Thursday, March 29, 2012

Review of Howie Good's Pornocopia

Pornocopia, poems by Howie Good. Gold Wake Press, 2011.

Good sets the tone for this collection with a contradiction in the title poem,

It’s fashionable
to die young
and be pessimistic.

I myself prefer
a Vicodin
to the present,

until later,
when we’re anointing
the bed,

your breasts
floating above me

like the pink and green sunsets

found only
in Ireland.

He acknowledges the nihilism prevalent in modern arts, while simultaneously mocking it with the subtle opening line, but he goes on to dispel the veracity of this nihilism with two images of beauty and life. The present is unbearable, but in the future, when sex and intimacy happen, life will be wonderful. It’s the absence of this that seems to make the narrator’s life unbearable in the present. In a vulgar sense, it’s almost as though he’s advising these ‘fashionable’ nihilists to get out and get laid.

In “The Fires of Evening,” Good continues the themes of sex and beauty, “I like how your legs/wrap around me/like the last beautiful evening,” (lines 1-3). There’s a sense of tension in this scene because of the idea of it being ‘the last…evening’; perhaps part of the power of the experience comes from this inevitable end. “The Kiss” is a kind of haiku:

Your tongue, a rising storm,
finds me. I wish I were a tree
so my branches could shake.

Good’s language is vivid and sexy, visceral and natural. His is a world in ruins, at times, difficult and troubled, but resounding with animal beauty. In section 3 of “What Love is This,” Good’s narrator states, “…when I fill you, you’re Atlanta, smoldering and in ruins, and I’m a cart loaded with the groaning wounded, we’re twelve grains of gunpowder floating mightily through the air, a new kind of pearl-handled combustion, and the only patch of snow to endure to evening on our quiet street.” There is something of a lost world, in this. The implication is of Atlanta invaded by the Union forces, something beautiful and doomed in a terrible world; that beauty is fleeting like the patch of snow.

Howie Good is an incredibly prolific poet, writer, and publisher. He’s a solid presence in the writing world, and this collection reinforces why that is so. He’s a talented poet cementing a place for himself. It’s always a treat to see Good’s work in journals because of his playful sensibilities, his powerful grasp of language, and his strong visuals. We’re lucky to have him.

-Reviewed by CL Bledsoe

Monday, March 26, 2012

White People Make Me Nervous

A woman of color moved into our dorm. There are actually now four women of color and one man of color among the thirty or forty staff members at the school at which I work. I’m pretty happy about this for a couple of reasons: 1. I’m glad these folks teach and work on the staff because this means the kids see that all the adults of color on campus don’t work in the dining hall and 2. When I’m around too many white people, I get nervous. I am, of course, white, which means I know what I’m talking about. Think about it; how many African American serial killers have you ever heard of? Go ahead, take your time. Let’s just say it’s a good bet that when you hear about a serial killer—Jessie Lee Cantrell or Billy Ray Johnson or whatever—he’s white. This is because when you get too many white people around each other, they go crazy. I’m serious. Where do serial killers come from? The Midwest. The Pacific Northwest. Ever look at the racial breakdowns of these places? Go ahead. I’ll wait. Let’s just say I’m locking my car doors when I drive through Montana.

Let’s look at history—let’s go back almost a hundred years. Who started World War I? Was it black people? How about the Great Depression? How about World War II—all those lily-white Germans got so crazy, they turned on other white people (and everyone else they could catch). Maybe you’re saying, “But Pearl Harbor.” Okay, sure. You can have that one. Maybe Asian people get a little crazy when they’re all cooped up together, too. I don’t know. I haven't studied them as closely as I have white people. But it doesn’t invalidate my point in the slightest.

