Monday, October 24, 2005

Denise Levertov: Feminist of the Day

Denise Levertov
Poet, nurse
"In city, in suburb, in forest, no way to stretch out the arms — so if you would grow, go straight up or deep down."

I was a little bit nervous when I saw that today's feminist of the day was a poet. Poets intimidate me, the concern and precision with language is not something that I share. Language, for me, is for interacting with people and trying to articulate and explore ideas, and precision isn't my thing at the best of times. So my solution is not to talk about Denise Levertov as a poet (as I have very little to contribute), but as a feminist.

For all I'm intimidated by poetry I do think it's important. I think trying to explore the reality of women's lives, in all media forms, is part of the femiist project. I think the precision, and resonance offered in poetry gives it power. Or as Denise, herself, say: "One of the obligations of the writer, and perhaps especially of the poet, is to say or sing all that he or she can, to deal with as much of the world as becomes possible to him or her in language."

But I don't believe that just observing, and trying to express women's reality, can be feminist alone. But Denise Levertov didn't just try to articulate reality, she tried to change it.

In particular, she was involved in the anti-Vietnam war movement. Now the anti-vietam war movement in America and feminism had an interesting relationship (and by interesting I mean that the misogyny in the anti-war movement was a central catalyst to the women's liberation movement). But feminism grew out of that movement for a reason, because feminism has no meaning if it doesn't include women throughout the world.

As corrupt and self-seeking politicians erode the Constitution and bring us daily closer to outright fascism, the poet is turned away from his impulse to sing, to testify in patterns of words to the miracle of life, and is driven willy-nilly to warn, to curse, to gnash the teeth of language; and at the same time, living always in the war shadow, to celebrate the courage and high spirit of all who dare to struggle, Davids to the Goliaths of capitalism (the expression of man's greed) and imperialism (the expression of man's lust for power); to celebrate the courage and tenacity of the so-called "enemy" in Southeast Asia, and of all who here at home resist the system--people like Angela Davis, Dan and Phil Berrigan, Cesar Chavez; and to declare solidarity with them and with all who share their struggle.

Yeah, what she said.

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