Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Unexpected Post: A VIDA Moment

59º ~ mornings deliciously cool, open-windowed sleep
**This post began on Tuesday morning.  I finished it this morning (Wednesday).  Similar conditions.

This morning (Tuesday) I ran across the blog post "Mommy, Where Do Poems Come From?" on Bark. It is attributed to Casey, who I think must be Casey Patrick from the contributors list.  I like Bark a lot as a blog because it offers quite a few different views on writing and the writing life, often from young and emerging writers.

As I started to read Casey's post, I was only half-skimming, liking the new presentation of an old question.  It's hip; it's funny.  But then, gradually, I realized that all of the quotes chosen for the piece came from men, white men (or at least Western men...was Homer white?... who represent the CANON in all of its old standards). This made me wonder, where are the women?  the people of color? the non-Euro-American writers?  And this brought to mind, the VIDA count, the project that takes a look at the diversity or lack of diversity (specifically as to gender) in publishing today.

It seems to me that this post on where poems come from is exactly the kind of thing that demonstrates why the VIDA count matters. Presented as it is, it is hard not to see a clear patriarchal line in literature.  But perhaps I think about these things too much.  I went to an undergrad college where the English department was immersed in cultural diversity and worked actively to break the canon wide open (thank you Mara, Madhu, Mike, Ozzie, Janet, and so many more).  My grad school...not so much.

Reader, let me confess, I feel a bit of fear in writing this.  I'm sure I'm opening myself up to some caustic comments.  Important fact: I do not dispute Casey's right to be inspired by whomever inspires her, be it man or woman, Western or Eastern, religious or atheist, etc.  However, I was curious about her choices.  They seem to display a writing life steeped in the traditionally male canon and that worries me, if it is true. 

Here are a few of my own collected quotes on where poems come from.  I offer them up in conversation with the list on Casey's post, rather than in confrontation to it. 

Emily Dickinson:
"I had a terror -- since September -- I could tell none -- and so I sing, as the Boy does by the Burying Ground -- because I am afraid"
from a letter to T.W. Higginson, 25 April 1862

Lucille Clifton:
"Poetry for me is not an intellectual exercise. I really think that—to understand my poetry—I don’t think approaching it simply intellectually will help. It has to be a balance, I think, between intellect and intuition. For me, there is a kind of intuitive feeling for the language, for what wishes to be said."

Mary Oliver:
Poetry is "the wish to demonstrate a joie."

Quincy Troupe:
"All you’ve got are words and space and silence. You’re pulling these words out of this void."

Virginia Woolf:
"The first--killing the Angel in the House--I think I solved. She died. But the second, telling the truth about my own experiences as a body, I do not think I solved. I doubt that any woman has solved it yet."

I do notice that some of these do not fit easily into the "Poetry is..." framework.  That interests me as well.  Now, I have a need to do more research on this.  I hope the conversation will continue (and I'm thickening my skin for any caustic comments). 


Mary Alexandra Agner said...

I absolutely needed to hear that Woolf quote; thank you so much for posting it.

Sandy Longhorn said...

You are so welcome. Woolf wrote so many TRUE things about being a woman writer. I turn to her often.

Renee said...

I think its good to think critically on articles, no matter how hip, and I'm glad you posted this. I do think that quotes by male writers "on poetry," especially defining poetry, are more widely talked about, requoted, etc. Great post!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks, Renee. I appreciate your addition to the conversation!

Kathleen said...

Thanks for provoking and inspiring us with your response to the article and with these quotations.

Sandy Longhorn said...

You're welcome, Kathleen. Thanks for reading along.

Molly said...

Thanks so much for these quotes. For me, Emily nails it every time! And now I want to read more of what Virginia Woolf says about her "own experiences as a body." I'm glad you spoke up -- it's important to keep asking the questions whatever they are. And also, GO VIDA! (I just like to throw that in whenever I can :)).

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks, Molly. I also saw a quote on Facebook by Helen Cisoux and it mentioned something about writing and fear as well. Now I have to go find it again and read the text from which it is drawn.