I Say: Speaking Agency in Sonia Sanchez’s “Song No. 2”

[By Cindy Lyles]

The idea of agency encompasses one’s ability to enact power, to choose, and to navigate psychological and literal borders. In Sonia Sanchez’s poetry, this concept is prevalent, especially in the vivid imagery of mobility. Readers see various speakers in her different poems traveling from one place to another. In her poem “Song No. 2,” the poet uses distinct speech acts a form of agency. 

“Song No. 2” is a rallying cry to the world but is especially directed to “all you young girls.” The speaker instructs her cultural sisters with a list of imperatives to abide by in order to be liberated in society. With “don’t let them trap you with their coke/don’t let them treat you like one fat joke/don’t let them bleed you till you broke/don’t let them blind you in masculine smoke,” the speaker motivates young women to break free from debilitating social, financial, and gendered constraints imposed upon them. Additionally, the “I say” refrain prefaces each group the speaker addresses. “i say. All you young girls waiting to live/i say. All you girls taking yo pill/i say. All you sisters…” Both these stated elements are crucial in the present discussion.

The “I say” can easily be simplified as just a short, catchy refrain, but it, in addition to the “don’t let them…” commands, holds significance in discourse on agency. Both phrases demonstrate the speaker enacting power through speech acts, a power shown by choosing to speak up and share things with a younger generation of females. The act of owning her statements with the “I say” and the implied “I say” preceding each “don’t let them” exerts authority, self-control, and command. Such are fundamental components of agency. 

This examination illustrates how the definition of agency can extend to include speech acts. Sanchez’s poem gives readers a different way to view agency in poetry. Aside from the lesson it teaches, “Song No. 2” would even perhaps inspire readers to speak up and out, thus becoming agents in their own respects.     
Cindy Lyles is a poet, graduate student in literature, and program coordinator for Black Studies @ SIUE. In addition to producing verse, she writes about black women and urban space, African American poetry, and her hometown East St. Louis. This past summer, Cindy participated in a Sonia Sanchez Seminar sponsored by the Furious Flower Poetry Center at James Madison.