Monday, February 25, 2008

Poetry Town

Just a few random and, one hopes, not incoherent, thoughts before bed.  I've been reading David Roderick's Blue Colonial, a book I had heard about but had not picked up.  I had never seen the cover--I just kept hearing people talk about it, and for some reason thought it was about the suburbs.  That didn't sound all that appealing.  I was in a bookstore the other day and saw the cover and realized it was about "colonials" alright, but the Pilgrims.  This was interesting as I have a love/hate relationship with my own origins among them.

On an aesthetic level, the poetry was certainly good, but not really interesting.  However, on a thematic level, it was really something.  Taking on that period in history is certainly worth something.  Also, he used birth imagery throughout, which I found pretty fascinating.  It was birth imagery, however, detached from its context in the female body.  Interesting line breaks in one poem (and of course I do not have the book at my side down here in my livingroom--it's in my office) highlighted some of the Pilgrims' first steps on American soil as like a birth, of course, complicating that conceptually with spiritual rebirth, awakening, etc.

There are a series of poems about the modern day speaker's gestation.  In these poems, the mother's body serves as an incubator, while what makes the speaker is all drawn from the natural world.  The mother's body doesn't so much make the speaker as it does carry him.

This was kind of interesting in terms of my long-ago dissertation, in which I found that analogies for writing that involved birth/childbirth were more positive the farther apart vehicle and tenor were, and negative the closer the two were.  That is, the more the analogy clung to the female body, the more negative it was.  Women in the same period (the 17th century) did not use these analogies at all--I was looking at analogies writers used to describe their writing or that of their peers.  

So it doesn't surprise me that a guy would use a dissociated childbirth metaphor.  I also argued, btw, that men don't appropriate these metaphors--that they simply adapt them.  Essentially, I think men have the same right to the metaphor as women do.  

So is this part of the puzzle about the appearance of the female body and writing about childbirth and children in poetry by women?  Are we sticking too closely to personal experience, or can we make more of it in terms of analogy and metaphor?  I mean, certainly James Allen Hall and David Roderick are writing autobiographically to an extent.  Or are we just uncomfortable when that metaphor gets too close to its source?  Are women more often criticized than men for writing from personal experience?  I mean, Dean Young writes from personal experience--it's just fantastically jumbled and wild projections of the inside of his mind--I would like to live inside Dean Young's head for a day and look out and see what he sees.

But back to the subject: I've read Cathy Wagner's Macular Hole, which is a great book about motherhood, but almost too detached from any emotional valence.  Isn't there a challenge there--to try to do something different and interesting with childbirth metaphors, female body imagery, and emotion?  Can you pull off that trifecta without being run out of Poetry Town?

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