Overcoming any type of struggle in life, whether it be internal or external, is worthy of admiration. Women in particular have an extensive history of societal struggle and oppression. Even today, although they have made much progress, women continue to push for equal rights in their own communities and around the world. Their resilience and bravery in things as simple as embracing daily life inspired me to center my final project around the poem "Beautiful Creatures Brief as These" by Doug Jones. This fifteen line free verse poem serves as a powerful representation and humble appreciation of women's journey toward achieving equality and having their voices heard.
Katie Butler, 30, RCMP Officer
I began the creative process by selecting this poem from our course text and thoroughly examining it. What first attracted me to Beautiful Creatures Brief as These was the title of the poem. I found the use of the word “brief” in the title to be interesting, as it can be defined as “of short duration, quickly passing away or ending” (OED). I think the use of this word combined with the title as a whole points out the initial disrespect women were granted in society. As the title suggests, the majority of the attention that women received was initially short winded and often focused on their physical characteristics. Even referring to women as “creatures” is dehumanizing them, which devalues them as human beings in comparison to men. On the other hand, I discovered that this poem provides an impressive amount of double meaning, which works well in contrasting societies prior views of women with their evolving views and continually growing respect for women. Going back to the word, “brief” in the title I discovered that it can also be defined as “a writing issued by official or legal authority” (OED). This definition could suggest that the poem itself is a piece of writing issued in support of women. Taking into consideration both meanings of the word, I think the use of the word “brief” in the title of the poem is brilliant. It’s almost as if the theme and main idea of the poem are hidden and contained within the title alone. In addition, learning that the author of this poem identified as a male and lived for eighty seven years throughout the main period of societies shifting perspective towards women was also significant. Thus, Jones is able to provide an outsider's perspective of women in society. This works well in showing that even men recognized the unjust treatment of women.
Hannah MacLellan, 19, Paralympic Athlete
The poem is formatted into three five line groupings, which is fairly pleasing to the eye at first glance. However, as I delve into the content of the poem I realize that the format may reflect how society also appears deceivingly ordinary on the surface level. It’s not until we look deeper into the poem that the issues become apparent.
The first section of this poem compares girls to butterflies. The image that initially comes to mind is a fragile looking, brightly coloured butterfly drifting through the air. Unfairly, we often make the assumption that because creatures are “pretty” that they are without depth, strength, or endurance. However, the butterflies, just like women, can overcome and soar through much more than society credits them for. The word choice in the second line of the poem brings me directly to ideas of long development and gradual rebirth as it reads, “From long cocoons of summer”. In addition, the mention of summer provides the aspect of heat that one would imagine when thinking of a long struggle and exhausting battle. Further, it also brings about visions of the bright warming sun, which I interpret as referring to a hopeful future. In the fourth and fifth lines of the poem, Jones uses the words, “swarm” and “litter” to describe the actions of women which leaves the first section of the poem resting on a negative tone. The word “swarm” seems to imply that women are invading places that they don’t rightfully belong, which is foolish, when considering Jones is writing about being at school and on the sidewalks. I suppose this is almost ironic in reminding readers that women didn’t always have the right to education or to pursue anything other than house work.
Jenelle and Venessa French, 2015, Newly Married
Moving into the second section of the poem, Jones emphasizes the physical characteristics of women as he writes of how they look “slight” in their clothes. I think that the seventh line of the poem may hold somewhat of a sexual reference as it refers to women and to “their dresses looser than the Sulphur’s wings”. Through research I discovered that a “Sulphur” is an abbreviation for a species of butterfly. In particular, this type of male butterfly is known to patrol around rapidly in search of receptive females. Meanwhile, females of this species lay eggs on nearby leaves or flour buds, and are extremely cooperative by means of reproduction (Ramlochan). As a whole, the second section of this poem mainly describes women as weak, fragile, and insignificant. It also highlights that even if women did possess the potential to do amazing things that they wouldn’t be able to bear the weight of both the mental and physical pressures that come along with recognition and achievement. In addition, the idea of women being overly submissive and “loose” toward their male counterparts is extremely degrading.
Carmen Grinton, 24, Medical Student
Lines eleven through fifteen of the poem provide a more noticeable shift in attitude towards women as the poem resolves by concluding on a strong and hopeful note. Despite all of the doubt, discouragement, and lack of respect in the first two sections of the poem, the third section persists confidently and fearlessly. I noticed immediately that the lines eleven through fourteen begin with the word “And”, which I think provides a comforting reassurance that women are only going to continue to grow and flourish in society. Lines eleven and twelve of the poem describe women “crying into the morning air” and hanging “from railings upside down”. These statements are powerful as they portray women expressing how they feel, refusing to conform, and opposing against the stereotypes that attempt to limit them. The closing lines of the poem show how women are thoroughly embracing life, cherishing and exhibiting kindness, and how without hesitation they are claiming what is rightfully theres to claim in this world.
