Auld Lang Syne

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Poetry and visual art

Today is sunny and cool, but will get hot later. I welcome the nice weather, feel the call to the beach. No beach for me today though. I am driving to Portland to take my eldest daughter to a bus/train to head off to University of VA where she will do some scholarly work at Monticello. She's wonderful at this history thing, a real treasure to her students. Kudos to her for the grants she is working under this summer (this is her second). Last summer she had a grant to retrace a portion of the Underground Railway. Amazing.

It is 7 AM here and my hubby just headed off to golf, daughter still snoozing. For me, poetry is on my mind. Poetry and visual art. Last night was Art Walk/Open Gallery Night in Rockland. I look forward to these Fridays, the chance to stroll Main Street and see what others do with their hands, how their own visions or demons create art. Looking at paintings, sculptures, etc gets my engine revving. I find myself making notes (thanks to iPhone I can do this without a notebook!) for poems I want to write. No exception last night. I've got a few ideas buzzing.

So what about ekphrastic writing? I'm surely not the first poet to mine ideas or become inspired via someone else's art. Look at W.H. Auden's famous poem, Musée des Beaux Arts, after Breughel's Landscape with the Fall of Icarus. In the poem, Auden comments on what he sees (literally) and adds his interpretation. He is stirred enough by the painting that he has something to share about it that goes beyond mere description. He begins the poem with a judgement call about art:

About suffering they were never wrong,/The Old Masters: how well they understood/ its human position; how it takes place/While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along

Opening the poem this way defies mere art critique and gets the reader in immediately. We are challenged to read onward to find out more. This is what poetry does anyway, but when it connects to visual art, we can make so much more of both the visual and the written. Auden's whole first stanza is the set piece to the second wherein he makes his point about the human position via Breughel's painting. He gets right to it: In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away. Then ends with the dramatic, but understated: ... the expensive delicate ship that must have seen/ Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,/ Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

Throughout the poem, Auden fills in details of the painting, without simply admitting "these are the things I see." He upholds his position of qualifying and quantifying suffering. He shows the details by using the various images in Breughel's painting in his poem as details to underscore his "take" on anonymous ignorance.

When I write to art (love doing this), I try to emulate Auden and others on whose strong poetic shoulders I stand. I do not want to simply describe, to give my readers the experience I had when encountering the art. I want to demonstrate the emotional impact the art had on me and put on paper the human connections that occurred to me at the gut level. My poem, The Artist Has Laid Down His Brush and is Done, is an example of what I mean. On the day of Andrew Wyeth's death (my birthday!) I went to sign the condolence book at the Farnsworth Art Museum here in Rockland. I sat before a painting of his that I had never seen before (or that I had not noticed deeply before) and got that prickle on the nape of my neck that tells me something profound is happening. I took out my trusty notebook and began to compose a poem. The words rang in my head like a funeral bell. I could FEEL the suffering his widow must have been feeling. I knew at a gut level the emptiness she was living at that moment, the long days ahead with his absence. It was not enough to recreate the painting in words. I had to recreate the emptiness, the quiet, the stillness of his brushes gone to dry forever.

The same scenes are never to be the same again without his careful eye
The conch will go silent, the chair unmoved and dusty.
Somehow a shaft of sudden sun slanting the floor won't be
the same kind of light he saw. Even the dog will not snore the same.

To be clear, there is no dog in the painting. But when I felt the emptiness of the chair, the conch, I could extrapolate, pull details of grief into the poem. This is the beauty of poetry. This is the beauty of connection that poetry affords both writer and reader.

When I write to art, I allow myself to be captivated by image. I then try to go deep into imaginary worlds where those images tell me a story that I may or may not find in the visual art I have experienced. If possible I avoid looking at the title the artist has given his/her work. I like to go in clean when I begin. More often than not, and surprising me for sure, the title is fairly close to the place I inhabit in the poem. A little chilling sometimes actually, but thrilling along with chilling.

