Feminism has moved at great strides over the years, especially recently with the powerful MeToo movement. There is much work to be continued, but to have gotten to this point appreciating the efforts of the past is important. Feminism was especially innovative in the form of the arts, like poetry. A notable example is the poem, ‘Diving into the Wreck’ by Adrienne Rich, where she portrays a diver who goes to the depths of the ocean to explore an old shipwreck. Full of symbols and representations, Rich represents the clash between the sexes.
Rich’s feministic approach first begins with the descent into the water from the boat, but the image most important is the ladder which the diver uses. Rich spends a great deal in describing this ladder, a symbol for separation between air and water, two completely different worlds. This ladder allows passage to both, but the processing of transcending from one to another can be rather difficult. Maybe what Rich is trying to convey is that the world we live in is just a small glimpse of the truth, which lies in much deeper darker places that require exploring, and even getting out of our comfort zones to seek it.
Arriving at the wreck and facing the reality of disaster its decay and destruction, Rich writes, “I came to see the damage that was done and the treasures that prevail.” There is still hope that good can come from the wreck, facing the truth can create understanding and the information to move forward positively. Despite the patriarchal history that has stifled women’s voices and made their personal suffering unseen, together man and woman can move forward to creating a more equal world filled with the treasure of respect and love.
‘Diving into the Wreck’ by Adrienne Rich
Find more feministic poetry here: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/collections/146073/poetry-and-feminism
Interested in shipwrecks now? Check out the biggest finds: https://www.history.co.uk/shows/billion-dollar-wreck/articles/top-10-most-famous-shipwrecks
Humans are capable of many things and possess many traits, but are we all capable of evil? Do even the firmest of believers in passivity have a dark side? Maxine Kumin believes we are in her poem, ‘Woodchucks’, where she explores the ideas of human exceptionalism, superiority, and violence. What starts off as a seemingly innocent poem about a gardener’s frustration with woodchucks, who are eating through the vegetable patch and flowers, turns into a rage of justification for perpetuating violence and hatred.
The gardener initially attempts a knockout bomb, in hopes for a quick and painless death of the woodchucks. Come to find out, the next day the woodchucks are alive and well, and tearing through the garden again. Kumin shifts the tone of the poem, creating fury from the gardener who feels wronged at this point. The gardener feels all compassion leave them, and now has convinced themselves that since the woodchucks refused to die quietly, they must pay. Taking a gun, the gardener shoots and kills the woodchucks mercilessly. The hatred rises in the gardener who now has become the hunter.
Kumin ends the poem with a comparison to the Holocaust, where the gardener bitterly reflects that if the woodchucks, “…all consented to die unseen / gassed underground the quiet Nazi way.”, then they wouldn’t have met such a vehement demise. This comparison shifts the entire poem into a much deeper complicated look into the Holocaust and Nazi Germany’s beliefs. Their conviction of natural selection indicates that survival of the fittest is a law of nature. This formed their view ofJews as those who don’t belong, those who are not allowed, those who are not good enough, etc. Their firm belief in human exceptionalism heavily influenced their belief in their own superiority and the justification of removing those who are not.
"Woodchucks" by Maxine Kumin
Read about the Nazi's desire for a supreme race: https://www.sahistory.org.za/article/how-did-nazis-construct-aryan-identity https://www.history.com/topics/germany/eugenics
Masculinity and manhood have been portrayed through art in various forms, whether in a positive light for motivation of what it really means to be a man, or a negative side of warped toxic expectations and habits that are taught. A fine example of an art piece portraying what could arguably be both sides is Tennessee William’s iconic play, ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’. In this play we are introduced to the famous male character, Stanley Kowalski, husband to Stella and a vet of WW2, now working as a factory parts salesman. Stanley is aggressive, dominant, and very loud. He is a fitting male figure of the typical gender roles during the 40s, head of household and leader of his marriage. He values his male friends highly, as well as his sexual relationship with his wife and carnal lust for women in general. This is a basic but strong structure for how Stanley lives his life, and he follows it with deep conviction and principle. The play emphasizes his primitive nature but also his sexual appeal. He is always dressing boldly, a symbolic reference to his bold personality.