Still not buying it? Let’s go even further back to the time of Manifest Destiny. Here’s what happened: all these white folks got together and slaughtered the few American Indians who’d survived the plagues white folks had already unleashed on them. Then, the white folks went back to all the other white folks back East and told them the Indians they’d just been killing were actually the violent ones! "They tried to defend their homes, the bastards!" So we slaughtered a bunch more of them and rounded up the rest and put them on reservations. And these people who did it were considered heroes! People made movies. Little boys wanted to grow up to be these genocidal asses, even though the people portraying them couldn’t act.

Then, they did basically the same thing with the freed slaves after Reconstruction broke down. White folks spent about a hundred years after the Civil War lynching, terrorizing, and secretly re-enslaving African Americans in the South, and in the North and Midwest, they just stole everything the blacks had and drove them out of town after killing a few of them. Or they lynched them and re-enslaved them there, too.

When there weren’t any African Americans around, they went after Asian Americans. When there weren’t any of them, they went after different ethnicities of whites, and people of different faiths. I’m not saying everyone acted like this, but a hell of a lot did—a lot more than we seem to want to admit. A whole lot more. Ask yourself — why is it that everyone who lives in my suburb is white?

But wait — what about the Harlem Renaissance? Didn’t that take place within this hundred years after the Civil War you’re talking about? Sure — but why was it the “Harlem” Renaissance? Why did all these African Americans live only in Harlem? It’s almost like they weren’t allowed to live elsewhere, so they all moved to the one area that permitted them to stay. Hmm. And, of course, some white people destroyed the economy and put an end to that.

So, as you can see, I get nervous around too many white folks. It's only a matter of time until they come for me if they're left up to their own devices.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Review of Shannon McKeehen's Barbra in Shadow.

Barbra in Shadow, poems by Shannon McKeehen.

McKeehen begins with a quote from the film Double Indemnity, and then a found poem pastiche from the films Double Indemnity; The Maltese Falcon; Murder, My Sweet; and Out of the Past. Right away, McKeehen establishes a playful tone harkening back to the tough Noir language and tense relationships of these films, but also critiquing their chauvinist mentality in a tongue-in-cheek way. Several images reoccur: ‘the other woman’, scenes of murder and betrayal, relationships gone awry because of poor communication, “The book on the shelf is hollowed/ out to accommodate a pistol” (lines 1-2) she states in one poem, and one could easily imagine that it is this book, and the ‘pistol’ is contained within these poems.

McKeehen’s poems are untitled, so that they imply sections in an ongoing series chronicling a failing relationship. McKeehen’s poems are visceral, tough: “My dear phantom,” one begins, “there is fire/where my skin/should be sleeping./I swallow; there’s burning.” (1-5). The narrator is ‘haunted’ by memories. “My dear phantom,” she states, later, “the skin remembers/ what is missing,/ a life amputated,/dreams outlined in chalk.” (l9-23). There is loss, anger, and deep regret in these lines.

The narrator of these poems is disillusioned, desperate for love and meaningful interaction. “Maybe you never cared about me…but I still tried” she says in one poem (11-13). She tries to make sense of this world ‘in shadow’ in which the truth of things is never fully revealed. “Does anyone call a random number/ just to have someone to talk to?” (23-24) She asks in another, nakedly honest.

McKeehen manages to create a powerful, layered portrait of ‘Barbra’ in this collection. The Noir conceit is refreshing and clever. She handles it well, without slipping into the realm of clichĂ©. McKeehen is adept at reigning in what could be melodramatic moments while remaining true to the world of these films, and yet, these poems feel real and not contrived. It's a strong collection that resonates well beyond the page.

-Reviewed by CL Bledsoe

Monday, March 19, 2012

Mythical Creatures I Would Have Sex With

1. Medusa (the Ray Harryhausen version from "Clash of the Titans" w/bag over her head. She turned part of me to stone...)

2. Zombies (if they're female and haven't been dead for too long so they don't stink yet)

3. Vampires (Anne Rice vampires—cause they're all practically female)(That was a joke. I'm not gay.)

4. Incubus (Natch. the creature, not the band.)

5. Bigfoots (females)(I don't mind a little bush.)

6. Ghosts (hot female ghosts like the one in Ghost Busters that got in bed with Dan Akroyd. Also, did anyone else think Cssper was kind of cute?)

