October 20, 2010

Poetry and A Room of One's Own

We've read two things lately in my Women's Studies class that have gotten me thinking about women and writing.

First, we read excerpts from A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf. This is the essay that the name of one of my favorite blogs comes from (whoo, Shakesville!), and while I've never read the entire thing I really love the parts I've read. In case you've never read it (and if you haven't, you should read at least parts of it, though I can't find a link to point you towards the excerpts I read for class), here's a sample:

Yet [Shakespeare's sister's] genius was for fiction and lusted to feed abundantly upon the lives of men and women and the study of their ways. At last — for she was very young, oddly like Shakespeare the poet in her face, with the same grey eyes and rounded brows — at last Nick Greene the actormanager took pity on her; she found herself with child by that gentleman and so — who shall measure the heat and violence of the poet’s heart when caught and tangled in a woman’s body?— killed herself one winter’s night and lies buried at some cross-roads where the omnibuses now stop outside the Elephant and Castle.

That, more or less, is how the story would run, I think, if a woman in Shakespeare’s day had had Shakespeare’s genius. ... When, however, one reads of a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed by devils, of a wise woman selling herbs, or even of a very remarkable man who had a mother, then I think we are on the track of a lost novelist, a suppressed poet, of some mute and inglorious Jane Austen, some Emily Brontë who dashed her brains out on the moor or mopped and mowed about the highways crazed with the torture that her gift had put her to.

So we read that, and about how unless women have a room of their own and some financial security they won't be able to write the amazing things that men were able to write.

(Interesting side note: As I was reading this I was listening to a song called "Things you Think" by Ben Folds, with the line, "That's why I'm not Dickens, kids. Dicken's wife would have done the school run. I'm all for feminism but it's cost me my one shot at immortality." I thought it fit rather nicely.)

But then we read "Age, Race, Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference" by Audre Lorde, which talks a bit about poetry.

Recently a women's magazine collective made the decision for one issue to print only prose, saying that poetry was a less "rigorous" or "serious" art form. Yet even the form our creativity takes is often a class issue. Of all the art forms, poetry is the most economical. It is the one which is the most secret, which requires the least physical labor, the least material, the one which can be done between shifts, in the hospital pantry, on the subway, and on scraps of surplus paper. ... A room of one's own may be necessary for writing prose, but so are reams of paper, a typewriter, and plenty of time.

A couple of years ago, I won a poetry contest and got to go give a reading of my poetry in Washington, DC. I introduced myself by saying "I'm not a poet." I write poetry, but I don't think of myself as a poet; Poetry is something I do in the margins of my notes at school, walking home from the bus stop, or on the way to work. My real WRITING, I've always felt, is the prose that I spend hours drafting and revising and editing, even though I'm much less successful at that than I am with poetry.

I've been complaining all week about this story that I'm working on, with the hope of submitting it to a magazine. It's 10 pages, I've re-written it entirely at least 3 times, and I have about 6 different drafts of it sitting on my computer. That I have enough free hours to do that, for something that will in all likelihood never get published, or if it does will never earn me any income, is absolutely a privilege, but I'd never thought of it that way before.

Don't really have a conclusion for this post, but I thought it was a rather striking way to look at it. I promise not to scoff when I see that we're reading poetry again in Women's Studies anymore.

1 comment:

Mom said...

You are a poet and a prose writer. And you MUST write. It is part of who you are. What a wonderful blessing. May you always have time- and a room of your own. I love you!