A bit of a poem by Adrienne Rich

I’ve been looking in my books for a particular poem that I remembered copying into a notebook about 20 years ago, and found it finally tonight:

The world tells me I am its creature
I am raked by eyes    brushed by hands
I want to crawl into her for refuge    lay my head
in the space    between her breast and shoulder
abnegating power for love
as women have done    or hiding
from power in her love    like a man
I refuse these givens    the splitting
between love and action    I am choosing
not to suffer uselessly and not to use her
I choose to love    this time    for once
with all my intelligence

It’s from “Splittings” by Adrienne Rich – from The Dream of a Common Language. I love the way that “choosing not to suffer uselessly” is repeated throughout – and the way the lines are split – caesura – and the two lines that are not split, “abnegating power for love” and “with all my intelligence”. It would have been cheap and easy and wrong to split the first, and it obviously makes sense for the last line to come together rhythmically, in a rush, for the sake of wholeness & synthesis.

Poetry is often useful to talk about things that it’s impossible to talk about otherwise. I love how this poem throws gender and queerness right in to the list of impossible things – things that impossiblify love.
Pushed even further in “Cartographies of Silence”, so beautifully at the end.

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Gender and genre in blogs

In her paper on Gender and genre variation in weblogs Susan Herring and her team hypothesized differences between male- and female-authored blogs. I haven’t read the paper closely enough to get the detail, but the gist of it is they expected women to say “I” more and refer to women more, and men to write more impersonally and refer to “he” and “you”. Instead they found that personal blogs, male or female, show the characteristics that had been predicted for women’s writing, according to, I think, other studies and sources like the Gender Genie, based on grammatical analysis by Argomon & Koppel. (I have to say, when I messed with the Gender Genie I thought it was just annoying…) While filter blogs, meant to give information on a topic, have the characteristics associated by the Gender Genie with men — whether they are written by men or women. Herring et al.’s findings contradict Argomon & Koppel. She suggests that genre itself is gendered.

I agree with this, which matches what I found in reading women’s poetry from 100 years ago and in reading the criticism about that poetry. The gendering of genre appears to me to happen over time as a way of valuing or devaluing the quality of the writing. Entire genres would become (simultaneously) “feminized” in order to devalue them, or as they became devalued they were described as feminine, or as women succeeded in the genre, it was considered less important.

Many factors contribute to this and one of them is that women at times do the less important things or write in the less important genres because there is less backlash for doing so. And when they do enter the male-dominated genres where power is considered to be located then there is a strong backlash and the entire genre is at risk of being devalued.

When women in the 19th century succeeded at Romanticist poetry, for example, they were hailed as being unusual exceptions, virile, oddly masculine, at the same time perhaps kind of slutty or of questionable and abnormal sexuality. And when women began to dominate the genre to the extent that they could not be ignored and tokenized, then the entire genre was disempowered over a period of years – it became girly, uncool, dumb, awkward, not cutting edge, old-fashioned. When it was clear that women had mastered it, it didn’t matter anymore.

In short, there is a pattern of the “pink collar ghetto” in literary genres as in other professions. (I just looked online for something to link to, to explain pink collar ghetto and did not find an adequate explanation. Yes, it refers to jobs with a high concentration of women. But it further refers to a process: as women enter a high status profession, the pay for that job goes down, and there is a tipping point where the profession itself becomes devalued because women have entered it and succeeded. I remember going in around 1991 as a fledgling tech writer to a meeting of the Society for Technical Communication, and hearing a lot of incredibly depressing but realistic talk about the pink collar ghettoization of tech writing.

Anyway, back to literary genres; the same pattern becomes clear as I do further feminist research; If you have read much Dale Spender as well as Joanna Russ then you can see a lot of good evidence.

I point to this as something that bloggers should be aware of & consider.

(I am using the word “genre” here but may be talking about some more vague category, literary movements or styles or subgenres, like “Romanticist Poetry” or “Western novels” or “science fiction” for example. )

In fact – a short digression – consider science fiction and how as women write in the genre, there is a scramble to define the part of the genre that only men do, or mostly only men do, or only men do well. Why is it so important to prove that, for example, “hard sf” or “cyberpunk” is so masculine? (Of course in the face of any evidence to the contrary.) Hmmm! Could it be a backlash to preserve the perceived literary value of a formerly male-dominated genre?

