Telling someone I write poetry still sometimes feels akin to admitting a guilty secret… which of course is just a manifestation of the wider problem: if you’re a woman writing poetry, you must either be writing about love, and ascribing to the ‘whimsical poet’ model; or writing about your personal experiences, feelings, and angst, and so leaning more towards the Confessionalist ‘crazy woman’, screeching unmodulated wailings straight from the heart (which wrongly implies no methodology whatsoever, and undermines so-called ‘Confessionalist women’ from Plath to Sexton). How could you, a woman, possibly be writing about something beyond your own body? Narcissism, self-indulgence, and excessive emotion are all qualities attached to the contemporary caricature of the female poet. Still.
Why, if that’s not the case, did the male Beats, so overtly self-mutilating and, yes, sometimes emotional, never get that patronising treatment that we do – why were they immediately understood to be implicating worldly matters when writing about their sexual experiences? Sharon Olds certainly wasn’t read like that. Why, if that’s not the case, is the most common response to my telling someone I write poetry, not ‘what’s it about?’, but ‘who is it about?’ or ‘when did this happen?’ or (even more often) ‘that’s so cute!/endearing!’.
But I’m not writing personal poetry, and I’m certainly not writing about my own loves. I’m writing about other things, that I think important. So why, when I tell you I write poetry, does it still feel like I’m opening myself up to accusations of self-indulgence?
Poetry should be freedom from inherently gendered everyday prose. It’s not.
Give me a hand o God
Lavinia had no hand to bite, and so
her daddy placed his own into her rosebud razed
mouth, the tongue scooped out but not quite to the
-how many times did Diana have to demonstrate with forefinger and thumb that a weed is not weeded out if not ripped at the
Ugly homunculus that jerks in time to silent words.
Meanwhile your tongue carves out ‘I love you’
into the whorl of her ear.
Meanwhile the pear fills itself and
drops from the tree. That would have been a good finale,
but the Philadelphia Amtrak won’t get me there.
I love you, o gardener of quarries.
The Tattooed Women of Seoul
My skin is not your skin.
It is not a beast’s skin, to be hung, it is
to be stained.
O homoclausus, you are cold, you glimmer,
patina of childproof packaging.
We wretched, open to penetration and seeping, leaking milk,
leaky vessel, exuding menses, erratic,
– magnificent –
“It’s not a damned spot anymore,
it’s a kind of ennoblement, darling.”
The sandman fucked Sybil
but we do not sleep in the dark,
our skin cannot be contained within glass.
We fill the space like vinegar
then ferment and generate the heat of fury,
Our ink eddying to
the shades whence we’ve come.
Pour the pitch in the porches of my ear.
My essence has changed, I am not ashamed.
I am guilty.