7. Moth(wo)man (If there was a female version, I mean. Seriously. I'm not gay.)

8. Unicorns (They're very feminine. And Tom Cruise in "Legend" was kind of cute. I mean in an entirely heterosexual way. I mean he looked like a young girl.)

9. Oompa Loompas (If there were female ones, I mean.)(They're like cute, sexy children.)(Female children, I mean, of course.)

10. Angels (aren't they all female? Especially cherubs. More cushion for the pushin’.)

11. Mermaids (like Ariel. She was hot—for jailbait. But would it be illegal in the ocean? Everything's better where it's wetter.)

12. Ghost Girl From Japanese Horror Movies (Japanese women are really hot in general cause they look so young and innocent, and a dead girl wouldn't matter, right? Cause she's dead so it wouldn't matter that some countries consider it "illegal" to have sex with her because of her age.)

13. Little Girls from Anime (those little girls on the cover of anime comics are so hot! I can't even go into the store to look at them anymore, because of the court order, but also because they're so hot.)

14. Babies

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Review of Our Hearts Are Power Ballads, poems by J. Bradley

Our Hearts Are Power Ballads, Poems by J. Bradley, Artistically Declined Press, 2012. Reviewed by CL Bledsoe.

Bradley’s chapbook begins with a brief lost-love poem, “We Belong in a Movie.” “I will finally cure the cancer of regret,” (line 9) Bradley says. The poem sets up this theme of regret, of lost love, which continues throughout the collection. In The Monogamist series, Bradley speaks of erasing names, “stick figure(ing) a life” which implies a lessening of the importance of past experiences in an attempt to move away from regret.

In “Every Girl is the End of the World for You and Me,” Bradley begins “Our hearts are power ballads.” But what are power ballads? They are big, grandiose songs, often somewhat immature in their approach but dealing with ideas too big for daily life, ideas that make daily life seem banal by comparison. Likewise, Bradley implies that his past relationships make his current or future ones pale in comparison. Often, power ballads deal with regret, lost love. Bradley continues, “There are hazards in emotional/tourism. I’m learning to stop/showing where I slept/with monsters.” (lines 11-14). With the idea of “emotional tourism” Bradley questions the sincerity of his early relationships and also their relevance to his future. Bradley is talking about working through emotional maturity, ‘the mature man who lives humbly for an idea,’ to paraphrase Salinger, that idea being love.

But just because Bradley’s narrator has left behind the grandiose days of his heart’s youth, doesn’t mean there is no hope for passion. He ends the collection with a solid love poem, “Indiana Jones Hopes for Working Plumbing at the Youth Hostel.” Bradley demonstrates his great sense of humor and playfulness starting with the title – the image of an adventurer hoping for creature comforts. “I want to be an archeologist/of you, make temporary/cave drawings on your neck/and thighs” (lines 5-8). Bradley’s passion remains, and he is wiser for it. One can only conclude this portrait of mature love resounds with a more sustaining passion than the fickle passion of youth.

The poems in this collection are mostly brief, full of humor and nice turns of phrase. I’d be interested in seeing Bradley expand his wings in a longer collection. All in all, a solid chapbook.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Certain Climactic Scenes of Literature Retold with John McClane Playing a Pivotal Role, drafts

I've been working on this for a while, now. The problem I'm having is finding stories that actually work. I'm not sure exactly what makes them work, but some do and others definately don't.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

A pair of slave catchers paddle their canoe out into the river. John McClane squints hard at the men and maneuvers the raft to ram them. He mutters, “All right, YOU go to hell!” The raft strikes the canoe, causing it to explode. John McClane and Jim are thrown to shore. As Jim attempts to stand, one of the slave catchers swims ashore and charges him. Jim freezes, but John McClane steps in and smacks the slave catcher in the head with a piece of wood.

