We want to start this letter by thanking each and every single one of you for following our journal since its initial debut in June of 2017. It’s been an honor to meet and work with so many talented writers and artists, and we are so grateful we've had the opportunity to see all the passion and hard work you've put into your submissions. We admire you immensely and it has been magical to see what this journal has become. We will be forever grateful for all that you’ve brought to our magazine.
That being said, it is with deep regret that we announce that Body Without Organs is taking an indefinite break. As strong as the Body Without Organs team is, it is also very small. As our journal continues to grow bigger each day, it has become extremely difficult for our staff members to keep up with all of the work that goes into making an issue. It’s extremely important to each of us that we are able to connect with each contributor and help them grow as an artist. We feel it’s extremely unfair to keep the journal active when right now, we can’t give each piece and contributor the attention it truly deserves. If this news comes as a disappointment and you’d like to join our team to help us catch up on our submissions queue or otherwise contribute to reevaluating how we can carry out the journal’s mission, please get in touch with us via email.
We apologize for any confusion or disappointment this announcement may have placed upon those who have submitted. While we cannot give a definite date of when the journal will resume publication, we estimate it will take no more than a year’s time. If you have recently submitted to Issue 15, please know that your piece has been looked at, though no final decisions have been made. We would love to keep your piece in the submission pool and consider it for Issue 15, but since its publication date is far off in the future, we also understand why you might like to withdraw your submission. If this is the case for you, please send us an email and let us know. We hate to watch your work part with us, but we also want to make sure your piece is able to be shown to the world as soon as possible.
Thank you all for every single thing you’ve done for us and for all that you’ve helped us become. We hope you keep writing and submitting, and that you think of Body Without Organs as you do so.
We’ll see you soon!
The Body Without Organs team
By: Maggie Talbott-Malone
All forms of text surround us. We read the words from other people's social media posts, take in the text passed out during class, and find text that we simply just enjoy. In the era I’ve grown up in, I have read one too many social media posts, dreaded reading during class, but also learned to have a love for reading.
As Frederick Douglass said, “Once you learn to read you will be forever free.” Finding and reading new text is always something that has been exciting to me. Recently, I have been doing my best to find texts that will educate me on Black Culture. Just Walk on By: Black Men and Public Spaces by Brent Staples and “A Letter To My Nephew” by James Baldwin are two texts I feel have done this. I come back to them time and time again, each time my feelings are just as strong.
Just Walk on By: Black Men and Public Spaces is a short essay told from Staples’ perspective about what it is like to be a colored man and how it affects his experience in public places:
“In that first year, my first away from my hometown, I was to become thoroughly familiar with the language of fear. At dark, shadowy intersections, I could cross in front of a car stopped at a traffic light and elicit the thunk, thunk, thunk of the driver – black, white, male, or female – hammering down the door locks. On less traveled streets after dark, I grew accustomed to but never comfortable with people crossing to the other side of the street rather than pass me. Then there were the standard unpleasantries with policemen, doormen, bouncers, cab drivers, and others whose business it is to screen out troublesome individuals before there is any nastiness.”
In just one paragraph Staples is able to convey his emotion to the reader, as well as the actions that other people were making that made him feel as though he always seemed like a threat to any other individual he was around. The descriptions that Staples puts in this essay provides the reader with imagery and a strong sense of the emotion that he was feeling. Staples does an exceptional job of providing the reader with knowledge through his description of actions and emotion.
The second text I chose to include is James Baldwin’s “A Letter To My Nephew”. The first time I came across this piece of text it was being recited by Chris Rock. I was astonished to see a piece by a man who is commonly put in comedic circumstances recite a piece of text that has so much value behind it.
“This innocent country set you down in a ghetto in which, in fact, it intended that you should perish. Let me spell out precisely what I mean by that for the heart of the matter is here and the crux of my dispute with my country. You were born where you were born and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason. The limits to your ambition were thus expected to be settled. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity and in as many ways as possible that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence. You were expected to make peace with mediocrity. Wherever you have turned, James, in your short time on this earth, you have been told where you could go and what you could do and how you could do it, where you could live and whom you could marry.”
