark for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf.

In 1972, Parker joined the vibrant Women’s Press Collective in Oakland, Calif., which republished Child of Myself and printed her next book, Pit Stop (1973). Both books had to be reprinted due to great demand. In 1976, Pat Parker and Judy Grahn made the only spoken-word album for the feminist label Olivia Records, Where Would I Be Without You?, a recording of their readings. Parker published two more poetry collections, Movement in Black (1978) and  Jonestown & Other Madness (1985) before she died in 1989 from cancer.

In the two poems below, Parker takes epigraphs from African American figures–one unattributed and the other from Harriet Tubman–and expands on them with her trademark performative and poetic panache.

Parker revised both of these poems extensively for her later volumes, but I present them here as feminists would have encountered them in print during the 1970s.

“How do we know that the panthers

will accept a gift from

white — middle — class — women?”

 

Have you ever tried to hide?

In a group

of women

hide

yourself

slide between the floor boards

slide yourself away child

away from this room

& your sister

before she notices

your Black self &

her white mind

slide your eyes

down

away from the other Blacks

afraid — a meeting of eyes

& pain would travel between you –

change like milk to buttermilk

a silent rage.

SISTER! your foot’s smaller,

but it’s still on my neck.

 

From Pit Stop, Oakland, CA: Women’s Press Collective, 1973.

Printed with permission from Anastasia Dunham-Parker-Brady, Pat Parker’s daughter; Copyright held by Anastasia Dunham-Parker-Brady.

 

“There are two things I’ve got a

right to, and these are death

or liberty. One or the other

I mean to have.”

Harriet Tubman

 

Brother

I don’t want to hear

about

how my real enemy

is the system.

I’m no genius,

but I do know

that system

you hit me with

is called

a fist.

 

From Child of Myself, Oakland, CA: Women’s Press Collective, 1972.

Printed with permission from Anastasia Dunham-Parker-Brady, Pat Parker’s daughter; Copyright held by Anastasia Dunham-Parker-Brady.

 

Biography of Pat Parker

Bibliography of Pat Parker

Where Would I Be Without You? (Olivia Records)

Comments

  1. Thank you for evoking memories of Pat Parker. It was a privilege to see and hear her read back in the day — she was luminous, beautiful, sometimes quite funny, and exuded strength and integrity.

  2. Ava Square-LeVias says:

    Thank you, Anastasia! Your mother’s work is a monument to black women, women in general, and society as a whole! Such richness of mind, insight, and experiences will forever be a call to our spirits to reach higher!
    Ase`~ Maferefun, ancestor Pat Parker!

  3. I listened to both of you on an album for many many hours. I shared with friends. It changed my life for the better.

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