the foundations of oppression can't be plucked up without the anger of a multitude

Poem for National Poetry Day 2017: Whom Do We Thank for Women’s Conferences? – Ama Ata Aidoo, 1992

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Whom Do We Thank for Women’s Conferences?
Ama Ata Aidoo, Dangaroo Press 1992

Ama Ata Aidoo is a Ghanaian poet, the “first published African woman dramatist”, a title she gained for her Dilemmas of a Ghost play that she wrote as an astonishingly mature 21 year old. This poem comes from her collection ‘An Angry Letter in January’, published 30 years after that play was written.ama-ata-aidoo-2



in this truly
no man’s land,

all is fair as understood not in terms of
Penelope’s false blondness but
that which is right and healthy.

we throw
our big
hairy legs and
bottoms that make any Levis cry for air.

Hairy too are the faces
we acknowledge
– some were born that way – or
as signs of:
the pills we took in,
the wombs we threw out, and


ancient graces walk elegantly tall or
charmingly petite
in celebration pinks and royal indigos…
as though the earth itself was
newly found
the air a discovery.

We were not afraid of ideas.
Not our own.
Not those of others.

Along those corridors and
in those easy days’ assemblies,
apologizing for our being was
not on.

We were
Nobody’s wives or mistresses.

No one called us
and when some daughters present did,
it was with the clearest mandate that
they picked the fight where we brought it.

We were
only ourselves:
each alone as when we were born, and
shall be, when
we died.

living and together,
a true power thing that

And as always
sweetly hopeful as
only women can be.


I love Aidoo’s style, its conversational wit and intellect, her ability to eschew the overly ‘poetic’ sounding or academic, writing free verse while still with a good ear for cadence and rhythm. This poem, from the ‘Women’s Conferences and Other Wonders’ section of the collection, is, like many of her others, in the oral tradition of praise-poetry. She is a poet with a sense of public duty to record events, praise people and respond to public moments.

She starts in the ‘no man’s land’ (get it?) of real feminine “hairy” faces and shapes that don’t fit the standard sizes of manufactured clothing. The women there wear the “signs of” women’s work and the work of the medical industry. “Yet”, she writes in a one-word stanza, they are in the “ancient” excitement of finding something “new”, proud individuals not belonging or fixed in relation to anyone else (wives, mistresses, mothers), but also collectively “living and together”.

It is this dialectic of seeming opposites that turns the “newly found” “earth itself”. The night and day of “searches / researches”, “solving / resolving” that at these women’s conferences leaves them no one to thank but themselves.

Incidently, I like the Penelope idea. Mythologised as a symbol of being ‘true’- by which is meant ‘faithful’ to her husband, Odysseus, while he travels back from Troy, killing and shagging wherever he goes, Peneleope here is “fair” only as a ‘false blondness’. The standard of beauty and truth is a Western thing, and so “fair” needs to be detached from its racial connotations and returned to a more important meaning of “that which is right and healthy”. Ironically, in the Odyssey, ‘faithful’ Penelope is only ‘true’ by her (enforced) falseness, keeping her suitors at bay with a dissembling story about having to finish some weaving before she can consider their proposals. Notably, Aidoo writes “we were/ Nobody’s wives or mistresses”, with an untypically capitalised ‘N’, perhaps a reference to Odysseus himself who told the Cyclops, before he blinded him, that his name was ‘Nobody’. With this cunning scheme, Odysessus gets away with Polyphemus’s enucleation when the Cyclops wakes his other one-eyed giant mates to tell them that “Nobody” blinded him. Here, the women’s husbands (should they have them) have become ‘Nobody’ “in this truly / no man’s land”.

Written by angrysampoetry

September 28, 2017 at 11:13 am

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