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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One thought on “On Authenticity in Art

  1. I’m sad I missed your reading of a poem I would surely love. (Yes, I love you too.) I can’t wait to hear it. I’ll call you or maybe see you at word weavers and you can share it. Again.

    And, “One honest sentence after another.” This is the definition of the greatest writing – poetry or otherwise. Good for you, Heather.

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