Writing good poetry is like falling through air. Not water. Because water stops you. Water slows you down. Water makes you think about whether you really want to keep going down. Water is all free fall; water lets you go down deeply. Deeply into words, language and ideas.
Tess Gallagher eloquently wrote,
“I Stop Writing the Poem”
to fold the clothes. No matter who lives
or who dies, I'm still a woman.
I'll always have plenty to do.
I bring the arms of his shirt
together. Nothing can stop
our tenderness. I'll get back
to the poem. I'll get back to being
a woman. But for now
there's a shirt, a giant shirt
in my hands, and somewhere a small girl
standing next to her mother
watching to see how it's done.
Why do we stop writing the poem? We stop to work. We stop to arrange the clothing. To arrange the sandwiches on a plate, laying out the cilantro and parsley. Sliced red onions, peppers, olives. Then back to poem and if we’re not lucky, the poem may be lost, may have scurried away and hidden among the dirty linens.
Women start with being women. We start with our children. All else is small, and insignificant compared to this: How are my children? Is my relationship with my children sustained? We bring together the arms of the shirt, of the pants, of the giant life we have with our children and feel it hinging and unhinging. You cannot be a successful poet, writer or even person and lose your relationship with your children. That’s key, and yet, we want our poetry to achieve a level of mastery. Not craft. Not clean loving well laid lines. Not something that runs out of an MFA program perfect and sweet. No, poetry that has plenty to do. Poetry that can stop tenderness and get to the other side. Poetry that’s the small girl wanting to grow up and the woman wishing for a dress so that she can seduce the waiters.
It’s different being a woman writer. But should it be? Women, if they are not careful are ghost writers. They can write standing up straight and beautiful against the sky, and their words can remain invisible. We need to write so we’re not left out in the cold. We need to write the big stories. Not the domestic stories, the enormous stories that flatten myths.
Poetry that’s outside the lines. That’s wild. That has a job to do. No matter who lives or who dies.
Tess Gallager will be reading at the Red Hen Press reading at the Gerding Theatre at 8 pm with Caleb Barber, Brendan Constantine and Tanya Chernov.