In this excerpt, we read a part of the letter Baldwin wrote to his nephew. In the letter he shares his thoughts on what the future will look like in a country with a horrific racial history. Baldwin shares his thoughts on family, environment, and the “countrymen” that will surround his nephew in his near future. While Baldwin is reflecting and sharing his thoughts, it also seems like he is giving advice. Baldwin creates a strong and powerful piece that shows how terrible the history of America is, and shows that it will affect colored people until the end of time.
These two pieces of text may seem unconventional as we are not just reading straight facts about Black people and their culture. We have to look into the text and examine it to gain the knowledge we are looking for. I strongly recommend these pieces and urge you to read them fully and examine them to gain knowledge as well.
By Maggie Talbott-Malone
In N.K. Said's poetry collection "Loneliness and Other Vast Bodies of Water," there are 33 poems included--several of which have already been showcased and published by other literary magazines. Recently, Said reached out to Body Without Organs to showcase her poetry collection. (You can find previous pieces from Said within BWO here and here.) The first and last pieces of the collection share parallel titles, and the collection makes many references to pop culture, loneliness, and even Said's own poetry.
“N.K Said's poetry collection, 'Loneliness and Other Vast Bodies of Water,' pierces the very heart of what it means to be young, afraid, and romantic in our very big and very fast-moving world,” Maheen Shahbazi, poetry editor for Body Without Organs, said. “We are all growing up and feeling so lonely, so lost. In her chatty, witty dissections of the self, we see fragments of ourselves, rare shards of thoughts that we think we are unique in having.”
Said’s collection intrigued me, not only by the unique titles of the pieces, but also by the structure of her writing. Each poem is written in its own specific way, the structure of the pieces grabbing my attention each time they change. I was stuck on the way the analysis could change based on the way the text looks. Said goes back and forth from writing in large blocks of text to splitting the text up into lines. The collection was very well executed, and Said has created an amazing work of art that will resonate with all readers in some way.
“The poet should be extremely proud of her collection and how she has woven threads of reflection, self sabotage, desperation, suffocation and sadness tightly together, and yet the poems make the reader feel curiously lighter, recognised and understood. Great work.” Shahbazi said.
By Marriah Talbott-Malone
Over the past few months I’ve learned a lot about short stories. As a college student, I’ve come to find short story collections are more practical when it comes to reading with a busy schedule. I’ve always favored novels over short stories and novellas, but I now have a deeper respect for both. While I love the amount of time I can invest into a novel and the connections I’m able to develop with its characters, I also love the alertness of short stories. That constant feeling of being “kept on my toes.”
One type of short story I’ve been reading a lot lately is the short-short, also commonly referred to as flash fiction, micro-stories, or in some cases, prose poems. A short-short is an even shorter form of a short story with a notable theme and an average word count of about 1,500-2,000 words. In a short-short, every single word, action, and sentence means something.
I went through my personal collection of short stories and gathered together this group of short-shorts. These pieces key in on childhood innocence and youth and all that is lost and gained during this time. I couldn’t keep these stories to myself, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!
“Confirmation Names” by Mariette Lippo
This short-short follows a group of girls in the midst of choosing their patron saints. As the girls have grown older, they’ve begun to develop a deeper connection to and understanding of their religion. This piece shows how the transition into adulthood can impact one’s thoughts and opinions.
“Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros
In this piece, it’s Rachel’s 11th birthday. While at school, her teacher notifies the class about the red sweater that’s been in the closet for a month. When no one steps up to claim the sweater as their own, a fellow classmate tells the teacher that the sweater belongs to Rachel. Rachel’s reaction emphasizes the idea that parts of our youth stay with us even as we grow older.
“The Flowers” by Alice Walker
In this story, a young girl by the name of Myop is cherishing the beauty and peace of the outdoors. When strolling through the woods, she comes across a starling discovery that transforms her mindset. Walker’s story displays the loss of innocence and the awakening of reality.
