Saturday, October 10, 2020

not the moon | gluck and poetic foremothers

Mock Orange

It is not the moon, I tell you.
It is these flowers
lighting the yard.

I hate them.
I hate them as I hate sex,
the man’s mouth
sealing my mouth, the man’s
paralyzing body—

and the cry that always escapes,
the low, humiliating
premise of union—

In my mind tonight
I hear the question and pursuing answer
fused in one sound
that mounts and mounts and then
is split into the old selves,
the tired antagonisms. Do you see?
We were made fools of.
And the scent of mock orange
drifts through the window.

How can I rest?
How can I be content
when there is still
that odor in the world?

Twenty or so odd years ago, I was a baby poet.  Or more accurately, I had been writing poems since age 15, but only 20 odd years ago, on the verge of 25,  did I get good enough to call it actual poetry. I was in my second year of grad school (studying mostly novels, but occasionally poems) at Depaul and something clicked--I blame TS Eliot for the hinge popping open, but he may have just unjammed the lock.  That fall I spent a lot of time ferrying books back and forth from the library in my backpack--mostly women writers--Carolyn Forche, Anne Sexton, Mary Oliver, Sharon Olds, and for the purposes of this entry--Louise Gluck, whose just been honored with the Nobel. There was no internet, or at least not at my apartment, nor did I have a job, so I spent my days when not in class reading and writing a swell of work that autumn. Truthfully, it was probably the first time I had immersed myself in contemporary poets and that perhaps was what opened the door to the work I was writing, and would write in the future.  The poems came fast that fall and into the spring, an output that changed my career trajectory--a swerve away from teaching and toward writing, however I needed to support myself.  A handful of poems in my very first chapbook stem from this time.  I also garnered my first journal publication with them. 

Eventualy I wandered away from most of these poets, as my style shifted, barring a brief seminar during my MFA at Columbia devoted to Oliver, Sexton, and Olds.  Years later, had you asked me about any of these poets, I would probably wrinkle up my nose and, with exception of Sexton and Forche perhaps, call them slightly facile. My tastes had moved on to writers like Jorie Graham and Anne Carson if we're talking literary heavyweights.  Gluck was something from the past, and definitely an influence on the work I was writing then and probably for the next four years.   It was unfashionable to say, particularly in my program, that you loved Gluck, and yet, I regularly found poets out in the wild who professed their love for her work and would continue to. I feel like, stylistics aside, the experimental poetry world (ie. the male poetry world if we're getting specific) has a particular vitriol toward Gluck, which I never really understood, and now, as the news spreads of the Nobel, are rustling restlessly with their keyboards.  Admittedly, I was surprised they'd chosen a poet so very white in the current world where everyone else is making strides in recognizing POC, but I don't think that's the angle these criticisms stem from.  I once heard a male poet dismiss Gluck as a "flower poet" and fumed for days. My chief criticism is the poems are a little too tidy and heavy handed.  Constantly moving the reader toward epiphany tied neatly with a bow. She weilds this more adeptly than other poets of her generation (particularly male) but she still weilds it. 

I do not write those sorts of poems--not anymore--but I can see the value in work--the strands that are still woven in how I learned to make poems.  

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