Wit, Grit, and Experience – The Women’s Reading by Gabrielle Costanzo

On March 7th the Ventura County Poetry Project hosted their annual International Women’s Day reading, which featured inspiring performances by a talented and diverse group of women. Each woman brought their own unique experiences and poetry to the reading. All the women who read put on a powerful performance, showing just how moving and empowering poetry and women can be. I had the honor of attending this reading via zoom, and would like to share some of my thoughts and highlights of the reading.

The first woman to read was Zayan Reza. She is a talented and published poet who is also a senior in college. She is currently a lead researcher at UC Irvine Public Health Honors Program. I have to say it was so nice for me to see someone so close to my age read such an amazing poem and conduct herself with so much confidence and eloquence..She read her poem “The Field and the Berry,” in which she writes about some of her observations as a researcher regarding farm workers and agriculture. She took a moment to advocate for change and improved health accessibility that farm workers need. I felt her poem had amazing imagery with her describing a woman picking strawberries as “the juice stains her palms ruby red and trickles/ callouses hardened in the heat grasping from the vine”. The poem describes the fruit the women worked so hard to pick being brought to the city and says “fed by her hands”, which I really liked because it brought attention to how important and how much of an impact the woman in the poem has. Next time I eat a strawberry I will think of this poem, and have a deep appreciation for the person who made it possible for me to have the berry.

The next woman who read was Florence Weinberger. She is a talented poet who has authored four books. She read two powerful poems titled “Summer Jobs” and “The Power in My Mothers Arms.” The poem “The Power in My Mothers Arms” made me very emotional. She describes her mother baking with descriptive imagery, and how her mothers death “changed the alchemy of foods”. This poem made me feel sad because it showed how losing someone affects all aspects of your life, even the relationship you have with food. While parts of the poem are sad, it was also empowering at the end because Weinberger said she doesn’t look or sound like her mother, but she stands like her.

Crystal Salas read next. She is a teacher who has just completed her MFA. She read two poems, with one being called “Diagnosis.” The line that stuck out to me in Diagnosis was “Cells are impartial to strength in numbers/ I’ve always been partial to my mistakes/ I allow them to proliferate over what has gone right/ Your body has made a mistake/ and now it’s asking too many questions”, because a lot of women have the expectation to be strong, but the body doesn’t care about that expectation. I thought this line was so impactful and such a good point to make.

Joelle Hannah is a professor at Moorpark College, and a successful published author. She read a piece in honor of her late mother called “The Handkerchief.” She describes her mother’s vanity and finding her mother’s handkerchief and other things such as makeup. The line that was in between these findings really moved me, “As the medics rolled my mother away I did not say goodbye”. This line to me really painted the picture of a daughter going through her mothers vanity, remembering her through her mother’s old things, and grieving. It was a powerful poem about how she was both coping with and grieving her mother’s death. As someone who has lost a parent, I found her poem deeply touching and very relatable.

Jeannette Clough is the author of three poetry books. She was a librarian at the Getty for a time, but she was also a waitress during another earlier time. She read a poem called “Waitressing” in which she describes vivid details of waitressing. I was a hostess for a restaurant a few years ago, so her descriptions of the “250 paper napkins” and “white waitress uniform, white sturdy shoes” brought back a lot of flashbacks of that time in my life. She describes “in our territory between the customers and the cook, we tell true stories…” and then describes women she encounters as a waitress, one who was bruised and another girl who is pregnant. She does a good job describing the women’s lives from the perspective of a waitress while accurately portraying what it is like to work in food service. I really enjoyed her poem because of this.

Alicia Morris Soto is a published poet and is working on a novel. She said her poems had to do with the year 2020 and focused on motherhood. Her poem consisted of three different women’s stories regarding pregnancy and motherhood. The first woman she spoke of was a woman who was an immigrant from Lithuania, who became pregnant at forty. The line that stood out to me from this portion was how the women related to each other by unconsciously becoming what they had to in order to survive, which she said was  “non-drinking, nonsmoking, unattached, professional, childless, independent”. I was really impressed by this because in a poem about pregnancy Morris Soto was able to acknowledge how women have to adapt in order to feel safe in their environments. I also liked how she wrote about how she didn’t want kids, and how people would try to talk her out of her decision, which I think really points out how society unjustly criticizes women for making personal choices such as not wanting to have children. The portion about her niece becoming pregnant was very touching because it really showed how much she loved her niece and how she views her niece as a strong capable woman, while also acknowledging that having an unplanned pregnancy can be just as exciting as it is scary.

Lynne Thompson is the Los Angeles Poet Laureate and the author of three poetry books.  She read four short poems at the reading. My favorite one that she read was “A Confluence of Women,” in which she read “And always the sense we’ve assembled ourselves as farm maids or burdens of proof… you might suspect us ordinary… and of course you’re right”. I thought this line was really unique because it really captures a lot of the feelings I have of being a woman. I also like that she says that women are ordinary, because women are. We are half of the population, but yet we are treated as an outlier, as a minority, when in reality we are ordinary. When Thompson said “We are fearless. Like to mosy with a fret of fierce sisters, who’ve been nearly always misunderstood, or worse, understood as reclining on palinquins for others pleasures…”, it really struck a chord with me, because she describes the bond and unity that I have felt with a lot of women, and the feeling of being misunderstood as a women, or even worse, exploited. All of her poems were fabulous, but as a young woman, I was able to relate to this one and really see myself in her poetry.

Carmen Ramirez is a Supervisor of Ventura County. She read a poem about the grief that women bear when they lose someone, and how many women don’t have the luxury to take time off during those times. I loved when she compared a woman’s work to laundry when she said. “Laundry, it’s not ever done. It’s not one and done. You have to do it every week, and that’s the work we have to do to remind, especially our younger women, that women’s rights in our country were not easily accomplished” I liked how she mentioned that it is important to remind young women that achieving women’s rights wasn’t easy, and that women who fought for their rights went to jail, had their children taken away, and the rights they did have revoked. As a young woman, sometimes I get so swept up in moving forward in regards to women’s rights, I forget to look back and appreciate the women who have paved the way for my generation. I think the analogy of womens work being like laundry and that it is never done is a really important message. After you wash and dry one set of clothes, there will always be another batch of dirty clothes that need to be washed. When women achieve one right or make headway in one area, there is still more to fight for and to achieve.

The women’s reading this year was absolutely fabulous, and nothing I could’ve written here could ever give the women who read justice. I strongly encourage anyone reading this to check out the women I mentioned in this blog post today and to read some of their amazing poetry. If you missed the reading this year, this is an annual event, so be sure to mark your calendar for next year. I would like to thank the women who hosted this event, Marsha de le O and Mary Kay Rummel. They both read fabulous excerpts from the UN’s campaign for women’s rights called “Generation Equality,” and did a great job introducing us to the poets. And of course I would like to thank all of the women who read. It was truly such an empowering and amazing reading, and I can definitely say it was the best way I have ever celebrated International Women’s Day.



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