Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Jennifer Knutzen, one of the students in the War Stories course I TA'd for, made this presentation that I wanted to share with you all. If you are interested, as I know many of you are, in teaching ethnography as part of composition studies, on approaching veterans in your classroom respectfully, or in teaching creative writing to students who are survivors of trauma, there are resources and links in this prezzi for you.


I love to garden. Seeing things grow you understand things about how this world works, where beauty comes from, and what life is.

Here is a beautiful essay by a gardener who explains how gardening forced her to confront the reality that fruits and vegetables need animal remains--and how she accepted mortality as a part of her diet and how this gorgeous world consumes everything in order to make any other lovely thing.

Feminist Mythmakers: Forrest Gander

from,  "To C"
 by Forrest Gander

"Inside, inside the return, inside, the hero diminishes./

Over her vessel they place a veil"

What a difference a pronoun makes...

Friday, April 26, 2013

Today in Women Writers: "American Novelists" Means Men, Duh

E tu, Wikipedia?

Thanks to Amanda Filipatcchi, for noticing "something strange on Wikipedia. It appears that gradually, over time, editors have begun the process of moving women, one by one, alphabetically, from the “American Novelists” category to the “American Women Novelists” subcategory. "

"Men" isn't subcategories, it is THE category. "I am the universal standard," dudes of the internet whisper, one woman-obscuring edit at a time.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Women and Myth: Margaret Atwood and Circe

Circe, by Wright Baker

"One day you simply appeared in your stupid boat," "Circe/ Mud Poems," Margaret Atwood, from You Are Happy I was alerted to this poem series by Estella Lauter's great chapter, "Margaret Atwood: Remythologizing Circe" from Women as Mythmakers. If you have the Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry, there is an excerpt in Vol. 2. And here is some interesting discussion of the text as well.

Feminist Ekphrasis: Margaret Atwood and Manet's Olympia

Margaret Atwood confronts the male gaze directly in her poem, "Manet's Olympia."

Monday, April 22, 2013

Poets Responding to the Female Canon: Emily Dickinson

She's one of the super-stars, influential to both men and women. Today I want to highlight poems that respond to Emily Dickinson because my first poetry teacher, Carol Ann Davis, has a poem up at APR. But because I am also trying to find a Rita Dove poem for my website's discussion of women and the body (which still evades me) I also came across this poem by Dove. There, that's two awesome poems responding to an amazing poet.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Compulsory Motherhood

The piece about the British mother who publically admits to regretting ever giving birth to her children came to me via a second blogger, this one a single woman who is grateful for the validation that she may never in fact want to have children.

The British mother always knew that she didn't want children, but married her high school sweetheart who wanted a large family. They both thought the other would change. Within a few years, the woman decided she couldn't deprive her husband of children and bore him two. The people who told her that once she became a mother, she would be happy she did were wrong. She loves her children and raised them, but regrets ever having them.

The second woman also knows that she has never wanted children. She isn't married, but expresses the input she receives from society and family that she is wrong in her evaluation of her own feelings. She is told that she will change her mind about children, that she is a bad person for not wanting children, that she is missing out, or that once she has children she would change. She wrote her essay to thank the older woman for reinforcing her resolve to trust her own knowledge of herself and her own vision of her future. A future without children.

As these two very different women were describing the pressures they felt to live a life adverse to their desires, I remembered an Adrienne Rich essay that I read last fall, "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence."

Let me quote some of it, and substitute motherhood for heterosexuality: "The bias of compulsory motherhood, through which non-mothering experience is perceived on a scale ranging from deviant to abhorent, or simply rendered invisible, could be illustrated from many other texts than the two just preceding" (632)

I don't mean to suggest that motherhood and heterosexuality are completely interchangeable throughout the essay--but I do mean to push on Rich's idea that heterosexuality, as a default position, exerts certain pressures on women to set aside their misgivings and conform. Motherhood also seems like a default position in our culture, and the narrative of childlessness is often attended by a similar spectrum of reception as lesbianism, ranging from sympathy for the infertile as tragically damaged to portrayals of the childless-by-choice as unnatural or even monstrous. To really explore the dark waters of this rhetoric, check out the anti-birth control discussion that is directed at the Affordable Healthcare Act.

