On Authenticity in Art

I am at a poetry festival today. It’s one I’ve attended every April for five years now. Aside from the poetry feast, I love the people here, not least of all because they love me.

Tonight I received an award for and read a poem that is deeply important to me. Oh, it also uses dirty words for female body parts, as well as their anatomically correct counterparts. It is a prose poem that speaks to our culture’s views of a woman’s body. Many people are very comfortable hearing swear words regarding a woman’s body, but not comfortable with words like vagina and breast. For me, they are sacred words. My body is a sacred place, a gift that I love. I hate the profanity, the making profane that happens around a woman’s body. I think that much of the reason women are treated so poorly during childbirth is because of this attitude toward women’s bodies. Because childbirth is a deeply physical, primal thing, all of our attitudes regarding women, sex, worthiness come into play. It makes me angry. The last few lines of the poem: “I want to say: Mothers are people. I want to say: Birth is a feminist issue. First I’d have to convince them; feminism is not a dirty word.”

It is one of the most brave, honest things I have ever written. It is an angry poem. It is a truth-telling poem. A friend of mine came up to me after I’d read it and said “I don’t know who wrote that poem.” It was clear that he was disappointed.

This is hard for me.

I am in the process of writing some of the most courageous, honest work I have ever written. It is hard for me. I have always been authentic within my poetry, but there’s been a huge part of myself that I have not disclosed. Now, I look at the stuff I am writing and I am so very pleased with it. It has been so fulfilling to write it.

At the same time, I worry that my friend’s reaction will be repeated over and over again. That my authentic self (or the parts of my authentic self) revealed in my poetry will be disappointing, rejected.

But, as May Sarton says in “Of the Muse”: “There is no poetry in lies / but in crude honesty / there is hope for poetry.”

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From My Readings: We Are All Falling

“As we fall, I think about my mother and father. I think about the people I loved. I think about the people I hated. I think about the people I betrayed. I think about the people who have betrayed me.
We’re all the same people. And we are all falling.”

From Flight by Sherman Alexie

Despite my extreme annoyance at Alexie’s recent ignorant tweet about homebirthers, I still have to admit that this is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Irreverent, funny, sad, powerful.

The idea in this passage has been the lesson of my last few months. We make such a big deal of everything that separates us, all of the differences, but we are all so very much the same. We are all connected, doing our best, making the best choices we can as we fall forward into our lives. We don’t have to allow continued harm into our lives, but we can be the end to the endless circle of judgement and anger. We can begin to forgive, to be compassionate, to see the truth: “We’re all the same people.”

Summer Reading List

I’m so excited to take the summer off. One thing I’m looking forward to most is reading! Reading for fun!

Here’s my list so far, in no particular order:

The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortensen

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

The Seven Mouths of God by Megan K. Olsen

The Color of Water by James McBride

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman

Black Water by Joyce Carol Oates

Mother Wove the Morning by Carol Lynne Pearson

Granite and Rainbow by Virginia Woolf

An American Childhood by Annie Dillard

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard (reread)

Now Is the Time to Open Your Heart by Alice Walker

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

The Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir by Laurel Ulrich and Emma Lou Warner Thayne

That ought to keep me busy, but I welcome any suggestion for additions. Or substitutions. I imagine I’ll also read some fun YA stuff with my big kids. I haven’t read any of Brandon Mull’s Beyonders series yet. And Matthew’s working through Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinkle In Time series, so I may find myself joining him in that. I love her books.

What about you? What will you be reading this summer?

Raw Journal Passage: On (Not) Writing

“Why do I choose not to write?

  • Because I feel like I don’t have enough time for it.
  • Because I worry that my ideas are stupid, that I’ll never be good enough or have anything worthwhile to say.
  • Because I fear my own inability, my mediocrity.

As long as my ideas for poems and stories and essays remain in the realm of ideas, I can still believe in their beauty. I can convince myself that I am (or will be in the future) a brilliant and successful and talented author. I don’t have to own up to the fact that I feel like I’m wandering around in a cold, damp basement maze in the dark with my arms cut off.

If I don’t face this awful, awesome task of writing, I don’t have to face up to the fact that I don’t have and fear I’ll never have the skill, the words, the ability to take this precious, overwhelming, beautiful world inside me and find some way, any way, to make it real.

Writing is a way of grounding my rich and wild (and, frankly, schizophrenic) inner life in a reality. It’s taking what is in my head and attempting to make something real out of it, something others can touch or feel and love or hate or use or ignore. It is scary. I fear that nobody else will care or that they will hate what I have to say or how I’ve said it or that they just won’t get it.

It’s more than that. Writing means taking the spirit of my inner self and ideas and giving them a body. And once they are fully formed, body-spirit-soul, I am out there. I am, in my writing, a body that can be bruised, broken, hurt, raped, hungry, thirsty.

The art of writing is much like the act of giving birth. It is a choice to pull something pure and beautiful and spiritual into this dirty, difficult, physical realm. It means to clothe intelligence, that airy creature, in flesh and blood, and expose it to the world, which is not always a good place. Only I am not really taking another spirit, snatching it from the ethereal realm and gifting it with a body. I am taking pieces of my self, tearing them again and again from the place where they live and throwing them into the cold and the fire.

Writing is like tearing my fingernails out one by one and giving them away in hopes that someone else will make them into gold. Then, I stare at the bloody stumps and watch, wait through the pain in hopes that more fingernails will grow back whole so I can do it all over again.”

Taken from my green journal. Dated May 28, 2011. As true to my feelings about writing today as it was a year ago. Writing is hard sometimes. And yet, it is as vital a part of my being as breath. Even when it’s difficult, I can’t not be a writer.

The First Post

One must always start somewhere, and I choose here. I have blogged before. This is, in fact, the fourth blog I have started. Each time I’ve chosen to start anew, it is because I feel the tug of a different path, a new voice that wants to speak from me.

I don’t fully know this voice that is begging to leap out of breast, my fingers, my body/mind. This blog will be an opportunity for me to get to know her along with you. My hope is that it will be a worthwhile journey for all of us.