Friday, March 24, 2006

Emotional Permissiveness, Food, and Wine

Am in the middle of this huge work bulge: MFA packet, work-for-pay big event coming up, putting together a poetry reading for next week, daughter's birday next week, etc. My own birthday was Wednesday, and Roger and I went out to one of my favorite WDC restaurants--Vidalia. Very expensive, but the place never falls down in the categories of imagination and preparation. So many other Bethesda or WDC restaurants that start out hot just can't keep up--and one day you go, pay the big bucks for a meal, and you get something you could have cooked at home.

Speaking of at home, Roger and I have gotten rather absurdly into a Food Network reality show, in which 8 or so contestants vie for a show on the Food Network. What I like about it is the fact that the contest involves actual skills, and not just personality; the contestants are not set at one another's throats or encouraged to saboutage one another; the Food Network producers are also providing training and tips to the contestants so they can work on their weak areas as the contest progresses. In other words, it's not about humilitation. I think it's the most professional reality show I've ever watched.

And back again to food--while we were eating our frankly marvelous meal at Vidalia, Roger and I discussed poetry and female authority--or, rather, I discussed that at Roger and he, because it was my birthday, nodded politely. I stand by my assertion that women are blocked from some of the emotional range of poetry because emotionally-charged speech is fraught with receptive problems in readers. That is, sometimes I think poetry is the last bastion of misogyny. Not so fiction writing. I was reading a review of an up and coming female poet on Amazon: many people had reviewed her two books. A lot of them had nothing but praise, but a few were fixated on what they described as her lack of seriousness--this, to these people, meant that she wrote about 'love' which was not a serious issue and wrote about it in an emotional range that they did not like. Women writing with emotion about love. Let's see--male poets writing with emotion about love: Petrarch (a little giddy, frankly, and a little over the top with all that 'I freeze and burn' garbage), Neruda (a little oversexed, if you ask me), Shakespeare (a little vapid, really, and too coy)--should I go on?

There are times when I wonder how locked in emotionally women have to be to be considered good. Does emotional expression in women still equal hysteria? Does asserting authority in a speaker equal a kind of bitchdom still? I think that female poets are most praised and unequivocably praised when they subscribe to reticence and when they displace messy emotions onto characterized speakers of whom the reader might disapprove anyway. Evenness and modulation make for good writing where women are concerned.

Looking at the Poetry Foundation website, they note that many of the bloggers (and these are mostly the male bloggers) have said they admire the Romantic poets. I have always hated the Romantic poets, for reasons I have never bothered to fully think through. They do, though, serve as models of emotional permissiveness for men, who are conditioned to suppress their own emotions. Women are not conditioned that way. We can let it all hang out--but the rest of the culture is conditioned to ignore and downplay female emotional expression. When women are passionate, men are bemused or threatened. Think of reaction to Plath. Yet Shelley and Keats share her emotional range--and they are models to be emulated.

I think that each of our relationships toward the aesthetics of emotion in poetry is complicated--complicated by social taboos, and complicated by our own inability to see our ingrained prejudices.

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