This poem inspired me in various ways, even more so because I am a woman living in a continually progressive society. I, like many others, often take my rights and freedom for granted. However, I think the world still has a long way to go in achieving true equality for both sexes and I’m proud to be apart of a generation that can work towards making that happen. Following the reading of this poem I decided to do some research on femininity to learn more about societal assumptions, and the standards to which many women conform. I came across an article titled "Foucault, Femininity, and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power" by Sandra Lee Bartky, and I found it to be particularly interesting, informative, and accurate. She discusses the lengths that women in our society go to in order to conform to beauty ideals, and the shame they feel when they continually fail to achieve perfection. As Bartky states,“The disciplinary project of femininity is a “set-up”: it requires such radical and extensive measures of bodily transformation that virtually every woman who gives herself to it is destined in some degree to fail" (Bartky 100). This quote along with the entire article lead me to my first idea for a creative project, which was to create a photo stream showcasing women in my personal life who inspire me because they are their authentic selves and don’t go out of their way to conform to societal standards or to please others. My goal in doing this was to show a diverse range of women, both in appearance and in personal interests, who are valuable members of society. However, the message I really wanted to get across was that women shouldn’t have to accomplish something amazing to be deserving or worthy of respect. All human beings should be respected simply for existing. In the world we live in today, simply existing is challenging enough without the added pressures of conformity and labels that are particularly harsh for women.
Rory Starkman, 23, LGBTQ+ Rights Advocate
I also decided I wanted to try to incorporate a more personal element into my project by connecting my gradual self discovery and coming to terms with being a lesbian, to the gradual rising power of women in society. When I first came out as gay I felt like less of a woman and like there was something wrong with me. I wanted to look deeper into why I felt that way and by reading "Gender Treachery: Homophobia, Masculinity, and Threatened Identities" by Patrick D. Hopkins I was able to gain some insight into my own thought process. I think that Hopkins concept of “gender treachery” is very interesting and seems accurate : “A gender traitor can be thought of as anyone who violates the “rules” of gender identity/gender performance, i.e, someone who rejects or appears to reject the criteria by which the genders are differentiated" (Hopkins 344). If this is the case, then I qualify as a gender traitor due to the fact that women are supposed to be attracted to men and I am not? The good thing is that if society created binary categories, it means that society also possesses the ability to revise these categories. I think it would be ideal to eliminate categories and labelling of human beings all together. Societal vision should be in colour, not in black and white, after all it is 2017.
Kelly Clements, 17, High Performance Female Hockey Player
With Hopkins’ article in mind I decided I was going to transform an ordinary photo of myself into an edited photo progression in aim of symbolizing my own self discovery and growing appreciation for who I really am. I wrote a series of three poems to accompany the photos which I think connects well with the idea of shifting perspectives in "Beautiful Creatures Brief as These". I want the poetry to speak for itself, but I would like to point out that all of these poems combined only took me about an hour to write. I think this is because I’m so passionate and in tune with the subject matter. I have grown so much from the experience of coming out, just as women in society have grown by fighting for respect. What does it mean to be a woman anyways? I think that each female should be able to define that for themselves, and that there should be no standards; no pink ribboned lining. Through my coming out I have learned that only I can define who I am, and that I can present myself in any way that I feel or choose. I almost feel as though I have become rebellious in the sense that I refuse to sit back and conform to standards that I don’t feel accurately represent who I am. I have gained a broader perspective of humanity, the world, and life in general through my own self discovery. Now, I am much more open minded and accepting of other people around me, and have gained a non judgmental perspective lens through which I view the world. My ultimate dream is to someday live in a place in which “coming out” doesn’t have to exist because awareness and education have transformed this world into one that thoroughly understands humanity, and above all, understands love.
Leah Jordan, 21, Musician
It’s amazing how much inspiration and how many creative ideas can come from reading and reflecting on one poem. I have acquired a much greater sense of knowledge and appreciation for Canadian poets through enrollment in this course. Through this project in particular I have gained confidence in expressing myself publicly both as a writer and as a person. I am sure that women will continue to positively impact the world and that the acceptance of diversity will only grow greater with time.
Bartky, Sandra Lee. Focault, Femininity, and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
Geddes, Gary, ed. 70 Canadian Poets. 5th ed. Ontario : Oxford U Press, 2014. Print.
Hopkins, Patrick D. Race, Gender, and Sexuality - Philosophical Issues of Identity and Justice. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2003. Print.
Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press, 2017. Web.
Ramlochan, Chantal. "Phoebis Sennae (Cloudless Sulphur Butterfly)." The Online Guide to the Animals of Trinidad and Tobago . N.p., 2015. Web.
Jorja Carpenter, 5, "Ninja"