Sunday, December 31, 2006

Our Internal Lives

I’m taking afternoon naps with Natalie Goldberg’s book, Thunder and Lightning. I mean to read it, but I am a scant ten pages into it. Part of not reading it is the desire to take two hour naps on the weekend, which I love. It feels so luscious and luxurious and like it is in some ways doing exactly what Goldberg advocates: engaging the wild mind of dreams. The other part of not reading it though is that she is writing about understanding and delving into one’s internal life. I love that process, both in myself and in other people. I love hearing about and seeing how other people experience the world and make meaning in it. I’m fascinated in myself the ways that I experience my internal life and translate it to the world so that it is experienced and understood in the range of “normal,” which is to say that I understand that that experience of translation and that construction of normal is a process in which we engage in this life. The past few days, however, with my sister visiting have been a process of being with someone whose internal life is not translating to the external world in the range of normal. It has been painful and disconcerting. Part of the pain is the difficulty of reconciling normal ranges of being. I profoundly resist that as a queer feminist. I want the range of normal to be large and expansive to allow for the greatest amount of joy and satisfaction in this lifetime. Yet I realize that the joy and satisfaction come from having a body and mind that are healthy or aiming toward healthy. My sister is aiming that way, but sometimes, or as in the past trip, often she bubbles up into angry or anxious or paranoid or other emotions in that range. She describes herself as wanting to live a “real and authentic” life and yet she is unable to hear conflicting information and consider the possibilities that the greatest help to her may be a medical intervention. It was a profoundly disturbing thirty-six hours. It makes me recoil from Goldberg and her analysis of her internal life and her exhortation that I should do the same. I don’t want to dwell in my internal life after watching someone else’s internal life seemingly fall apart before me. I know I’ll feel differently in a few days. Change is the constant of the internal life. For now, I’m reading small books of poetry and bits of a memoir and trying to recover my own self which was of necessity so protected and guarded during the visit.

Friday, December 29, 2006

To every thing

This portion from Ecclesiastes always intrigues and delights me. I think because it is such a hard lesson for me. The lesson that I read from it being that there is a time for everything and that time is somehow set in motion not by me but by a greater force - the seasons, the heavens, or some other cosmic power. I just don’t like that. I want things to be on my timetable. This is the one thing I don’t like about reading, and perhaps the only thing I don’t like about reading: it is sequential and time-bound. It cannot be expedited. It cannot be bypassed. To read, I must just sit and read the words sequentially one after another. On one hand, that is deeply satisfying, on another, sometimes I want the information immediately and without the laborious process. I feel the same way about the time and the things that this passage reminds me of. There is a time for particular things and my job is not to master the time, not to make things happen on my own timetable, but to engage in the process. It’s an important lesson that I learn again and again and again. Each time resisting, but learning a little bit more. To every thing. . . .

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away
a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Bibs and Bobs

This summer I was on a Donald Hall reading jag. It was great. It’s really the first time that I truly appreciated Hall’s work as a writer. The book that was most profound for me was Life Work, which I just absorbed and frankly cherish. Hall talks about his writing practice in that book and reflects that on average he publishes one thing a week. Being the sort of obsessive goal oriented person that I am, I decided up on reading Hall’s benchmark that I would make it my own. I’m pleased to report in the last six months of 2006, after I had embraced this goal, I published 29 “things”: poems, reviews, columns, and essays. So I exceeded that goal. In total for 2006, I published 47 “things” which means I was only shy five times for the year. I love that. This is not to say, of course, that my writing is at the level of Donald Hall’s in terms of quality, but I’m plugging away at it and am recommitting myself to the same goal for 2007. Fifty-two “things” published for the year. Some of the pipeline is already in place.

Speaking of the pipeline, I keep track of everything that I publish over on my personal webpage at I just redeigned it to make navigating it easier. Check out the new buttons, new page, and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Five Things You May Not Know About Me

The wonderful Ellen Moody has tagged me for this meme. I’ve been thinking about it for a number of days now. It is not that I have written so much on this blog that there is little to say. Nor is it that so many people are reading this blog that there is much to discover about me. