Poet Patricia Asuncion gathers a sea of sisters

by Elizabeth Derby for C-Ville Weekly

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When writer and Charlottesville resident Patricia Asuncion took to the streets of Washington, D.C., during the 2017 Women’s March, her protest felt eerily familiar.

“When I was first divorced in the 1970s, I had no credit. I had no bank accounts. I had nothing in my name. I didn’t even have the first name Patricia. I was Mrs. John Doe,” says Asuncion. “It took me a long time to recover from that. Fifty-plus years later, things are still the same.”

She cites a study where, she says, the majority of women polled felt “they needed to have their husband’s last name in marriage as a display of love and devotion and submission,” says Asuncion. “I was flabbergasted.”

A poet and short story author whose work has appeared in the New York Times, vox poetica and elsewhere, Asuncion says, the term ‘nasty woman’ is a reclamation of her right to be here.

“I don’t care what the name is,” she says. “Call me nasty. Call me something worse than that. I am going to speak up and I’m going to insist that I have a place, and it’s on equal footing with men in the United States or anywhere else.”

With so many women running for office in 2018, Asuncion says she feels “a bit more hopeful our voice is going to count.” That hope sparked her desire to make a space for more women’s voices in Charlottesville, and it culminated in a series at The Bridge PAI, where Asuncion is a board member.

The events coincide with Women’s History Month and feature performances by an all-female improv troupe and the Charlottesville Women’s Choir, a talk with transgender activist Mia Mason and a menstruation celebration, spanning mediums as diverse as the participants themselves.

When she put out the call for participants, Asuncion heard from Courtney LeBlanc, a fellow contributor to Nasty Women Poets: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse. It sparked an idea—and LeBlanc became the first poet to headline a mid-month poetry reading, Persister Poets & Other Nasty Women.

The event’s other poets include Amelia Williams, who encapsulates her poetry in eco-friendly art installations on land threatened by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline; Cynthia Atkins, a professor and Pushcart Prize nominee who writes about mental health, among other issues; and Mary Carroll-Hackett, also a professor, whose “spin on women’s issues from a Southern poverty perspective…blew me away,” says the organizer. Asuncion will share work that includes a poetic overview of the history of the women’s movement.

Throughout her life, Asuncion has seen the written word as a tool for freedom. “I grew up in inner city Chicago, and I was the only one in my family to finish high school, let alone college,” she says. “I grew up with seven boy cousins and they were sucked into the gangs, etc., but public education was my ticket out of the city.”

Beyond writing, her passion lies with diversity. “I’ve always had a special place for street kids because I was one,” she says. And she points out, “Women’s issues are also an issue of diversity. It’s all related: poverty, second-rate, second-class citizens, immigrants.

Through events like Persister Poets, Asuncion hopes to create a sense of place for others.

“My hope for women is that they will feel safe among this sea of sisters to speak up, and to take a stand, and not take a backseat to things that are concerning them,” she says. “For the general population, I want them to hear women. What they say has importance. What they say should be listened to. And actions should be taken towards equality, once and for all.”