Back to Herring. From about page 15 onwards Herring & co get into the nitty gritty of some excellent questions:

Diary writing has traditionally been associated with females, and politics and external events, the mainstays of filter blogs, have traditionally been masculine topics. Furthermore, previous research shows that females write more diary blogs, and males write a disproportionate number of filter blogs (Herring, Kouper et al. 2004; Kennedy, Robinson and Trammell 2005). But what is the direction of causality, and where does gendered language fit in?

In conclusion Herring points out that the gender differences are in which genre a male or female author writes in, much more than any essential difference in grammar or writing style, and that:

Social and political consequences also follow from this
distribution: Men’s blogs are more likely to appear on ‘A-lists’ of most popular weblogs (Kennedy, Robinson and Trammell 2005), and to be reported in the mainstream media, in part because filters are considered more informative and newsworthy than personal journals (Herring, Kouper et al. 2004). This recalls the traditional stigma associated with ‘gossip’ and women’s writing (Spender 1989), and reminds us that genres are socially constructed, in part through association with the gender of their producers.

Oh look, she just referenced Spender. Right on… No wonder I like this paper.

Anyway it’s a good paper – go read it. I’ll read Herring’s other papers and I look forward to printing it out and giving it an hour or two of more close and serious reading and note-taking & reaction. Oh – and in good blogging and gossiping tradition I should mention that I came across this paper after reading Managing ‘Trolling’ in an Online Forum, which is amazing and excellent; I got to that from Wikichix, which I found because I was bitching about the lack of good feminist content on Wikipedia and a few weeks ago, some dude commented and told me to check out their talk page on Systemic Gender Bias. Since I am involved with some feminist wikis and ticked off whenever I try to engage with Wikipedia, Wikichix sounded great. If you are a wiki editing woman or would like to be, then sign up with Wikichix and add to the discussions there. There’s a mailing list and an irc channel as well as the wiki pages. & on alternet recently there was a brief article that talks about the Wikichix, Wikipedia vs. Women? with an interesting comments thread.

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Dear Urbana Slam Poets and Bowery Poetry Club

Dear “Big Mike”… at the Bowery Poetry Club

Fuck right off.

No I will not take off my shirt or show you my ass for your polaroids. Skeevy asshole. I”m so happy to go back to San Francisco and say goodbye to the Bowery’s poetry scene… Where they knowingly tolerate blatant sexual harassers in their scene.

Dear women in the Bowery Scene and people who aren’t misogynist fuckheads, I feel sorry for you that you have to put up with that kind of thing. Why do you?

Dear mc dude of the Urbana slam team, nice job of laughing off sexual harassment to my face. Also thanks for letting me know that “that guy hangs out here every single day at the poetry club.” I’m sure everyone just thinks he’s SO funny and such a character!

Dear guy working the door… I thought you were laughing with me and were complicit in my fool-baiting. “Thanks” for then when I confronted the dude about his fucked-upedness, then acting like you didn’t hear anything wrong… And for saying that you didn’t hear anything hostile. Because we all know that asking all the women in a cafe or a poetry reading to take off their clothes for a camera and if they have any “intimate” piercings or tattoos is just totally FRIENDLY… It makes women feel all appreciated and welcome and stuff…

Oh also? The tempting offer of a free copy of your book in exchange for the polaroids of my naked body… not tempting at all.

Spoken word memoir

Just said this on mailing list but I want to stick it here too so I can remember it and think about it some more. In the context of people saying their students write this kind of thing that is more “performance art” than poetry. What I’m looking at is that this form is a new form – or genre – that we have a hard time judging properly – and there is a knee jerk reaction against it, but that’s because we’re seeing its manifestations popping up all over and not (as we will 30 years from now) its “best” or most characteristic examples. (And mediocre or dull formal poetry is certainly as bad as mediocre spoken word memoir.)

So this is a bit out of context but, anyway, here.


