This article is part of Opposing Terms, a symposium on the poetic limits of binary thinking.
Now as I understand it, there are really just two kinds of poetry these days, and one of them is legitimate and the other one is not. If its a legitimate poem, well, then its a poem that sounds like something you or your friends might write.
Also, if its a legitimate poem and youre female, you are probably writing about having kids or getting raped or being female in a world ruled by male violencewhat you would call normal and legitimate uses of the vagina and other female organs.
If its not a legitimate poem, your body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down, up to and including eversion, where your uterus could be forced partially or completely inside-out, or fall or be forced out of the vaginal opening (prolapse). For example, if youre a man writing poetry about having gay sex with another man, you might get AIDS because your rectal wall is only one cell thick, or you might get fired from job after job because your poetry knows real jobs are for The Man.
But lets assume that maybe that didnt work or something, and the poem is legitimate but a lot of other people dont think so: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be for the poet, and not to attack the writing. I believe deeply in the protection of all poetry, and I do not believe that writing criticism that questions its value is the right course of action.
If its not a legitimate poem, well thats what happens when, for instance, a woman decides to write outside of this safe zone weve created for her in academia and what the folks in places like L.A. and New York City call the avant-garde, where women can yell and holler all they want to about how every male role in society has inherent violence against women baked into it, and their amniotic membranes become stretched and separated and all that.
Unfortunately sometimes when a woman writes a poem she has been drinking, or actually enjoying herself, or maybe just, you know, not thinking about her relationships with men or whether her vagina is a Bitch or a Goddess for a couple of minutes. In this case, the resulting poem is never what we call legitimate or viable, but what doctors call a coffin birth, in which built-up gas pressure within the putrefied body of a woman pushes the poem from the body of the mother.
Luckily most institutions, whether they are publications, corporations, or colleges, have a way of correcting for this by making sure that women who write poetry, when they get together, exhaust their intellectual energy making generalizations about how oppressed they all are, and how passionately they have to hold on to their victimization to have something to write about that really expresses who they are.
Im not saying that we shouldnt be blaming men, too, because really they are just as guilty. This ghetto men have set up for women to complain in keeps many women comfortable on the margins of society, thus removing them from competition with men for jobs that pay real money or deliver other rewards valued outside of the poetry world such as fame, political power, recognition, the ability to change things in the world at large, etc.
The earliest documented case of a woman escaping from this kind of self-ghettoization occurred in 1551, when a pregnant woman was tried and hanged by the courts of the Spanish Inquisition. Four hours after her death, and while her body still hung by the neck, two dead poems were seen to fall free of the body.
Really though, one of the foundational things America is built on is true respect for poetry, so I would say in all these kinds of situations, legitimate or not, you try to optimize the poetry. Not because of some theoretical thing, that somebody asks you to contribute a piece to an online magazine, but you know, you have September 11th, youve got these guys running into a woman whos been dead for several hours and is about to decompose, they never check their ID or anything like that or whether theyre important, they just get in there and they get their poem out of them and then they run back and get another one. That spirit in America, I think, is what is so important for us to protect.
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