“Yippie-ki-yay, motherfucker!” he says.

* * *

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austin

At the Nethefield Ball, Elizabeth surreptitiously found a place beside Mr. Darcy. Each stood for some time without speaking a word. Elizabeth began to imagine the silence would last throughout the whole evening. She was hesitant to break it until she realized the greater punishment to her partner might be to force him to speak, and so she made some slight observation on the dance.

“It is your turn to say something now, Mr. Darcy.”

“Some party. I didn’t know you celebrated Christmas in Japan.”

* * *

After John McClane dispatches the terrorists who seized the Nethefield Ball, John McClane first takes Elizabeth’s hand as they move through a country dance. Elizabeth feels something akin to electricity coursing through her veins. John McClane shows her his wedding ring.

“Just the dance, ma’am. Just the dance.”

* * *

I've written a couple others that work really well. So what I need are suggestions of books/stories to try. Any thoughts?

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Down to Earth with Tanka, a guest blog by Elizabeth Bodien

Here’s what concerns me.

I worry that our cellphones and other grand inventions have contributed to our losing our connection to earth. When we call each other now, we have to ask, “Where are you?” Unlike the landline tied to a specific locale, the cellphone travels with a person. This could be anywhere. Cellphone conversations float in a communication haze somewhere just above earth. The buzz is bumped from tower to tower to cellphone users in perpetual motion.

I must be old-fashioned. If I call an 800 number, which could also be based anywhere, I want to ask the person where he or she is, to get some idea of where on earth this human being I am talking with is located. What is the distance between us? What time is it there? What is the weather like? Usually I can ask about those but if I ask about anything more, it begins to sound strange, perhaps too personal, less efficient. And then one can worry, if so inclined, about whether someone is actually listening in or recording -- that ubiquitous threat of “quality control.”

We are physical creatures who have created a non-physical environment. The gadgets are wonderful. And the technology wow continues to lure us. But we give up something with each of these so-called advances.

Think of the difference in speed between modes of travel-- walking, bicycling, driving, flying. If one walks from place to place, one feels what one passes. One feels the distance, too. Bicycling is faster but the engagement with the environment is diminished. Each increase in speed means a greater buffer from sensing what is around us.

I remember many years ago when I lived in Oregon, a cousin in California decided to visit, making the trip by bicycle. When he arrived after pedaling for hundreds of miles, he offered numerous observations of my own region – complete news to me, accustomed as I was to driving all but the closest distances.

The advantage of flying is even more speed. Most people wouldn’t want to walk, say, from New York City to Los Angeles. Of course, the only option our prehistoric ancestors had was walking. Now, we don’t even need to travel physically but can travel virtually by means of these communication devices.

The tradeoff is that we lose our connection to nature. Nature becomes something to transcend, to get over, get beyond, even to control -- leading to a kind of human arrogance. I remember seeing an advertisement (for what I cannot recall) after the devastation of the Katrina hurricane. It said: “Human nature is stronger than Mother Nature.” The development of civilization meant the increasing control over the environment. Also the increasing destruction of the environment. When Mother Nature’s ways are horrific, of course we want to control the environment. But the whole notion of dominion over the earth has gotten not just us but a whole bunch of other creatures into big trouble. Think of the BP-Deepwater Horizon oil gushing in the Gulf of Mexico.

So what are we to do? Is there some way to balance this unearthly digital direction that most of us are travelling quite happily? Some way to re-connect with nature?

I propose tanka. It is only a small corrective, but I believe it can lead in a better direction.