A lot of people feel the pressure to be accepted and normal, or question their own feelings and desires when the majority of people say they are missing out on something good or are actively doing something bad. If you are pretty sure you don't want to drink coffee, but you've never had it, and everyone you know loves it, you'd probably think about trying it. But a kid isn't something you can try, says our culture. It's not the same experience to babysit someone else's kid. So you hate being around other people's kids, our culture says, but you'll love your own. Trust us.

To which the British mother's piece, despite the generous amounts of hateful comments, is trying to assert itself. Don't trust our culture, this woman says. You will regret it. Trust yourself.

I always thought that I'd have children some day, although there were times when I wasn't sure how I would manage it. I grew up watching Murphy Brown carry on raising her child despite the off-camera posturing of politicians, and watching one of my own aunts struggle with the decision to give up her hopes of building a family through artificial insemination thanks, at least in part, to pressure from my family. I didn't think I had much chance of meeting a man who would want to start a family with me, so I was mentally preparing myself to do it on my own.

I'm not sure if this makes me as clueless about how others perceive me as the women in the Dove experiment, or if my husband is just some sort of lucky fluke. But either way, I was married at 23 and asking my husband to make babies with me before we had even set the date. We were married in spring and by fall we were expecting our first child, due a few months after our first anniversary.

If the story of how I became a mother ended there, I might have read these two blog pieces today and wondered if I, too, was bum-rushed into motherhood by a culture that tells me it's the best thing I'll ever do. With a two year old who is just beginning to embrace the role propounded by the label "terrible," and a four year old who occasionally forgets himself and likes to join in, poopy diapers to change, and someone waking up in the middle of every other night, it would be easy for me to wonder, is this really what I wanted from my life? Do I, also, regret my children?

That fall, after I learned I was pregnant, I was luminous with joy. I crocheted a baby blanket and bought used clothes of Ebay and tried to plan how to convert the second bedroom of our townhouse from my office into a nursery. But I also had doubts. My husband and I were newlyweds, readying ourselves to be new parents. But I remember after one fight, wondering if I hadn't made a terrible mistake--throwing my life away by becoming dependent on a man I barely knew. I was self-aware enough, at 23, to know I'd taken a huge risk. Raising a child by myself on the salary I could command with a master of fine arts seemed like a pretty bad fall-back position.

I was trapped. Almost as soon as the thought crossed my mind, my pregnancy failed. When I started bleeding, I rushed to the nearest hospital, despite the warnings the midwife we had chosen gave us on our first visit. I didn't care if it was inconvenient for her to coordinate care at a hospital where she didn't have privileges. I was only six weeks pregnant, and I wanted someone to tell me it was all going to turn out fine.

I called my husband and my father on the way to the emergency room. My husband began his long trek across town to hold my hand in the triage room. My father tried to give me the good news I wanted. Maybe it's just placenta previa, he told me, just a little blood from a minor condition that will resolve itself. It's one of three times that my father really came through for me.

In the emergency room, my husband was escorted in by a nurse. They recognized him by his anxiety and his camouflage. The resident, who also attended me when I sliced open my finger on a broken aquarium the year before, read us the results of my blood work. The six color-coded vials of blood that the nursing student next to him had drawn had revealed something that shocked me. "You're not pregnant," the doctor told me. I didn't understand. It took several minutes for him to explain to me that the results showed that I had no HCG in my system, the hormone that makes the plus sign show up on a home pregnancy test, the hormone used to diagnose pregnancy. I told him about our multiple positive pregnancy tests and the confirming test at the base clinic, and all he could do is shrug. "If you had a miscarriage, it was weeks ago," he told us.

In the following weeks we tried to wrap our heads around what had happened, and we also tried to conceive again. We didn't manage it for another nine months. This isn't an unusual amount of time, but it was agonizing to a couple who worried that they might not ever be able to have children. This was the year that Britney Spears' little sister got pregnant at 16, the year in which Pregnant at 16 became an MTV reality TV show. Several actresses over 40 gave birth to twins. I was jealous of everyone. Walking down a crowed Phoenix sidewalk with my husband on the way to a spring training game, I saw a man holding a six month old on his shoulders. I whispered to my husband, "if he drops her, lets grab her and run." I was only partly kidding. My pregnancy had been incredibly brief, but I was already a mother in my heart. Every child I saw was a child I loved. This has not gone away. I'm happy for all the children I see in happy families, worried for the ones who seem to need something more, and willing to take any of them if they need me.