“Following the Notes” by Pia Z. Ehrhardt
This short-short begins with Liddie calling her dad to help jumpstart her car after work. What her dad doesn’t know is that prior to her shift, she had sex in the backseat. Later that night, she is on the telephone with the same boy and hears a girl in the background of the call. While this goes on, Liddie’s father is struggling with the strife of his broken marriage. In this story, we see Liddie come to terms with the fact that her and her father are more alike than she’d originally thought.
“No One’s a Mystery” by Elizabeth Tallent
In “No One’s a Mystery,” an 18-year-old girl is driving down a highway with her lover on her birthday. Jack, the older man with whom she is having an affair, gifts her a diary. While she shares with him all the things she will write--including their future--Jack refuses to believe this. He tells the protagonist that she will eventually change her mind about their relationship. This story displays how one’s youth won’t last forever.
We're delighted to announce our nominees for the 2020 Pushcart Prize, chosen from all the pieces we've published in 2019. Congratulations to the lovely writers included!
"Trapped" by Nadia Farjami
"I'd Like to Think I Was in Gymnastics for a Reason" by Madison Lazenby
"The Sixth" by Grace Novarr
"Bearing" by Miranda Sun
"Carnis" by Maya Wright
"Ways to Tell Her She's Beautiful" by Katherine Xiong
By Cate Pitterle
My favorite word is sonder, an obscure term that I found through a TED Talk and that Microsoft Word tells me isn’t real. The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows describes it as: “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.”
Though the word is becoming more common, with pages on Wiktionary and even Urban Dictionary, that feeling—of realizing that others have lives “as vivid and complex as your own”—once shared a plight with dozens, hundreds of others. The English language is simply not broad enough.
Who, after all, hasn’t experienced Yaghan’s mamihlapinatapai—looking at someone, hoping they’ll offer to do what you both are unwilling to? After all, no one wants to get up from the couch, snuggled into a blanket in the dead of winter, to take the dog outside into the freezing snow; when you and your brother look at each other, both hoping the other will do it, you’re experiencing mamihlapinatapai.
And I know that I’ve personally experienced the Scottish concept of tartle—the act of hesitating while introducing someone because you’ve forgotten their name. We’ve all heard a jayus, an Indonesian concept perhaps most closely related to the dad joke, a joke so terrible that you can’t help but laugh. And even Twitter’s @SoVeryBritish has at least partially gotten in on the Inuit idea of iktsuarpok, the anticipation of waiting for someone to arrive, pushing you to sporadically go outside to see if they’re coming.
German is even famous among English-speakers for having one-word terms for obscure things. Fernweh describes longing to be somewhere else or missing somewhere you’ve never been. Kummerspeck, literally meaning “grief bacon,” means the excess weight one puts on from stress-eating during a hard time. To me, the most relatable one is perhaps fremdschämen—essentially, second-hand embarrassment, that wanting to cringe when watching someone else humiliate themselves. Honestly, it’s why I refuse to watch certain TV shows and movies, like Parks and Rec or even The Good Place.
What does all this mean, then? Is English uncreative, or are these just the cries of a writer who hates having to string together more than one word to describe “a song that’s stuck in your head” (in German, ohrwurm)?
In my mind, discovering where English comes up short—and where it specifically defines things that other languages do not—isn’t an arduous or painful task. Linguistically, it’s fascinating to see what words languages choose to define, and how. I do wish that I could use iktsuarpok in everyday conversation, but studying how it’s used in Inuit is as intellectually rewarding. Not every language can describe everything, so studying others is not only useful, but necessary. After all, we’re all human—we experience the same emotions, the same fears, the same hopes—we just have to put them into words.
By Ottavia Paluch
Kaveh Akbar is a poetic force to be reckoned with. He was one of the first contemporary poets I had constantly been reminded of when I started reading poetry—so many poets, established and emerging, were mentioning his name and saying to read his work, whether you were new to poetry or a veteran of the…sport? (Is poetry a sport?) Yet it turns out they were raving about his work for a reason, and a very good one at that. Calling a Wolf a Wolf is a heck of a poetry collection, so powerful and courageous in the way it tackles alcoholism, sobriety, addiction, language, religion, and being Iranian-American. All of this with total unbridled honesty.
