Monday, March 11, 2013

Discussion: Women and Modern Poetry

“I need words that mean more than they mean, words not just with height and width, but depth and weight and, and other dimensions that I cannot even name." --Lois McMaster Bujold, The Curse of Chalion

“Whereas story is processed in the mind in a straightforward manner, poetry bypasses rational thought and goes straight to the limbic system and lights it up like a brushfire. It's the crack cocaine of the literary world.” --Jasper Fforde, First Among Sequels

Today I am discussing modern and contemporary poetry, which I've been meaning to do for a while. And after I chosen the half dozen I wished to share, I noticed they all had one thing in common: women's agency and value.

Persephone Lied by Spuffyduds
The truth is, I was bored.
My mother blissing ahead of me, rosebuds rising in her footsteps,
And I skulking behind, thinking,
Oh look. She walks in beauty.
What Lot’s Wife Would Have Said (If She Wasn’t A Pillar of Salt) by Karen Finneyfrock
Do you remember when we met
in Gomorrah? When you were still beardless,
and I would oil my hair in the lamp light before seeing
you, when we were young, and blushed with youth
like bruised fruit. Did we care then
what our neighbors did
in the dark?
So I really, really love stories that take myths and legends and ancient truths, and reimagine them with a twist that changes the entire meaning. This is part of why I love fanfiction, and subversive fanart. These two really stood out to me, because in the originals these two women were weak and helpless. Both of the retellings, however, say, "No, she wasn't weak - she chose to do it". They give agency to characters who had none before. And knowing that the characters made a conscious choice changes the meaning. Now we have to ask, "Why?" and the poems answer that question.

Collapsing by Samantha Neugebauer
If you ever feel embarrassed, remember:
You are smaller than a supernova,
Quieter than a black hole,
And less radiant than a flicker in a white dwarf’s eye.
I Must Ask You to be Patient*, author unknown**
I must ask you to be patient,
there are cracks running through my bones,
and my throat often seizes up when I try to speak.
These poems reimagine reason/emotion dualism: the classical idea that how we think and how we feel are separate and opposite, usually with the axiom that reason is superior to emotion and with the implication that men are reasonable and women are emotional. Both of these modern poems use scientific and cosmic imagery to explain human love and compassion. Instead of reason and emotion standing apart, one dominant over the other, here we have them united and flowing smoothly into each other.

Some Women Wait* by Audre Lorde
Some women wait for themselves
Around the next corner
And call the empty spot peace
Before You Fuck Up* by Rachel Wiley
Before you fuck up and call her anything less than her name, before you grab her by the arm you need to know the trigger that you are pulling at. You need to know that the safety is never on. You need to know her history before you tell me that this isn’t my business. You need to know that her history is my history.
Both of these poems concern womens' relationships with themselves and how they navigate the minefields of society. Lorde discusses how some women adapt to futility and hopelessness; Wiley, to domestic violence. Both speak to a need for action; no Prince Charming is coming to your tower, so you better figure that out on your own. These poems resonate with me on a deep level. They neither dismiss the failings of society that lead to these problems, nor do they paint women as helpless victims. Instead, here we see women as survivors - yes, they were wronged, and yes, they overcame it, and yes, there are still scars.

So there you have it - six poems about women and women's attributes, and why women are flawed and scarred and still amazing.

*I couldn't find the title, so I used part of the first line instead.
**Despite this poem being all over the internet, I could not find the author's name given anywhere.


  1. Interesting collection of poems, I do have to note that in spite of the header saying "modern poetry"* the selected poems actually do make sense, have structure and a tale to tell.

    I would say that Audre Lorde is not that far from Thoreau:
    "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."

    Yeah, that's my opinion of "modern poetry" speaking. :D

    1. Hmm, I just meant "modern" as in "relatively recent". A quick google tells me there's a movement called Modernist poetry though, so I'm going back and adding "and contemporary" to the article.

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