May 4, 2009

by Anne Boyer

I could say I am a feminist poet

I could say I am a feminist poet because I write for one reason: the landlords insisted we had heat when the tenants knew we were freezing. It was sixteen degrees, and we tried everything to get warm like burning the signs the landlords had written for us: “the heat is on.”

I am only writing this now for one reason – the power grab of infantilism. Kathy Acker wrote as a character Erica Jong and she said “I would rather be a baby than have sex.”

I remember the clip art of roses from the “cycle of abuse” but the rest of us could die trying. Peril is our essentialism. You could sit in the office and the things they would do to you if they noticed you. There were so many things done in offices. Men and a few affluent women were there and didn’t mind anything: the thing about class is that it is natural. In the offices if they are not the bosses even the old women are girls.

I wanted to know everything about men. I wanted someone to prove to me that when I was writing I was not a man. I made some experiments: to live in thrall to them, to live in fear of them, to live best friends with them, to read their books, to love them, to cash the checks to which they signed their names.

From these I learned human aspects: to be a big mouth like an appetite. Somehow a hunger which seemed to have everything to do with holes was also misunderstood for the kind of active reaching toward what it wants like an antenna or phallus. There was nothing about being a woman that could be proved though starting lists.

My generation was matter of fact that all would be appearance. There was a flaunting that had everything to do with comfort, the expectation of comfort, the way of asserting her right, privilege, and consumer choice to appear more free than everyone else. Could gender also be shopping? On the radio she said, “I have my SUV and I have my Prius and this is what freedom means to me.” The rest of us could die if we tried that.

If all sex was sex work and all work was sex work what was this? Courtney Love had the bug-eyed stare of an encephalitic infant. Those days I didn’t care about her. I was Rimbaud. There was no denying my figure.

My figure was exactly the opposite of intelligence. It was a dumb figure, a series of rotating circles, like some robot built to avoid being mistaken for a boy. No one seemed to understand how it was I had come to look so stupid.

I thought I would like to be a woman because I really do enjoy the clothes, but there were other women who had long lists of everything they would not say aloud. They would check you off against these. This was uncomfortable like having your own mother hate you.

I felt a romantic insistence that I would fuck shit up. I would be ordinary as possible and a mother. I would live among the types of men who gathered around their cars each night and stopped conversation in solemnity and awe for a woman as she walked by them. I would be ugly in a way that the women didn’t understand and the men sometimes enjoyed. I would be biological.

As I said before I had read many of the books by men and moreso spent most of my time with men. Also when I wrote I felt like them, full of tradition and invention and speaking up about things. There was only something else that happened when I stopped writing and left the house in which the world often reminded me I was a woman.

I would like to have educated myself out of this but do not have much of an education.

I supposed I was not a woman or a man precisely. One time I was mistaken for a table-cloth and the other time I was mistaken for a force of nature. But I was a woman because my numbers trouble was in my bank account, also because I had so many of the ordinary problems of women, those things about which we were encouraged not to speak. Men and women were alike in that to add the insensible was to attempt negative calculation: who could chart the invisible and on just what kind of graph?

It is perhaps another symptom of my preternatural coherence that I soon knew the places at which the public provides services and these services are always for whole women or wounded men and thus when people say or try to pretend there are no women and are no men the rest of us could die trying –

hunger, hungry children, poverty, abortion, prostitution, all that ordinary violence of love, illness, labor, birth, rape. There are many things more ordinary among ordinary women. Peril was our essentialism. I suppose I was not, despite having read some books, a man.

I am so sorry this is not even really an essay, certainly not an essay that says “and then I spread upon my furrowed brow the balm of science” or “a twentieth century philosophy of liberation remedied nature and saved my life” or “ “now I am beautiful and have health insurance and many friends. “ A man I know insists on a positive criticism, so how do I do that? I asked him “Is it useful to abide by the rule of positive criticism when the world is full of so many things that are unjust and in their injustice, wrong?”

At the same time that I feel totally failed by liberalism I am dreaming up a moral philosophy of radical care. I am trying to make an ethics and metaphysics and poetics of the most passionate attachments like that of a mother for her child. I am stuck on natality and natality is stuck on me. I want an avant-garde of light forearm touching. I want a high art of forehead stroking. I would ritualize biology and always include with it a decanting of delicate and heavy perfumes. I would include all the animals and make my own currency of handholding.

It is not enough that you understand me. I would rather be believed. Imagine a kind of love that has no Greek word for it and then imagine that we could make a system in which all connections are made of this. Imagine a human system like culture that could make the public private and the private okay. I do not know what to do with the powerful except try to offer them some things to look at that they were trained not to see. Bernadette Mayer wrote “I hate power, except the power I have to show you something.” On this and many other things I require your attention, also your advice.


becca said...

I think the impulse to say things included on the "long lists of everything they would not say aloud" -- is something (many) women and (many) poets have in common, though sometimes I'm surprised by the number of poets who say only acceptable things out loud and do something entirely different on paper. A symptom of professionalization? Awkwardness? Who knows. Usually it's much more interesting to get a lot of weird looks and eye rolls -- though it's exhausting, too.

gina said...

Anne, I am with you and I believe you. Thanks for writing such a wonderful piece.

et said...

I love this piece, especially the last paragraph, which is really beautiful.
Thanks Anne. You are always so bold, sure (in a good way), and concise, you amaze me.

Anonymous said...

"I would like to have educated myself out of this but do not have much of an education."


"Ms. Boyer educated herself at Kansas State University and Wichita State University, graduating with a BA in English Literature in 1996 and an MFA with distinction in Creative Writing in 1997."

shanna said...

Think you're being too literal there, Joe.

Brandi said...

Thanks for this, Anne, it's lovely. I have cut-and-pasted several chunks of it in my journal!

Kate Durbin said...

"It is not enough that you understand me. I would rather be believed."