I tend to feel that there’s a trend of memoir-style spoken word
performance that isn’t what I think of as poetry. It’s a form that’s not as dense and declamatory even as long poems; it’s more like the pace of a section of a novel. I think of them as vignettes or as their own form whose conventions I’m only starting to understand. As poetry, I don’t always like them. But as whatever they are, they’re their own thing.

There is something about the “coming out story” to them; again, they follow a convention of memoir, but of a sort of monologue sharing-aloud memoir. Does anyone know what I’m talking about? I could try to find examples online.

As far as content, the spoken-word memoir seems to extend and turn what I think of as a convention of the generation before me – the Boomer confessional, in which a shade of emotional subtlety is revealed – what is secret is revealed – the “private” of the nuclear family is violated in speaking the unspeakable – then, a moment of aesthetic awareness. For the younger spoken-word memoir poets there is a firmer security in speaking that kind of thing. It comes out, but it isn’t all. I think the point is more that it’s a conscious establishing of political identity, a playing
with identity and story.

Restraint in poetry

An epiphany of annoyance. I hate the ways that class status in U.S. poetry is about restraint. It is the tightly reined emotion, squished and squozed into formal patterning. It’s polite, it kicks against the pricks in a tiny box, it understates, it’s wry in its little distance and its scope of muttering under the breath. It’s like everyone’s got the mute button on. Civility! Aesthetes! Subtle hand gestures in an apologetic ballet! Tiptoeing prissy-assed highwire, scripted bow & curtsey…

Fine, there’s a poetics of the quiet moment. I can respect that. I can even respect the extreme neoformalistas, their exquisite marzipan sculptures and intricate architectures. But that is not all of poetry.

In this context, I realized my sprawling, messy yells will have a hard time finding a home if I ever get off my ass and send them out. I don’t want to tuck in the ends in a neat little knot – it makes me feel like vomiting when I realize I ‘ve done this in a poem. I don’t want to do what everyone else is doing! I don’t want to struggle to discipline myself to epitomize the thing that other people are all fucking doing! How boring and sad a fate in the larger scale of literary history. My god. Break something, would you people?

Some emotions should be broken! Messy! Huge! Fucked up! Not stuck into little free-verse couplets. What’s up with that?
Where are the enormous instrumental breaks as the band jams way past midnight and the song becomes bigger than itself and a light goes on and guitars catch on fire, the explosions on stage? Where are the performances that become riots and the riots that don’t start as performances? Juggernauts, elbows, bulldozers, explosions, action movies, shockwaves, meteors? Rants & manifestoes, mothers of the word!

Poetry magazines piss me off today! I’m nauseated by the whole “thing”, by scenes, by the grubbing and scraping, by the lack of actual caring and intercourse and conversation and sparkiness. Once in a while get to see it and it makes me so happy.

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Litcrawl report

Litcrawl swarmed across the few blocks on Valencia and Mission where I spend quite a lot of my time in San Francisco, betwen 16th and 24th. I started out parking on Mission, checking out the clothing stores, & then worked for a bit in Ritual Roasters, ran into Annalee and other people I knew. Noticed that public-event feeling where people were being unusually friendly or nice on the street, a convivial fellow-feeling, conspiratorial.

I figured that on the way to the reading I planned to go to, the MIssion poets at Dalva, I’d peek into the translation readings. Peeked. Heard John Oliver Simon do a very hilariously Ezra Pound-style reading of his translation of Gonzalo Rojas’ poem about Canto-Poundiness & imitators. Voice quavering in majestic rolling sweeps! I laughed my head off. And it was a great poem. He read the X405 poem about prison and the polyhedrons that was in, I think, the “Cells” issue of Two Lines.

Then nipped out to go to Dalva. No such luck. I could not shove into the room down the narrow corridor to the back. Damn.

