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Translating Hate

03/23/2012 10:18 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016
  • Christopher Hennessy Poet and author, 'Our Deep Gossip: Conversations With Gay Writers on Poetry and Desire,' 'Love-in-Idleness' and 'Outside the Lines: Talking With Contemporary Gay Poets'

From Republican presidential candidates to radio "entertainers" to rap stars, the discourse this country churns out is a buffet of hateful language. It seems no group gets out unscathed. And we blithely accept it. How is that working out for you?

About a week ago I came across a trending topic on Twitter that was so hate-filled I couldn't just let it pass this time. The topic had started out as messages people were tweeting to their future children -- tweets as time capsules ("#ToMyUnbornChild"). Of course, something positive quickly mutated, for some, into something horrific. (Why are we so good at that?) In a span of 24 hours, about a hundred tweets took the "#ToMyUnbornChild" message and turned into anti-gay vitriol so heinous I couldn't stomach it. Let me be clear what I'm talking about by giving an example:

"#ToMyUnbornChild if you so much as think about being a homosexual I'll put a bullet in your damn skull."

People were messaging their future children dire warnings: "Grow up gay and I'll kill you." Not a message of hope or love, but of murderous rage against their own (albeit imaginary) children. Here's the website where you can view them all in their unmitigated venom. And here's a Huffington Post article that notes the 20 most disturbing, accrording to one editor. Here you have would-be parents sending a message to a community of young people that have experienced a shockingly high number of suicides in recent years. These young people feel so lost they've taken their lives rather than face another day at school, another day at home, another day, period. Do we really believe these kids don't absorb the hate they hear? Do we really believe it doesn't have a role in their misery, is part of what leads them down such a dark path? Knowing many of them experience horrific bullying on a daily basis, for how long are we going to kid ourselves into believing messages like these don't hurt, too?

I became determined to take back these words of hate. I had seen it done before. A website called Godlovespoetry.com had given me a great example. Their mission: "Challenging the Westboro Baptist Church one blackout poem at a time." A blackout poem is a poem that takes an original text and blacks out certain words to create a new text, much like a sculptor might chip away the stone they don't need or want. In the case of Godlovespoetry.com, the artists take the hateful messages, signs, and press releases from the infamous Westboro Chruch (their most famous is "God Hates Fags") and turn the haters' language against them, creating messages of affirmation.

It's what I had in mind when I opened up a Word document and began cutting and pasting words (i.e., kill, rope, etc.) from the tweets to create poems. Unlike a blackout poem, however, I surrounded these words of hate with language of beauty and sound and texture and mystery and song. I titled the poems that resulted with the Twitter identity of the person whose tweet I used. This was my way of taking back the language. A few examples are below.

I want to suggest that this can be a powerful mode of resistance. Write your own blackouts or collages, or find new ways of "taking back" the language of hate. And post them on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, subway cars, anywhere, with the hashtag "#Translatinghate." And there must be more examples of sites like Godlovespoetry.com out there! Post them in the comments.

Here are the poems I discovered while working with the "#ToMyUnbornChild" tweets.

@kp225br

What you bet:
the cut rope
you now knot---
the sign
you hang
on the door--

like a paisley tie,
a flag for the cause
of uninterrupted
being, of un-
disturbed Love.

@_SNRS

You swear I can take a taste.
That it's finally our turn at night.

The bloodless preparation. Face
it, the thunderclap always strikes
as your lifting fork to mouth.
Let the spoon and knife
clatter as we kill
the last bottle and feast
on the coming storm.
Verb: to rage
or complain
with violence
or fury. As in, to storm
the jail so that you who
hate may be loved.

@Cant_C_Me

The scare of erasure.
The straight lick of razor.

The puff-shaped drums.
A sugar gums the guns.

Your sleeping head in my lap.
The damp of cold cream all that's left.

@HeartbreakHicks

If you're a boy every time I see you,
I'll disown this crown of claims.

If you're a girl every time I see you,
I'll disclaim this candle of balm.

If you're you every time I see you,
I'll let go this brink of blame.

@KidCodie_

You so much rose hips
You so much pollen
The dammed honey
The skull of a hive
Each comb a bullet
Hole, each you home.

Christopher Hennessy is the author of the debut book of poems Love-In-Idleness. He blogs at areyououtsidethelines.wordpress.com.

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