Monday, 28 May 2012

Call Me Clarissa (a prose poem)

(in memory of my sixteenth year & in memory of Sally)

It was almost June in London--What she loved; life; London; this 
moment.  Beauty was everywhere; beneath and within; all around
the air; one could breathe it in (as she would do, again and again--
as she always had--remembering the way breath felt that summer
as never again it would; it would be rich; it would be stimulating;
but it would never again wake the heart from its sleeping depths).

What a lark! What a plunge! had it been at sixteen to come alive
to the summer around her; to hear music as if for the first time; 
to lavish summer air and heat against her own skin; to be afraid
of the rush, the radical, racing ride of feelings she had never felt;
to wonder if they would vanish just as quickly, like a dream: such
was her darknessThere was an emptiness about the heart of life; 
an attic room: literally an attic room, with her great-grandmother's
day bed tucked against the low window, the moon peering in; 
pooling against the splintery floor; washing her skin in silver
light. She would light up a cigarette, stashed between cushions
and drag deeply on the filter: it might be possible that the world 
itself is without meaning, she thought. She would hug her knees. 
It is the privilege of loneliness; this late hour when everyone else
is sleeping; in privacy one may do as one chooses. The light has
a kind of caress (and wasn't she craving being touched?); freedom
in silence and stillness and the low hum of insects--this summer,
the summer she learned to drive; the whole world pouring over
her forehead and through her hair on those winding roads; music
all her own (the first bands she'd adored) and how possible every-
thing seemed. (Blues Traveler would sing, "The sun is warm
as the day is long, and I just got the feeling I could do no wrong.")
Everything was heat and pressure and waves and waves of feeling;
all was feeling; was there anything else? How unbelievable death 
was!--that it must end; and no one in the whole world would know 
how she had loved it all; how, every instant... She tucked her toes
into the crevices of the day bed, fiddled with the half-empty lighter, 
looked into the open arms of the trees, their heavy silhouettes against
the sky's unearthly blue (like the light in those El Greco paintings
in Art History class; what did Dr. Myers say?--"technicolored
clouds"); What is it? she wondered aloud, softly.  Where am I? 
And why, after all, does one do it? Are we not all prisoners? She
drank of the cigarette, wanting to savor the smoke, remembering
how from that first weekend they'd all tried it at Christy's she hadn't
--couldn't enjoy what she'd hoped would be sublime but seemed
instead to burn in her throat. She rubbed out the burning tip against
the edge of the sill--discrete ash to blend in with the insect carcasses 
and bits of screen. That was it; all of it: What she liked was simply life

Nearly June in London, and she thought only of the unseen part of us;
the great unfathomable space inside each person--all that we feel; all
that we love; all that we do and think about every day; things we do
not say. But--but--why did she suddenly feel, for no reason that she 
could discover, desperately unhappy? It washed back over her; Sally
was gone forever, the Kiwi girl with freckles from lower school she 
had so enjoyed whenever they were out with Carrie and the others--
gone with so much lost; so much unfinished; so much unsaid, undone,
left behind. That's it: absorbing, mysterious, of infinite richness, this life.
So what is this terror? what is this ecstasy? How immense it all is, how
gone in an instant--the whole colossal weight of it undone, vanished
to dust. How it is certain we must die and how valuable, then, how
gorgeous this precious, tiny, whole, extraordinary, ordinary moment. 

So on a summer's day waves collect, overbalance, and fall; collect 
and fall; and the whole world seems to be saying 'that is all' more 
and more ponderously, until even the heart in the body which lies 
in the sun on the beach says too, That is all. Fear no more, says 
the heart. Fear no more, says the heart, committing its burden 
to some sea, which sighs collectively for all sorrows and renews, 
begins, collects, lets fall. And the body alone listens to the passing 
bee; the wave breaking; the dog barking, far away barking and barking.

*everything in italics is directly borrowed from Mrs. Dalloway

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Call Me Clarissa

--> I'm gathering lines of text I love for my final double-post. My plan is to write a prose poem of my own, incorporating many of these borrowed lines from Mrs. Dalloway. In the poem, I will explore some of the big ideas in our course. 

"What a lark! What a plunge!" (1)

"What she loved; life; London; this moment of June" (2).

"such was her darkness" (20)

"There was an emptiness about the heart of life; an attic room" (26)

"So on a summer's day waves collect, overbalance, and fall; collect and fall; and the whole world seems to be saying 'that is all' more and more ponderously, until even the heart in the body which lies in the sun on the beach says too, That is all. Fear no more, says the heart. Fear no more, says the heart, committing its burden to some sea, which sighs collectively for all sorrows and renews, begins, collects, lets fall. And the body alone listens to the passing bee; the wave breaking; the dog barking, far away barking and barking" (33-34).