So, back to the One World reading at Abandoned Planet, where I caught Chana Bloch reading a prayer for peace from a book called “Open Closed Open. And “The Politics of Applying Moderate Physical Pressure”. My notes are not great – I was listening to hard to take notes. I liked the poems. Then Nasreen and Hamida Chopra reading English translations & doing Urdu recitations. hamida’s recitations were amazing – masterful – I was fascinated with the form. Olivia mentioned “Moshaira” (sp? look for link) or the “Urdu Poetry Slam” which happens soon in Berkeley. I listened as hard as I could try to learn words and hear patterns and try to match them up with what I heard in the English. “your voice” – i could hear the powerfulness in the urdu where i did not hear it as much in the English; form and density. “There’s no messiah for a broken mirror” – an amazing poem. Fez Amit Fez? I’m sorry if I spell everything wrong… I loved this poem to death. wealth – goblets & mirrors are made – they auction off mountain after mountain, ocean after ocean.

Niloufar Talebi from The Translation Project read translations from 5 different poets writing in Farsi – all from Iran and all living outside of Iran. Heavenly variety! My notes are sketchy and I haven’t looked up spellings but I’ll do that and correct & add links:
1) poet living in Australia “Post-Cinderella”
2) Dena? Bina? b. 1934 fled 1979 living in Sweden “Yearning for Sari” (region in northern iran)
3) guy – also in sweden – “Book of Fear” – “Fear #45”
4) Ziba Karbassi – b. 1974 left 1989 living in the UK monolingual “Revolution” – very powerful poem like a children’s rhyme- “starheart” – whoa! I reacted v. strongly to this poem and want more
5) Abbas Saffari – lives in u.s. published frequently in Iran – translated chinese, japanese, ancient egyptian, erotic poetry. “Revenge en Tehran”

A fabulous reading. Then I was off to Encantada Gallery for the Flor y Canto reading organized and MC-ed by Alejandro Murguia. He declaimed “O California”. Ananda Esteva read “When Latinos go Buddhist” and “Notification of Baggage Inspection” ffrom her book Pisco Sours. Milta Ortiz recited [Take me off this timeline I’m on] about not getting married. and then a longer piece about relationships. I liked the salute. “your nazi girl reporting for duty sir! mission: no feelings! objective: pleasure!” That cracked me up… rueful recognition… Luis uribe recited from Hummingbird’s Daughter – excellent – “Teresita, only a goddamned idiot wouldn’t see god in a taco.” Ruben Alexander Barron lives in the south bay – book “American Poet” – told story about monks and river and “bbrother you are still carrying her”… dithered a little shyly and then declaimed, ranted, denounced “Imperialism” in a fiery beautiful wave of conviction & rhymes. YEAH! Alejandro did another piece for us – El Camino – y “16th and Valencia” about poets & rage, blew me the fuck away. Harold Norr, Oscar Ceta Acosta. “even the furniture was angry” “I knew this was the last call… dying for nothing, freight train … a crazy mutiny aboard a battleship every porthole filled with anger and we are NOT LEAVING.” “quicksand swallow me up or the FBI… make this poem a jungle…” I dig his work, beautiful revolutionary strong violent steadfast humorous & humanistic. Chicanopalooza mentioned & exhibit at museum

Then I was off to Writers With Drinks & Manic D Press at the Latin American Club. Charlie MC-ed the first half. The room was fucking packed so I weaselled up to the front and sat at the back of the stage; I could never stand up that long, my knee is too messed up. Alvin Orloff read – from novel about a whiny telemarketer. Lauren Wheeler – poet – erotica – whip – some very sexy stuff – Claire Light read her story about the men gone and the boys disappearing, a beautiful story and the beginning especially beautiful – the onions & crease of armpit & breast & the way the boys feel their tongues in their mouths – and then I ahve read many people’s attempts to make people see what men’s rapability would really mean, what it would take to reverse the power structure and dynamic, and this story did it; how narratively to establish some of the injustice of a system, terror & helplessness & bravado – I liked the end. Why she says the story isn’t done, I have no idea – Justin Chin read an amazing long piece about… well… damn, it starts out about his dad in heaven playing golf with Celia Cruz. His work fucking rocks. I would like to hear him and Steve Arntson read together, so they could hear each other. Then Jennifer Blowdryer read from her recent book, the how-to-be tranny one, snarky and funny – Jon Longhi read some stuff from wake up and smell the beer, which was all funny and good but i have already by coincidence heard him do everything he read, twice or sometimes more, over the last couple of years! It was good anyway.

