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Paula Grissom, Sharan Strange, Maria Clark 

In Her Voice 

Resonant Strains (Girlhood)


Always their voices drawing her—

the syncopation of refrains

(I do declare... No! You don’t say...)

phrases drifting down to sprinkle

thirsting girlhood (What you say?)

Disdain or praise, perfect-

pitched motherwit,

their tutelage soaked up

like milk... Resonant strains

of laughter or what they sealed

into snuffed tones of pain...

All of it stashed—sacred—inside—

The strongest pull, she feels it

even now....

A cadenced code among sisters,

the savored rumor sing-songed


(Now let me tell it...)—the well deep-

plumbed, pump primed, they’d take


their time to be unguarded

(Unh, unh, I know that’s right!)

within the circle, play-ring,

their womanspace shaped

round by talk, easy or fraught,

where this daughter embraced

their crackling shouts and hummed

assents (Yes, Lord...)

enthralled by mother-tongues.

Your Response Bloomed (Adolescence)


You lived under the eaves

of that kitchen table,

didn’t you? Catching every

word, every breath...

Finding refuge in us,

as from our voices’ call

your response bloomed.

Now look at you—

no longer a child,

it’s true—though always

your mama’s baby—and

womanish... (But, hey,

we were too!)

You’ve gorged on talk

about women told to lie

in the beds they’ve made—

the joys and the sorrows

of it—and men whose

province is pain

although they’ve improvised

life as best they could.

You’ve unfolded and stood,

making choices that say

less about who shaped you

than how you’ve tuned

yourself and honed

your song—

with more yet to be.

You’re on the other

side of puberty,

running the last lap

of the race out of girlhood—

and your legs are strong!

So welcome to young womanhood!

To the “grown-up’s table”—

where there’s more room—

where we listen harder

for your thoughts,

are excited to see how smart,

how full of love and wonder,

how able is this Daughter.

Yes, the world is nightmarish!

We’ve fought it though...

watched you grow, tall, wearing

your dreams in we dare

to proud.

Hear My Voice (Womanhood)


The trees have changed again—

green to saffron to copper brown.

I am like those trees, their leaves

soon drop but their branches

staunchly stretch and sing

when strummed by winds

until they become full again

and return to sighing by spring.

Like all trees, flinging their leaves,

releasing parts of themselves

for the promise of renewal...

reckless with faith.

And I am like the table,

born of trees, enclosed

by a circle of women—

mothers and aunties whose arms

rest on its smooth plane

while their talk circulates, all

restless stir and restoration.

And I am also like the child it harbors,

enclosed by sturdy legs and

voices, their chorus

bound up in me.

Black girl still running free

inside my blackwoman self,

I’ve become the gift my ancestors

gave themselves. Framed

by their strong bodies—

my canopy of trees—

I’ve fingered trouble and sorrow,

while holding tight to joy,

sheltered like the tenderest

nest among their branches...

their counsel drawing away harm from me,

their wisdom unfolding around me,

their faith finding its level in me.

Blackwoman free and with love

bound up in my bones, now

I am those foremothers renewed,

whose leaves I gathered,

whose stories and prayers took root in me.

This Daughter of sweet clay cravings,

of houses fragrant with rice, pepper, and mint,

ringing with speech quick and salted

or slow and soothing... In the fullness

of living buoyant being, hear me

in the sighing and the praising.

In the hum of this world, hear

my voice vibrating, my own tuning

in its every sound.

Paula Grissom is a pianist and professor. She currently serves as the chair of the Music department at her alma mater, Spelman College, where she teaches courses related to women, race, and music. Dr. Grissom formerly taught piano, music history, and music theory at Winston-Salem State University, and she has been a music specialist and choral instructor in the Atlanta Public School system. She has presented her original research on race and gender in the music classroom at numerous conferences, including the National Association for Music Education. Dr. Grissom is a former winner of the Atlanta Steinway Piano Competition. In Her Voice received the Carnegie/Rockefeller Division of the Arts Priority Award.

Sharan Strange teaches writing at Spelman College. Her recent work appears in The Art Section: An Online Journal of Art and Cultural Commentary and the anthologies Furious Flower: Seeding the Future of African American Poetry and Bigger Than Bravery: Black Resilience and Reclamation in a Time of Pandemic, and is forthcoming in Wheatley at 250: Black Women Poets Re-imagine the Verse of Phillis Wheatley Peters. Her writings have also been included in gallery and museum exhibitions in New York, Boston, Atlanta, Oakland, and Seattle; and her collaborations with composers have been performed by American Modern Ensemble, The Dream Unfinished Orchestra, and International Contemporary Ensemble, among others.

Maria Clark is acclaimed for her virtuosic skills of expressive singing across the idioms of opera, oratorio, and art song, particularly for her superb vocal control while presenting a beautiful, rich, and layered voice. She has been the soloist for several high-profile events—such as the Progressive National Baptist Convention, the Toni Morrison Memorial Concert in Atlanta, and the Opera Goes to Church series on PBS. She has performed opera throughout Europe and South America and was the Oxnard Gold Medalist winner of the 2004 American Traditions Competition and a winner in the West Palm Beach Opera competition. Her recently released debut CD of African American spirituals arranged by Maria Thompson Corley, entitled Soul Sanctuary, is available for purchase on Amazon and other major online music platforms. She is a senior lecturer of Vocal Studies at Spelman College and a voice instructor at Emory University.

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