birthdays and poems!

The poet Sappho

The poet Sappho

I’m very excited to tell you that this week is my blog’s first birthday! Happy birthday, little blog!

There have been several times where I felt like I had run out of steam because you know I get frustrated with how divisive and nasty and downright mean we can be to each other online. I don’t want to feel like I’m contributing to arguments that don’t get us anywhere, and I definitely don’t want to feel like people read my posts and like them but leave the ideas tucked into this virtual space instead of carrying them into the physical world. I also get a little anxious about all of my online activity and feel like I need to run away to live in an off-grid cabin in the woods.

Do you have anchors that keep you from living your entire life online? For instance, my dad still reads a real newspaper cover to cover every morning with his coffee. He could so easily, lazily even, go online to get all the news he wants, but even when he’s visiting me he’ll walk down to the sketchy gas station and buy the local paper to read on my porch. I love that he does that.

I like the internet in a lot of ways, but I always want my life to still be fulfilling without it. I secretly yearn for a future without electricity, where I have to be clever and resourceful and self-sufficient. Okay, I don’t really want to give up movies and records and my washing machine, but I would totally do one of the PBS shows where people pretend to live in Victorian England or colonial Virginia and they have only what people had then.

What I’m saying is that sometimes I think I’m finished with blogging, and then I run into a friend at a bar or an old colleague on the street and they say, “Hey, I love your blog.” I had no idea they were even reading it and am always thrilled to think that perhaps I am taking up some space in this virtual world in a way that has value.

So I will try to keep going. But if you want to do some crazy old-timey things in a culturally progressive atmosphere, count me in.

Anyway, for my blog’s birthday, let’s spend the day reflecting on my first love: poetry.

April is National Poetry Month, and Ms. Magazine is featuring five feminist poems on their blog (the fifth to come soon):

The Toast, which is my favorite blog right now, has this amazing article on Elise Cowen, a mostly forgotten Beat poet. You knew there were women Beat poets, right? I wouldn’t kick you out for not knowing that because they’ve been treated like Kerouac’s dregs. But now you have no excuse, and you should really know Elise Cowen, who wrote lines like “Frankenstein of delicate grace” and “Heavy as winter breathing / in the snow.”

Megan Keeling’s article describes the barriers faced by Cowen, other female Beat poets, and women interested in joining the fray. In the words of Gregory Corso, “In the ‘50s if you were male you could be a rebel, but if you were female your families had you locked up.”

So that’s why you’ve never heard of her, or only knew her as Ginsberg’s girlfriend (yes). Lucky for us, Tony Trigilio has recently edited a collection of Cowen’s poetry.

But all this history talk has left me wanting to go far, far back in my time machine, so I will leave you with one of my favorite poets, the tenth muse. This is a fragment of Sappho‘s, translated by Anne Carson in If Not, Winter:

often turning her thoughts here

you like a goddess
and in your song most of all she rejoiced.

But now she is conspicuous among Lydian women
as sometimes at sunset
the rosyfingered moon

surpasses all the stars. And her light
stretches over salt sea
equally and flowerdeep fields.

And the beautiful dew is poured out
and roses bloom and frail
chervil and flowering sweetclover.

But she goes back and forth remembering
gentle Atthis and in longing
she bites her tender mind

beyoncé, feministé

Beyoncé’s Ms. Magazine cover (Spring 2013) has sparked a heated debate. Many disparage Beyoncé’s brand of feminism as washed-out, hyper-sexualized, and highly corporate girl power, while others are thrilled to have an arguably iconic black woman proclaim herself a feminist.

There’s no doubt that Beyoncé is a talented performer, successful businesswoman, and worldwide mega-star. She’s a popular role model for girls, and her albums are full of anthems about women’s power and autonomy.

Yes, her feminism comes from a place of economic privilege. Yes, she often presents her power in sexual terms. Over the years, she has performed a version of femaleness that reifies the idea of woman as object. She’s safely fierce. She challenges kyriarchy while embracing it. She’s powerful because she’s smoking hot. But Beyoncé has also evolved. Her Super Bowl performance with all female musicians emanated another kind of power altogether. She merged with her alter ego, Sasha Fierce, perhaps recognizing that good girl vs. bad girl isn’t healthy. Yes, Beyoncé contains multitudes.

It’s such a difficult line to walk–balancing the desire to be desired with the need to be respected and heard. Those of us who grew up in the 80s had Madonna, who represented both a highly sexualized creature and a relentless badass who controlled every aspect of her empire. Beyoncé works a similar dichotomy, further complicated by race. As Crunk Feminist Collective points out, “[o]ne of the biggest conundrums  faced by this generation of Black feminists is the challenge of articulating a pro-sex, pro-pleasure politic in the face of recalcitrant and demeaning stereotypes that objectify, dehumanize, and devalue Black women’s bodies and lives.”

I’m happy to see a woman like Beyoncé talk about feminism. It helps to combat the ridiculous stereotype of the man-hating, humorless feminist. It’s a shame that this is even something to consider, but so many girls today don’t identify with feminism because they think it will suck all the fun out of life or because they think no one likes that kind of girl. Perhaps Beyoncé’s ultimate power, then, lies in her ability to help girls and young women become empowered. Because what I got from Madonna was not necessarily that I should find power in sexuality but that I could do whatever I wanted in life and not feel ashamed or unworthy or afraid.

There’s plenty to criticize and to love about Beyoncé and it’s easy to play the game of who’s the best feminist. There are all kinds of celebrities whose particular flavor of feminism could be deemed problematic by some. We all have different feminisms for different reasons, and we all have something to learn. We’re not here to police each other. That doesn’t mean we can’t discuss Beyoncé’s feminism, but we might do more for gender justice if we become better at working together than we are at tearing each other down.