Amazing tacos and ceviche at Taqueria Can-Cun at mission & … 20th? 19th? somewhere. Then to the Elbo Room for the afterparty which I slimed into since I didn’t have an invite. Ended up sort of making out scandalously in a photobooth with Meliza and her partner. They have the photographic evidence with my phone number and a lipstick print on the back. None of us were even drunk. Told them the strange story of my fantasy about me and Buzz Aldrin in our lunar rover. Meliza and her partner just got married in Vegas! In my opinion it makes a party better to have some wild child types careening around giggling & floozyish & flirting – so why should it not be me. I’m doing it for you, people. My noble civic duty.

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Art 21 poetry reading – October

Art 21 poetry reading
Originally uploaded by Liz Henry.

The art gallery was full of amazing paintings this month! I briefly met Teresa Hsu and admired her huge paintings of rocks… the sort of thing I wish I could capture when I’m staring into a clear stream at wet pebbles, very beautiful. Then, as I was setting up chairs for the reading, I ran into a wire sculpture of the gorilla. The gorilla won. Ph33r the gorilla! Susan, the gallery owner, helped me to tape my bleeding nipple back onto my body with bandaids, and a fierce adrenaline rush fueled my MC-ing for the rest of the evening. Who knew I’d get a free piercing?! Just one of the perks of the job.

Dolores Hayden opened up the evening with poems from her recent book American Yard. I scribbled down some lines, but since she gave me a copy of the book (Thanks!) I can fill out this bit from “For Rent” that struck me:

…long views expand,
command wide axes everywhere,
entice your kind of hairpin vision,
a swaying wide and cambering in.

Maybe just because I like the word “cambering”, back from when I had a wheelchair with cambered wheels. Camber, limber, lumber, climber, words that seem clumsy but instead – nimble. “Hairpin” in close proximity to “camber” made weird neurons fire. I was also superenthralled by “Target Practice”, a multilingual poem about crows in Grenada, which I heard as a complex noticing of racism and misogyny… or we could say “race and the feminine” but hey. It’s a fabulous poem. I might talk about it at the ALTA conference at the panel on multilingual poetry.

Kate Evans read as the second featured poet of the evening, mostly from her very very recent book, Like All We Love. The first section, and first poem, “First”, focused in on mortality… Kate commented that a lot of poems were about being in bed, sex and death, you know… and there were cheers and hoots from the other poets, of “Right on!” She read a long poem about her father, her suburban childhood, and her father’s illness & dying. I most enjoyed the poems from the middle section – or were they from “Fluid Self” ? – on Ginger from Gilligan’s Island & on the Wizard of Oz, but that’s because I’m shallow. Her “Diet Poem” was a whole different animal, very oral, very spoken-wordy, excellent out loud, playful and thoughtful.

So, wow! What a nice result from my call for poets on the WOMPO women’s poetry mailing list. When I did that call, I noticed that about the first 5 or 6 people to write to me were men. I was not specifically looking for women for any reason – I just asked because that’s the poet list I’m on that I like the most – But think about that for a bit for what it was. Perfectly nice men – but they rush forward without doubt or hestitation for self promotion in a context that is in theory focused on women and their work. For example, were I on a poetry list for gay men of color, which existed to discuss gay men’s poetry and aesthetics and history and to promote their work, and someone asked for poets on that list, I might *think twice* about answering… And if as the person making that call I got my first 5 answers from straight white women, I’d be perturbed… And so I was very happy when a few days later, the emails from women poets began to come to my inbox.

We had a break, with Steve Arntson playing Chopin and Mozart for us on the grand piano with his usual delicacy and passion. Whenever he plays Chopin I freak out and travel back in time to when I was 13 or 14 and playing that stuff, picking out complicated nocturnes and frisking through waltzes, preludes, mazurkas; while for me it was a joy to exert this immense effort to manifest a tiny percent of what I felt, for Steve it seems more like breathing – he plays so effortlessly and beautifully. It’s a pleasure to hear. (But also makes me SO jealous.) Oh, and he brought the fanciest cake ever, with fruit and whipped cream and white chocolate painted with stenciled designs – delicious! Thanks, man!

