Erasures of ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ & ‘Lift Every Voice’
By Mary Massaquoi
These pieces are erasures of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the national black anthem.
My mentor gave me prompts to erase both of them, side by side, after noticing the differences between them. The words I kept in “The Star-Spangled Banner” are a depiction of the United States right now, and the words in “Lift Every Voice” are words of hope. Erasures were foreign to me—I didn’t know anything about the form before Girls Write Now, and I found joy in trying out a new genre.
O OH, SAY CAN YOU SEE BY THE DAWN’S EARLY LIGHT WHAT SO PROUDLY WE HAILED AT THE TWILIGHT’S LAST GLEAMING? WHOSE BROAD STRIPES AND BRIGHT STARS THROUGH THE PERILOUS FIGHT, O’ER THE RAMPARTS WE WATCHED WERE SO GALLANTLY STREAMING?
AND THE ROCKET’S RED GLARE, THE BOMBS BURSTING IN AIR, GAVE PROOF THROUGH THE NIGHT THAT OUR FLAG WAS STILL THERE. OH, SAY DOES THAT STAR-SPANGLED BANNER YET WAVE O’ER THE LAND OF THE FREE AND THE HOME OF THE BRAVE?
ON THE SHORE, DIMLY SEEN
THROUGH THE MISTS OF THE DEEP,
WHERE THE FOE’S HAUGHTY HOST IN DREAD SILENCE REPOSES, WHAT IS THAT WHICH THE BREEZE,
O’ER THE TOWERING STEEP, AS IT FITFULLY BLOWS,
HALF CONCEALS, HALF DISCLOSES? NOW IT CATCHES THE GLEAM OF THE MORNING‘S FIRST BEAM, IN FULL GLORY REFLECTED NOW SHINES IN THE STREAM: ‘TIS THE STAR-SPANGLED BANNER! OH LONG MAY IT WAVE O’ER THE LAND OF THE FREE AND THE HOME OF THE BRAVE!
AND WHERE IS THAT BAND WHO SO VAUNTINGLY SWORE THAT THE HAVOC OF WAR AND THE BATTLE’S CONFUSION, A HOME AND A COUNTRY SHOULD LEAVE US NO MORE! THEIR BLOOD HAS WASHED OUT THEIR FOUL FOOTSTEPS’ POLLUTION. NO REFUGE COULD SAVE THE HIRELING AND SLAVE FROM THE TERROR OF FLIGHT, OR THE GLOOM OF THE GRAVE: AND THE STAR-SPANGLED BANNER IN TRIUMPH DOTH WAVE O’ER THE LAND OF THE FREE AND THE HOME OF THE BRAVE!
OH! THUS BE IT EVER, WHEN FREEMEN SHALL STAND BETWEEN THEIR LOVED HOME AND THE WAR’S DESOLATION! BLEST WITH VICTORY AND PEACE, MAY THE HEAV’N RESCUED LAND PRAISE THE POWER THAT HATH MADE AND PRESERVED US A NATION. THEN CONQUER WE MUST, WHEN OUR CAUSE IT IS JUST, AND THIS BE OUR MOTTO: “IN GOD IS OUR TRUST.” AND THE STAR-SPANGLED BANNER IN TRIUMPH SHALL WAVE O’ER THE LAND OF THE FREE AND THE HOME OF THE BRAVE!
LIFT EVERY VOICE AND SING
TILL EARTH AND HEAVEN RING
RING WITH THE HARMONIES OF LIBERTY
LET OUR REJOICING RISE
HIGH AS THE LISTENING SKIES,
LET IT RESOUND LOUD AS THE ROLLING SEA
SING A SONG FULL OF FAITH THAT THE DARK PAST HAS TAUGHT US
SING A SONG FULL OF THE HOPE THAT THE PRESENT HAS BROUGHT US
FACING THE RISING SUN OF OUR NEW DAY BEGUN
LET US MARCH ON TILL VICTORY IS WON.
STONY THE ROAD WE TROD
BITTER THE CHASTENING ROD
FELT IN THE DAYS THAT HOPE UNBORN HAD DIED
YET WITH A STEADY BEAT
HAVE NOT OUR WEARY FEET
COME TO THE PLACE ON WHICH OUR FATHERS SIGHED?
WE HAVE COME OVER A WAY THAT WITH TEARS HAS BEEN WATERED
WE HAVE COME, TREADING OUR PATH THROUGH THE BLOOD OF THE SLAUGHTERED
OUT FROM THE GLOOMY PAST,
TILL NOW WE STAND AT LAST
WHERE THE WHITE GLEAM OF OUR STAR IS CAST.
This project was inspired by a writing prompt. I used Canva and learned more graphic design skills, but also built on my poetry craft skills. One of the challenges with erasures is using words that were already written and having to find my own voice within theirs. After completing the project, I felt empowered and was encouraged to try more erasures.
Meet the Pair
MENTEE MARY MASSAQUOI & MENTOR ARRIEL VINSON
Mary’s Anecdote: When I was accepted to Girls Write Now I remember thinking to myself, I would like someone to look up to. I wanted someone to admire. Meeting my mentor proved to fulfill my wishes. Every week we met I became more grateful for this program because of my mentor and the opportunities it held. We also shared our achievements and experiences with each other. One thing that brought us close, among many, was a poetry slam she invited me to. It was our first meeting that wasn’t formal. We met at this beautiful art institution. The event combined both of the things we loved: music and writing. From that day I realized we were extremely similar, though we were in two different places in life.
Arriel’s Anecdote: My mentee and I are so alike it’s almost scary. I was worried that my mentee and I would be vastly different, but we have so many of the same interests. One of my favorite parts about our sessions is that we can talk about music and TV shows and movies, some that I’ve never heard of and some that she’s never heard of. But we always listen to each other. One of the most fun parts, though, is reading the work of black women together. Somehow, there’s a lineage being created. We read black women poets and authors who have unfortunately passed away, or we read poets/ authors who are further than we are, and then we read each other’s work. That’s where we take our place in history. We learn from the women before us, and write in their tradition.
Mary Massaquoi is a class of 2020 Girls Write Now mentee based in Staten Island, NY.