WOMEN, POETRY, & THE BODY: WHEN IS A POEM A BODY/ WHEN IS A POEM A WOMAN’S BODY/ WOULD WE WANT THIS?
As I fall into an analysis, I must present the terms. Maybe you will see yourself in these words, maybe you will remain absent. We are always unwriting ourselves as Peggy Phelan would say. We are a combination of our significations. We are women in poetry: we are constantly un/writing our bodies: always refusing identification. This is for them or us. This is fragments placed on top of fragments. I never wanted to be a body anyway.
The woman is that which denies representation. The woman is obscured. The woman is all body or When is the woman not the woman? She has a pronoun “she”. She makes 75 cents to your dollar. Is there a universal woman subject? For this moment let us name this body; stabilize the meaning. She, there she is.
The body is the space occupied. The body is that what cannot be entered. The rock bounced off The Body. Trace your hands across your frame. This is you, your body. 65% oxygen. For Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, a physical body is not separate from a written body. The woman’s body and a blank page are both empty bodies “waiting to contain. Conceived for a single purpose and for the purpose only. To contain.” Some bodies are visible. Some remain visible in the heterosexual matrix, others are made invisible. The limits of constructivism remain the boundaries of the body. Can we be a body that is constantly obscured?
Can you ever see me for who I am, my non-erotic whole?
THE LAUGHING MEDUSA
Helene Cixous argues that people who identify as women must write and they always write differently. Woman is the voice of silence, the Other. For Cixous, because a woman is writing, it is doing/performing something. Cixous believes in black & white, but we still love her. “Because poetry involves gaining strength through the unconscious and because the unconscious, that other limitless country, is the place where the repressed manage to survive”. When a woman writes herself she becomes a subject. Or, when a woman writes herself she becomes liberated. Women’s writing rewrites the history of suppression and denies the attention of a man because man “hears in language only that which speaks in the masculine.” The writing of a woman is not on a page, it is a body being propelled to the center. Woman is not history so how could she continue that narrative? Woman’s writing is that which cannot be defined.
We, the slut.
Poetry is a
group of text
by line breaks and occasionally following a rhyme or rhythm. The poetry is everywhere, the poem is what is captured. The poem is the aesthetic whole. The Iliad The Odyssey The Sonnet The Song of Solomon Ghazal Trochee Dactyl Anapest Spondee Poetry is language created in an order. It is created by the Poet. Poetry is sounds made by words on a page. Poetry is assonance and dissonance. Poetry is presented visually. The words on a page are a picture. The blank space, too, is a poem.
THE POETIC BODY
Body/poetic: Poem as body Words as body Are these words intrinsically Woman We compose the body through writing The woman’s body knows how to wait, it is an epic poem There are poetic bodies that are decapitated Commas and periods give the body depth/breath. A small gasp at the end.
Make you stop.
They add The words are visual. The words are meant to be seen. You can look at them but they wont return your gaze. They are forever denying being seen. This body takes up/occupies shapes/space on a page. The capital letter makes you know, after all, these are phrases/ sentences.
THE PRESENT TENSE
The present tense is a kind of anxiety.
FOUND TEXT POETRY
The found text poem is the ready made. The Poet is what makes this a Poem, just as the Artist is what makes the Art. Found poetry is the idea that we are surrounded by poetry, it is our (the Poet) responsibility to record it. In Trisha Low’s book The Compleat Purge, she dedicates an entire section to fan fiction she finds on Live Journal. This is at once saying “Poetry/Poem is a teenage girl” and “look, pay attention to this”. Found text poetry forces us to pay attention to the empty vessels, those that are othered/disregarded in contemporary culture. Found text poetry colonizes “lacking” bodies. The power of the poet makes poetry. It demands that we pay attention to commonly disregarded fluff and dribble of the Internet while continually reinforcing the hierarchy of the Poet/Poem above the Other.
Erasure was once the woman’s body, now it is the poem. The erasure poem takes the Work, connected to history and signification, erasing choice words becomes new: owned by the one that erases.
The poem of the woman is that which comes. The orgasm is the “spiritual” connection with the body. The orgasm is the perfect poem. The orgasm is the word and the poem becoming one body. Historically the woman’s orgasm has been obscured by language (see H.D., see Sylvia Plath). Woman’s orgasm could only be seen as a metaphor. This body/bodily function was a flower, a gesture, a crimson. Obscured forever in signification. “your hand warm on my pussy” Finally. A breath. A sexual experience without metaphor. The body is in the poem, the poem is the body. Alta rejects the metaphor. She rejects most words longer than two syllables. She rejects the phallocentrism of language. She doesn’t capitalize or abide by grammar. She is a woman’s body in the post-metaphor light. Alta is accessible but not in a Young Adult way. She destroys words and emphasizes bodily experience. She doesn’t fully depart from poetic form. She edits away words leaving only those that are necessary. Perhaps even H.D. would be okay with this. “i want you to see my body turn toward you & away” or “if yr a woman. // the poetry is uncontrollable. total revelation with corners/ to hide in”. The orgasm is really what we are after with this poetry thing.
Oh Susan Howe. You emerge like light. You come from the abyss of the Theater & the Art World. You are Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece in the poetry world. You take texts from the archives and perform personal acts of violence. You cut the words apart. You do not worry about finishing sentences or thoughts our even letters.The cut piece is the ultimate denial of the body. Yoko Ono’s performance is a display of trust between human bodies. She places a pair of scissors on the ground and looks far in the distance, never meeting the gaze. One by one people approach her cutting away her clothing. She seldom reacts as if this is what a Woman is; Woman is the cutting away. A man cuts her blouse and looks toward the screen as if posing for a photo. They find humor in their job. The work is not without reward, everyone keeps the cloth they cut. She appears bored: they smile and smile. The body is that on which things are done. Before the Cut Piece there was the Cough Piece. In a recording from 1963 Ono coughs for 32 minutes and 32 seconds her body spills everywhere in sound but remains private. In this way, Susan Howe creates her body. In the privacy of the Institution she works, she gathers. In her studio she cuts and scans. In the way Cough Piece is music her work echoes rhythms. Words cut/ cut words. “enacting Foucault’s claim that ‘knowledge is not made for understanding; it is made for cutting.’”
- Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Dictee, 65
- Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter, 15
- Helene Cixous, The Laughing Medusa, 879-880
- Cixous, 881
- Cha, 47
- Alta, The Shameless Hussy, 107
- Alta, 113
- Alta, 116
- Della Pollock, Performing Writing, 92