I talked with Brenda about the next issue of Composite: Multiple Translations, and then ended up somehow spouting off to Dolores about my enormous Anthology. She was intrigued and very encouraging, saying wild things like “But, you should send queries to the Oxford University Press! To Norton! A perfect textbook! Important!” Which was sort of like hearing someone say “You should, of course, just fly to Mars! The Martians will crown you as their Queen!”

Anna Coulter started off the open mic session with some poems from her new art book, which I think is called “Transformations”. She’s having a show at Art21 next month, which will intersect with our Art21 poetry reading! Jane Kos read “Corrido” and announced the next meeting of the Redwood City Not Yet Dead Poets Society. I should mention here that the NYDPS founder Anatole Lubovich – and I’ve written about his poems, and his death, here before – Anyway – you can and should order his “Selected Poems” published posthumously – from booknest@sbcglobal.net, the Book Nest in Los Altos. What an amazing guy, and I still miss him a lot in all our poetry scenes on the Peninsula!

Rob Neville read “The Barrel of a Gun”, about violence, guns, and cancer. Brenda Simmons read another poem that had bullets in it and that I really loved – and thought to myself that it’s been at least a year since I’ve heard her read and her work is going in some interesting directions – more compressed, more saturated – but I didn’t write down any lines, unfortunately. Steve Arntson recited a huge chunk of a long poem about the Lewis and Clark River, another geographical historical philosophical exploration of reality and fiction, as usual exploding my mindscape!! David Cummings (I was so waiting for him to read, and hoping Dolores would not read, because I felt that they would especially like each others’ work!) really outdid himself with amazing excellence in a long poem, I didn’t catch the name – “as if mysteriously roused from the drifts of a greening sleep – ” More bullets and war and death and catastrophe and subtleties piled on top of each other so that listening was like deciphering sedimentary strata after millions of years and several earthquakes. It was some good stuff, I’m telling you.

Susan, the gallery owner, read a beautiful piece about realizing you’re not lost in the forest – the trees know where they are and where you are. It was a nice reminder for me to chill and walk with the flow of life as it happens. I read two of my translations of poems by Carmen Berenguer, because I’m totally in love with her lately, and translating her is a freaked-out violent joy. Read from “Bala humanitaria” (“Humanitarian bullet”), continuing the theme of bullets and war, so appropriate since we’re perpetrating an enormous criminal horrible war at the moment in this country; and “Mollusk” which is lighter but super fun to read out loud: it’s about, well, “about”… femininity and performativity and capitalism and objectification and violence against women – while being short, deceptively simple, and funny. I should try to memorize it for the Declamacion at the ALTA conference.

Talked a tiny bit with Dolores’ husband Peter, who is a sociologist and novelist. When he said he wrote about Africa and also young adult fiction I suddenly was like “OMFG am I talking to
Peter Dickinson, say it is not so!” No… it was not so. That really would have been too much for my brain to handle. But I’ll look for his books.

What a nice time I had – I felt happy and in a loving poets’ community – I only wish more of the “usual suspects” had showed up this month, because they would have enjoyed the features and been enjoyed in return. Though it was a small reading, we definitely had critical mass in the party sense, with the jazz going, the wine flowing, people all talking, and a nice feeling of convivial bohemian artiness, wine-and-cheese-party palo alto style.

That’s enough, I think!

Nitpicking at Langston

So, I keep vaguely talking about Hughes’ editorial choices – what, of Mistral, he chose to translate and present to a U.S. English-speaking audience. Selecting poems to represent a poet’s work is a hard job! I respect what he did, and yet have many critiques of it. And how it was read – as critics and other poets and editors praised him for capturing the essence of Mistral’s womanliness. Leaving aside the problem of Mistral’s mystical womanliness – for someone so complexly genderfucked – I want to look at some of Hughes’ choices as a translator. Specifically, I want to nitpick a translation and in fact, I would go so far as to call it a complete misreading. A gendered misreading. (I have more to say about Mistral and race, and Hughes’ biography, and how here, Hughes wanted to see and believe in that nurturing mixed-race populist world-mother that in fact, Mistral represented herself as, and bought into. But this poem in particular struck me as Hughes’ mistaking of Mistral’s coolness and her radical position as a woman writing women.