So today's advice/challenge:

Find a piece of visual art and sit with it, look at it. Take as long as you like until you are stirred by it. Then make copious notes. Then write. You will NOT be disappointed.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Leaping and Tweaking

I love to take leaps. If this body were in better shape I might take them physically. OK, so I'm not THAT athletic, never have been. A good reason to be a sports FAN, not a participant. LOL

What I mean by leaps is leaping in poetry. I used to think (high school era) that poems needed wrapping up at the end. They needed to land on their own two feet. I tucked the edges in like hospital corners and felt satisfied. Not so much anymore. I am quite sure I will never end at an end or tuck in the edges again, not on purpose anyway. I enjoy leaving the reader a little mystery, a trail of breadcrumbs to follow off into the forest, a question or head scratch. Why indeed should the reader get left out of the process, the denouement? I recommend a couple books that helped me to stop putting a nail in every poem:  Robert Bly's Leaping Poetry and Richard Hugo's The Triggering Town. Bly's book was out of print for a while and I had to track down a used copy. It is now back and available (with a new cover...I admit that I like the old yellow one better as it is easy to find in my PILE of books, my SHELVES of books). What Bly is saying in his book (briefly) is that we poets take mental leaps all the time and then proceed to tie our poems up with bows as if we were wrapping for Christmas and that this is not really a gift to our readers. He suggests that those head leaps are exactly what make poetry so wonderful, so appealing to the inner reader. I'd have to agree.

It is not that we ought to be vague in our poetry, not at all. That kind of thinking led to a generation of people who avoided poetry as "too hard" to understand. No, we want our readers to "get" our poems, to feel there is a connection between the poems and their lives, a shared human experience. But we do want readers to have some ideas added or enhanced by nuances in our writing. We don't want to deny them the opportunity to grow as readers, to have the "aha moment" we had while writing.

For me, when writing along on a new poem, there comes a moment when I get an idea for a line or a stanza that seems to jet in from some other part of my brain. Maybe it is a word or phrase, or maybe it is something that my brain has dug up from another time or another experience. I am often shocked by this. I wonder "where did THAT come from and what am I to do now that it is here?" Am I being distracted? Should I jot it down to explore later?  I often do that. But as I continue to work on the poem at hand, the idea might keep poking in. It is at this time I must pay attention. I do not believe much in coincidence. So I need to explore and include, to give the intruder its due. What's the worst that could happen? I could end up jettisoning the thing and going back to my original plan for the poem. No harm in checking out the possibilities. So I leap. Mostly I am happier once I have done this. Mostly the poem benefits from my leap. Mostly I sit back at the end and smile a satisfied smile. If I read the thing aloud and get the prickle on the back of my neck, I know the leap might just have worked. If I don't get the prickle, maybe I need to go back and tweak other parts of the poem to make sure the leap was not just a wild move to veer off in another direction. Bad. Whiplash for readers is BAD.  It is a matter of letting go and being free enough to take and make connections. The great thing about writing, unlike doing a watercolor painting (something I used to do) is that there is revision. You can take a leap and connect seemingly disparate elements, and then undo, redo, move, tweak until you get it the way you want it to read. Or the way the poem wants itself to read.

Hugo makes a good point (several) in his book about leaping. He says in essence that the thing you think you're writing may not be the thing you are writing. In other words (my bad analogy here) the poem is the bullet, not the trigger. When I read Hugo's little gem of a book, I felt immediate relief. For a long time, I had the notion that when I was writing "about" something, it was not really "about" that at all, or at least it was obliquely about something deeper, more interesting than the thing that made me want to write. If I was writing about a summer camp haircut, was I REALLY just painting a Rockwell-type scene? Or was there something else lurking below the surface of the images I was using? COULD there be something else. What ripples from the stone thrown into the pond did I want to follow? With leaping or oblique writing, there is no limit to which ripple one might choose to follow.

This reminds me to stop a moment and digress a bit to talk about first stanza boo-boos. I know for a fact that many poets write first stanzas as a way to get INto the poem they really want to write. They may be doing it totally unconsciously. I see these ploddy beginnings all the time in submitted work, in the work of my poet friends, in my own poems. Sometimes one or more of the first stanzas are the poet(s) wandering around inside his/her/their head(s) figuring out what is up with a topic and what there is to think about that. But do we need to haul our readers INSIDE our heads and make them help us figure it out? I don't think so. As a reader, I do NOT want the writer to tell me what to think or consider. I want the writer to put it on the page and let me decide. Call it stubborn independence if you will. I just want to do it myself. LOL

We writers all have to start somewhere and start we do. But I ask: are we married to the first bits or can we see them as the triggers, and go ahead and chop them off or remarkably alter them later when we get to revision? Yes. We can and should look hard at a first stanza (or line) and see if the poem needs that "set-up." Oftentimes, a first stanza presents an opportunity to take a leap, to move rapidly beyond the impetus for the poem to the actual poem itself. One of these first may indeed be the trigger, not the bullet. One way to determine the need for a first stanza or line  is to change it around to end the poem. See something strange happen here. You could suddenly discover the new ending is reductive and lands the poem with a big dull thud. If this is the case, toss it out entirely and see what you have with the next stanza as the first. Hmmmm. Interesting.

