Poem of the Month: "Genderlect" by Donte Collins (Plus a Note About TruArtSpeaks)

“We aren’t teaching our boys to be men; we are teaching them not to be women. And what does that say about women?”

I’ve been doing weekly write-ups of certain poems on Button Poetry’s channel, but I also wanted to highlight some older poems that are personal favorites of mine, which I’ll be doing once per month here. It’s a way to shout out some good work, and also to highlight some tools and tactics that poets use that might be useful to aspiring writers.

First, I know this is an older poem from Donte, and they have a whole book of newer poems, as well as dozens of videos online. I also know that as poets, we don’t always love drawing attention to our older work, but I wanted to highlight this poem for a couple of reasons.

First, even if Donte has grown as a writer and performer since this poem, this poem still has so much to offer. Using the Happy Meal toy imagery as a very small, concrete entry-point to a much deeper exploration of how we’re socialized to internalize the gender binary is powerful. Moving from that into Disney princess imagery, into middle school bullying and sports imagery– the poem is a waterfall of examples that support the poem’s message. I’ve talked a lot about structure in this series, and this poem demonstrates the idea of a structural impulse– not a strict, formulaic set of rules, but rather an intentionality around how an argument is constructed– beautifully.

I know educators often use my poems (like this one and this one) in conversations about how masculine identities are formed and enforced, and how that so often connects to violence; I hope that Donte’s poem (as well as others from this list I put together) can be added to the arsenal for those discussions. Because poems like these weave together personal narrative and concrete examples, they can be useful entry-points, something beyond a basic powerpoint presentation or whatever.

I also share this poem, however, because this video was taken at one of TruArtSpeaks‘ Be Heard poetry slams, and I wanted to give a shout out to TruArtSpeaks and how important that work is in the current climate. We’re actually right in the middle of a campaign to raise $10k before October 15; ALL of that money goes directly into programming that ensures young people have opportunities to not only tell their stories and express themselves, but also to access high-quality mentorship and arts-educational opportunities. We run a free, all-ages open mic every week (Thursdays, 6-8pm at Golden Thyme Cafe), engage in dozens of school residencies every year, host all kinds of workshops and writing circles, organize the Be Heard series (every January-March), and more.

Donte was actually the first person this year to put up $1k for the rest of us to match. That generosity is a testament to the power of this work. Please consider joining the cypher and helping to power this work. You can donate here.