Here is the poem in Spanish:


Esta era una rosa
que abaja el rociò:
este era mi pecho
con el hijo mío.

Junta sus hojitas
para sostenerlo
y esquiva los vientos
por no desprenderlo.

Porque él ha bajado
desde el cielo inmenso
será que ella tiene
su aliento suspenso.

De dicha se queda
callada, callada:
no hay rosa entre rosas
tan maravillada.

Esta era una rosa
que abaja el rocío:
este era mi pecho
con el hijo mío.

What is this poem *about*? Dew… But Hughes makes it about a son. He sees a Virgin Mary worshipping her son. Sentimentally and rather tritely. In my opinion, he misses something crucial in the poem’s voice and italics; it is written in two different voices! The mother (older) contemplating her own breasts and what they have done – in the bracketing stanzas in italics. And the middle 3 stanzas where her marvel at the act of nursing is described.

Here is Hughes’ translation:


This was a rose
kissed by the dew:
This was the breast
my son knew.

Little leaves meet,
soft not to harm him,
and the wind makes a detour
not to alarm him.

he came down one night
from the great sky;
for him she holds her breath
so he won’t cry.

Happily quiet,
not a sound ever;
rose among roses
more marvellous never.

This was a rose
kissed by the dew;
this was my breast
my son knew.

To nitpick further. The winds are not making a detour; if they were, they’d be “esquivan” not “esquiva”. So the winds are not the subject. I’m just saying. Rather: the rose and her petals avoid the wind, to protect *the dew*.

Here is my translation:


This was a rose
covered in dew
This was my breast
and my nursing baby.

She pulls in her petals
to hold the dewdrops,
and shies away from the wind
lest they loosen and fall.

Since the dew has descended
from infinite heaven,
she’ll have to
hold her breath.

At her great luck, she remains
hushed, hushed:
out of all roses, this rose
is so amazing.

This was a rose
covered in dew
this was my breast
and my nursing baby.

(disclaimer… I could improve on this if I fiddled with it for a while longer. That’s actually a first pass effort.)

Yes, she is marvelling at her baby. But first of all she is marvelling at her breastmilk! That’s the point! She’s stunned, quiet, amazed, holding her breath at the amazingness of the milk – not only at the fact of the baby itself! It’s way more like Inanna applauding her wondrous vulva than it is like a Hallmark card about a mom cooing over her babe that came down from heaven.

Yes, I do think I can grok a poem about breastfeeding better than some dude, no matter how cool he is. (And he is cool – I totally love him. But I do not really love his translations of Mistral! Oh, Langston! )

Just a little translatory rant to liven things up. I could pick apart quite a lot of that little Hughes book, in totally insane detail.

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Literary events coming up

Tonight I’m going to the Marsh Theater to Lynnee Breedlove’s “One Freak Show”. Come and join me! Maybe dinner or drinks afterward?

On Saturday, for Litcrawl, I’m going to:

PHASE I, 6–7 p.m.

Dalva (21 and over)
3121 16th Street
Poetry Mission: Spoken Word Poets Take the Stage
Lineup includes: Rupert Estanislao, Leticia Hernández-Linares, Ise Lyfe, Phillip T. Nails, Dan O., Aimee Suzara, and Kirya Traber. Emcee: Elz Cuya.

Sounds fabulous, I like Leticia’s work a lot, don’t know the others, so the draw for me is getting to hear work I won’t otherwise hear.


Abandoned Planet Bookstore
518 Valencia Street
One World, Many Languages: Literature in Translation
Lineup includes: Chana Bloch, Hamida Banu Chopra, Zack Rogow, John Oliver Simon, and Niloufar Talebi.

I love all these translators, but actually, will see most of them next week at the American Literary Translators conference in Seattle! So that might mean I skip the event where all my homies will be.


No question here, I’m going to this. Genderqueer is at the same time and I want to support that event but I already know most of those people and their work and hear them at queer readings.