I've decided not to quote from Bly or Hugo here (I had planned to, but changed my mind) because I want you to read these wonderfully helpful tiny texts on your own (adverb, two adjectives...yikes!). But I will say that I am not to be without either of them. I need to be reminded to be willing to shake up my writing every day by taking leaps and looking at my triggers. I do NOT want to end up writing the same poem over and over. I want to become a new poet as often as possible. Don't you?

Thursday, June 30, 2011

First Person Writing, or Veiled First Person

I heard from my alma mater today via Facebook that poet and visiting writer Claudia Emerson read last night at College Hall (Vermont College MFA in Writing summer residency), commenting that her collection, Late Wife, was not written in the first person because the material was too painful. The question was asked (on FB) if any of us take that approach, veiling the first person for protective reasons. I did not have to think about that at all. The answer is a resounding yes. But I am thinking about the "why" of it, asking myself what my motives are when I change the "I" to "she" and whether that actually does obscure the first person for readers. Not such a clear yes or no here.

I do know that in many cases I have veiled the first person, including in a recent (unpublished at the moment) poem, Spousal Particular. For this poem, the subject matter is so dark and so challenging that I did not want to burden it with first person, thus making the reader so involved in sympathy that the poem loses its effectiveness as a crafted work. I did not change the approach because I think first person poetry is too personal and thus not inclusive of the universal reader. I changed it to protect the poem's own integrity. There has been a trend in recent times to eliminate the "I" and make the poem not so self-conscious, so self-effacing, or so exclusive. Bah to that. I believe that a well-written first person poem can stand on its own, does not have to be homogenized for the sake of SEEMING less confessional. However, when it comes to sensitive material, there often is a dilemma. How much should one expose? The sky's the limit there I believe. It is, for me, a matter of HOW to expose sensitive material. If I write a poem about maternal cruelty for example, most readers will assume I am either writing about my mother or myself. I may or may not be doing that at all. That judgement is out of my control entirely. I cannot give out disclaimers or add footnotes to poems in order to protect my mother or me. I know it is going to happen that readers will judge the poem's etiology. What I can do is to veil the first person by using third person, or by creating a persona (a pseudonym) for the speaker of the poem. As long as the person of the poem has an authentic voice and a deep involvement in the narrative, that ought to suffice. When I do author talks, I do make some kind of statement about the person of poems. I try to educate readers to see beyond their own need to identify with the poet. Works? Sometimes. Not always. This is because readers WANT to be involved with the poems and the poet. OK, fair enough.

Understand that sometimes a poet will also veil names of characters in poems to protect those people who are dear  and still living. Often those poems that might offend are withheld from submitting for the same reason, sent out after the demise of the character in question. But the fact is that when we write narrative poetry there are PEOPLE in our poems. Those real people will see themselves and react. It is true also that other people will THINK they are in the poems and react. Oftentimes a person is a minor character in a poem that is about so much more than her or him, and the reaction will happen there too. A good example is a poem in my first book Daughter of the Ardennes Forest, a verse memoir about my father's WWII experience and his resultant PTSD. In the collection is a poem, We Blame Our Dysfunction on Hitler. My sister is mentioned early in the poem as an anchor to the greater idea of not blaming our dad for his outbreaks of anger or depression. She read the poem and got very defensive. She was pretty mad at me for talking about her smoking and mentioning she went to counseling. Oh dear. My brother-in-law told her, "It's not ABOUT you," and she read the poem again and discovered the real thrust of the poem: Dad. I thought long and hard about the poem and using her as part of the narrative. Could I have somehow omitted her? I decided that I had to write it exactly as I did write it. I am satisfied that I did the job of telling that part of Dad's story in a truthful and sensitive way. And was I throwing my father under the bus by telling of his suffering and the suffering he caused as a result? No, I don't believe so. I wrote the poems to absolve and forgive him.

