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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Go Ahead: Judge My Book By Its Cover!

It's been a busy month here at The Little Office. The last couple of weeks while we/I were supposedly on vacation with the in-laws, auntie, uncle, and cousins/nieces, I was steadfastly checking out dozens of collage artists' websites. I had no idea how many of them were out there! After a week of diligently sneaking every free minute possible to search cyberspace high and low, I came across a collaged image on an old-fashioned playing card by one Felicia Piacentino. When I saw it, I let out a gasp. Why? Because "Planetary" pleasingly and perfectly presents the three main subjects of my book: the trifecta of cosmic wonder, baby-making/rearing, and spirits/saints/gods/goddesses. I was so happy to finally find a work of art that really says: go ahead, judge this book by its cover, cuz you're about to read poems that deal with all three, sometimes all at once.

But of course you also want to see a few of the runner's up, right? Of course you do!

Send Me An Angel

This one is by Peter Lewis, a collagist near and dear to my heart. So funny! But a little too bonkers for my somewhat/at times serious book.

And "Reach Out to the Stars," another by Peter Lewis, which it turns out was featured in a show called "Gravy," which happens to be the title of the penultimate poem in The Little Office--but alas, there aren't quite enough aliens in my book to warrant this:

And then there was Marty Gordon's work . . .

Got A Light

This image I also loved, but again, just a tad too kooky for the gravitas aspect of this collection. I also loved:

Vacuuming on Moon

I also liked this one by Edith Vonnegut, but it was a tad on the busy side, and perhaps contained a few too many female figures:

Story of My Life

Finally, Lou Beach's "Collage with Key and Door and Eye"

There were a few others, but these were the ones I kept going back to over and over.

Once I chose Piacentino's "Planetary," I contacted her (fingers crossed) to see if she would let me use a digitized image of her fine work x 1,000. What a relief when she said yes! I also purchased the original art work (playing-card sized) to frame and treasure for eternity.

Thanks, Felicia, for agreeing to let me use your work, and to Henry Israeli, my editor at Saturnalia, for being patient and helpful with suggestions and advice as I conducted my World Wide Webby search.

Now onto the final editing of the manuscript . . .

Monday, August 9, 2010

To Make a Book

To make a book it takes a planet and one prayer,
One planet, and a prayer.
And a lair.
The lair alone will do,
If prayers are few.

(Felicia Piacentino's "Planetary")

Thursday, August 5, 2010

In Praise of Old White Guys

Theodore Roethke
Wallace Stevens
William Butler Yeats

And yet . . . I do not mean to discount. And yet . . . how many given box seats at the Bo-Sox/Yankees World Series would trade them for a pair of nosebleed bleacher-seats?

And yet . . . the list is long and the debt I owe immeasurable:

William Shakespeare (never mind he was most likely a woman)

I mean, listen to this stuff!! "But I hung on like death. Such waltzing was not easy." (Roethke) O how about "One must have a mind of winter" (Stevens). A MIND of winter. Whoa. Or how about Herbert's

You must sit down," says Love, "and taste my meat."
So I did sit and eat.

This is all such good action. Memorize these poems and you will have the rhythms of poetry embedded into your brain. You won't be able to pick up a pen and write bad poetry. Okay, so maybe you will, but you will at least get that poetry is music, that emotion is motion, the words on the page not only making sense to your brain but, through your ears, to your beating heart.

Don't diss these guys cuz they were white and privileged! They rock it, rock it, rock it!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Back in the Days of the Token-Female Syllabus

I posted a comment the other day about leaving college with the belief that to be a woman poet I needed to wear a white dress and hang out in an attic. This was because, I said, the only female poet on the syllabus during four years at Grinnell College was, of course, Emily D.

Okay, you're saying, either you went to college in 1900 or you've got to be exaggerating. OOPS, I forgot: we did read the poems of one other female poet, and that would be none other than Sylvia Plath. Yep, there you have it: a kinda-bizarre hermit and a suicide. If we wanted to be female poets, these were our role models.

I didn't keep the syllabi from my English classes; I stopped using the big, giant Traditions of English Literature even as a doorstopper years ago, but let me break it down for youze:

1. In my freshman composition class, when we read Robert Lowell's "Skunk Hour," the professor pointed out that the poem is dedicated to Elizabeth Bishop, "Nautilus Island's hermit," but we read no poems by Elizabeth Bishop.

