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Ansel Elkins

Autobiography of Eve

About this Poem 

“In the summer of 2012, while following the trial of the band Pussy Riot, reading the plays of Mae West, and watching pre-Code movies filled with unrepressed seductresses like Marlene Dietrich and Clara Bow, I began writing ‘Autobiography of Eve,’ an ode to sex, desire, rebellion, and so-called fallen women. But the poem, draft after draft, eluded me until last July when, as I worked on it feverishly in a New York hotel, it occurred to me that the moment I was writing toward was not Mae West’s, it was Eve’s. I dismantled the poem and recast the lines dozens of different ways, playing with varieties of syntax and sound in an effort to locate the pulse of this pivotal moment between good girl and bad girl—a moment like Eve’s soliloquy in Book 9 of Paradise Lost as she stands before the tree of knowledge and speaks the word freedom for the first time—the moment where desire becomes transgression. I realized that Eve’s radical act of rebellion lay in her imagination, a fantasy of herself.”
Ansel Elkins

Autobiography of Eve

Ansel Elkins

Wearing nothing but snakeskin
boots, I blazed a footpath, the first
radical road out of that old kingdom
toward a new unknown.
When I came to those great flaming gates
of burning gold,
I stood alone in terror at the threshold
between Paradise and Earth.
There I heard a mysterious echo:
my own voice
singing to me from across the forbidden
side. I shook awake—
at once alive in a blaze of green fire.

Let it be known: I did not fall from grace.

I leapt
to freedom.

Copyright © 2015 by Ansel Elkins. Used with permission of the author.

Copyright © 2015 by Ansel Elkins. Used with permission of the author.

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Toi Derricotte speaking with Claudia Rankine and Juan Felipe Herrera backstage. Poets Forum, New York City, 2014
collection

Women Poets in History

A collection of essays and ephemera about several women poets whose lives and work have influenced American poetry.

poem

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.
Maya Angelou
1978