Encantada Gallery
908 Valencia Street
Flor Y Canto: Chicano/Latino Writers in English
Lineup includes: Ruben A. Barron, Ananda Esteva, Melissa Lozano, Alejandro Murguia, Milta Ortiz, and Luis Alberto Urrea.

PHASE III, 8:30–9:30 p.m.

No question here, either. The Casa del Libro event looks good too but I am a huge fan of WWD.

Latin American Club (21 and over)
3286 22nd Street
Getting Boozy: Writers With Drinks and Manic D Press
Writers With Drinks: Claire Light, Lauren Wheeler, and Alvin Orloff. Emcee: Charlie Anders. Manic D Press: Jennifer Blowdryer, Justin Chin, and Jon Longhi. Emcee: Jennifer Joseph

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The impulse to be minor

When I’m editing a wiki, even privately, I have the impulse to click “This is a minor edit,” even when I’ve made significant changes. It seems presumptious to have an implied “major edit” be the default. I don’t want to contribute too much noise to the signal of the wiki’s Recent Changes page.

Part of the impulse to label all my edits “minor” is because I twiddle and save frequently; I’ll edit a few words out of a sentence here and there, save, and go right back to that paragraph. I blog that way too, screwing up everyone’s RSS feeds, publishing carelessly as an idea comes, and then fiddling with the entry over the next hour as I realize my phrasing was clumsy or a new idea, related, strikes me.

On a related but different level, I believe that it is important to expose the process of thought, the evolution of intellect, the muddled waters where research and inspiration meet and ideas coalesce. Many people don’t know how to think; they don’t think they think; they can’t see themselves thinking, because they only have seen “finished products” and never the intermediate stages. Uncertainty is forbidden. It is private. It’s personal. It’s weak and vulnerable. That is a limitation I see as unnecessary. It is often useful, but not always. It’s a barrier to collaboration and to learning.

But then I wonder if both these behaviors in myself, the constant “minor editing” of blog and wiki, might signify an asymptotic process-focus, where I regard nothing as done, nothing as major, nothing achieved. My poems remain in their notebooks and rough drafts indefinitely. I consider even my master’s thesis as a “draft”. It pains me to refer to it as finished.

Gender plays into this. Women underplay their acheivements & work. I do it too. I don’t want to bring attention, or be under fire. I rarely feel any work is done, good enough; I might change my mind. Everything could be improved. I can think of someone who has done part of that, or expressed the idea, more neatly, more professionally. And yet I consider myself bold! What baggage, what damage, we carry.

A good friend and I were discussing this the other day as we rushed to deprecate ourselves and our collaborative work on our own private wiki. “I haven’t done enough.” “No, I haven’t done enough!” Then we realized what we were doing. The conversation led to our discussing how we compare our own work to the best in our field, come up short, and feel we are impostors. As I contemplated this impulse in myself I realized I compare my own thesis, as a work in progress (seriously, it’s not really *done* done, no matter what the diploma says!) to writing by women 30 years older than myself who are on their 10th book. We are not comparing ourselves to our peers, but to the best we see — and worse than that, to the best we can imagine. On some level I am proud of this impulse, and think it will help me to keep improving my work for my entire lifetime. However, this strange combination of arrogance and humility can be a huge obstacle; when it blocks me, I have to try to break myself of the mental habit of “being minor.”

As a generalist who is constructing anthologies, I also put a lot of pressure on myself, and feel pressure from outside, to have depth of knowledge as well as range. I cannot be as much of an expert on each poet, or each country, as women who (again) are usually far older than myself and further along in their careers and who have focused down in a narrow area.

Despite all these things, I am becoming more and more comfortable claiming authority. I credit technology and the control over the means of production that it’s brought me with part of my own intellectual evolution. Without the freedom to publish and edit, publish and edit, in a cyclical pattern, exposing “drafts” — unlike the publication of a book that would have to start out more perfect that I could imagine, and that would never be fixable — I would not have had the confidence to step into a public forum of ideas. My notebooks, essays, poems, and all that would have stayed, like so many other women’s over history, in diaries and personal letters.

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