A question that often comes up is, “Why do you write?”
In my department, we have used this as a generative exercise; and outside of the department, the question recurs in conversation. It takes a moderate amount of determination to pursue writing. It sometimes seems masochistic to revise time and time again, or to submit work to publishers every marking period. So I believe there is a core ambition in every writer that motivates them to work with their art tirelessly. Hitherto, I believe the reason that people choose to write is multitudinous.
There is an anthology entitled We Will Be Shelter: Poems For Survival that illustrates the core of my motivation to write. The anthology, published by Andrea Gibson, focuses on addressing inequality and social justice. It encourages the reader to analyze the social constructs and ethics of the world around them – to contemplate the mechanics of the system and then what can be improved or changed within it. For me, poetry is dauntless and inexhaustible – it is a tool for survival.
As Audre Lorde wrote, “Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before.”
Thalia Rose, class of 2018
Last Tuesday, CW alumna Mollie Cueva (Class of 2013) visited CW1 and taught a lesson about feminist poetry and intersectionality.
Definitions (convened by Mollie Cueva)
- Feminism: the belief in the social, political, and economic equality of women
- Gender: range of socially ascribed characteristics pertaining and differentiating between masculinity and femininity (and other)
- Sex: the 2+ major forms of individuals that occur in many species on the basis of reproductive organs and chromosonal structure. may or may not agree with gender identity.
- Intersectionality: the acknowledgement of the different and overlapping spheres of oppression/oppressional forces on a person’s life
- Womanism: the acknowledgement of the specific discrimination and inequality experienced by black women
After an introduction to feminist poetry with the definitions shown above, CW I read and discussed the essay “Poetry is Not a Luxury” by Audre Lorde. Poetry is Not a Luxury was predicated by a brief summary of the first two waves of feminism, which illustrated that while the first and second waves of feminism granted women the right to vote and opened up more opportunities for them, these early movements excluded trans women and women of color from the movement.
In modern time, intersectionality is still often disregarded. It was important for us to discuss this, because addressing a problem is a step towards working out how to make things less unjust. It was beneficial to me that I could learn about my privilege as a white person (and feminist).
Anna (class of 2018) pointed out how in last year’s poetry unit, the book we studied from was predominantly the writing of white men, and that it lacked diverse perspectives. Audre Lorde, a lesbian poet, presented different styles and ideas than we had read last year. In Audre Lorde’s essay, she wrote, “This is poetry as illumination… From which true poetry springs births thought as dreams births concept, as feeling births idea, as knowledge births (precedes) understanding.”
Furthermore, we read “Translations”, a poem by Adrienne Rich. The poem introduces the concept of the nuclear family. The nuclear family concept prioritizes gender roles. It was initially created by sociologists as an oppressive device. The archetype of a woman as a docile housewife harms and isolates women. The poem mentions the sexism and internalized misogyny that is a result of the nuclear family concept.
“The phone rings endlessly
in a man’s bedroom
she hears him telling someone else
Never mind. She’ll get tired.
hears him telling her story to her sister /
who becomes her enemy
and will in her own way
light her own way to sorrow.”
These two stanzas tell of an affair, presumably of the husband of the narrator and the narrator’s sister. The vagueness of the poem makes it so that what the husband says open to interpretation. It also brings a tone of powerlessness. In discussion of this piece, it was brought up that there is a double standard for men and women regarding sex. For women, there is “losing your virginity”. In life and literature, there is an odd fixation on virginity, specifically the breaking of the hymen during first sexual experience. Women are objectified as sexual objects in media and American culture, yet a woman with sexual desire is shamed for it. In the ultra-patriarchal world of the novel Chronicle of a Death Foretold, a newlywed woman is beaten by her husband once he discovers she is not a virgin. The man who took the newlywed woman’s virginity years ago is murdered by the woman’s brothers in a machismo sense of honor. Today, when a man has sex with multiple partners, he is called a stud. When a woman has sex with multiple partners, she is called slurs.
“ignorant of the fact that this grief
is shared, unnecessary
With that in mind, Heather Woodward mentioned that when she decided to prioritize teaching over writing, she reflected on the decisions she had made throughout her life and realized that, for her, they all correlated with being a woman. She felt that, by being raised to be nurturing, teaching was the path she had naturally selected.
Personally, being raised a girl, I had personal experiences with sexism and was weighed down by being treated as lesser. I had been silenced in classes, or spoken over by men who repeated my ideas. This year I’ve been practicing empowerment with statements like, “You interrupted me when I was talking” and “I wasn’t done with what I was saying” and “Don’t make comments about my body”.
My relationships with others have been influenced by sexism. Even with girls, my relationships have been affected by internalized misogyny and the petty envy and competition that is instilled by it. I am woman-aligned agender person, yet feminism is still one of the most important things to me in my writing. I was shaped as a person from being raised as a girl, and from only having strong women figures in my life when I was growing up. I think that being raised a girl and facing discrimination from being assigned female at birth is why feminism is so important to me and in my creative work.
Thalia Rose, class of 2018
The church camp I went to in Florida was in a humid, rainy woodland. I did not know anyone there the summer of 2009. The first thing that happened at church camp was an assembly in the cafeteria. This assembly included a lecture from a greasy sixteen year-old boy. He began, “I am going to tell you a story about the ant who survived the apocalypse.”
“There was an ant named Todd. He was five feet tall and stood like a human man. He could only travel by killing. After killing, he would travel in the carcass of his victim. He did not feel bad about it. He saw a rabbit in the grass. He ran up to it and dug his fangs into her stomach.”
The kids around me were laughing. One kid had his finger so deep into his nose that I could only see the knuckle of it. I remember having a confusion as deeply rooted as that kid’s finger. My consular whispered to the co-consular, “This story is four hours long.”
It did. I will spare you the length of the story. The progression of events went like this: the ant travels in the body of the rabbit until he reaches a pelican. Upon reaching the pelican, he kills it. He flies around and has a revelation about Holiness. Then, he kills a fish. He, as a fish, travels to a playground. The story ends with the fish, who is actually an ant sitting in a rotting corpse, sitting on the playground as the last creature alive after the apocalypse. There was no particular moral to this story. It was reliant on shock value, and after about an hour the audience had been drained of shock value.
I think about this story often for two reasons. Firstly because, as a writer who prefers to create poetry and prose, form is highly experimental. The storytelling at church camp was resonant in the way that someone had devoted time to creating a four hour long story about a murderous ant and that proved that if an individual is determined to do something, be it abstract to the point where it is appalling or not, an individual can do it. Secondly, it was memorable because it was an odd, inconsequential storytelling that ultimately holds no significance to my life and personal choices beyond a common lesson in absurdity.