Some people reading this will know that tanka are five-line lyrical poems that come from the Japanese. Older than haiku, they share some characteristics of haiku, such as an observation of nature. Unlike haiku, tanka also can include an additional comment, some observation on the observation.

at my window
diminishing light
as on any day
I fend off the thought
of my own fading

(Published in red lights June 2011)

A tanka (same word for plural) allows, as haiku do not, for some direct expression of human emotion or thought. There are a number of journals, in print and online, that publish tanka:

Tanka, at least those written in English, follow a loose form of short line--long line--short line--long line--long line. In some, the third line serves as something of a pivot or turn between the first two lines and the last two lines, as if two haiku, upper and lower, shared the middle line. (This has its historical basis in Japan where people wrote back and forth to each other linking their poems.)

after many gray days
at last brilliant sunshine
warm on the skin
just as plants do
I lean toward the light

(published in Magnapoets January 2012)

Writing tanka encourages attentiveness to nature, like fly fishing. Someone who fly fishes observes what insects are hatching, how they behave over the surface of water, and what the fish are rising to eat. One has to watch the water, watch the insects, watch the fish in order to mimic with an artificial fly what is going on naturally. If you are going to catch a fish by fly fishing, you pay attention to nature. If you are going to compose tanka, you pay attention to nature.

I travel alone
this yellow autumn day
my eyes alive
without conversation
I can hear the wind shifting

(Published in American Tanka December 2010)

Not all tanka are written about the other-than-human natural world, but that is a starting point for the genre. And tanka, unlike haiku, allows for simile and metaphor.

he pulled and pulled
his heavy line from the sea
surprised to find
the weight of history
and himself tangled in it

(Published in GUSTS #14 Fall/Winter 2011)

There is plenty of instruction available on how to write tanka, for example:

If a person is accustomed to writing haiku, tanka will feel very roomy. But if tanka still feel too constraining, if there is more to be said than can fit in five lines, there are also tanka sequences, series of three, five, or more tanka in a series, and tanka prose which combines prose and tanka. Here are three tanka which begin a five-tanka sequence:

fairy-tale trees
in dry, dusty light
knot themselves
as if searching for water
years before we arrive

here to visit
student friends
from a lifetime ago
have we changed?
have we stayed the same?

our first dinner out
in a historical building
with false facades
like an old cowboy movie
we all swagger in

(Part of “Texas Reunion” a tanka sequence published in red lights January 2012)

If one wants to find other tanka writers, there are tanka groups one can join, such as the Tanka Society of America

Of course, reading or writing tanka is enjoyment in itself. One might write a tanka a day, as one might write in a diary or journal. Writing tanka need not be pursued solely for the sake of reconnecting to earth or some other goal. But if one writes tanka regularly, one’s awareness of the natural environment, of the physical world we all live in, can be enhanced. It might just result in a more humble living within the environment—this wonderful world we share with so many other creatures (the ones without the cellphones).

clouds line up
in rows across the sky
like questions
are there any answers
or only endless gray?

(Published in bottle rockets Vol. 13 No. 2)

Happy International Women’s Day to all!
* * *

Elizabeth Bodien lives near Hawk Mountain, Pennsylvania. She taught anthropology at Northampton Community College in Bethlehem, PA until 2007. Many years ago she lived in Japan, teaching there and learning Japanese calligraphy. Her tanka have appeared in Modern English Tanka, Eucalypt, Ribbons, Atlas Poetica, and other forms of poetry in The Litchfield Review, The Fourth River, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Mad Poets Review, US 1 Worksheets, and Cimarron Review, among other publications. Her chapbooks include Plumb Lines, (Plan B Press 2008), Rough Terrain: Notes of an Undutiful Daughter (FootHills Publishing 2010), and the recently published Endpapers (Finishing Line Press 2011).

Monday, March 05, 2012

Some Poems


First, she chatters, makes raspberries,
and finally cries in her crib; I can hear it
through the walls, even without the monitor.

I stumble through the cold, change her
diaper, get her dressed, and heat a bottle
to feed her sitting in my lap, eyes closed.

The morning is all silence and warmth, then.

* * *

Maria Told Her To.

For the baby, she bakes organic chicken,
organic vegetables, homemade
fruit juice cut with distilled water.

She puts things – not necessarily toys –
in boxes, to be emptied, to be arranged,
to be returned and put away.