It's a fact that people are going to look at narrative poetry in a certain light, through their own experiences of the poems. Some will be able to filter out the personal or filter in the personal as the poet intends. Some simply will go to a place of connection that does not exist for the poet. One cannot fix or help this. It is important to keep writing, keep telling the stories and exposing truths.

I add the Hitler poem here so you can judge for yourselves if my sister ought to have been annoyed.

We Blame Our Dysfunction on Hitler

My sister chain smokes, blames
our parents
for her unhappy childhood.

I marry the wrong man,
a military man who cheats on me,
beats down my self-esteem,
says he hates me, and blames me
for getting myself pregnant.

Back in the hospital,
trying to smoke out her depression,
my sister coughs up
a new idea
suggested by Dr. Whoever:
"Blame your dysfunction on Hitler."

Well, you can stop smoking, Diane.
I've gotten my life back,
and Hitler is rotting in the grave.
We can blame him and forgive
Daddy for using the gun belt
to spank us, for sending us to bed
without supper
like the nights in the POW camp
when he went to bed without a crust
of black bread in his belly.

We can blame hitler
for our dysfunction
and take Daddy off the hook
for some parts of childhood
we'd just as soon forget.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Poets Work for Food (read "for free")

Have you been to a poetry reading lately? Have you attended an author talk or panel? It is a most pleasant thing really to go and listen to someone read aloud. Maybe we do this as a connection to childhood, to being read to by our parents or grandparents or a kindly babysitter. At any rate, we love to be read to. I admit I am a sucker for a reading. I love to sit there and let the words wash over me, to admire the turn of a phrase, the way the poet has put together images to make meaning, to tell a story. It is inspiring for me as a writer to listen to how another poet gets a message across. I leave a reading wanting to write better or more. I also leave readings with at least one book (unless I already have the book and then I will have brought my copy to be signed). I make it a point to step up and speak to the author, to tell him/her what EXACTLY I like about the work that was read. I want to support other writers. I know what it takes to make books happen. I know the hours of solitude and sweat over getting a poem just so, to make meaning that will say something important or fresh. I empathize with every late night at the keyboard, every meal missed to stay the course for the sake of the writing. I am there with my fellow writers at the mailbox when the rejection notes arrive, or when the acceptances show up (love the fat acceptance envelopes that say "we love you").

But here's the thing: have you bought books from the poets you've heard read?

It is a little frustrating to bring a stack of books along to a reading and have many people stop by the signing table to say how much they admire the writing but not buy a book. (By the way, thanks to the woman at a recent panel discussion and reading who bought one and had me sign it). We poets hear comments like "oh I love your poems, they are so well-written and mean a lot to me personally." This is often followed by "where can I get a copy?" or "are you in a bookstore?" or "can I get it online?" or "is it in the library?"  Now these folks are standing right next to the stack of books you've hauled from the trunk of your car, arranged neatly, and right next to the sign that announces the price. Yet they are asking. I say, "of course you can get a copy right here and I'd love to sign it for you." The normal response is "oh that's okay, I didn't bring my checkbook" or "oh I'll just get it online later." The other comment (request) is "Can you email me a copy of that poem you read about the dog so I can send it to my sister whose dog had to be put down? It would mean so much to her." I'm starting to think I should print out copies of the poems I'm going to read aloud and have them there for $1 at the signing table. At least there would be SOMETHING to take home other than the leftover cookies and the box of books. You laugh, but I am thinking of doing this, really I am.

Of course poets write to make art that will mean something to others, to get the creative work "out there" for people to enjoy. But you must remember that poets are not hobbyists. This making of art is a profession. Many of us have gone to school to learn or hone our craft. Graduate school was not cheap, not free. Would you go to your job every day if there was to be no paycheck? Does your doctor treat you for free because he is good at making people healthier? Can you get daycare for your children for free just because the babysitter loves children?

