Thursday, May 22, 2008

Birdland

I need to make some updates to my blog this weekend, including links to some other blogs by special needs parents, some poetry links, and some political links.  Plus a few other things--something to look forward to.  This week has been crazy busy just trying to stay on top of things and devote some time to writing.  I found myself noting in an email to a new friend about my writing that I want to make language a stranger to me in order to describe what has happened to Robert, to describe disability, and try to show a reader what it is like.  The problem is, would the reader be willing to sign on to read something like that?

Went to the Kennedy Krieger Institute today for a physical medicine check up.  Robert will be getting new AFOs, which is good, as he hates the ones he has.  He seemed cheered by this as we've been telling him now for a couple of months that we're working on getting him new ones.  The old ones are pinching his feet.  

Approaching Baltimore from the south, I always feel like one of the Jetsons: there are several elevated highway ramps that curve in multiple directions over the marshland near the Harbor--way high.  It's very futuristic.  The Orioles new slogan is : "This is Birdland" which is everywhere as you enter the city near Camden Yards.  This always strikes me as both bizarre and appropriate, given the freaky-cool nature of the city--The Wire only gets at half of it.  If you think about The Wire cross-hatched with John Waters' movies, that's about right.  Anyway, "Birdland" just reminds me of the Frank O'Hara poem, "Personal Poem," with the lines:

and get to Moriarty's where I wait for
LeRoi and hear who wants to be a mover and
a shaker the last five years my batting average
is .016 that's that, and LeRoi comes in
and tells me Miles Davis was clubbed 12
times last night outside BIRDLAND by a cop

The Orioles somehow inadvertently associating themselves with a famous jazz/gay club of 1960s NYC is strange and appropriate. 

I got my first compliment on my new bumper sticker in Baltimore today, a sticker I affixed not to the bumper of our van, but just below the center brake light and below the van's hatchback windshield wiper:  I wanted to place it where your gaze would be forced upon it when stuck in traffic behind me, which is often the case in the WDC area.  It's a quote by Abbie Hoffman and reads, "You measure democracy by the freedom it gives its dissidents, not by the freedom it gives its assimilated conformists."

I kept thinking today, too, of Karl Shapiro's poem "Mongolian Idiot," and the merciless and even misogynistic image it conveys of special needs mothers.  In writing poems about Robert and trying to describe disability, I am always nervous about reader reception.  I worry that readers have difficulty with mothers as speakers in poems--people have very firm ideas about the mother as icon or what a mother should be or how she should sound.  People have difficulty, I worry, seeing a mother as speaker who is fully human.  I worry that people feel betrayed by and will not accept a mother as speaker who has complexity, unless she is also a caricature/parody, as James Allen Hall makes the mother figure in many of his poems in Now You're the Enemy.  

I think Hall means to and does add quite a bit of complexity to the figure of motherhood, but the reader's point of entry to many of these portraits is a sort of ridicule of the mother figure.  He takes us further, once we enter.  While this sort of subversion is, I think, energetically disturbing (and not necessarily in a bad way--it's intriguing), I'm often a little queasy at the ethics of it.  Motherhood is becoming a sort of identity still shaped by its constituents, who are still looking for various voices that work--not unlike other identity groups struggling at the racial, ethnic, or sexual orientation levels to formulate a multivariate voice.  Is mockery/parody from an outsider to that group ethical?  Yes and no.  Hey, it's a free country and art is art.  Everybody's got a mother, biological or otherwise.

Anyway, more on Shapiro's poem (published in a 1942 collection) tomorrow or Saturday.  Is motherhood and are mothers still legitimate targets for condescension or mockery?  Do stereotypes linger unjustly, cutting off mothers who write from legitimate emotional avenues in their work?  Is it still legitimate to stigmatize writing about children by mothers as a phenomenon of weak emotion rather than something more complex?  How do you break through lingering negative and patronizing attitudes?  What works?

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