And when it’s outgrown, she ships it to friends to start again.

* * *

Both of those are Sevenlings, which are short, seven line poems. It's a fun little form.

Here are a couple attempts at funny poems:

Fortune Telling Machine

I found this fortune telling machine and asked it my fortune. It said I'm going to be fat and unhappy and probably die young. Then I asked it if I could be a kid again like in that movie, and it said I was fat and unhappy when I was young. So I set it on fire, but it was in the basement, so the whole house burned down. Now I'm fat and unhappy and cold. And I don't go into the basement anymore.

* * *

Juicy Butt

I smelled something rotting in the hallway of the girls’ dorm. There was nothing in there but teenage girls, all giggly and wearing not enough clothes. I thought it might be them, after sports, so I sniffed them casually, but with no success. They were talking to boys through the cameras on their computers. Their shoes and clothes were piled in their rooms, in the hall. I thought that was probably it, but it didn’t seem to be. Everything had glitter on it and rude words. I walked up and down the hall while they chattered and teased boys in other states, but I couldn’t find the smell. So I went back to my apartment. It was full of the death smell.

* * *

Here's a poem I wrote for Jillian for Valentine's Day:

Why Did I Marry You?

You are kind and you are wise.
You have a fierce character that guides your actions.
Your eyes are dark and haughty.
Your curly hair is a rich brown.
You are a wonderful mother to my daughter.
You teach me new things every day.
You give me hope for the future.
You are great in bed.
Your breasts are sex-personified.
You are an amazing cook.

You are clever and quick.
You are funny and smart.
You have the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen.
You play violin beautifully.
You write – when you write – wonderfully.
You have a presence like a movie star. It captivates.
Your lips are sexy red cherries.
You make our apartment a home.
You’re a better driver than I am, but I’m a better cusser.
You like bad movies, sometimes. And you like good movies, sometimes.

You know how to sit in front of a fire properly.
You are strong, inside, but you are weak, also.
You put up with me.
You make me laugh.
You fit with me.
You are warm inside and out. & when you’re cold, you use a hair-dryer.
You wish on eyelashes.
You inspire me.
You are an amazing teacher.
You know how to play in the snow.

You make me feel like I’ve woken up.
You are my helpmeet.
You are beautiful and sexy.
You think of things I never would think of.
You bring me great joy.
You taught – are teaching – me how to be a good man. You make me feel like I am one.
You taught – are teaching – me how to be a good father. You make me feel like I am one.
You make me want to learn about and experience things I’ve never known before.
You teach me – every day – faith.
You show me who I am and who I can be.

You smile and it makes me forget time.
You have the sexiest voice I’ve ever heard.
You sacrifice without thinking or complaining.
You give me confidence.
You make my life worthwhile.
You are creative like crazy.
You have great taste.
You taste great.
You are considerate in your actions.
You make me feel whole.

I married you because you are you and I love you.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Guest Blog by Melanie Huber

Before I hit 40 I often forgot how old I was. My twenties and thirties were pretty much a blur with one running seamlessly into the other without so much as hic-up between. This year I hit 40. Or it hit me. Like a mallet. That’s half of 80, or twice twenty, I like to say. But however I try to frame this picture--That’s half of my life already gone. I’ve spent more of my life married and being a mom than anything else.

Holy shit.

I spent the later part of my 30’s finishing up a college degree. Sometimes I wonder if I would not have been happier to have just saved the money and stayed home braiding my daughters’ hair. I have three girls, two boys. I really missed being there in the morning before school to help them get ready. I don’t think they actually missed me though. When I was a stay-at-home mom, my oldest, who is 20 now, would go to school each day be-dazzled, be-ribboned and be- fluffed. My kids did not walk out of our front door without looking like they’d been spit-shined and polished. Without fail each day the oldest came home de-ribboned, un-dazzled and un-fluffed. Apparently the big bows and feminine curls just were not her thing, and as soon as she got to school she’d literally let down her hair.