So how is it that most people at readings don't support the writing, the writers, by purchasing copies for themselves or to give to others?  I go to readings PREPARED to buy at least one book. I have the usual $15 at the ready. I will buy a copy for someone else even if I already have one myself (which I bring to get signed). In this way I do support my colleagues. I would hate to see that person who has worked so hard to create art lug her books back to her car, knowing she sold not even one book. I don't want that on my conscience. And there is the other part to the buying for me: I love reading the poems later and love having my very own copy of someone's book, someone I have met, talked to, heard read. When I read the poems later, I can hear the actual voice of the poet in my head. A joy to say the least.

On the larger scale, not financially supporting poets and poetry has led to a culture of avoidance by bookstores and publishers. I just got my copy of the latest Poets & Writers magazine which features four agents who are supposedly making a huge difference for writing/reading. Well, great. I mean it, GREAT for the writers whose books are being distributed and sold, read and enjoyed. But have you heard of a poet with an agent, other than someone wildly famous? Do you know a poet who has someone promoting and distributing his/her work for sale to bookstores? Agents typically do not take on poets as clients. This is because they cannot make big money from poetry. There is a financial bottom line. There is no financial upside for agents with poet clients. The husband of a poet friend once told us that we needed to put away the poetry long enough to become commercially successful writers. His solution "write smut novels."  He has a point. But really? Do I need to take a break from myself to do something just to survive? I am not a "smut novelist."

Poets are admired for their words, their attention to detail, their ability to show the world its truth. But because they are poets, there is the expectation that they ought to do this for free. Poets are supposed to be altruists. Should painters or sculptors give away their art? Have you been to an art exhibit where paintings are there for the taking? Oh sure, there are art galleries where you can go, look at the art, leave empty-handed. But we know that someone is indeed purchasing the art that has been created. Go to an art auction and hear the frantic bidding, people vying for the art they admire. What about poetry? Why should it be relegated to the freebie shelf?

It is also true that getting one's poems accepted by journals and anthologies is not at all a lucrative effort. Normal compensation for poets is a contributor's copy, two if the publisher is really generous. I treasure these copies and enjoy reading the work of others alongside my own. I spend time finding the poets I admire and then BUY a book or two if I find they have books. I follow their blogs, email them my admiration. I hope they feel good when they hear from me. I hope they are pleasantly surprised when amazon makes a direct deposit into their accounts for my book purchase.

You should know that journals and anthologies are SOLD to the reading public, The publisher gets money for them. Without the poems and stories and articles IN these publications, there would be NO publications. But the poets are expected to be grateful that the publisher has put their work out there to be read (of course we are grateful) and to not expect payment for their creative efforts (with some exceptions, and thanks to those). I had a horrible experience with a journal last year, The Goose River Anthology to name names. I had submitted poems and received an acceptance for publication. I knew I was not getting a check for my effort, but looked forward to getting my one copy when the anthology went to press. WRONG. I got a notice saying I could purchase a copy or copies at an "author discount."  Please understand that this anthology was not being given away to the reading public. It was most definitely for sale to the reading public. The publisher was going to get compensated for her efforts to gather the written material together between covers. Understand too that everyone who had submitted had paid a "reading fee" which was to offset the cost of printing the anthology. This is normal, no one thinks these things get printed for free. But the people who CREATED the work inside were not getting compensated, not even getting a copy to have for themselves. I called the publisher. I asked where was my contributor's copy. She said (BIG LESSON HERE) I should re-read the fine print. She was right. There were no contributors' copies for anyone. I could buy copies and should do so, because I would earn a royalty for every copy I bought or others bought because I was "in" the anthology. They'd have to mention my name of course when they ordered or no royalty for me. I think it was a whopping ten cents per copy royalty. Because I keep copies of all publications featuring my work, I did order a copy. I got my ten cents in the form of ten cents off my purchase price. I'd frankly rather have had the dime. It's the principle of the thing. Lesson learned. I check carefully before I submit to see what if anything I will receive for my creative efforts. I will never give my work away totally for free again to someone who will profit from that work. No I will only give it away mostly for free and be grateful to see my work in print. Journals don't even give out cookies.

OK, I sound a little bitter here. I don't mean to sound that way. It's just that from time to time the frustration bubbles to the surface. Poets work HARD to create ART, to make something lasting. We labor long over getting just the right words in just the right combinations. We WORK, just like any other artists. We want our creativity to be appreciated. We are happy that people come to our readings, our book launches, our panels and discussions. We love to be in the presence of people who read and enjoy poetry. We love the goodies on the snack table at readings  (though mostly we bring the goodies ourselves). We love it all. But we'd enjoy seeing a few books go home with people. It's sad to pack up the books and haul them back to the car.

