Poem A Day Prompt: A Celebration of Self Adulation

International Women’s Day at Saigon Outcast, 2015

I was at a party on Saturday and was introduced by my boyfriend Pete to a woman called Mel. The conversation went something like this:

Pete: Emily, this is Mel. She’s doing a PhD in Psychology! Mel, this is my girlfriend Emily. She’s starting a PhD in October too.

Emily: Oh, well, it’s not a proper PhD like yours… it’s in Creative Writing!

Mel: Oh, please, I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing most of the time and I’m probably not even going to finish it!!

I immediately realised how ridiculous the scene was: two apparently intelligent, hard working women, lucky enough to live in a place and time where their access to education allows them to pursue not just degrees but doctorates … both clamouring to let the other one know how rubbish they were. It wasn’t the first time I’d done it and sweeping generalisation alert: it’s something I see a lot more in women than men. I’ve introduced my boyfriend to plenty of people as ‘studying to be a doctor’ and not once has he said anything along the lines of ‘yeah but I’m shit at it’ or ‘not a proper doctor, I’ll probably fail and kill someone!’ He just smiles and nods. The whole thing reminds me of this Amy Schumer sketch (NSFW warning: it’s a bit sweary):

In my experience, women – myself included – are often quick to undermine compliments or indications of their achievements. Why? For fear of seeming arrogant or conceited? Resisting arrogance has it’s place, sure. But permanently undermining yourself (not just conversationally, but by not putting yourself forward for promotions or assuming yourself incapable of physical, traditionally masculine activities) seems to me not only potentially damaging but also wasteful. Western women living in the 21st Century have more of a voice, more freedom and more opportunity than at any other point in recorded history. That’s not something I want to stifle by selling myself short, for fear of seeming conceited.

With that in mind, today’s poem is a confessional poem of self love. Below is a beautiful poem by Maya Angelou on the same theme. Maya had it harder than me, and she still acted like she had diamonds at the meeting of her thighs, so I think I will too.

Emily x

Self-Love: A Confession

Every day
my inner voice
narrates the story
of my life in
firework fragments
of imagined reactions
to the devastation
my storybook eyes
are wreaking
or to the universe
blooming between
my thighs and
effusions of the
yearning to be
near to me as
I am near to me
and of the longing
to climb in here
and to find out
what’s inside.
The impulse exists
to share my
amazement to
startle you
with honesty
to win your respect
by using my outer
voice to tell
you all of this
so you can
my sincerity
while shaking
your inner head
and willing me to
get over myself
and be more humble
because you know
I’ve got the casting
wrong and maybe
I’d be better off
knowing that in
your inner world
I’m a bit part.
God knows
I’d do the same
for you.
But your script’s
not worth reading
in fact nothing
ever is or ever
will be worth
so much as
being ever
loved like this.


Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou - Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

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