Tuesday, June 5, 2012

on beauty

:: Prelude

Eduardo Corral had an interview at Ploughshares.  Jameson Fitzpatrick cited part of that interview in his discussion of Anne Sexton and Wilde Boys Salon creator Alex Dimitrov.  There were some reactions.  Including one by Dimitrov.  And Fitzpatrick. And Lucas, who just graduated from the same MFA program as I did.  And Kara, who was a scholar in the BreadLoaf workshop I was in with Ellen Bryant Voigt. 

I admit, in terms of the internet, this conversation seems to have closed, but for me, it lingers.  The body is beautiful and terrible, and it is wholly present in my own work.  

:: Intermezzo

The woman's voice in this fracas is what interests me the most, and Candito concludes:

In all seriousness, I like myself. I like being a poet who is a woman. I like other poets who are women and men. Oftentimes, I think poems are beautiful when they terrify or disturb me. I think poets should, if possible, try to foster supportive, inclusive communities based on their love of poetry. It’s complicated.

:: Solo

I have something called poly-cystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).  It has resulted in my turning to infertility treatments; my first string of them landed me Maya.  I was diagnosed with PCOS before I was even interested in having children; in fact, it happened around the time I got married, when I was constantly wicking away my clothes to try on a wedding dress my mother made me.  I never went wedding dress shopping.  I cite this in conversations as if I missed out on something, but the truth is, I did bridesmaid dress shopping a few months before I was to get married, and I was horrified at what I saw in the mirror. 

Poly-cystic ovary syndrome wreaks havoc on your body's ability to process insulin and knocks your hormones off-kilter.  The inability to ovulate led to sparsely spaced menstruation, which was why I saw the doctor in the first place.  She asked questions that startled me:  noted the slow and steady weight gain over the years, asked about acne and sprouts of hair.  In a cruel twist, it turns out weight loss helps your body return to fertility, but with PCOS, the body is confused and stores fats like a desperate squirrel.

I say all of this because my body knows too, and it has severely and radically changed in the last decades.  I say this because there was a time (before Maya, before I triumphed over my body and had a baby) when I'd measure my friends by whether or not they knew me "before my fat days" or not.  I'd measure myself against the others in a room--am I the plumpest of my peers?  Like most with PCOS, I carry much of my excess around my middle, shaping me quite like a barrel.  I didn't want to have a head shot taken when my chapbook was accepted because I was eight months pregnant and heftier than I'd been in my entire life.  It was enough that my driver's license photo was taken then and I shudder every time I have to pull it out.  I felt a deep thread of humiliation.

Now, I nurse in public.  I still long for my pre-PCOS weight, but I will admit, I'm not willing to sign up for a half-marathon as my dear friend Emily did (and ran last weekend).  I'd rather sit in my backyard, reading poems that zing within.  (Like Eduardo's.  Or Kara's.)  Or work on writing my own.  Or pull weeds with my daughter. 

The body will always be a constant in my work.

I remember coming upon the word obese in one of Eduardo's poems, and I felt that flush of shame.  How can he write about that?  How can he call attention to his midline in such a public way?  At first, I couldn't decide if I admired his admission or felt embarrassed by it. 

And then I gave myself permission to write a poem about weight.  It's a little chip of a poem right now, but it's there, and it's something that breaks my heart, and maybe that's one of the most important things:  to write poems that move us.  Scare us.

:: Intermezzo

I've never considered the face of a poet when deciding whether or not to fall in love with his or her work.  I try to not look at the name of the submitter when I read for Midway Journal--so I am not swayed by recognition, but also by any other factors, such as gender or heritage (if, in fact, those things are even reflected in a name, and we all know how complicated that can be).   I think of my favorites as beautiful:  Sharon Olds, Claudia Emerson, Anne Carson, Leslie Adrienne Miller, Kimiko Hahn, Cynthia Zarin, Maxine Kumin, Sophie Cabot Black, Donald Hall, Rachel Zucker, Linda Gregerson, Jim Moore, Mariane Boruch, Adrienne Rich, Joyce Sutphen, and on.  Some of these, I know what they look like.  Some, I don't.  But I still peg the word beautiful to them, as inadequate and small as it feels when I think of how much I swoon when I think these names.

:: Coda

I have read Quan Barry's first two books recently (both gorgeous) in order to prepare for a review I'm writing for Cerise Press.  Out of curiosity, I did a Google search for Barry, partly because there are assumptions one can make about her by her name, but also assumptions that become skewed by mentions of the African-American experience within the poems.  The only image I found was this snapshot.   Even her faculty image is her book cover, as opposed to a head shot.  As someone who loves the poet's memoir or biography, as someone who can sometimes be voyeuristic when I enter fan-dom of another poet, I felt mild disappointment.  As a woman, as a person who is concerned about how much freight we put on looks as accessories to success, as someone who respects the desire not to be boxed in by ethnicity, and as someone who respects the poet's right to choice within how much of one's self is revealed in connection to one's work, I was glad.  Though I can't suppress personal curiosity--

I don't need to know what a poet looks like to know how much those words pulse.

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