The way Akbar utilizes his imagery in this collection is unmatched. It’s patient and potent and so, so his. He talks about his addiction and his alcoholism—such a harrowing period of his life—with real beauty and wisdom, and acknowledges its constant presence wherever he goes, names it, gives it a life and oxygen of its own. Consider “Desunt Nonnulla,” a poem full of creative metaphors and language, found on page 23 of the book:
I am not a slow learner I am a quick forgetter
such erasing makes one voracious if you teach me something
beautiful I will name it quickly before it floats away
True, Akbar has a lot of fascinating language in his poems, but he also writes plenty about language itself. He was born in Tehran, Iran; his native language (Persian) and the relationship he and his family members have with it after living in America for so long is complex and worth discovering in this collection. This is discussed early in the book in “Do You Speak Persian?”: “I have been so careless with the words I already have. // I don’t remember how to say home / in my first language, or lonely or light” (6). He wrestles with his lack of understanding—of his life, and also of his first language—throughout the book, but he, of course, doesn’t have any lack of language in attempting to describe it.
Akbar also uses space in unique ways. Many of the poems in this collection are spaced out somewhat unevenly and not necessarily in the usual way newcomers may expect to see lines and stanzas spread out on the page. “Drinkware Self-Report” does a lot of things with lines and words and stanzas in that regard, building what appears to be a staircase of words. Sometimes he pulls lines and stanzas apart to leave each line on its own, like in “Supplication with Rabbit Skull and Bouquet”: “there is no such thing as sorcery // the spell cast on your cup was just a heap of words” (26). He also does this in the title poem, “Calling a Wolf a Wolf (Inpatient),” a paragraph in which phrases are given breathing room via white space. Inside a rehab facility is our speaker, who in turn is inside of a jarring dream. This was one of my favourite poems in the book.
Sometimes, Akbar pulls certain words from lines and presses tab, which gives off an interesting aura, like in “What Seems Like Joy”: “I feel tasked only with my own soreness like a scab on the roof / of a mouth” (35). Yet he doesn’t experiment with word/line/stanza breaks and the tab key to intimidate you. He eases you in with the tenderness (the tenderness!) of his words, the fragility that gives them strength.
His titles are really cool, too. Several poems in this book are variations on ‘Portrait of the Alcoholic with…’ (in the liner notes, he states that those can be found in Portrait of the Alcoholic, his first chapbook, through Sibling Rivalry Press). But many of his titles are like Rick Riordan’s chapter titles, except without the demigod stuff. Consider “No is a Complete Sentence.” Or “Wake Me Up When It’s My Birthday.” Or “Despite Their Size Children are Easy to Remember They Watch You.” Like, come on. Who wouldn’t want to read those poems?
I want to highlight some of my favourite poems from Calling a Wolf a Wolf (and I say some because there were too many to name):
“Orchids Are Sprouting from the Floorboards” blew my mind a little when I first read it a while back. He’s taken this simple thing—an orchid—and turned it into something powerful and increasingly complex. This poem is simple in its structure and in its language, yet it’s also moving in the way it builds and builds and builds and then ends on this completely unexpected and crushing note.\
“Unburnable the Cold is Flooding Our Lives,” which, yes, is spelt correctly, is full of rich metaphors and figurative language that’s fresh and compelling and moving: “how many times are you allowed to lose the same beloveds / before you stop believing they’re gone” (53).
“So Often the Body Becomes a Distraction,” is a Very Good Poem that, like a lot of the collection, has cool turns of phrase and diction. It also doesn’t have any tab keys pressed, it fits on one page, and is rather relatable (at least to me): “I’m learning how much of myself / I don’t actually need. It exists, a world without / this dumb neck” (85).
