Mar 29, 2012

"The password is a flicker of an eyelash"

"The connections between and among women are the most feared, the most problematic, and the most potentially transforming force on the planet."

My Mother, Donna, (I call my parents by their first names, Andy & Donna; always have) has a wonderful, if slightly idiosyncratic, method of organizing her books on her bookshelves.  Generally, she organizes them by genre.  But then in almost all genres, they will be divided by sex.  Thus, William Carlos Williams does not live next door to Edna St Vincent Millay.  He lives next door to T.S. Eliot.  As much as I have come to love William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound and e. e. cummings and other male poets, it was always that women's poetry section of her bookshelf that intrigued me the most.

The big three for me, from Donna's bookshelf, that I loved the most were Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, and Marianne Moore.  And at the time I was sneaking those books off of Donna's bookshelves was a time when I was still writing poetry.  (I hung that hat up a long time ago.  I had my moments, but I was never very good.  Eventually, I realized that I was not in it for the art, but in it for trying to seduce women. What is it they say in Cold Comfort Farm about seducing people through poetry?) I think the last serious poem I wrote was probably in 1990, or so.  Believe me, none of you are missing anything from my "retirement".

I know Marianne Moore is not really in fashion these days (hell, what poets are?) but I still love her work.  And Plath was a no-brainer for my drama major sensibilities, plus she was married to a poet, who many believe was better than her.  (Those that believe that are wrong, but that is neither here nor there at the moment.) But, whereas, Ms Moore can be very silly at times, or write poetry about the most ludicrous of topics; and Ms Plath's work can come off as over-thought and too richly wrought, or, "worked on"; Ms Rich's poems come across as communiques from the clandestine press.

Just sitting at my desk, trying to change the world.

Ms Rich's poems are forthright, direct, polemic, conversational, spare, yet elegant distillations of, say, the Reuters News Service.  Ms Rich has no interest in providing clues or masking her intent. She lays out her wishes, loudly and plainly, over and over again.  It was her special talent that her style never seemed boring or pedantic.  Because that is a very thin wire to walk even by twentieth century standards of "modern" poetry.  She expresses human (and political; every frickin' thing we do in life is political) relationships as a quest for truth.  There was probably never an instant in her work (or adult life, for that matter) that she hedged her bets to spare someone's feelings.  Because she knew that Truth was always better in the end than hurt feelings in the meantime.

Rich was obsessed with "truth" and wrote about it constantly, throughout her life.  The quest for truth, to me, is like the quest for perfection.  It is something wholly unattainable, yet something all serious artists endeavor for, a Quixotic dream that separates great artists from the rest of the hacks and critics like me.

"There is no 'the truth', 'a truth' -- truth is not one thing, or even a system.  It is an increasing complexity."

-- Ardent

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