When life gives you unacceptable statements from men accused of sexual harassment, make art. At least, that’s the approach poet Isobel O’Hare took when responses from Louis C.K., Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Piven and other alleged sexual predators started trending.
What O’Hare saw in the statements—and what was missing from them—troubled her.
“I see men seeking empathy and pity and making grand statements that they will change as individuals, as if any of that matters to the people whose lives and careers they have already destroyed. I also see men pretending that, before they were called out and forced to admit what they did, they weren’t actively seeking to suppress the voices of their victims, some of whom have been speaking out and trying to be heard for years,” she says. “Nothing in any of these statements addresses that particular fact.”
So O’Hare decided to take matters into her own hands, literally. The New Mexico-based writer printed out the statements and put black marker to paper, erasing problematic sentence after problematic sentence until nothing but a powerful poem remained.
“Seeing myself and others become increasingly triggered and overwhelmed by daily reports of yet another powerful man abusing someone vulnerable, I needed to do something with my angst, or my ‘lifetime of pent-up rage’ as I referred to it on Facebook, and erasure poetry has always been a powerful outlet for me,” says O’Hare.
The result is as simple as it is moving, and has earned O’Hare the attention of everyone from media outlets to actress Rose McGowan, who is one of the multiple women who has accused Weinstein of rape. Through this format, O’Hare (IG: @isobelohare) changed Weinstein’s statement about “coming of age in the 60s and 70s,” talking about his journey, quoting Jay Z and talking about his financial support of female directors to simply read: “I want a second chance / I have goals.”
Spacey’s statement—where he claimed he didn’t remember drunkenly assaulting Star Trek: Discovery’s Anthony Rapp, but also used it as an opportunity to share that he “chooses now to live as a gay man”—became: “There are stories about me / that have been fuelled by / my own behaviour.”
O’Hare did multiple versions of Louis C.K.’s statement—which acknowledged that the allegations against him were true, but did not outright apologize for his actions—including, “my dick / wielded power irresponsibly” and “my dick is a / professional.” *Mic drop*
O’Hare herself is a survivor, and often references her own experience by including the hashtag #MeToo. In her most recent post, a redacted version of musician Jesse Lacey’s response to allegations of sexual misconduct with minors, O’Hare got candid in the caption. “This one was difficult for me because the context of his abuse is close to home (he targeted underage girls but makes no mention of that in his statement, instead framing this as an issue of marital infidelity and sex addiction),” she wrote. “I did three iterations of this before settling on this one, and the first one has droplets of my own blood on it because I was biting my thumb so hard while blacking it out).”
While these poems are not easy for O’Hare to create, she says that in a way, they are a form of healing. “And I’ve received so much feedback from other people that these pieces have been healing for them as well, which is an unexpected joy,” she says.
O’Hare has also created erasure poems out of the responses from Richard Dreyfuss and Jeremy Piven. And, with more survivors coming forward each day, and new statements being posted from those accused, she plans to continue turning poorly worded responses into poetry.
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