And the way Akbar resists a real ending to his story so poignantly with the final poem in the collection, “Portrait of the Alcoholic Stranded on a Deserted Island”: “I hold my breath. // The boat I am building / will never be done.” (89). I found that poem a long time ago and marveled at the gorgeous simplicity of those lines for so long. I still marvel at them now,
Calling a Wolf a Wolf is Kaveh Akbar’s debut collection of poems, released in 2017 through Alice James Books. His next collection is called Pilgrim Bell, and will be out in 2021 through Graywolf. I will SO be buying that when it drops.
Unpopular Opinion: Standardized Tests on Literature May Actually Teach You Something About Literature
By Cate Pitterle
The timer reads 35:26. I am not quite halfway through the test. My pencil scribbles faster than my brain, annotating the poem before me--written in 1607, maybe it’s Shakespeare?—and I can barely read my handwriting. Once I struggle through the thick lengths of iambic pentameter, I’m slicing through questions that I can barely understand with answer choices that rarely make sense.
I get a question where the only answer choices are metonym, synecdoche, analogy, extended metaphor, assonance. I only know what two of those things are, and even then I’m just guessing on the “extended” part of extended metaphor.
I circle extended metaphor without hesitation. My eyes fly to the next question.
This one asks me to analyze the passage. I’ve never understood Shakespeare in my life; this is a test of my mettle. The poem addresses a mirror, so I assume it’s about vanity (oh, could I have been more wrong). Question after question fills my head until my ears are ringing. I stop noticing my surroundings. Everything is a blur except the black-inked words in front of me.
The next time I look up, the timer reads 05:56. I am ten questions from the end of the test. I circle answers as fast as my stubby pencil can manage, letting it fall with a clatter four seconds before the alarm sounds.
In short, my first interaction with the SAT Literature practice book did not go well.
What does a standardized test actually teach you, or even test you on? Does the SAT Subject Test in Literature, as well as other similar tests, accurately judge potential English majors on their fitness for the field?
Standardized tests, and literature-focused ones in particular—from SAT Subject Tests to AP Lang to whatever it is IB students take (sorry guys)—don’t measure your aptitude to be a writer. They don’t even measure your skill as a reader. They measure your ability to produce an answer that the test proctors want to hear.
Before we dive into that, let me get into some background.
The SAT Literature test in particular, as well as some other select literature tests, divide their questions into what I categorize as three basic types:
1. Literary terms. This is the extended metaphor question from before. They pick out a line of the passage, maybe a paragraph or stanza, and ask you to identify the main technique the author is using.
2. Basic or surface meaning. These are the questions that ask you to take a line, section, or even the entirety of a passage and explain what it’s saying. When Shakespeare says, “I have seen roses demasked,” what is he actually saying in modern English? I don’t know, but you’ll probably have to figure it out for a question like this.
3. Deeper meaning. These are the questions about theme. They tend to be the harder questions, and the more controversial ones. I’ll get into that more below.
To start, let’s analyze a (fake, but that’s okay) example.
A creative nonfiction piece talks about a little girl’s fear of a dark, inescapable void; she can’t sleep because of it, and spends every night sitting on her bed, staring at this darkness.
To you, an insomniac, the story is about a girl’s struggle with the disorder. The ambiguity of the void allows you to imagine this interpretation. In fact, your interpretation of the void as insomnia makes the story richer for you.
However, the test-makers disagree. Let’s say you get a question like this:
1. What is the main point of this passage?
a. The little girl can’t sleep.
b. The little girl is afraid of the dark.
c. The little girl lost her teddy bear.
d. The little girl’s favorite color is orange.
e. The little girl is hungry and really just wants a chocolate bar, and honestly, don’t we all?
It will definitely be better written than this, but the gist is this: You might have two or three throwaway answers, like C, D, and E, and two correct or semi-correct ones, like A and B. Both are at least partially correct, with A being the more basic, less thematically-based version. If you interpreted that void to be insomnia, though, you might go with answer choice A. However, the proctors wanted you to pick B, that she’s afraid of the dark—their version of the story.
You’d get the question wrong because you interpreted the passage differently.
Now, I’m not saying that every question will be this way; most passages won’t be as ambiguous as the example above. But the idea is still there, that you’re not learning to think for yourself as you interpret a work of literature—you’re learning to think for the test.
