[if your complexion is a mess] // Harryette Mullen

Everything about Harryette Mullen’s [if your complexion is a mess] adds layers to its meaning, from its imagery to abstractions to choice of rhyme. It is playful with language when its topic is anything but. Mullen created a masterwork redefining beauty and reforming language.


I was first introduced to this poem through Sharpened Visions: A Poetry Workshop, available on Coursera. It was immediately a favorite. I loved the language, rich as butter, and the way it rolled off my lips. I loved the picture it painted, of a woman, or women, or men, doubting their beauty because the world wasn’t created in their image, and the speaker’s thought-out response.


I want to analyze the rhyme here, since Sharpened Visions analyzes the rest well. Instead of a structured pattern, here the rhyme is all over the place. It starts with a couplet, then the next stanza doesn’t rhyme, and then the next is almost alternating. It’s like Mullen’s observations on beauty extend to poetry — poems of different forms are equally valid and good.


I rhyme in couplets myself, a crutch I’m trying not to rely on, and Mullen’s poem serves as a reminder I can strive forward.



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