2. The required English major sequence was nicknamed Trads (after the book we had to read in full). It started with "The Twa Corbies" and ended in the early 20th Century. As far as I know, there were no women poets in this entire book, though I do recall reading a butt-load of white guys, some good and some pretty awful. As far as I could tell, British women did not write poetry at all. However, they did write novels--in a course titled The British Novel we read six novels, one of them by Elizabeth Austen. And in a freshman humanities course, Edith Warton held her own alongside Sartre, Camus, Zamayatin, and Orwell. The saddest part to me is that 3/4 of these courses were taught by women.

3. I seriously had to round out this ridiculously female-voice-deprived state of affairs by conducting my own personal course in women's letters. This took place in the dorm, cafeteria, and library, where I read Adrienne Rich's The Dream of a Common Language, and all order of feminist manifestos, including The Second Sex, The Feminine Mystique, The Dialectic of Sex, and the like. To Grinnell's credit, I discovered Nikki Giovanni when she visited our campus for two days. Giovanni brought excitement and energy into our staling brains, blowing us away with her convocations, readings, and Q&As, then left us to trudge back into our rainbow-void classrooms.

Things changed soon after I graduated college. I missed, by about five minutes, the wave of multiculturalism that busted open the literary canon and brought not only females writers onto our nation's campuses, but writers of nearly every cultural and racial background. They arrived in droves not only for a 2-day visit but for the duration, embedded into the syllabi and the lists of required texts. And with that, as if by magic (but simply by virtue of having role models--examples of successful writers who looked like them), coeds of all shades and creeds began to work toward the goal of becoming accomplished writers, perhaps with a shot at landing their work in the next generation of The Norton Anthology of Literature.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Do Women Artists Need a Leg Up?

Please excuse the tiny print (I tried everything to get this bigger, but when I zoom in and enlarge, the dang thing reverts to its tiny version), but doesn't this postcard say it all? I know so many women who fall straight into this category. Mainly the ones I know are mothers who have spent the last 20 years raising their children and keeping their husbands from falling apart. The kids fly the coop and they can't figure out why they no longer know what it is they once woke up in the morning with a passion to do. Was it painting? Was it designing a house? Was it physics? Was it knitting a hat? Was it taking photographs? They've had to work freelance jobs or be an adjunct (in order to be there when the bus drops off the kids, in order to be around when preschool goes on break during random weeks in February and June), so now it's impossible to be taken seriously as a possible tenure-track hire. They are branded. OR, they do crawl out of this miserable hole of inertia, or this miserable hole of branded-ness, begin to make art, or begin to have a solid teaching position with a real future, and then realize that whatever they create will be marginalized as "feminine." What is feminine art? Art about child-rearing. Art about doing laundry. Art about anything domestic. Art that isn't about Greek statues, Odysseus, or war.

On the other hand, I know that there are all kinds of exceptions--house husbands, Mr. Moms, male freelancers, male adjuncts (millions of them), males who feel like hey, give me a break, I'm in the same boat you're in, miss. And men who, God bless 'em, are writing about taking care of kids, male poets like Tom Hunley and Peter Waldor. AND I know that most of these statements could apply to men, especially the ones about tenure, 4 freelance jobs, and men who don't smoke cigars.

And hey, Heather McHugh's a genius, and we all know it. And so's Linda Bierds, and so's Lucia Perillo. That's just three off the top of my head, a MacArthur triumvirate right here in a 60-mile radius of Seattle. (Women get awarded MacArthur fellowships quite often, in fact, though I do not have the percentages. They also win Guggenheims, get tenure, and kick serious butt in the the arts in general, and definitely in the literary arts.)

It's not all as cut and dry as the Guerilla Girls break it down, but still something catches in my brain when I read this list. Women are grossly misrepresented in magazines such as The New Yorker, Three Penny Review, The Atlantic Monthly and quite a few other "venerable" journals. Why? Is it that women tend to write about frivolous things (i.e., mothering) and therefore their work is not taken seriously? Is there a vital need for organizations such as VIDA, or do women artists no longer need a leg up to make it in this cut-throat business of "making special"?

I'm not sure. What do you think?

What I want to believe is this: in the past, women were very much marginalized. Basically, they were not allowed to write or paint or do fucking much of anything at all except needlepoint or quilting. The folk arts. Today that marginalization is lessening. The powers that be are beginning to "get" that good writing is good writing, whether it's about power tools and Greek statues, or diapers and strollers.

We have made progress. What gender you are matters less. But still, I often hear examples to the contrary. One never does know, does one, why certain magazines publish more male writers--significantly more male writers--than female writers. Is it because men write better? Or is because the dominant paradigm is more accepting of their themes, styles, and chosen subject matter? You tell me.