So next time you go to a reading, please buy one book. Buy it and donate it to a school if you aren't going to put it on your bedside table or on your coffee table or next to your chair. Buy one book as a present and wrap it nicely and put it in the mail to a friend. Bring a plant to the next reading or a cutting from your favorite perennial and give it to the poet. At least she will have something to take home other than her box of books.

Enough now. Time to get to work on the line-up of poems for my next reading. Oh and there's that smut novel I should be working on. Sure to be a best seller! LOL

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

"Domestic" Writing

I just read (again) To My Dear and Loving Husband by Anne Bradstreet. 12 lines of praise for her spouse, written in heroic couplets. I quote it herein:

To My Dear and Loving Husband

If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee;
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me, ye women, if you can.
I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold,
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that rivers cannot quench,
Nor aught but love from thee give recompense.
Thy love is such I can no way repay,
The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.
The while we live, in love let's so persérver
That when we live no more, we may live ever.

Reading the poem made me think about her life, how she became a poet despite the prohibitions imposed upon women of her era. She was an amazing writer, found the space in her days to write while taking care of a household that included a husband and several children. Women of her day "knew their place" and didn't stir the waters. The writing arts were thought to be, for women, a pleasant hobby, something to do once the household work was done. Anne did just that, producing poems seen as "domestic" and written to instruct her children in the ways of good Puritans, in order to lead them to God. She found time in the harshness of a land where heroism was an essential virtue for survival of individuals and communities. Caring for eight children and her frequent illnesses did not deter the expression of self-assertion and literary vitality. Indeed, I believe, it energized her whole life and attitude toward her lot in life.

In normal circumstance, Anne would not have been able to find publication for her writing and indeed intended it for private reading. However, since her poetry was seen as domestic writing, there was interest in it, even liberal praise for her turn of phrase, her rhyme. For the men of her husband's circle, there seemed no hint of scandal or subversion of the politics of the day in her poems, no threat to the status quo. Her writing was duly praiseful of her husband, thus honoring him. No times did she make overt complaint or show disappointment in her station. This was a typical stance for Puritan women where husband was head and sun and an arbiter of holiness for his wife. Domestic writing was, to polite society, an amusing pastime for women, no threat at all to the social order.

But look at the poem again. Look hard. She is suggesting that her station of life is satisfying, but her comparison of her husband to money is telling. She mentions money 4 times in 12 lines. She allows her paucity to show and does this by saying she has no need of any "thing" but her husband's love. She budgets her words carefully and lets her female readers know they are not as well off as she, because she has this perfect man to care for her heart. She extends this notion of love to the ultimate permanence, love even in the afterlife. Will the woman not claim even the privacy of the grave? We might read the last lines as ironic, that her life is so overburdened by service to this husband that her duty might extend beyond death. Does this mean that Anne did not love her husband fully and dearly? Not at all. She was clearly and absolutely devoted to him and to the family they made. She was able to use these acceptable emotions in a way that may be seen in some light as highly impersonal (set against the remarkable Puritanical standards of the day) while seeming personal and waxing praiseful of her spouse. What I love about the scope of poetry is its ability to become a platform for irony. The poet's message can be neatly embedded in the lines of innocuous versifying, appealing to like-minded readers in its codifications. It is my belief that Bradstreet took full advantage of this facet of writing poetry. She used it to comment on love, loss, and indeed the society in which she found herself thrust by her husband's public service as Governor.

