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Arts & Literature
Yellow Woman Speaks: Poems of A Woman Warrior
by Merle Woo, Radical Women Publications (ISBN 0-9725403-9)

Before I can open the cover of Yellow Woman Speaks, I am struck by Merle Woo’s photo: her eyes are directed outward to the world. Yellow Woman Speaksis Merle Woo’s poetic voice. The poems are stories, each of whichconnects its heart to the body politic of struggle, desire, andrecognition of the world as it is. She connects the personal to theworld as when she connects the breast cancer of her lover, and latterlyof herself, to the Oil spills in the Persian Gulf. “We are eight angrywomen,” she says of a meeting of breast cancer survivors.

Merle Woo names the enemies and exposes the cruelties through her ownhistory and that of those with whom she is in contact or has touched orimagined. Each poem is a window into Merle’s life and participation inthe world. She writes down history, names, places, and deeds. Shehonors the familiar in “For Dick Woo (Woo Nay)” - her father – and inthe less known but discovered in “China," dedicated to Nellie Wong. Inthis second poem Merle shows the sharp sword of her language, even asshe holds her warrior’s heart out to the reader:

Happy, contented people have no reason to leave their homeland
So ours is the legacy of the starving poor,
the persecuted and exploited peasant,
and the contempt of women.
(10)

One of my favorite poems in this collection is “Currents.” Merle walks,encounters a gem - her Chinese name – lost to oppression, and returnsto the reality of her job as an Asian American working woman – anodyssey, all in a lunch hour.

Her political declarations, given at rallies – “The Right to Choose,”“Mumia Imagines Freedom” and “On the Front Line of Freedom” – are poemsin which she both revels in the potential of human liberation and namesthe curses and causes of the lack of freedom – Capitalism, sexism,racism, homophobia and more. Merle is an exuberant comrade and sister,resolute in her collective feminist project of liberation. She isserious and, as her smile suggests, also playful as in “Jelly Beans”:

We decided that gender expressions
Like racial expressions
Were like jelly beans -
One alone is pretty enough
But one among many
Multi-flavored, multi-colored
Jelly beans
Is
Ecstasy!
(35)

Ecstasyand joy are present in her erotic love poems. This is a woman who loveslife and women. If more political activists carried such exuberance andbalance within themselves, I think the project of human liberationwould surely advance more rapidly.

The Reviewer:

MarilynBuck is an antiracist, anti-imperialist activist, feminist, poet, andartist who has been incarcerated for over 20 years as a politicalprisoner by the U.S. government, Buck is the author of Rescue the Word and winner of the 2001 PEN Prison Writing Award for Poetry.