Thursday, June 12, 2008

all codes lead to roam

Just read the recent Salon article about Rebecca and Alice Walker. The author, Philis Chesler has this to say:

"Rebecca conflates feminist views of motherhood (as she perceives them to be) with her own personal experience of Alice's choice or inability to mother in a traditional way. In her interview, Rebecca admits that she prefers her white, Jewish father's second wife, Judy, who bore five children and found meaning as a stay-at-home or ever-available mother. Here is how Rebecca sounds about Judy: 'I actually yearned for a traditional mother. My father's second wife, Judy, was a loving, maternal homemaker with five children she doted on. There was always food in the fridge and she did all the things my mother didn't.'

Yes, and Alice did all the things that women like Judy don't want to do and can't do: Write great poems and novels, devote oneself to world work, crusade for human and women's rights. Rebecca: Trust me, a woman really cannot do both. The myth that we can is a dangerous one."

This blogger has some issues with the assertion that a woman unequivocally CANNOT write great works and commit great works as well as keep food in the fridge and dote on her kids. I do see how the EXPECTATION to do all foists an enormous burden on women, a burden different from men, who traditionally aren't expected to perform as many hours in the domestic sphere. Concurrent fulltiime toddler raising and great civic work may not be much possible. Heck, showering and fulltime toddler raising aren't particularly compatible. But with excellent organisational skills and some domestic help, a personal assistant, par example, certainly one could do a bit of it all during the course of a lifetime. Not that I have either. Scary! But especially if women are supported financially by their partner, the kids are in school, and modern conveniences abound (say, a dishwasher and tumble-dryer and self-cleaning oven), a woman can manage. But to claim that a woman cannot write great work, perform meaningful acts out of a social conscience, and be a beloved and appreciated woman about the place can force women into seeing motherhood and civic personhood as mutually exclusive.

Okay, so now I need a list of women who have been remarkable in both the personal and private sphere. Here's a quick brainstorm written while my own toddler says Mama and looks at the latest issue of the Irish journal Stinging Fly and then wraps my earphones around her big toe.

Sharon Olds, who has a few kids, has doted on them a good bit at least by her own account, and has written a good number of very relevant books of poetry. Not sure about the social justice piece.

Nuala Ni Dhomnail (whose name I cannot spell right now) who has championed the Irish language, written works cherished by her country, raised kids, and nursed her ill husband.

Okay, that's it. Bloggissimo, please help me make this list! I'm just too tired to come up with any names and I'm supposed to be ironing, to take Babu for her walk, to put the dishes away. In fact, Babu is here now putting her tiny pots and pans on my knee, begging for some compay during her cooking. Don't we all want some company in the kitchen? I don't even have time to blog, much less to finish that commission for the library about my year in Rosslare or to think about a third collection and whatever happened to that review for the Chicago Review I was doing of Reginald Shepherd's latest book. This situation, of course, makes ol' Philis Chesler seem spot on.


Anonymous TS said...

It's possible to produce art under the circumstances you describe, although personally I think a child is worth more than all of Shakespeare's sonnets, though there's far less glory & satisfaction in it. I suppose it comes down to whether art is your god.

But what you described is not limited to women. A quote in the Guardian from Haruki Murakami:

"If it's art or literature you're looking for," he wrote, in the voice of his narrator, in Hear the Wind Sing, "you'd do well to read the Greeks. In order for there to be true art, there necessarily has to be slavery. That's how it was with the ancient Greeks: while the slaves worked the fields, prepared the meals and rowed the ships, the citizens would bask beneath the Mediterranean sun, rapt in poetical composition or engaged in their mathematics. That's how it is with art. Mere humans who root through their refrigerators at three o'clock in the morning can only produce writing that matches what they do. And that includes me."

8:46 AM  
Blogger Heidi Lynn Staples said...

love the quote. spot on.

funny, first go, i read your post as saying 'it's impossible to produce art under the circumstances you describe'. that's because i'm looking at three loads worth of ironing and inlaws due to visit so a house calling for a scouring. ah, you caught me ts, i'm blogging instead!

i also agree that a child is worth more than all of shakespeare's sonnets. most living beings are, really. the yellow rose that just bloomed today in my garden brings me a repeated and sustained pleasure that verse, especially on the page, is not likely to match.

6:50 AM  
Anonymous Kris Becker said...

What about Grace Paley? She's got all those esssays about inciting social change through the PTA at her children's schools...

8:14 PM  
Blogger Kim Gek Lin Short said...

Ruth Asawa meets all the criteria for this list. Interestingly, she was advised against having so many children (she had six), but their early years turned out to be her most productive artistically. In an article in Art in America last year she suggests that those domestic timesucks were a gift creatively, and forced her to not just use her time/art more efficiently, but more imaginatively. She co-founded the Alvarado Art Workshop, among other social contributions. Great blog topic!

11:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, Heidi!
I saw your comment about Michael Brownstein's poem,"World on Fire; here is a tasty interview with him..

Enjoy! ; )

4:23 PM  
Blogger Martha Silano said...

Hi Heidi,

First let me just say how much I love your poetry. I am a huge fan. You've been a great inspiration to me.

About the mamas who can juggle parenting and the civic . . .

Lucille Clifton (13 children!? How many books? I've lost count . . . ).

Naomi Shihab-Nye has at least one kid.

So many very, very many young mommy poets out there these days: Christine Hume, Arielle Greenberg, Danielle Pafunda, Sara Vap, Laurel Snyder, Julie Carr . . . the list goes on and on. All of these mommy poets keep me on track daily as I wipe yogurt from the breakfast table, wash little grubby hands, remove splinters from tiny feet, read books on crafting (and actually do the crafts with the kids, sometimes while working on a poetry draft simultaneously . . .). Mothers are successfully writing and contributing to society ALL OVER THE PLACE! And sorry TS, but telling us that children are worth more than Shakespeare's sonnets is NOT the point. Creative, bright people who just happen to be mothers need to produce work just as much as creative, bright people who don't have kids.

1:48 PM  
Blogger Karen Dietrich said...

Hi Heidi.

In case you didn't know, I wrote a review of Dog Girl for Tarpaulin Sky, which they published online at

I got my MFA from New England College in June, where Brian Henry just joined the faculty. I was surprised to learn that you were his student. What a small world this poetry universe is.

I enjoy your work. I'm a mommy, too, so I know how it is to balance poetry and potties.

Karen Dietrich

8:27 PM  
Blogger Heidi Lynn Staples said...

Thanks immensely for your comments on this topic. Wow. Such buoyancy offered by shared experience. And thanks for your kind and generous words about the poetry. I can't say enough really. I can't seem to iron enough either. I'd rather try the saying!

10:06 PM  

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