On Sunday, the Guardian published an article about a new poetry anthology to be published by Simon & Schuster: Poems That Make Grown Men Cry. Edited by biographer and journalist Anthony Holden and his son Ben, the book asks 100 famous men to pick lines of poetry that bring them to tears.
On the one hand, this seems to challenge the problematic notion that men cannot and should not cry. Gender norms are bad, etc. It’s also for charity, which is good. On the other, it seems more than a little tone deaf. An anthology of largely male poets chosen by entirely male men—that’s really, laughably boring.
Boring things are allowed to exist; in fact, they’re even good in some ways – they distract the boring people so the interesting ones can be left alone to make art that is actually challenging and important. Still, it’s frustrating when boring things get a lot of funding and attention, and it’s even more frustrating when their creators are completely not self-aware about how boring they are: "Although the contributors to the anthology are all men, there are more than a dozen poems by women in the collection…" This is something to be ashamed of, not an example of the collection’s inclusivity to be waved around in achievement – ‘Look, mom, we’re learning!’
We’re not your mothers, and "more than a dozen" poems written by a woman out of 100 is not good enough. Perhaps the sexist trajectory of (literary) history means that almost any list of favourite poems will be inevitably heavy on male, read-between-the-lines stoicism. But that doesn’t mean that list deserves attention. Besides, women can also get pretty sad.
Glück’s poetry sneaks up on you; what starts as a clear description of a bird singing often ends up a bitter reflection on being taken advantage of, or, in the case of End of Winter, hard truths about being a mother/woman. Clear, simple language—"You wanted to be born; I let you be born. / When has my grief ever gotten / in the way of your pleasure?"—translates to clear, simple sadness at what can only be described as ‘just how it is’.
Life is a series of coincidences. But rather than wonder at the miraculous confluence of coincidence that creates any given situation, Martin highlights the futile unlikelihood of that confluence by portraying each individual coincidental requirement – which range from stopping masturbating to liking someone to understanding depression – of it as a chore.
Combined with description of creeping, personified plant life ("gloating green. / Its edges darken with impatience’), Graham’s repeated assertions that things aren’t so bad – ‘To have experienced joy / as the mere lifting of hunger / is not to have known it / less." – are exactly what makes you feel they are.
The noted feminist poet – who died in 2012 – wrote about the status of women using charged details that seem to blend the general with the autobiographical ("I begin to see that woman / doing things: stirring rice / ironing a skirt / typing a manuscript till dawn") that make pieces like this one all the more potent; that the grief she describes is both ‘shared’ and ‘unnecessary’ is particular to the female experience.
Anything that begins "The alarm goes off and I wake up" almost has to go downhill. That Bess can manage to get up at all as she – we – grapple(s) with realistic feelings like "I do not want / men that can teach me. There is nothing / more that I want to know; free of want, / I can’t use men in the same way / that they can use me." is impressive, though the sense of resignation throughout the poem works to make the reader feel the same way.
Even an ejaculate double-entendre can’t mask the ultimate futility of subjectivity in Chance Meeting, in which a woman recalls romantic details about her time with a lover only to end up at the realization that you can never really know even the closest person to you.
Monte often brings out the profound in quotidian decisions or happenings, and the ‘woman in quandary’ about when and whether to step off the porch into a torrential downpour serves as a metaphor for women shielding themselves under ‘fragility’. Like the cute raingear the woman in quandary sports, it isn’t enough to keep you from getting wet.
Doing things 'for the sake of our children' is a reality of motherhood that requires a sacrifice not often depicted in art; it’s always 'I’m happy to do it’ or ‘take me instead!’ In The Fear of Oneself, Olds grapples with the expectations for mothers, which are often at tragic odds with one’s own wishes.
When Lockwood’s bitter, declarative poem appeared on The Awl last year, it didn’t just strike a chord with poetry fans—all across the Internet, people were sharing, linking and getting really excited/sad. Lockwood’s incisive, straightforward word choices and dark, it’s-not-fucking-funny jokes waste no time or space in getting her point across, and it’s a harsh one.
Karen Green’s prose-poem memoir/art object about the death of her husbanddelves deep into her specific grief after the writer’s 2008 suicide. The multitude of emotions—playfulness, bitterness, fondness, love, anger, pity—add up to a singular sense of heartbreak that is all the more hard to read because its subject is someone who, to many, feels so familiar.
"I call the doctor: I am suffering, it’s embarrassing, and I need I need I need. He says…if you were so quote perfect for me unquote you’d probably still be around, no offense."
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