Saturday, December 12, 2009

Adrienne Rich tells it like it is

I have often heard of that in order for women to be seen as the equal of men, they have to work twice as hard just to be noticed. I think the poem's I looked at by Adrienne Rich fit squarely into this double-standard that has so far dictated a lot of our American society.

I Am In Danger--Sir:

"you, woman, masculine/in single-mindedness/for whom the word was more/than a symptom"

Adrienne Rich could or could not be writing about Emily Dickinson, because she never mentions a name. The footnotes in the Norton Anthology refer to Rich's poem in terms of the life of Emily Dickinson, in which she replies to Higginson, a correspondent and critic, as a playful but fierce undercutting of his criticism: "I am in Danger--Sir"! This is Rich's homage to Dickinson, who is described as masculine, perhaps because she matched the intellectual blow Higginson dealt and neutralized it. If he is saying "Oh you're crazy!", then she is saying, "Oh thanks, I'm crazy, what else is new?" This is the same thing as a man that says "You play [base]ball like a girl!", To which I would reply, "Thanks, (girls play ball just as great as guys) what else is new?!".

But I digress: Rich refers to Dickinson as masculine. Why? Is it her doubly-phallic-sounding last name? Is it her ability to matching wits with Higginson (and to beat him)? Or is it in her "single-mindedness", that she was able to focus on a single thing and be great at it, without being bogged down by trying to please others, by assimilating to the greater mainstream societal requirements?

I particularly like what Rich says about Dickinson's use of language being more than symptomatic of society--it relates closely to something James Baldwin wrote about a great writer: That one's language should be both a symptom and an examination of one's culture. Dickinson was removed from her surroundings, which allowed her to examine her state of being. She was acutely observant and she strikingly diagnosed her society. Perhaps this led to her going a little nuts, but she "chose to have it out at last/on [her] own premises". Much respect from Rich to Dickinson.

Regarding Marie Curie, Rich writes that "She died a famous woman denying/her wounds/denying/her wounds came from the same source as her power" (2658). Referring to my beginning statement, that women must work twice as hard as men just to be seen as equals, Rich's piece explores it. Marie Curie essentially died for her art, and she did it without appearing weak. The stereotype of women is that they are weaker than men. Whether this is the truth or whether it is not, the most common mindset is that men are stronger. Rich is explaining that for a woman, to hide her suffering is to be equal to a man. She must deny her wounds. For a man to show his wounds would mean a loss of power.

What does "Her wounds came from the same source as her power" mean? That she gains her power from her denial of pain? Her power comes from the radiation, which also causes her pain? The source of power is the acceptance into the male tradition, and so her wounds come from the tradition of men? I think all interpretations qualify!

Gwendolyn Brooks

the mother:

The poem starts off with "Abortions will not let you forget". This strong opening hits you, it's a direct confrontation, and there is no misunderstanding of the message that can be lost to interpretation. My first reaction to the poem was of a deep compassion for these "lost children". The speaker made the right choice at the time for her situation, but "even in my deliberateness I was not deliberate". It is not regretful, but it is remorseful. There is also certainly no lack of love in this decision (to go through with the abortions): "Believe me, I loved you all./Believe me, I knew you, though faintly, and I love, I loved you/All." Perhaps the act of terminating the life was the act of love: if the child was born, he or she would have "cried" and eventually "died". The speaker is preventing the child from experiencing the later inevitable tragedies of life.

I forgot exactly who said it, but it was about the nature of freedom: "Freedom is self-control". Whether this means self-control like independence from former slavery, or the freedom of self-discipline and self-restraint, both ideas work when referring to my idea about a woman's right to choose regarding women's rights.

After reading Alice Walker's "In Search of My Mother's Gardens", I found that Brooks' speaker is also bemoaning the fact that she has prevented her children, not only from living, but from creating art and becoming artists. The long-standing tradition that Walker writes in her essay, that 'Women have been prevented from becoming artists by the Male Tradition', is sort of what Brooks is now participating in. The Roe v Wade decision that allows women the choice and control over their bodies, reveals the fact that women now have a harsh responsibility over other people's and their own lives. Brooks and other women, must now face the consequences of being able to control themselves, something that was once left to men to decide. Alice Walker was regretful about her mother's inability to be recognized as an artist, and the roles have switched now: Brooks is the one who is preventing her child from being recognized as an artist, she is taking the traditionally male role of supressing someone else's voice and being. This is an important role-reversal, and it's one that comes at the cost of someone else's liberty. Perhaps Freedom is self-control, but also being in a power position over a lesser being--freedom is controlling others!????

Frank O'Hara... continued


Here, O'Hara is talking about something that will revolutionize the way people think about literature. The idea that the poem is just a vessel that gets the message to the reader--he wants to communicate directly with the person, the poem itself doesn't matter. The poem is a "Lucky Pierre" because it is being gratified both by the poet--the act of being written--and the reader--the act of being read. If O'Hara were to have his way, all he has to do is to convey his message is to call up the person on his phone. The idea that the poem is just like a phone conversation with the reader, gives the poem a fresh and unpretentious voice. He isn't concerned with trying to improve the readers--or society's--life. O'Hara says: "improvement for what, death?" His idea that there is no such thing as progress is not really nihilistic, I think it's more realistic.

The Day Lady Died:

O'Hara's poem is specific of a time and a place, it evokes the feeling O'Hara felt the day that Billy Holiday died, and is revelatory of the cultural impact of Billy Holiday on his peers. The poem is a laundry list of things one might do on a typical and busy summer day in New York. It has a certain air of mundaneity, a day filled with art and people and writing and other minutiae.

The day is filled with words, words, and more words. When the news of Billy Holiday suddenly hits, it is breathless. O'Hara takes us to the day when he first heard "Lady" sing, and there are no words to describe it. His feeling of speechlessness is beautifully conveyed as O'Hara is "leaning on the john door in the 5 spot/while she whispered a song along the keyboard/to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing". We feel exactly what he means.