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Dear Friends,

The other day on Wom-po Katha Pollitt informed everyone she had been asked to write a piece for some magazine answering the question, who do people write poetry for?  After all, who reads it? Hardly anyone (even poets themselves) buy it. She asked for replies, and requested that those who put their reply online, give her permission at the same time to use what we wrote with our names. A couple of funnily respectful replies did appear that first day.

Well after a couple of days of this, I wrote:

I was going to say I don't write poetry any more and only did translations but I do on occasion still do it when I feel the need.  Like when I went away in June and then felt compelled, and then better when I wrote a poem. Whether it's any good I don't know. I made a blog of it and my friend told me it plartly came from a memory of Mansfield Park, which I knew already. She was able to quote the exact line I couldn't have myself.

So for me the question is why do I write?  Because I need to.  I feel better after I write.  It answers some deep need in me. I used to say it was like some disease in my veins I needed to get out, but that is such a negative way of putting it. Bloodletting. Yet it remains true to my feelings.

I've been writing a chapter of a book and when I've spent a day at it fully absorbed I have not been unhappy. I have forgotten much about life and my circumstances beyond what I need from it to say what I want to say.

Laying in my bed this morning, I thought to myself why I married Jim, and answered:  because he is good and kind.  Because I thought I would find safety and peace with him. And I have.  And he has become the blood that flows through my heart. Blood imagery.  Wilde said something like after he spent a day in front of a blank piece of paper, writing a sentence, then erasing it, little drops of blood came out on his forehead.

When we were young, he was also very sexy in bed. And the best sign of all, the first time we walked and talked together (on the way back to my flat the night we met), he made me laugh. He's witty.  He still can make me laugh.  So few people can.  Laughter is good.

Then they got onto audiences and before you know it we were onto "mentoring," the "in" activity of the year. One woman contributed the kind of thing that has become typical when people talk of this behavior or relationship.

So I wrote again:  I read the online essay about mentoring and how men mentor better than women. I mentored a young woman this summer.  Or I should say I officially did and will therefore get a small payment. It's no big deal. In fact I did nothing much more for her than I've done for lots of young women in my classes over the years.  They come visit me in my office, we talk, sometimes get to exchange emails, maybe go to lunch, and I help them variously (with letters of recommendation, absurd demands for personal statements where what's asked is not what's wanted, in effect career advice, I help them with their papers, and sometimes love life advice too). I've mentored young men this way.

I think we are beginning to see some elaborate mystification going on here which is then used to berate women -- who says they don't go into groups.  Mentoring has become an "in" word and the definition is not only vague but so demanding as to be unreal. I am put in mind of Elizabeth Bennett's reply to Darcy and Miss Bingley after she is given their full definition of an accomplished women.  She is not surprized at they're knowing only 6 accomplished women.  She rather wonders at their knowing any.



Elizabeth looking down at the valley of the Peake. Her hat is made up of the same natural stuff as fields below.

Ellen

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
misssylviadrake
Aug. 6th, 2009 09:30 am (UTC)
PS: Translations & Letters to the World
I might still commit translation too, had I not had some of the horrible experieces I've had since putting my translations on the Net. Not from readers who mostly have been lovingly appreciative (there was one crazy Uriah Heep type). But fellow academics and editors I was urged to apply to in order to publish my writing in hard copy books. Had I ever thought I'd have a manipulative letter from the editor of the University of Chicago Press for early modern women poets, and a spiteful nasty one from the woman he assigned to do Gambara's poems, I'd never have written.

No one responded to mine on Wompo (the way no one has so much as mentioned my poem in their Letters to the World anthology). I gather it's an embarrassment. Well the book has been reviewed again recently and at length, at these URLs:

http://www.proaxis.com/~calyx/252Review.htm

See it also at: http://www.redroom.com/author/moira-richards

http://www.junctures.org/index.php

So I wrote again: poetry is regarded differently. When I wrote my book Trollope on the Net and had a contract, one which said the book would probably be the free book for the society for the year, I did write towards a specific audience. Fans of Trollope, scholars, and kept that in mind.

When I teach writing (not creative), I begin with talking of who we envisage is our audience. When I go over books that are non-fiction, I ask the students who is the audience envisaged.

Poetry it seems we take a vatic view of. Except we don't. The poems in the Letters to the World are themselves calculated not to offend. I saw a few read aloud and was struck with how each poet was partly placating her audience. Well I didn't and insofar as I did that in the one on my blog, it's fake. E.

Edited at 2009-08-06 09:37 am (UTC)
misssylviadrake
Aug. 6th, 2009 07:15 pm (UTC)
Bright Precision
From Diana: "Dear Ellen,

Yes, it's a good and much-needed reminder, in this time of destruction of Jane ... that Jane Austen IS smart! Every day I feel myself getting sicker and sicker of Jane Austen, because of the Austen Industry. None of this is HER fault! The bright precision of her words - yes. And that is what one must aim for, or what I want to aim for.

Diana"
misssylviadrake
Aug. 7th, 2009 08:13 pm (UTC)
Katha Pollitt's blog
What she chose to write:

http://thebestamericanpoetry.typepad.com/the_best_american_poetry/2009/08/readers-real-and-ideal.html

The poem about the unwanted dog is moving.

E.
misssylviadrake
Aug. 10th, 2009 11:10 am (UTC)
I wrote a little further on this topic on Sunday, 8/10/09:'

I've gotten myself a book by Carol Ann Duffy called "Answering Back," and it reminds me of this Billy Collins poem. They are not so bad, but simiarly most are sarky "ripostes" to the original famous poem, often soul-withering, accusing the original of being posturing or phony or in an unmerited emotionalism. A few presented an alternative world view, but it was interesting to me for the most part the "answer back" consisted of optimistic in the face of the original; that was not once the way of "answering poems." If you read Collins's poem The "in" way to be today is ever guarded and performative. Alas, I'm not surprized he sells. When I read it, I thought of Jane Austen's plea in _Northanger Abbey_, only in her case those denigrating novels had not gone into the content and inner spirit of such books to ridicule them.

E.M.
misssylviadrake
Aug. 10th, 2009 11:11 am (UTC)
Ridiculing poetry
My good friend, Nick, responded to my comment as follows:

"Your feelings about the Duffy poems mirror mine exactly incidentally - I may have mentioned this when we went to hear her read last year but you capture it much better with 'soul-withering' - there is something trivialising about them so that even when she is making good points about sexism and gender roles it is hard to accord proper weight.

Nick."
misssylviadrake
Aug. 15th, 2009 11:49 am (UTC)
From an intelligent woman poet on Wompo:

"I don't think I write to convince anyone of anything, so it's likely I write for myself & like-minded others. But I do subscribe to the idea of writing whatever my gift allows me to write, regardless of audience, & if the poems succeed with others, that's great. I don't think poetry is a market economy, though we need something of a market to get to readers we don't know personally.

When I read the works of "successful" poets and see them endlessly repeating themselves to worse effect, it makes me sad. Ideal editors would actually edit.

The small readership for poetry just means there is a focused readership. To try to expand it means to wrest it out of what it already is & try to make it something else. I am happy to know readers of my work are familiar with poetry already, or that they are guided to my books by others who are. But it doesn't depress me particularly. The state of publishing depresses me, but that doesn't affect my writing."
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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