Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Making Strange the Familiar

Mrs. Kennedy has written a thought-provoking post over at Fussy. She found this sentence in Emily Nussbaum's NYT review of a book of poetry written by a mom (I should say MommyPoetry, but those MommyWhatever words annoy me):
"Plath makes strange what should be familiar — which is, after all, a central task of poetry."

Making strange what should be familiar is not only an excellent definition of the role of the arts but isn't it really a comment on the human condition in general? We are animal and conscience and soul jammed together in an imperfect balance, then stuck in terrestrial bodies which are confusing at best. Watch a one-year old for a day and tell me our functions aren't at least a bit perverse. I know nature is beautiful and awe-inspiring, but you have to admit it is also surprising and wierd. Observing a new human provides innumerable reminders of and comments on our physical lives.

We are capable of such sublime acts; evil and good, strange and familiar. In fact I think we are incapable of failing to be all these things in the course of our lives, maybe in the course of our week.

Mrs. Kennedy quoted another part of the article where Nussbaum is introducing Mommypoetry as her subject, "The best such poems burn off the pink sentimentality of motherhood in favor of something wilder and more surprising."

It is infinitely more difficult to find a way to express "pink" emotions without falling into sentimentality than to just go straight to dark=deep, and I hope some true and honest expression is what that "something wilder and more surprising" is. I would bet, though, that the surprise is dark and sad and therefore deep.

Why is it we give so much more academic credence to the dark and brooding? Don't you think this is especially true of women's art? I am uncomfortable placing myself in a box with feminists, but I can't help it here. Walt Whitman can go on and on about his body and his lovers and...and President Lincoln! for pete's sake, but the woman poet had better tread carefully. Temper the bits about butterflies in the firmament with other bits about funerals in your brain. (I really think Em and I could have been friends.)

I don't know if there's a correlation in music because I can count on one hand the female composers anybody has ever heard of. And that anybody will need to have studied classical music to recognize any of the women period. (Fanny Hensel doesn't count for anything until you add the Mendelssohn.)

What a dark and brooding rant.
I must be hormonal, we women are so wild and surprising. Maybe the smiling coos of my angelic cherub will cheer me up. If only I were a poet...

(OH, and Jippy- thanks for the tag! and I'm working on it)

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