Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A Simple Poem for Virginia Woolf

This started out as a simple poem
for Virginia Woolf you know the kind
we women writers write these days
in our own rooms
on our own time
a salute a gesture of friendship
a psychological debt
paid off
I wanted it simple
and perfect round
hard as an
egg I thought
only once I'd said egg
I thought of the smell
of bacon grease and dirty frying-pans
and whether there were enough for breakfast
I couldn't help it
I wanted the poem to be carefree and easy
like children playing in the snow
I didn't mean to mention
the price of snowsuits or
how even on the most expensive ones
the zippers always snag
just when you're late for work
and trying to get the children
off to school on time
a straightforward poem
for Virginia Woolf that's all
I wanted really
not something tangled in
domestic life the way
Jane Austen's novels tangled
with her knitting her embroidery
whatever it was she hid them under
I didn't mean to go into all that
didn't intend to get confessional
and tell you how
every time I read a good poem
by a woman writer I'm always peeking
behind it trying to see
if she's still married
or has a lover at least
wanted to know what she did
with her kids while she wrote it
or whether she had any
and if she didn't if she'd chosen
not to or if she did did she
choose and why I didn't mean
to bother with that
and I certainly wasn't going
to tell you about the time
my best friend was sick in intensive care
and I went down to see her
but they wouldn't let me in
because I wasn't her husband
or her father her mother
I wasn't family
I was just her friend
and the friendship of women
wasn't mentioned
in hospital policy
or how I went out and kicked
a dent in the fender of my car
and sat there crying because
if she died I wouldn't be able
to tell her how much I loved her
(though she didn't and we laugh
about it now) but that's what got me
started I suppose wanting to write
a gesture of friendship
for a woman for a woman writer
for Virginia Woolf
and thinking I could do it
easily separating the words
from the lives they come from
that's what a good poem should do
after all and I wasn't going to make excuses
for being a woman blaming years of silence
for leaving us
so much to say

This started out as a simple poem
for Virginia Woolf
it wasn't going to mention history
or choices or women's lives
the complexities of women's friendships
or the countless gritty details
of an ordinary woman's life
that never appear in poems at all
yet even as I write these words
those ordinary details intervene
between the poem I meant to write
and this one where the delicate faces
of my children faces of friends
of women I have never even seen
glow on the blank pages
and deeper than any silence
press around me
waiting their turn

Bronwen Wallace

Here's a mini biography of Wallace from Wikipedia:
Bronwen Wallace (26 May 1945 – 25 August 1989) was a Canadian poet
and short story writer.
Wallace was born in Kingston, Ontario. She attended Queen's
University, Kingston (B.A. 1967, M.A. 1969). In 1970, she moved to
Windsor, Ontario, where she founded a women's bookstore and became
active in working class and women's activist groups. In 1977, she
returned to Kingston, where she worked at a women's shelter and
taught at St. Lawrence College and Queen's. She wrote a weekly column
for the Kingston Whig-Standard. In 1988, she was writer-in-residence
at the University of Western Ontario.

Her collections testify to her social activism involving women's
rights, civil rights, and social policy. A primary focus of her work
was violence against women and children.

In a series of letters published in 1994 as Two Women Talking:
Correspondence 1985-1987, Wallace and poet Erin Mouré discuss
feminist theory. Mouré defends the language philosophers
(particularly Wittgenstein) who demonstrate that our speech, and the
concepts expressible in language, governs our knowledge and actions.
However, Wallace disagreed that language-centred writing rescues
women from the patriarchy, claiming that it can be easily co-opted by
patriarchs. Society's use of politically correct language bears this
out. Wallace believed that by engaging her readers in the issues of
violence, she could provoke change in the reader and hence in society.

Wallace died of cancer in 1989. Her first and only published
collection of short stories, People You'd Trust Your Life To, was
published posthumously in 1990.

The Bronwen Wallace Memorial Award, funded by friends of the poet and
the Writers' Trust of Canada, is an annual prize given to a young,
promising poet or fiction writer who is under the age of 35 and

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