Eventually I just gave up, though I still have moments when I itch to grab a comb and a blow-dryer when I see her leave the house with a wet head, hurrying to work right after taking a shower. I have learned to shut up and just let them be who they are, and since then I have enjoyed the heck out of seeing who they are becoming.

And this is exactly how I deal with writing too. So often I want to “purty” up a piece I’m working on, give it some fluff here and there, a dazzling phrase, a ribbon of righteously remarkable alliteration abounding.

But that’s me. I like sparkly things. If they aren’t sparkly I like to add the sparkle. But that’s not being genuine, and being genuine, I think, is the most beautiful aspect of writing and to be more dramatic here, the most joyful part of living. If you can’t write or live in a genuine way, why bother?

I read an excellent collection of essays recently called The Writer on Her Work. There are some intelligent, touching stories in here I think every writer, male or female (but especially female) should read, Alice Walker’s “One Child of One’s Own” shares:

“Someone asked me once whether I thought women artists should have children, and, since we were beyond discussing why this question is never asked of artists who are men, I gave my answer promptly.
‘Yes,’ I said, somewhat to my surprise. And, as if to amend my rashness, I added: ‘They should have children—assuming this is of interest to them—but only one.’
‘Why only one?’ This Someone wanted to know.
‘Because with one you can move,’ I said. ‘With more than one you’re a sitting duck.’

I read this essay with a feeling of trepidation. Oh, I’m definitely a sitting duck with five. Quack. Quack. Quack.

Published in 1980, this book came on the heels of the feminists movements of the 60’s and 70’s. I’m thinking specifically of the literary ones, the tragic feminine victim, in particular the confessional poets who had done their work, and for bad or good, motherhood and the concept of family would never be revered in quite the same way again. I tend to think this is a good thing, yet not without some replacement myths taking over where the old patriarchal dogmas left off.

Alice Walker’s essay perpetuates what I like to call the “Yo Mamma” myth. The Diminishing Woman Who Chose to be a Mom but Should have Been an Astronaut Myth. Oh, how we all love labels. Alice, dear, it used to be, what, fifty years ago—a woman was considered “less” than a real woman unless she was married and had a family. Yes, she was limited by society and that was wrong. The pendulum, however, has swung in the entirely opposite direction now and in my experience, albeit, limited to a singular woman with a singular life, unless you are a strong career oriented “independent” female, you are not a “real woman.” And if you have five kids, you are either a slut or insane. Okay, really, folks, this is not an exaggeration… from one limiting viewpoint right into another and, in my interactions with people through my writing career, work (the day job that actually pays), and college, there is a growing discrimination against mothers and this is not just coming from patriarchal venues, it is coming from within our oddly developing, staggered matriarchal systems.

In response to Walker’s essay in which she explains how limiting motherhood is to creativity I must call: Bullshit. There is and was a time to demand gender equality, but sorry and to admit my own sexism here, my view is that the female has been naturally more attune (elevated? perhaps) to the creative energy for countless ages, even before the written word. For Walker to imply that motherhood somehow limits or diminishes a woman’s ability to create art is for her to be a member of the kingdom with no practical knowledge of traveling the pathways within the realm.

Yet, and judge me if you like, I must contradict myself here to some degree because Walker is not completely wrong. It is true, when my children were babies, feeding and diapering was an all day long event (I’ve changed 20,000 diapers in my life. Yes, I did the math) and I did not write anything more involved than a grocery list during those baby days. But, by God, those grocery lists were AWESOME. And I tend to think all those years cleaning up shit without a second thought have added more to my editorial savvy then any class I’ve ever taken.

I loved it, not cleaning up shit, but the longs lists of food, the planning a month of healthy meals in advance. But the baby days are over and now I’ve replaced the biscuits and bacon with odes and sestinas, or poems about bacon and biscuits. I tried to write a grocery list the other day and got as far as bread and milk and found I could go no further. Being a woman is a continual evolution, a daily one, and yes sacrifices for art are a part of the deal, just like parenthood requires sacrifice but on a totally different level.

