On considering the bronze bust of J. Marion Sims at the northwest corner of the South Carolina statehouse grounds, at a reading for the monument’s removal, 7 Sept 2017

This poem was written for MEND: A Poetry Marathon to advance the removal of the J. Marion Sims Monument at the S.C.Statehouse and read aloud at the monument on September 7, 2017.

 

Now   wasn’t there some good?
            – Bettina Judd, “After Memory,” Patient (2014)

“That a historical figure existed at a different time, with different norms, is not irrelevant. But it is only one consideration in the fraught and important question, as to who should loom over us on pedestals, enshrined in metal or stone.”
– Ross Andersen, The Atlantic, 6 Sept 2017

“The first surgeon of the ages in ministry to women, treating alike empress and slave.”
– from the left panel of the Sims monument, SC Statehouse                       grounds

 

Because he was not, in fact, physician to empress and slave alike; because he used the bodies of black women and poor women to launch what would become a lucrative practice among wealthy women; because he would not have been physician to an empress in a mansion if he had not first experimented on enslaved women in a shed behind his house;

Because Anarcha and Lucy and Betsy are named as enslaved women in his autobiography but are never given voice;

Because he says of Betsy that “she willingly consented”;

Because he invented 71 instruments to aid in childbirth, yes, but because he started with a pewter spoon and a cobbler’s awl; because an awl is a long spike used for piercing leather; because this monument remembers the Sims position and the Sims speculum, but it does not remember the shoemaker’s tool that he used to pry the bones of a newborn African infants’ skulls into proper alignment; because the fatality rate for those operations was 100 percent;

Because he did not use anesthesia on black women; because he was sure they could endure the pain; because they thought blacks had a higher tolerance for pain; because the pain was so great, he asked other men to hold them down;

Because he asked his students to pull the buttocks apart so that he might see better;

Because he whitewashed his woodcuts of black women’s bodies when he moved to New York, so his patrons and students there would not know that he experimented on the bodies of enslaved women;

Because this monument was erected in May 1929 by the Women’s Auxilliary of the South Carolina Medical Association; because the most popular radio show in American in 1929 was Amos ‘n’ Andy; because Martin Luther King Jr. was born four months before in Georgia;

Because the elegant cement curve of the steps of the Sims monument, and the wall broken by the bust of J. Marion Sims so ironically echo the elegant curve of the African American History Monument across the South Carolina Statehouse grounds, a wall of images broken by the historical fissure of the Emancipation Proclamation;

Because the bronze bust of J. Marion Sims, his disembodied head and chest, suggests that this is a monument to reason and affection and not to the body, the disappeared and disappearing body, the disappeared, disavowed, but not disowned bodies of enslaved women;

Because the black women’s bodies erased by this monument are described in great detail in Sims’ biography as loathsome and disgusting;

Because he tells the story with such ease, because he stopped at the store and bought a spoon and then he stopped at his office and called out to his students, “Come, boys, go to the hospital with me,” because he then asked them to lay hold of her buttocks and pull them open; because he says Betsy “willingly consented”; because a jaunty “Come, boys, go with me” is the story of the invention of the speculum;

Because he performed clitoridectomies on women, because hysteria and improper sexual behavior were pathologized as gynecological illnesses;

Because consent no longer means the consent of your owner;

Because consent no longer means the consent of your husband;

Because the elliptical arch around this disembodied head suggests a cartouche, suggests the hieroglyphic oval enclosing a royal name; because the elliptical arch around this bronze bust suggests the halo arching over an image of a saint; because it suggests the clitoris under the hood;

Because when you stand in front of the bust of J. Marion Sims, he looks down on you, on us, looks down on this mixed crowd; because when you stand in front of the bust of J. Marion Sims, he can’t quite look you in the eye;

Because getting rid of a monument is not the same thing as erasing history; because the installation of a monument is not an accurate representation of history but an elevation of a particular representation, a particular representative, a particular reduction of history;

Because we should continue to teach the history of J. Marion Sims, his 71 instruments, his bent spoon, his shoemaker’s awl; because we should teach the names of Betsy, and Lucy, and Anarcha; because we should say the names;

Because even though some say the history of J. Marion Sims may be nuanced and complex, this monument is not.

 

 

[A note on the form: I had in mind the series of “because” clauses that often structure a formal resolution. This does not end, however, with “be it resolved,” since there is not yet resolution.]

Where is Your Next Stop? Launching Poets on The Comet This Sunday, November 1!

On Sunday, November 1, One Columbia and The Comet will host the launch of our city’s first major poetry as a public art program—poems on city buses—with a rolling poetry reading on a downtown bus route followed by a celebration and reading at Tapp’s Art Center (1644 Main).

Repost from The Jasper Blog. 

Poetry on the COMET Announcement and Event

I’m pleased to announce that the poems collected for the project with The COMET have been posted up on the advertising area of the inside of the buses! Here are a few photos of some of the cards:

To celebrate this project, there will be an event titled “Poetry 101” held on November 1. A number of poets will be reading on COMET Route 101 North Main, rotating at select stops. After the rolling reading, the event will proceed at the Tapp’s Arts Center (1644 Main), where there will be light refreshments, and a poetry reading. Anyone who would like to ride along with the poets should report at the Sumter Street Transit Center (1780 Sumter) at 3:30pm. Limited seating, first come, first served.

One Columbia has also collected poems into a chapbook which will be free and available at the event on November 1 or at the One Columbia office (1219 Taylor Street).

As an added bonus, all rides on Route 101 North Main will be free to any riders all day on November 1!