When my son was born, it was 18 months after we learned of our miscarriage. He wasn't an easy baby. He couldn't latch on and he didn't sleep much, even for a newborn, perhaps a couple hours at a time, and had to be held constantly. There were nights I spent as a new mother, weeping while holding an inconsolable baby and debating whether or not to just reach for the formula the hospital sent us home with. Eventually I did, and my husband fed a happy baby while I hooked myself up to a machine, cleaned the machine, and tried to get thirty minutes of sleep before trying to feed him again, failing again, pumping again, cleaning again.

But I didn't regret it. I knew how much I wanted my son, knew from those months wondering if I'd ever be able to bear a child that loving children was a large part of what I wanted out of a full life. It was a really anxious, jealous, and painful part of my life, but this morning I finally fully accepted it as a gift. I don't have to wonder if my life would be fuller or richer without my children. I was given an opportunity to change my mind, to live without regret.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Women as Mythmakers: Lucille Clifton's "Leda"

Lucille Clifton's response to the story of Leda's rape by the swan-formed Zeus, I cannot help but compare to William Butler Yeats' "Leda and the Swan:"

"How can those terrified vague fingers push / The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?"

Honestly, I think "Leda 1" is a direct response:

"there is nothing luminous/ about this."

Clifton gives voices to other Ledas, less victimized than Leda 1. But all of them are attempts to give voice to women's perspective, not that of the swan-god or the onlooker.

My reading of this poem is hardly original--for some interesting criticism that suggests that Leda 2 and 3 are Mary and Eve, visit Shara McCallum’s “The Volta, the Vulva, Leda, and Lucille” at Voltage Poetry. Note: It was disturbingly difficult to find an image of Leda where she isn't smiling or kissing the swan on the beak. Gross.

Women as Mythmakers: "A Certain Kind of Eden" by Kay Ryan

A Certain Kind of Eden by Kay Ryan : The Poetry Foundation

"you can’t go back and pull/ the roots and runners and replant"

It's hard for me not to read Ryan's poem as a feminist lament. If the foundations of our story are unhealthy and skewed, can't we start a new one? Some people argue that feminism, by always reacting to patriarchy, is restrained from new and original growth. But aren't we bound by our origin stories? We can attempt to change them, recode them, but can we ever destroy a story with the power of Eden?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

To the Future

To the Future (response to the Futurists)

What I mean when I say anything

Is that, in a desert, you need

Water and a compass. To forget this

Is to become suicidal.

When I look at you, I see your skin

With its constellation of moles

And the train-wreck galaxy of eczema

And this is at least part of what defines you

As a “person.” I’m sorry. Without your border

Of skin, you would not be a subject

But a skinless corpse. I apologize again

Because I am no postmodern woman—

I have been told to be otherwise is to be the victim

Of a historical mistake.

I have been fooled by this body

And its insistences, its constant nagging

And miracles.

What I mean when I say anything

Is that I have my ration of truth, or naivete

Or passeism, and I have more, even

More than I need. And I am in a city

That is starving for lack of money

And not of food—and here—

Have some—

What I mean when I say anything

Is that I mean. In this particular desert,

To forget suicide, to embrace an apologetic skin,

Embarrassingly old-fashioned,

The miracle of femininity and sentiment

Nothing like a car riding on grapeshot.

Just a hundred suns of chemical joy

Pumping through our softly-fortified

Animal cells, this life, this glory.

Zong!’s Miraculous Poetics and the Problem of Witnessing

What does it mean to tell a story that can’t be told? In her experimental book of poetry, Zong!, M. NourbeSe Philip confronts the impossibility of recuperating the “complete story,” of the massacre of 150 Africans aboard the slave ship Zong and creates a mystical poetic procedure in order to “conjure” and “re-transform” the slave commodities back into speaking human presences (Philip 199, 196).