The most poignant essay in A Writer on Her Work, in my view, was Michelle Murray’s “Creating Oneself from Scratch,” written in the 50’s this explains the dichotomy women had to suffer at that time:

“I am a teacher, a fiancĂ©e’, in addition to being a daughter, a granddaughter, cousin and friend. And perhaps by December 31 I’ll be a mother, a published writer. But all of these views of me are only partial.”

She expresses beautifully the challenges of being a mother and a writer:

“Crying has become my daily companion. Jim and I have almost no time together. No Jim. No God, no writing—is this what life is, bondage to children and them alone? For what? Is there nothing else? God knows I don’t hate my children, I love them, but I don’t want to give up my life and everything I am to them. I feel such a failure in every respect; it seems I can do nothing—many, many women do more without any sort of upset. Yet, I want to cry, I am me, not anyone else, and this is not for me.”

In the course of her writing career and becoming a mother of four, Michelle discovers she has cancer. She stops going to church, works on publishing her first collection of poetry and documents her wrestling with family responsibilities, religious, and societal expectations, she writes:

“Less and less do the signs of current literary life touch me---but to find myself in my own poetry—that is what I would give my life for.”

And further,

“It is as if my whole body were flowing out in words like blood and only a husk is left for everything else.”

I am most certainly not suggesting you have to be a parent in order to write well, and Murray herself wonders if she would have been more successful had she been a man. She summed up her experience before she died: “I feel that my authenticity is trapped inside me by fear, habit, custom, and I will die without being able to express it in my words…Don’t we poets all delude ourselves at one time or another with tales of our talent or importance? Either we wait too long for recognition and grow bitter in the waiting, or experience it too early and must live out a long decline…”

And written five days before her death:

“And then, each time, the fear that this is the beginning of the end—one doesn’t receive a formal announcement in the mail, after all, for it remains ambiguous to the end, I’m sure.”

She died at the age of 41.

I wrote this essay thinking I could reconcile being a mother with being a writer, but there is no reconciliation. They are not the same. I would not give up my life for a book of poetry, thank goodness things have progressed enough I don’t feel I have to choose between the two. I do have to give up a lot in order to write, sleep, for one, because I’m not willing to give up watching my daughter play softball, for instance…and money is another sacrifice, instead of trying to find a good paying job I’ve taken a part time one so I can have time to write.

Though I can’t reconcile writing with motherhood as motherhood IS always more time consuming, and more soul sucking, but also ultimately more fulfilling (some days) somehow I combine them. I compiled and edited my book in between games at softball fields. If you want to do something, you don’t sit around and focus on what you can’t do, or who says you should or shouldn’t, or why you can’t do it, or if you are good enough, you will be good enough IF you just do it.

Being a writer does not make me a better mother, in all likelihood on those writing splurge days it’s made me less a mother and more just myself. But, I see this as a good thing because the kids also see me as not just their mom there to serve them 24/7, they see me as a person. I do think being a mother has in fact made me a better writer, more importantly, a better person. I don’t think this is always a fair trade off, and there is no balance. Sometimes the kids seem to take so much from me there is nothing left for my writing, and sometimes my writing takes so much there is little left for my kids, but it is what it is and I am glad I have left the guilt at the altar of Womanhood, knowing I can, if fact, do both.

* * *

Melanie Moro-Huber's book of poetry, Axe in Hand was published in 2012
by New York Quarterly Books, and she is currently the poetry book
review editor for New York Quarterly. Her chap-sized collection "The
Memory of Paper" appeared in the 2011 anthology Ahadada Reader 3. She
is a graduate of Hollins University and was a Tennessee Williams
Scholar at Sewanee, 2010. She also thinks bios are rather boring and
feels rather pretentous writing them, for those who have read this
one, here's an owl for you: