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Journal, Day Four

By Catherine Wagner

Hi. Back to what I was talking about Tuesday—as a political act, does the current focus on the context for poetic activity (avoiding traditional hierarchies, collaborating to produce work, finding new channels for distribution and publication that refuse to engage the wicked power-plays of Barnes and Noble) accomplish anything? Oh sure; even if reverberations outside the immediate community in which the act takes place are infinitesimal, the immediate community is a real place in which real change can happen, and any community, however small, is a place where we can try to enact fair structures. But the urge to power isn’t completely squelched by these practices; it’s displaced onto the group or process, which can’t help trying to gather power to itself by publicizing its practices. Kent Johnson gains cultural capital by publishing about not publishing under his own name; the Flarfists gain notoriety by association. But perhaps ego is deflected, a little? And the participants are hopeful, engaged, hurray.

As for me for awhile I have been trying to write didactic poems, though I don’t know whether they will be recognized as such. Not poems that know ahead of time what they are going to say and in what form, but poems that acknowledge my accountability for what they say and that set out to engage an issue. I understand “me” and “I” here as categories in flux; nevertheless, instead of trying to evade the categories of “I” and “author” (as various experimental traditions have tried to do) or attempting to diffuse the “I” or author’s efforts to claim power (as collaboration, for example, seems to me to try to do) I want to engage those activities and shine a light on ‘em. Hmm, I am trying to think of poems that do this kind of work. Jennifer Moxley’s.

Thinking more about what I said about the mother anthology. I was in a grump when I wrote it, having recently heard some young women say they never wanted to be mothers because mothering is a waste of their time and they have better things to do. And in fact I hope they don’t have kids right now, they’re too young, they do have better things to do—but the wholesale dismissal of mothering as a worthy activity upset me, mainly because I think it’s not motherhood the girls were objecting to, but the cultural context of motherhood. The real focus of the young women’s disdain ought to be a culture that makes mothering into a situation to be despised; mothers represent and appear to uphold a system in which they have little power, so they’re easy to target. If parenting were supported as it could be in our culture, with sufficient help available for the nuclear parent who’s now often forced to raise small children in a near-vacuum (the necessities of capitalism move many of us away from grandparents and others who might help), the decision to adopt or bear children might not be so fraught.

I don’t mean to imply that men don’t participate in the work of parenting; of course many of them are the primary caretakers, and I know of a number of couples in which workloads are shared evenly. But many couples find that somehow, even with the best gender-neutral intentions, women end up with the bulk of the work. If the woman nurses, the workload is necessarily and immediately skewed. I love nursing, and it’s best for the child and good for the mother, but it’s biological slavery. I just started a job in a large English department; about half the faculty are women, and most of these are single and have no children. The men are mostly married with children. Hmm, how’d the men pull that off? Women who pursue careers make decisions that many men aren’t forced to make. I am saying the obvious here, everyone knows this stuff.

I want to say before I leave the topic: the pleasures of motherhood are enormous cosmic transcendent. I would not go back to my life pre-motherhood; my son is the best thing in my life, and I love my life. But my joy in mothering is mimicked and represented every day in TV ads; the focus on motherhood’s satisfactions creates a context in which one fears to complain because one will be seen as a bad mother, in the same way that ads’ focus on female slenderness creates a false, guilt-producing norm. I think of our anthology as part of an ongoing set of questionings of and interventions into the limitations and power of the category of motherhood. Our anthology will have its own problematic and limiting assumptions. I hope it gets kicked around hard, because that will mean it is doing its interventionist job, creating debate.

Posted in Uncategorized on Thursday, December 14th, 2006 by Catherine Wagner.