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.