The cattle is furrier
The mountains are sharper
The birds cry louder
The houses are homelier
And the women
Fanny Howe (b. 1940) is an acclaimed New England poet who published 20 books. She has won numerous awards. I read a small poem that I think is representative of her work, as it is the careful registration in language of a familiar experience.
Not as much
Bracken and primrose
the color of the taste
what some girls wear
simply delights me
but not as much
as a naked woman
raking the waves
with her breasts
A short and seemingly simple poem, the choice of the words ‘bracken’ (a fern) and ‘primrose’ is a very careful one. It evokes an entire sensory world of color, smell and taste. We can incorporate (eat) those colors and smells. In Howe’s world we are our sensory experience.
The delight in fashion is quiet observation. What is missing is the involvement. The image of a naked woman coming towards us (because we can see her breasts ‘raking’ the waves, imposing a fictitious order on the chaos of the sea) accomplishes that. The approaching woman is an invitation to live, an invitation that can inspire us more than our sensory experience can ever accomplish.
Note that Fanny Howe is not lesbian; this is not a sexual gaze, and that makes it perhaps more powerful.
Denise Levertov (1923-1997) was a prolific British-born American writer who never received formal education. Influences are among others the Blue Mountain school, William Carlos Williams, Rilke. She was a very serious social activist who at times seemed arrogant to her readers. Here is a poem that is prettily vulgar:
Hypocrite women, how seldom we speak
of our own doubts, while dubiously
we mother man in his doubt!
And if at Mill Valley perched in the trees
the sweet rain drifting through western air
a white sweating bull of a poet told us
our cunts are ugly—why didn’t we
admit we have thought so too? (And
what shame? They are not for the eye!)
No, they are dark and wrinkled and hairy,
caves of the Moon …__________And when a
dark humming fills us, a
coldness towards life,
we are too much women to
own to such unwomanliness.
Whorishly with the psychopomp
we play and plead—and say
nothing of this later.______________And our dreams,
with what frivolity we have pared them
like toenails, clipped them like ends of
“We mother man in his doubt”, verbing the substantive ‘mother’ so it relates to smother (doesn’t it?) is a nice idea, Denise. I think of the Freudian joke
“Do you mind that your wife is 30 years older than you?”
-“No it doesn’t mother.”
I couldn’t google which famous male bully poet lived in Mill Valley, but that doesn’t matter either. His message was confronting enough. But she disagrees and likenes the female genitalia to the caves of the Moon, there is no chance doubt can get a word in. Even filled with that coldness towards life, they won’t own (admit to wrongdoing) to such unwomenliness.
It’s all a frivolous and whorish play, nothing that affects them, let alone make them share their darkest doubts with each other. Instead, they play lightheartedly with dreams as if at the pedicure or hairdresser. I don’t know if I ‘get it’ because I am of the male persuasion and on top of that a philosopher for whom there is no life without doubt;-