That brings us to the next question type, literary terms.
After my first encounter with the ink-printed monster that was the SAT Literature Diagnostic Test, I waded through endless pages of guidelines and test strategy and vocab words.
One part of the book encouraged me to minimize guessing to two questions if possible. Yet another page told me everything I’ll ever need to know about the sonnet. I learned the abab cdcd efef gg rhyme structure, which is forever burned into the back of my brain, and that the last gg couplet constitutes a heroic couplet if—and only if—it’s written in iambic pentameter.
I finally learned the difference between metonym and synecdoche.
I realized that I didn’t need to know what polysendeton was for this test, which made me a bit sad considering it was one of the few words I remembered from AP Lang.
Is all this useful information? I couldn’t help but think. When I’m writing my own stuff, will I ever need to know what the heck the word metonym means in order to actually use it?
I’ve ended up playing those questions in my head fairly often, considering I’m taking so many standardized tests as I head into senior year. I think I have an answer.
When you’re writing, you don’t need to know the term to use the technique, but knowing the term just might encourage you to use the technique deliberately.
Even if I’m wrong, metonym is pretty cool trivia knowledge.
How do surface analysis questions fall into the mix, then?
These, to me, are the most helpful question type. Since they don’t ask you to go deep into the text, they don’t encourage any sort of specific thinking model. You’re only asked to understand what the author is trying to say, and to put that meaning into different words. If Yoda says, “Do or do not, there is no try,” a question might want you to rephrase it as “You have to commit to something instead of approaching it halfheartedly.” Pretty straightforward.
There’s not much to these questions besides analyzing the actual meaning of the passage. Perhaps other question structures, such as ones that have you categorize a piece as satire or something like that, will pop up. Otherwise, these questions are pretty basic (not to say they’re not hard), and I’ve found that they can be pretty helpful. More on that below…
…as we come to the essential question. Can standardized tests actually do some good in the world? Or are they not only the bane of a student’s existence, but also a useless resource that encourages conformity rather than innovation and creativity?
The answer, as indicated in my analysis above, is complicated. In my view, standardized tests can be good for some things. From my first interaction with the SAT practice book to the day I took the test, for instance, my understanding of classical literature improved tenfold. By test day, I could generally understand a poem from the 1800s or even the 1600s after a close read or two (at least, understand it on a level that allowed me to answer most of the questions). I could even, to my surprise and joy, kind of get Shakespeare.
Maybe it was because I was finally learning obscure terms like heroic couplet or reviewing old ones like iambic pentameter. Maybe it was because, in my ever-raging fear of sonnets, I ended up reading and analyzing half a dozen of them before test day. Or maybe it was those practice tests—maybe they actually did something for my literary knowledge.
I’ll never really know.
Literature tests are the bad and the good, the best of times and the worst of times. (Though mainly the worst of times if I’m being honest, mostly because you have to, you know, take them.) They’re a tricky thing to analyze, and a trickier thing to judge.
As society continues to trend toward the standardization of classroom material and intellectual thought, though, I’m hoping test-makers won’t fall into the trap of forcing students to think a certain way and approach literature from a narrow lens. I hope we’ll learn that creativity is more important than the ability to fill in bubbles on an answer sheet.
By Ottavia Paluch
BWO’s contest for Issue Eight revolved around the theme of “Hips.” Now that the winning pieces have been unveiled, I want to talk about them!
For this contest, we prioritized work about sex, sexuality, gender, reproduction, reproductive illness, sexual violence, and other related or intersecting topics. We wanted the truth, the deeper analysis, the exploration of things like society and vulnerability and personhood. The pieces that have been chosen as winners did just that. I’m going to go through each of the winning pieces and tell you what stuck out to me.
(On a related note, I wrote a blog post similar to this one a few months back for the last contest BWO hosted, on the theme of Fingertips. Read it here, if you’re interested.)