In fact, Anne did not seek publication of her work, thought herself that the writing was not that accomplished. I wonder if she was up to something here, some brand of reverse psychology.  Did these poems, ostensibly written for family and friends, carry an overt shyness that led to her brother-in-law carrying her writings to England where he sought publication on her behalf yet without her knowledge? Did she in fact set him up to do exactly that? Was it his idea based upon his notion that poems by an American woman would be of curiosity to the British? He received praise for the curiosity of her work, and the work itself was deemed thusly:

[the book] is the Work of a Woman, honoured, and esteemed where she lives, for her gracious demeanour, her eminent parts, her pious conversation, her courteous disposition, her exact diligence in her place, and discreet managing of her Family occasions, and more than so, these Poems are but the fruit of some few houres, curtailed from her sleepe and other refreshments. (Nathaniel Ward 1650)

Anne Bradstreet was duly modest about the acceptance of her work abroad in England. But she was aslo understandably proud of herself, allowing for the creation of more poems, poems of deeper refinement in revision. To be sure, the early poems were not finely crafted. Bradstreet's early poems were certainly the work of a self-taught amateur. But it is this very quality that endears her to us even now. The early work was a sign at the fork of the road for women. We are led to other work and to other women writers by Bradstreet and her domestic writing. Adrienne Rich says of feminist writing, of writing that breaks out of the domestic into the world political:

any woman for whom the feminist breaking of silence has been a transforming force can also look back to a time when the faint, improbable outlines of unaskable questions, curling in her brain cells, triggered a shock of recognition at certain lines, phrases, images, in the work of this or that woman, long dead, whose life and experience she could only dimly imagine. (Rich, postcript, On Lies, Secrets, and Silence 1979)

Rich's The Works of Anne Bradstreet shows a connection with and an admiration for the assigning of place to women. She says: Like her, I had known the ambiguities of patronizing compliments from male critics. She goes on to say that her essay (about Bradstreet and her writing) shows the limitations of a point of the condescending references... limitations of a point of view which took masculine history and literature as its center and which tried from that perspective to view a woman's live and work. (Rich)

From my own perspective, Anne Bradstreet did three things that influence my work today:

1. she took on topics that might seem of little interest to men (childbirth for example) and made them acceptable topics for writing

2. she allowed herself the time to write despite her life in the mundane world

3. she opened up irony as a stance for women

In her male-centered world, literary pursuits were not common. Women were set down where their husbands or fathers put them — Anne was taken to America, expected to do her duties as a Puritan woman and wife, acting as a beacon or conduit for her family to the eternal God as represented on earth by husband. But Anne had a mind to bloom differently in this new land. She did. We should thank her.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Luggage and Other Lost Items

A bit groggy this morning (it is 10 AM) as we did not get back from the airport until nearly 3AM. I will have (take) a low key approach to the day and recover. Daughter #1 is here safely, but a bit worse for the wear. Her luggage is somewhere else (at JFK? at Dulles?) and she is exhausted from a long week of travel and intense study. I tucked her into bed and told her to sleep as long as she needs to sleep. I'm so glad she is here. She needs a break from EVERYTHING stressful, everyONE stressful. We can provide that, a little love and care from us ought to help. If only the damned baggage would just arrive!

This lost luggage incident makes me think of other things lost, like good grammar and proper written language. In this fast-paced techno world, we are losing ends and chunks of words in favor of computer-jargonized abbreviations. U takes the place of you, brb has replaced be right back which was once I'll be right back. The list of language degradations is endless. When one texts (now a verb by the way, or BTW) one has only so much space, so these abbreviations seem appropriate. But what I don't like is the use of this lingo is that it has begun to creep into writing. To be sure, it is "common" and we tend toward the common. But I began to see this in the term papers and essays of my students. When I pointed out that papers and slang are incompatible,"huh?" was the response I got, along with the occasional hostile remark. In one case I was told rather abruptly that it was I who needed to change. Really?  I recall my literary criticism professor remarking that eventually the contraction would disappear in terms of the apostrophe. I insisted that wouldn't happen. She was of course right. How often I see cant rather than can't which of course had replaced the earlier use of cannot. Well, I am not advocating for being stiff about language and speech. We should have text language for texts and common, colloquial speech for conversations, slang terms for casual situations. But OMG, I can't take it in formal writing.

Tlk 2 U later.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

No writing today is making me sad

Ever have one of those days when you KNOW that what you want to do is not going to happen? I feel that way today. I'm pretty sure no writing will happen today. Too much "stuff" to do to be creative in that way. I will of course stick a notebook in my bag in case.... I'm also feeling pretty much dead above the neck too. Oh well, there is nothing wrong with a day off. I'll do my normal 15 minute free write and put on some Pink Floyd and see what happens. Maybe writing will distract me from the "stuff" and I will be a happier person.

Right now, off to breakfast and church. The whole day is ahead.....