"What is it? Where am I? And why, after all, does one do it?" (45)

"Beauty was everywhere" (61).

"that extraordinary gift, that woman's gift, of making a world of her own wherever she happened to be" (66)

"it might be possible that the world itself is without meaning" (77)

"But--but--why did she suddenly feel, for no reason that she could discover, desperately unhappy?" (106)

"What she liked was simply life" (107).

"... how unbelievable death was! --that it must end; and no one in the whole world would know how she had loved it all; how, every instant..." (108)

"it is the privilege of loneliness; in privacy one may do as one chooses" (134)

" know her, or any one, one must seek out the people who completed them; even the places" (135)

"the unseen part of us" (35)

"Absorbing, mysterious, of infinite richness, this life" (144).

"...every one was unreal in one way; much more real in another" (151)

"how it is certain we must die" (155)

"Are we not all prisoners?" (170)

"What is this terror? what is this ecstasy?" (171)

Dear Ms. Wollstonecraft

Dear Ms. Wollstonecraft,

I am so moved by what you had to say about and for women in 1792 (in your Vindication of the Rights of Woman). Your call for women who tend towards frivolity "to obtain a character as a human being" is profound, especially for a time when I'm picturing corsets and pantaloons and swooning (5). Maybe you intended a cry to all women, actually. I can only imagine how infuriating it must be to look around you and see women without real or rigorous educations calling them to "a nobler ambition" (2).

I am writing to share a few key points from Vindication that resonate profoundly with me in 2012. First and foremost, I love your notion that "the women who have distinguished themselves have neither been the most beautiful nor the most gentle of their sex" and have certainly found this to be true (25). I often admire feisty, daring women, whose priorities and strengths have more to do with ideas and action than looks and passivity. You ask, "How then can the great art of pleasing be such a necessary study?" noting that "it is only useful to a mistress" (22). The great art of pleasing, it seems to me, continues to play a significant role in the world today--mostly in negative ways (for women and men). Your Vindication calls us to be authentic, thoughtful, and deeply rooted in a solid sense of self. Indeed, "Liberty is the mother of virtue" (37). What a powerful message for all readers--thank you!

Furthermore, Ms. Wollstonecraft, I appreciate your writing, "I love man as my fellow" (36). All waves of the Women's Movement have taken such a lashing for being (ostensibly) man-hating. (And sure, some feminists have been and are man-hating, but most aren't!) Also, the word "fellow" is so lovely. As I enter into marriage this summer, I love thinking of my partner and husband as my "fellow."

And, as you say, "Every individual is [...] a world in itself," inviting us to "cherish such a habitual respect for [human]kind as may prevent us from disgusting a fellow-creature for the sake of a present indulgence" (58,85). On the whole, Ms. Wollstonecraft, your profound message is about mutual respect and human rights--WAY before your time.

After re-reading Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth recently, juxtaposed with a re-reading of your Vindication, I am so glad you've included all the emphasis on a woman's mind, and not her looks or her age. You write about "the more important years of life, when reflection takes place of sensation" (21). Imagine that--reflection being more prominent than sensation! This, it seems to me, is a higher calling and ambition for us all. I DO value reflection over sensation, but I'm struck by the beauty of your language and the context of this particular part of this message.

Without any further ado for now, Ms. Wollstonecraft, I will say that I am moved by your prose and most of all by your innovative, striking, and deeply influential ideas.

With great admiration & gratitude,
From (& for) many years into the future,
Meghan S. Tally
London, 2012

Thursday, 10 May 2012

The Vagina Monologues: Laugh, Weep, Change the World

Every time I read "The Vagina Monologues," I am moved by its plurality. Ensler doesn't take on one story but many stories. She doesn't speak with one voice but many voices. She doesn't speak to one of us but all of us. I think monologues, facts, notes, and dedications fragmented and juxtaposed make it possible to begin "to say the unsayable" and to demystify the language around women's bodies.

I am haunted by the end of Ensler's Introduction: "In order for the human race to continue, women must be safe and empowered" (xxxvi). Isn't that just it?

When I first read this play (before I'd seen it), I wasn't expecting violence. Sure, I was expecting raucous humor, shock value, words like "cunt" maybe, but I wasn't expecting violence. I hadn't yet made the connection between the fact that we don't talk about our "down-theres" and the shame and anguish and guilt that accompany the collective experience of women and girls around the world.

I love how, in spite of horrific violence and extraordinary pain, anything is possible in this play... even healing... even changing the world. Maybe it's because of the chalice--a vaginal symbol, so it's appropriate in more ways than one.


The chalice is open, collaborative, communicative, and plural (as opposed to its opposite and counterpart, the closed, individual, and linear blade). These are pagan symbols, representative of long-held notions of femininity and masculinity, yet I'm struck by how relevant they are to Ensler's piece.