Saturday, September 13, 2008

Some Notes on Where We Stand: Women Poets on Literary Tradition

I just finished reading Where We Stand: Women Poets on Literary Tradition, edited by Sharon Bryan. There are many passages that struck me, a few of which I will share below. But first, I do want to briefly mention that to me, as not only a female poet but also a mother, it was important to see the essays from a mother-poet's point of view. Those poets who are also mothers are the ones I am looking to for inspiration and the kick in the mom-jeans I need whenever I start thinking "Oh sure, it's easy to write when you only have to answer to yourself". We can't all be Edna St. Vincent Millays or Sylvia Plaths or Emily Dickensons. We don't all have the ability to shut the world out whenever we want to commune with our muse.

Here are some quotes from the book that I found most notable:

Brenda Hillman: I am also interested in what is stylistically experimental in women's writing: fragmentation, hesitations, interruption, secret singing, the nonlinear--what is at the edge (the inner edge) of our voices since Sappho. The trick is to discover how far out on the branch you can go and still "make sense." I love many of the nonrepresentational language experiments, though some of the poets regard "making sense" as suspect. Most often I find myself called to a poetry that says a thing strangely, and that has a thing to say. I am drawn to risk in poetry, but only if it is accompanied by resonant emotional content. Which is a way of saying, we have to use our hearts and our heads.

Judith Kitchen: I admit that I feel (subtly) some pressure to be especially aware of the work of women and other minorities. I also admit that I may be hard on the work of women--if the images feel familiar (and they do, they do), then I want the writer to go beyond the fact of her femininity. I want to see the world through her eyes, not through some programmatic prescription. Such writing limits its possibilities in advance.

Alicia Ostriker: Many feminist poets and critics today are separatists, believing that the language and literature we have inherited are so intractably masculine that women must withdraw into a women's culture in order to create freely and truly. For me this can never be the path. Too many male artists have inspired me by their attempts to be as fully human as they could--I cannot surrender my love of them, even if they failed. Doesn't everybody fail? Don't I fail too?

Pattiann Rogers: I worked six years, before our first son was born, to put my husband through graduate school. I did this because I chose to. I wanted to have children. Children were a goal for me, never a side issue, and I wanted to stay home with them and raise them myself. I made that decision. My husband had to be able to provide for us. I wanted him to feel satisfied and challenged by the work he was going to have to do for the next forty years. I don't regret any of these decisions.

more Pattiann Rogers: If, through caring for my children, I lost writing time, I gained by the expansion of vision and insight and compassion my experiences with them gave me. I've never regarded my children as burdens or a hindrance to my writing, separate or alien from it. They are a boon to me. Even in those difficult, demanding years of their babyhood, there was an exhilaration, an energy, a delight, an affirmation present in our house that I haven't experienced since. The writing I was able to do in those years is suffused with the energy my children radiated. I'll always be grateful to them for sharing with me their driving curiousity and love of life, for letting me see the world anew through their eyes.

and even more Pattiann Rogers: When the act of writing becomes enamored of itself, puffed up and arrogant, existing for its own sake alone, it ceases to be sustaining, perceptive, or fine. Writing must serve the concerns of "love and honor and pity and compassion and sacrifice," as Faulkner put it. What can be the value of a literature that is created at the expense and neglect of others?

Deborah Tall: I learn: always carry a notebook, never move a sleeping child, always be ready at a moment's notice to sit down and write, for twenty or forty-five minutes, or a blessed two hours. No standing on ceremony anymore. No prima donna demands for a window with a view and perfect quiet. And then bearing interruption after interruption.


Greg said...

This is a really interesting and thought provoking post, Bernie! Obviously, as a man, I'm a bit on the outside looking in, but my girlfriend, Naomi Thiers (who I think you may have met) is a fine poet and a single mother and we have discussed this topic, plus she has written about it (very well). I've alerted her to this. Thank you! said...

I liked what Rogers had to say. Good post!