A Few Poems on Reproductive Justice

a photo of some soil and a plant + the text "poetry playlist: reproductive justice"

(Updated 6/28/22)

It isn’t always time for poetry. When the Speaker of the House reads a poem on the day the Supreme Court overturns Roe, it makes me ashamed to be a poet. But only for a moment. As always, poetry is not “the work,” but it can support, and inform, and impact the work.

The actual work, of course, is organizing, and finding ways to support the people who are organizing. In this moment, that means supporting abortion funds, getting plugged in to existing reproductive justice networks, and following their leadership.

The poems collected here (listed below, also in playlist form) are potential doorways into dialogue, tools for people doing the everyday work of narrative-shifting. Telling our stories and speaking out about the issues we care about isn’t everything we need to do, but it is still part of the puzzle.

I make a lot of issue-based lists of poems on this site, and as always, the caveat is that lists are always imperfect and incomplete, based on my own experience/networks, NOT any kind of definitive or authoritative collection. My hope is that these poems can be starting points for further exploration:

Finally, these aren’t poems, but if there’s anyone for whom this is a new issue, or you’d just like to learn more, or get involved, a few links:

This post was originally the announcement for my new (at the time) poem. I just wanted to edit it so the list was at the top, and my poem here. Here’s a video, the full text, and some thoughts on the process:

As I often do with new poems, I wanted to share a few notes on process, and then some poems by other writers that tackle the topic in different ways.

A Few Notes on Process
This is a poem about a specific issue, but it’s also a poem that is exploring a couple different impulses:

  • I’m really interested in how we, as artists and writers, respond to fascism. I’ve written about this before, but I think ONE thing to think about is the importance of saying something, even when that something isn’t perfect or revelatory or magical. This isn’t a perfect poem, haha. It isn’t the most creative thing I’ve written. But it was important to me to stand up on a stage and say it, as soon as I had the opportunity. The poem might continue to get revised and people might catch a new draft at some point, but to me, the timeliness was more important than the timelessness.
  • The poem is also the product of a lot of conversations I’ve had with activists, organizers and advocates who work on issues related to gender, feminism, and reproductive justice. The refrain is always “men (especially cis men) need to speak up more.” That can seem super obvious, but it can be easy to forget when you’re “in” that world; for me, I’m around powerful voices who speak out on these issues all the time- that’s just my community. So I’ve often felt a pull to step back- which CAN be a healthy impulse! It can also, however, sometimes be an excuse to not do any work. It’s like, yes, it’s messed up that “men talking about being pro-choice” is still seen as bold or interesting- but that’s not an excuse not to do it.
  • I’m also really interested in multi-vocal responses, how no one poem has to be “definitive.” Multiple poems can present different angles of an argument, different POVs, etc. There are some examples below, but this framework has helped me as a writer: a poem doesn’t have to be all things to all people. A poem doesn’t have to be the conversation; it can be one piece of a much larger conversation (and different pieces may be able to do different “work” for different audiences, in different contexts). That realization, for me, has been freeing.

I don’t have a lot of faith in the power of poems to changes minds, especially about issues like abortion rights. That being said, poems can do so many other things. They can open up spaces for dialogue, they can provide useful frameworks or metaphors for understanding, they can contribute in ways both large and small to the ongoing push-and-pull of how the larger culture frames and understands complex issues, and they can plant seeds (while watering other seeds that have already been planted!)

Thank you! Please feel free to share. Full transcript:

“PRO-LIFE?” by Guante
And the counterprotestor shouts at me: “what if your mother had decided to abort YOU?” He’s wearing a bright green t-shirt that just says “pro-life,” no link or organization or anything, just “PRO-LIFE.” And in a split second, my brain cycles through all of the possible ways I could reply to him.

I could say… “why is it that the loudest ‘pro-life’ voices, are also, always, the loudest anti-social safety net, anti-access to childcare, anti-access to contraception, anti-living wage, anti-environment, anti-peace, anti-democracy, anti-gun control, anti-sex ed, anti-education in general, anti-healthcare voices?”

I could mention that the US is currently at the lowest rate of abortion since Roe v. Wade, the continuation of a 30-year downward trend primarily due to increased access to effective and affordable birth control. I could say, if you really believe abortion is murder, you would be on the front lines supporting comprehensive sex ed, universal healthcare, and yeah, planned parenthood too: the programs, services, and initiatives that reduce abortion rates more than outlawing it ever could.

I could also, however, talk about how the “pro-life” movement has never actually been about life; it has always been about control. It has always been about enforcing an extreme view of family, sexuality, and authority, and punishing women (and anyone who can get pregnant) for daring to think differently. It has always been about cynically using people’s deeply-held beliefs as a way to get-out-the-vote to keep the most immoral, manipulative, hypocritical politicians we have in power.

I could respond with any variation on one or more of those points… And would any of them change his mind?

How loud do you have to be, to put out a house fire with just your voice? How well-constructed must your argument be, to convince the ocean not to take your drowning friend? Do we preach to the choir because it’s easy, or do we preach to the choir because they’re the people who might actually do something?

The counterprotestor asks: “what if your mother had decided to abort YOU?” He’s not actually concerned with my metaphysical well-being. He doesn’t care about my young, scared, single mother. He’s trying to tell a story. So my response, is also a story. It’s just not a story for him.

Someday, we are going to live in a world that truly values life. Where people have not just the choice to have or not have children, but the right to raise them in a community with all the resources and opportunities and freedom and justice and joy they could ever need. Talk about “life” all you want, but I know who’s fighting for that world.

And I know who isn’t.