For the ancient Greeks, a poet was a maker. At its very root, the word poet meant someone who made, created, and authored through the act of writing. For centuries, at moments highly charged by political and social change, poets have walked what many have alleged to be a line between art and politics. One such period of change was the abolition eras spanning the second half of the nineteenth century. With slavery and women’s rights at the forefront of national and transnational debate, men and women alike wrestled for political influence, social freedoms, and economic opportunity.
Women, however, were often also called on to be symbols of certain ideas and ideals: the idea(l) of a nation, the idea(l) of racial “purity,” the idea(l) of moral clarity, and so on. To wear these hats, women were often either politely asked or legally required to be silent co-conspirators of a predominantly male public imagination.
But this is not a book about the sins of patriarchy. Nor is it a rallying cry for a brand of feminist revisionism. Instead, I want to take us back to language itself at one of its most concentrated forms: the poetic line. Between the Lines is a rigorous exercise in the reading of poetic texts in an effort to call attention to (and to call to attention) a group of voices whose individual and collective sound—produced by the clanging together of words against the rhetorical walls of racial slavery, abolition, and nationalism in the Western Hemisphere—called for a reinterpretation of history. At once within and between the boundary lines written for them, these writers used language poetically to recompose history and imagine new possibilities for their individual and collective lives. By engaging memory poetically they were the makers of new histories.