Does the play convict or forgive Stanley’s behavior? Just when the audience is ready to hate him and find him unforgivable, he shows his sensitive and vulnerable side. His ego is loud but delicate, and glimpses are shown through Stella’s pregnancy, and most famously, his wailing like a wounded animal outside the house. His remorse is real, and rare, as he clings to Stella when she returns to him. These moments show that Stanley may be a victim of a toxic upbringing of what masculinity should represent, yet underneath the surface he is as wounded as the victims of his aggression.
‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ by Tennessee Williams
Watch Blanche give her opinion on Stanley: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BfniNOclXKs
Nature is a strong force, withstanding adversaries and overcoming many obstructions. The same could be said for African Americans, and what they have endured through the course of history. Facing colonialism, slavery, prejudice, racism, oppression, and other obstructions. Like nature, they as a people have endured these oppositions and continue, even to this day, to fight for their freedom of these intolerances.
African American poets and artists also felt the connection of their peoples’ strength and resilience, making a metaphorical comparison with nature. ‘The Negro Speaks’ by Langston Hughes is a powerful poem that exhibits this connection. He links African American culture with the true evolution in Africa. The speaker describes of rivers and mentions several major ones from all over the world, reflecting on their beauty and power. Why rivers? What is the importance? They have sources; a starting point, just as African Americans have their birthplace. Rivers flow in one direction, they are calm, they are fierce, and a force to be reckoned with. They are sources of life and the speaker of this poem relays this, ending with their soul is as deep as rivers. Very beautifully written!
Another poet who strikingly captures the metaphor of nature and willpower of African Americans is Angelina Weld Grimke. She was from a family of abolitionist activists which heavily inspired her writings about enlightening people to the oppressions of the African Americans. Her poem, ‘The Black Finger’ is a short but powerful piece with comparisons of nature and black power. In the poem she describes a cypress tree, which are known to be withstanding trees that can survive for centuries. A beautiful tree, that she sets against a golden sky backdrop, noting that it is sensitive but also exquisite. This tree, shadowed black because of the sunset, is pointing upward creating an image of a black finger pointing to the sky. Grimke displays black empowerment through the beauty of nature, and just like the cypress tree it will display it for centuries to come.
'The Negro Speaks of Rivers' by Langston Hughes 'The Black Finger' by Angelina Weld Grimke
Discover the rivers of Africa: https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/the-longest-rivers-in-africa.html Learn about an ancient cypress tree in North America: https://news.mongabay.com/2019/05/at-2624-years-a-bald-cypress-is-oldest-known-living-tree-in-eastern-north-america/
Poetry. The word creates a reaction from people ranging from admiration, appreciation, contempt, even disdain. The spectrum of emotion is wide, as it should be, because poetry is art and art is subjective. For those who feel the negative end of the spectrum in terms of reading and responding to poetry, there are poems for you! American Literature began to change significantly in the late 1800s to be more open minded and inclusive for everyone, not just scholarly individuals and well educated people. This is including poetry, even if it is hard to believe for those who really avoid that realm of literature, but there is proof. A wonderful poem to get yourself into modern poetry is ‘Poetry’ by Marianne Moore, which is a poem about…poetry! In this piece she empathizes with those who dislike poetry as she too doesn’t care much for it, ironically in a poem, acknowledging that poetry can be difficult and trying. However, she admits the importance of it, it may not be practical, but it still holds the power to change thoughts, ideas, maybe even the world, art has that power. She mentions ‘imaginary gardens with real toads’ – a comparison that poetry can consist of imagination but ought to have a linking to the factual world. If you need more proof, ‘Of Modern Poetry’ by Wallace Stevens is another piece of poetic work dedicated to modernizing poetry into the 20th century. The poem explains, “…the scene was set; it repeated what was in the script”, as if to say poetry was basically a cookie cutter style; typical romance theme, physical descriptions of pretty women, etc. That isn’t relatable anymore, times change, so naturally art changes, poetry changes. He wonderfully goes on to describe that poetry must be available to men and women of current time, be about finding satisfaction, of normal everyday things. If you dislike poetry because of unrelatability, or confusion, even finding it painful to comprehend, I implore to give it another chance, it has many forms and different substances but modern poetry has done something different for the reader: relevancy.
‘Poetry’ by Marianne Moore ‘Of Modern Poetry’ by Wallace Stevens
Interested in diving deeper into modern poetry? Check out suggestions from Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/5-modern-day-poets-will-legit-get-excited-poetry/