Monday, 31 January 2011

On Power: the Poem & the Idea

When I was fifteen and learning how to drive, my dad told me, "Women always hog the middle of the road," so I made a point to drive with one wheel off the outside shoulder, spinning up a bit of gravel wherever I went. And now, when we're back in the States, my English boyfriend wonders why I give my passengers the sensation that at any moment we might go careening into the nearest telephone pole. This feels to me like a fable, or at least a metaphor.

Adrienne Rich talks about 'Living in the earth-deposits of our history' at the beginning of her poem, 'Power'. I, for one, am always doing that--digging into that 'crumbling flank' of earth, hoping for a 'bottle / amber / perfect' with some 'hundred year old cure' for something (maybe melancholy, maybe something else).

What do we find there in the dirt of the past? Not the 'harsh and exciting' freedom to see ourselves as inevitably, without even trying, part of 'the family of things', as Mary Oliver so serenely describes in 'Wild Geese' (my favorite poem), I fear. (Or do we? Or could we?) Perhaps the dichotomy here is that of the human condition: human experience tugging against its own tensions, social world (formed by society) pulling against natural world, freedom and liberation pulling against the fact that we are indeed inextricably and forever connected to a long human story.

When I was a teenager in the American South, I wanted a Wrangler (I think) because all the cutest (and coolest) boys I knew had Wranglers--boys in baseball caps and low-slung jeans, driving around with the doors off, on big wheels (and I did get a bit closer to the dreamy Eric Chilberg, I would still say, as a result of my Jeep (happily missing my curfew (in spite of knowing I would be grounded) the night he wanted to go for a drive)). Maybe the Wrangler made me feel a bit safer from the shiny pearls and sweater-sets of my female counterparts. Maybe it was the open air racing by on the roller coaster of those country roads. Maybe it had everything or nothing to do with being a girl in that part of the world at that time. But I suspect that it did. I suspect that it did when I start dredging around in the dirt back there.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

STILL Thinking about Boland & Olds

Granted, Sharon Olds and Eavan Boland have been two of my favorite poets since college. This is nothing new, in other words. I'm struck (endlessly, it seems), nonetheless, between the unexpected closeness of the two poems we read and discussed in juxtaposition this past week in Women's Lit (in its earliest days)--a kind of conversation they seem to be having with one another--American and Irish, newborn in its 'First Hour' and wife of thirty years 'Against Love Poetry'.

Essentially, Olds and Boland travel away from and back to themselves in these poems. At the beginning of 'First Hour', the speaker asserts that she 'was most [her]self', that she 'had shrugged / [her] mother slowly off', as if to say that independence and selfhood emerge only (or most completely) in solitude, that by ceasing to be part of another and initiating an existence of oneness, she experiences that most sacred of entities: pure, unadulterated being. Should we then deduce that there is a kind of loss (ironically) in partnering, in uniting with another human being, be it mother or partner or friend?

Boland echoes this near contradiction from Olds. She names marriage in the first line of her poem--a twoness or duality, a union of two. Yet as soon as the speaker says, 'I have loved you' she quickly follows with, 'I have loved other things as well'. She has loved 'the idea of women's freedom' but quickly follows with, 'marriage is not / freedom'. Surely the 'contradictions of / a daily love' lie here in the math.

I can't help but think of an 'Indigo Girls' song I used to listen to in high school: 'The Power of Two'. It says, 'adding up a total of a love that's true / multiply life by the power of two'--with this sense we have of adding, gaining through partnership. But Olds and Boland (bless them) aren't so quick to the zero-sum game; they acknowledge that paradox: that partnering is both gain and loss at once.

I've watched my friends, my brother and sister, and myself now in and out of love (and other drugs) for these years into our late twenties and early thirties, and I can't help but breathe a little bit more easily, a little bit more deeply, when Olds and Boland name what goes so often unnamed: that we are both more of ourselves and somehow less of ourselves as we negotiate our places in the world relative to the partners with whom we share much of our time and space, intimacies and idiosyncrasies. We are left, always it seems to me, with the contradiction. It is that king weeping over his 'old servant' in Boland's poem, or the fox with long ears in Le Petit Prince saying, 'You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed' (provided the definition for tame as 'to establish ties').

Sunday, 23 January 2011

First Week of Women's Lit: New Classes

First Challenge: Get blog up and running, having never blogged before, and convince students to get blogs up and running to do with a class for school... Assuming all goes well, more (longer and hopefully more interesting) entries soon. 

So here's me, and this is a Junior/Senior elective high school English class. The idea is to experiment with writing this semester in a medium that connects us to a more urgent sense of audience and therefore to a more authentic writing voice. Stay tuned to see how it all goes!