The Best Words: Selections from the Sex Tapes of Tremendous Male Poets

flowerssmallI knew a woman, lovely in her bones,
When small birds sighed, she would sigh back at them;
Ah, when she moved, she moved more ways than one:
The shapes a bright container can contain!
   —Theodore Roethke, “I Knew a Woman

I know a woman who feels injustice in her lungs. A therapist, all day she catches others’ damage and offers it back to them as healing. Now I see her grow tense, ball her fists, seek something to strike while an abusive man asks an entire nation to hate with him. [Read more…]

Glorying in Flawless Skin and God’s Love

by nerissas ring on flickrDriving in the car recently, my daughter pulled down the visor in front of her and opened the mirror. Her hair was in a side ponytail draped over her right shoulder. She wore a black and white plaid beret.

“I really like this hat and hair thing I have going on today.”

“Yes, very cute,” I said.

She’s twelve, the age of fashion daring; young enough to have some really crazy ideas of what might work, and unaffected enough to pull it off.

She looked and smiled at herself a couple times. The car is such a good place to primp. The natural light illuminates every stray hair, every irregular pore, the butter shade of your front teeth contrasting with the toffee shade of your incisors.

But stranded in a car with only passing cornfields and a forty-year-old mother for views, I feared she may become captive of her own reflection.

“I have pretty good skin,” she said. “No zits yet at all.”

Her genealogy doesn’t bode well for clear skin through adolescence. “Don’t get too attached,” I said. [Read more…]

Repression, Oppression, Suppression: A Life of Domestic Routine

jeanneSomewhere in the middle of Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, the eponymous Jeanne eats a sandwich in her kitchen. We have, by that point in the film, seen quite a lot of Jeanne’s kitchen. We’ve watched Ms. Dielman cook in that kitchen, peel potatoes, wash dishes (shot from behind her back so we can’t really see what she is doing), dry forks and knives, and polish her son’s shoes.

By the second hour of the film (just under four hours long in total), Jeanne Dielman’s kitchen has become an intimate space for us. Within this intimate space, we watch a woman eat a sandwich. The most remarkable thing about the scene, to me, is that we see her eat the entire sandwich. [Read more…]

Wonder Woman, Flying, Part 2: Beauty and Sacrament

Continued from yesterday.

wonderwoman2In this scene from Batman’s first meeting with Wonder Woman in Trinity, you can feel the writer Matt Wagner’s personality trumping the artist; though it doesn’t really add much to the narrative, Wagner can’t help but let Bats make a crack about her costume.

Superheroines’ costumes are perpetually controversial, it seems (perhaps because few artists have done much to better protect their heroines), and I sympathize with those who critique the way women are often overly sexualized in ways men are not. I don’t agree that the antidote is more sexualized male bodies. That strikes me as the kind of capitalistic, individualistic, hedonistic thinking that led to the hypersexualization of all bodies at the magazine racks. But at the same time, I also don’t believe we need more realistic bodies or body armor in all cases.

Take Wonder Woman flying, for instance. Yes, it stretches the suspension of disbelief to breaking to put her in a strapless one-piece “armor” (and yes, it is frequently referred to as armor; if you look, you’ll see the chest-piece and waistband are, in fact, metal). Some newer series and geek blogs have tried to re-imagine her costume in more realistic terms with some success, but increased realism comes at the cost of bringing Diana closer down to earth. [Read more…]

My Evolving Identity

 

10901090303_16118622bb_zI’ve just read a thirty-page article called “Whitman Music: The Problem of Adaptation.” A critical analysis of musical settings of Whitman’s poetry, the article was published in the 1965 issue of Books at Brown, a journal devoted to materials in the Special Collections of Brown University’s library. The author is Peggy Z. Rosenthal.

I turn to the contributors list at the back of the journal to learn more about this author. I see that her article is “based on the honor thesis which Mrs. Rosenthal [this is so long ago that “Ms.” hadn’t yet been born] contributed to The American Civilization program. Mrs. Rosenthal graduated magna cum laude from Pembroke College in June 1964.”

What the contributors’ bio omits is that Mrs. Rosenthal, as Peggy Zierler, studied music composition all through elementary and high school, while writing poetry for the high school literary magazine. Hence her interest, for her college honors thesis, in musical settings of poetry. (It was her thesis advisor who suggested basing her thesis on the Brown library’s unusual collection of musical settings of Whitman.)

Nor does the bio mention that Peggy Zierler married Mr. Rosenthal just before her senior year of college, commuting to Brown from their apartment at MIT, where he was doing graduate work. In order to get married as a Pembroke student, she needed a permission letter from the Pembroke Dean. The letter also stipulated that Mrs. Rosenthal would not be allowed to spend the night in the Pembroke dorms; her experience as a married woman would not be a good influence on her (supposedly) virginal peers.

After Brown, Mrs. Rosenthal went on for a doctorate in literature, where parts of her dissertation on Whitman’s poetry were published in scholarly journals in the early 1970s, under the name of P. Z. Rosenthal. She chose the initialed name in order to disguise her gender. Women in academia were still few, and considered intellectually inferior by the male majority, so she strategized that a non-gendered name would be more likely to gain acceptance by journal editors. [Read more…]