This month’s theme is Women. THE SUN presents a Special Section on Women’s Poetry featuring Jennie Knoop, Marilyn Michael, Virginia Rudder, Marsha Poirier, Jean Wilson, Jaki Shelton, Sarah Keith, Elizabeth Cox, and Barbara Street.
Most of these poems surfaced at the Women’s Poetry readings held last Winter at Somethyme Restaurant in Durham. Some of these women had published before; most had not. This is, then, for the most part “amateur” poetry — only I don’t like that word. I don’t feel that the dichotomy between “amateur” and “professional,” as far as poetry goes, is helpful. Most of these women are still struggling with their identity as writers. “A writer is one who writes” once helped me. A writer is also one who says things significant and true which hit home with readers or listeners. These poems needed a wider audience and a “place in the sun” — and deserved it, because they were hitting home. A lot of new writing is not getting the attention it deserves because it is labelled “political” or because, no matter how clearly it speaks, it is not considered “good” enough. Too many “professional” editors and publishers have gotten away from listening to their own hearts and minds, because they are waiting to find out what someone else thinks first.
Poems like these have been made possible, in part, by a very political reality — the Women’s Movement in this country from the 1960’s on. I suspect that the major energy of the women’s movement now is going into the arts and other fields where individuals are achieving new levels of self-esteem and self-fulfillment because the awareness that women are fully people is about, is in the air.
What I first noticed at Somethyme, and have since seen other signs of, is of a fresh sensibility coming into its own, expressing and renewing itself. Perceptions are going into poems; poems are being shared; the poets are becoming aware that they speak for others as well — and are struggling with how to do that better, to work out their thinking and their lives so that they are able to devote primary energy and time to writing. I feel sure it’s happening in the other arts.
It is happening more than it is being publicly noticed or recorded. Small groups of women are gathering to raise consciousness in a new way, to share and to get beyond their doubts as artists.
A whole new cultural revolution is occurring, under our noses. That last June’s Women’s Outdoor Cultural Arts Festival occurred and that it involved so many women, most of whom did not know of each other before, ought to be a sufficient sign.
The political phase of the Women’s Movement is struggling with inner ideological splits. But meantime, there is a “second wave” which is probably going to make it possible for Virginia Woolf’s dream of a sister to Shakespeare to come true. For we have only begun to express how we see the world. And after our angers have risen and spent themselves, and we have made peace with our deepest and feminine selves, we can settle down to getting the world written and into print.
There is a real need for a women’s press in this area, and I would be happy to facilitate one in any way I could. There are also many independent workshops and poetry/writing groups springing up outside the universities. And I’ll be happy to put people in touch with those who are doing these. The mood is openness and sharing, and it has far-reaching implications for all our human relationships. Nor can I get away from the political implications of these poems.
It is also significant to me that the N.C. Arts Council could find no way of supporting the women’s fair. Whether they realize it or not, they are widening the gap between the poets who speak truth and the poets who soften their voices or change their words so as not to offend, so as not to seem “hostile” or “political” or “unsafe.”
Poetry has often been a cutting edge for cultural change. It can be again. The poem cuts to the quick, and quickly, and the image stays in the mind. It won’t go away.
I am folding My fears and Putting them Away. Like worn-out Garments, patched and Faded: finally, They’re soft and Broken-in. I’ve out Grown them. I’ve Grown till my Cages fit as Supple as A skin, a skin That is warm And expands Toward a touch. Chains put round A tree, to Support it, slowly Strangle the Thickening trunk. My Chains were only Made out of me.
People are having dogs instead of Children these days, I say. I wish they would stop having And start doing, says Dee. I finish peanut-buttering the Last sandwich and lick the Swiss Army knife, almost cutting my Tongue. The children have Their lunch and sip pop as We mention baby-sitting co-ops, Watching the frisbees fly. The gospel music goes on inside, Majestic dark women swaying to Music rippling out of their souls. A sister dances her holy dance in The aisle, shouting “God is! God is!” I wish I had been raised up in a Black Church, I say. Me too, says Dee, both of us survivors Of convent schools. We discuss the futility of singing Gregorian chant in midnight Drunken parking lots, searching for The car. The Great Spirit has a cunt, I say. Dee’s laugh has her on her Back, knees up and feet Stomping the grass. I am pleased. Soon the children are back, Bored and thirsty. Christopher Has grievously scraped his Arm on a tree. Eventually We float out to the quad And send the hot pink frisbee Flying along a three-cornered Circle.
