Poems by Terri Muuss

Content Warning: Sexual Assault, Gaslighting

photo courtesy of the poet

We in the Ivory Tower Boiler Room try to maintain a sense of positivity. That’s not to say we keep things light. But when we talk about something like sexual violence, we try to focus, not on the abuser or assaulter but on the survivor; on what they do to heal; on how their friends and other networks support them.

To that end we present to you two poems by poet Terri Muuss, one entitled “Poem Written while Listening to Brett Kavanaugh,” and the other entitled: “When my Rapist tried to Friend me on Facebook.” The latter is actually a video (you can also read the text here) of Muuss reciting her own work, while the former appears as black words on a white page.

These poems speak for themselves, but there is no harm in offering some ideas to keep in mind while reading/listening:

  1. We as a society spend far more time discussing what women in particular, and assault/abuse survivors in general, can do to avoid putting themselves in harm’s way; but we spend relatively less time teaching people, and particularly men, not to assault or abuse. Teaching comes in many forms. If an abuser is not punished for their actions, that teaches other would-be abusers that their criminality will likely go unpunished, too.
  2. If you are not yourself a survivor of abuse or assault, it can be difficult to achieve a good mindset in which to empathize with the speaker of these two poems. Allow yourself to feel uncomfortable; allow yourself to experience, through poetry, feelings for which you have no direct analog.
  3. It’s also useful to remember that there are even levels of privilege among survivors. This statement is not meant to diminish the travails of more privileged people who have survived sexual abuse or sexual assault. Straight white women who are subjected to abuse or assault in these ways are more likely to receive support than queer people, BIPoC, men, trans or genderqueer people, and disabled people who have survived assault or abuse. Part of the problem is a dearth of empathy. People want to believe that bad news of any sort could not happen to them, so if a survivor of abuse or assault has any weakness in their character or in their story (and who among us does not?) or is merely unattractive and thus not a proper damsel in distress, or especially if the offender is powerful and connected, these are seen as excuses for why what happened to them could never happen to the observer or anyone dear to them. These rationalizations are not based in rationality, and it is our duty as survivors or allies to fight them. The appeal of poetry, likewise, is not based in rationality and so it can be one of our greatest tools.

Again. Thank you for reading and watching.

Poem Written while Listening to Brett Kavanaugh

When my Rapist Tried to Friend me on Facebook

For more poems by Muuss, as well as a short biography, click here.

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