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Journal, Day Two

By Erin Belieu

Forgive me if this is quick and dirty—I’m speed typing since I have to teach soon and I haven’t even gotten into the shower yet—

So I was kind of surprised that this month’s issue of Poetry had no letters regarding the previous month’s essay on women in poetry—not one that I saw—

It was an interesting essay—an email exchange between three different women writers/editors talking about a variety of different subjects concerning the present feminist state of the poetic union, as it were—a very smart, elegant discussion—

I know Jill Rosser and Eleanor Wilner and admire both their poetry and them quite a bit (actually, Eleanor’s who I’ve always wanted to be when I grow up)—you couldn’t ask for two more eloquent women to join such a conversation—still I had a few problems with the essay—first, why is it that men are rarely if ever included in such discussions? This always seems curious to me, as we wouldn’t need a feminist movement if we weren’t responding to something and someone, right? What’s the point of women always sitting around just discussing this with each other?

I do applaud Christian Wiman for soliciting such an essay, but it would’ve been a lot better to get a number of male poets and editors on record about the issues being discussed. I mean it’s not like feminism exists because women are going around discriminating against other women (which we do sometimes, but that’s not the primary issue—and yes, if we lived on some planet only populated by women there’d be different forms of discrimination, ala Dr. Suess’s Sneetches scenario—no doubt the ones with stars and the ones with “no stars upon thars” would get into a rumble quickly enough—human beings have the wonderful capacity to act badly in so many situations—we’re a very adaptable animal)—

My other problem was with Jill’s point that the only response to the inequities in women’s publication rates and much lesser likelihood to receive significant forms of recognition during their careers is for women poets to write “undeniably good” poems (I think I’m quoting, but I might be slightly paraphrasing here because I gave my copy of that issue to a colleague who teaches feminist theory to discuss with her classes).

My question is when has being “good” ever gotten any group being discriminated against those things they have a right to? The Civil Rights movement? The Gay/Lesbian movement? I don’t think so. It’s a noble approach, but haven’t people within those communities always been under the grinding and impossible pressure to be “gooder” than their white/straight counterparts? Isn’t that expectation just another expression of discrimination?

And haven’t we (writers who are women) already been good for a good long time now?

This isn’t me whining because I’m trying to smuggle more cookies for myself out of the cookie jar—my number of cookies suits me fine—I’m lucky enough to have a meaningful job and a supportive press that believes in my work—I make enough money to take care of my kid, which is a huge blessing compared to what a lot of others have—I don’t have any personal complaints about my lot—I’ll be fine if I never win another prize again—and I’m not saying they’re not nice to have—it’s felt great when I’ve gotten the extra bump to pay for Jude’s speech pathology appointments or buy a new dress once in awhile—but it’s not why I do this—really, if you want money and/or fame, why on earth would you devote your life to poetry?—there are a thousand better ways to get the goodies than by writing poems—

It’s that if I don’t say what I believe is true and right and important, how do I teach Jude to do so? There’s nothing like having a kid to reflect back at you the quality of your life and actions … talk about oppressive—

As Audre Lord said, “Your silence will not protect you …”

There ends the outburst from your friendly neighborhood Libra. We always think the world is going to be “fair” someday…

Posted in Uncategorized on Tuesday, February 14th, 2006 by Erin Belieu.