Poem For Two Women Poets Dead And Those Alive
1 “There is a death baby for each of us.” — Ann Sexton she wrote it out in a school book still we could not believe and she didn’t care somehow in a car exhaust gas maybe surely suicidal light as chalk on the blackboard we took up our stories and pens alive having said you were dead *** you promised glass frozen eyes snow flake hands flicking dust from your hips you promised to be again and again the fat jonah-leftover for the whale’s pica teeth the big sellout warm stink of death instead appealed to you bone dull lullaby *** they will pull you for years from your wreckage make mad money from your remains some will see your babies under every winter tree 2 “Does not my heat astound you. And my light.” — Sylvia Plath there was a stink from that v of her body slippery among smiles she bled poems wiped up her life with words familiar as a feminine napkin i don’t care if you like it read one or two there is her ruby stain on you just try to rub it off *** she lay herself down in the warm womb stove leave her her splendid mistake we are a baby another bad check perhaps a poem away from it 3 we have the art under our scabs these slivers in our heart are wolves teeth tears calcified we are not ruled by the moon it does not remind us of dinner china or vaginas we do not bleed out brains on a monthly basis *** poems our isadora’s scarf poems our ice breath, death breath fire to spit bits of us like one would crop a photograph down to the nail having touched your lips to it you may recognize it mine but with all the white half moons you can’t be sure
Virginia Rudder (Virginia Love Long)
Memoirs Of Snow White
The apple, as Eve’s, Perfect in symmetry, Took my eye from the first. Even the Hag’s drooling laugh And prodding fingers On my torso’s flesh Could not hold me back. Why should I not feed, I ask you, When stout tradition made it mine? Why spoil a good story Or alter a single line? So, with a hale appetite, I ate it up, Not spurning the core, Both peel and pulp. But the charm played me false And historians recount me wrong: Now I never sleep. The Prince never comes.
Hesitant, the paper bird Like a shot hawk Dives at the lull And flutters earthward lame— Pull tight, my fairlings, run— Let the bitter gust Lift up its trinket, Swoop it asky— Pinned by the faint fierce drag Of the wind’s catenary, A tailed spot in heaven Free but a length of twine. Fly up, my fledglings, Catch the courage Of the life-wind Blowing you from my reel. Yet once played out, though the wind Fail and drop you Toward the bare spiked trees— Though my heart’s flesh Be torn with yours, And the cord’s faint image Stretch from womb to heart— There is no hauling in— Soar free or dip and crash— The string is cut.
there’s nothing more to see last night silver frost crept through the land today the day-old bunnies lay frozen like stones in a cloud of white fur everything disappears the rabbit hops twice sniffs her young pink pomegranate seeds stare back there’s nothing more to see tiny spirits disappearing into watchful winter trees awake to the morning the bleating of hungry goats
i have forgotten exactly what time in what city or what sunset my pain began i have remembered to forget what man chose not to speak to the light chose not to allow the sunlight to enter and caress my other breast jealous mornings i have forgotten what it is like to wake up without name without poem without pain and turn over to face the sun. what room does this act take place in into whose grave do i allow these bones to crawl into. what woman will i cease to return to.
Prayer Out Of Scarcity
Let my love be round. Let it be suspended from an airy spine. Let the wind blow through it. Let it roll smoothly on dirt tracks. Let it have dark eyes. Let the eyes be warm and wrinkled. Let the skin be translucent. Let it be as daily as air. Let it be inconsistent as the mind. Let me touch it with fingers.
At A Loss
My mother’s chants and moth-like messages stand at the fence. Her mouth now agape: she exhaled it all. She’s not to leave her bed, or to see my eyes clutch, at a loss. My dad’s ancient stare will not change. He’s gone before he’s gone. The orphan spins on cobblestones in toeless shoes, taking crumbs of a mysterious food, a mid-summer wafer with the metallic taste of lunacy. Shells around me break in their delicate cadence. Sleep is all there is. With a positioned smile and a glass full of water, I edge toward dreams that dismantle themselves in a warm breath on my eyes.
Living At The Edge
isn’t easy. Still, I prefer it. My dragons they’re friendly beasts some days. They wear tennis shoes, smoke Gauloises they watch the evening news. They speak to me in even tones: Girl, we’re taking over. Fine, I say. I’ll go. I’ll bake a cake. I’ll write postcards to my friends today. Thanks a lot. It won’t last long, I know. See, they’re dragging out the broken glass now. Kisses for your fingers, they purr. Ice cubes for your red hot veins. They rub it in. Those dragons, they know how to win. The edge is here. I search for paper clues in the Herald, anything, anywhere. Smoke dope. Read my horoscope. I’m earth. I’m dirt. I must avoid travelling in planes. Lemon bleach, I read, takes out stubborn stains. Why not mine? Express yourself in spices, lady. I will. I am chives. I am the marjoram. The women’s news—that’s me. I’m stained. I’m ink. At odds with death, a dwelling place, if you will, for these dragons, their fierce hot breath, their stink.
Thanks to Judy Hogan, Laura Sholman and Irene Moffat for bringing us these poems. Many more were originally intended for publication; space doesn’t allow. They will appear in future issues.