Magdalena Kamphausen has two pieces in Issue Eight, one of which is an honourable mention. On first read, it reminded me of Walt Whitman (who just turned 200 years old!) because of its long lines. “moments and miles” flashes back to the speaker’s younger self, someone little and “foolish.” Her self-esteem is low. In classes at school, she compares herself constantly to other girls, which, of course, isn’t always the best idea, as she believes she sticks out “like a sore thumb next to the girls with visible ribs and pierced noses.” But, by the end of the poem, she wants her partner to stay, even though her hips have held so much in her life.
Maya Wright’s “Carnis” reads like a prose poem of sorts, and it begins with a great line that sets the scene in a unique, daring way: “i never go back to that vacant parking lot.” A moment in a recent relationship has traumatized her; she says if she were to go back, she’d find “two sets of hips / in the backseat of a car that now belongs to someone else.” It’s clear Wright knows what hips are saying. In her second stanza, she considers who is to blame for the ending of the relationship: The partner? The concrete of the parking lot? Then the speaker admits her shortcomings, saying she was too young, too easy to manipulate. I love the last line in the stanza, “it’s me, love, it’s me. / still (even after) /” because to me, it sounds like a revelation, a reclamation of herself and her hips, too. She’s the same person, but also taller, more sure of herself and of her past mistakes.
Danielle Amir-Lobel’s essay was the other piece that earned an honourable mention. “Coded Bodies and Hip Size” begins with a story about a disturbing encounter with a male administrator at Amir-Lobel’s school, who “determined that he had the power to rule what is acceptable coverage for a freshman girl’s body.” She makes a strong case for why dress codes shouldn’t exist, saying that they’re sexist, racially biased, and a form of victim-blaming. People have been for and against them for decades, but according to Amir-Lobel, one thing remains the same: “The code has become not about clothes but about girls’ and women’s anatomy: thighs, shoulders, chest, abdominals.” Her essay fits perfectly with the theme of the contest: hips exist for a reason; why should they restrain us, or hold us back?
Madison Lazenby won second place for her concise and crystal-clear poem, “I’d Like to Think I Was in Gymnastics for a Reason.” I love her audacity to begin the poem with “Keep it a secret for me.” It leaves the reader wanting to know more, a great literary device. She then compares the far-reaching ends of the Earth to how far she can stretch her limbs in gymnastics before her hips start “rolling out of place.” Though she may not be that physically flexible, her mind is doing plenty of exercises, and she wants to “feel and see / and understand it all before it dies.” What is “it”? Life? How to be flexible? Lazenby leaves us with more questions (and big ones at that), and her speaker starts thinking, almost out loud, to the reader. Had she been more flexible, would she have “covered more earth / and shielded just one continent from the flood[?]” I love the way Madison takes her original thought about the vastness of the Earth and relates it to the poem’s overall theme. And the image of that one sole continent—is that her saying her hips can only go so far, to just one continent, and not over the entire world? She isn’t ashamed of her vulnerabilities, and when it comes to the complex definitions of hips, this is especially significant.
Lastly, Miranda Sun received first place for her poem, “Bearing,” layered with sentimental similes and metaphors that elevate it to a sophisticated level. Among them: “sliced out of her stomach / like a fruit,” “death waits in the wings / of a vulture,” or “we stagger ape-like on the ground.” Come on. How could you get better than that? Sun begins by describing her birth, something a lot of poets have written about, and makes it new, describing her newborn self as ”flesh red and pulpy / and warm from the dark trunk.” From her second stanza onwards, she sounds almost conversational, and in doing this she tells us what hips are saying. She finds hips on the ground and up from it, says that “humanity is a line / of hips scrambling up and bearing / further hips.” That line can have many different interpretations. Does she mean our human struggle for survival? That we are trying to climb up the hill of life? The way I look at it, the speaker in Miranda’s poem may not have come from her mother’s hips, but as she grows and matures, her hips are the centerpiece of her soul, and as she grows stronger, her hips will be replaced with stronger versions of themselves until it comes time for her to walk through the “white gates” she writes of in her final line.
I want to congratulate all the winners of BWO’s Hips contest! You all have bright futures ahead of you. Reading these winning pieces, I was in awe of what you’ve created. Keep writing, and don’t ever let your hips lie.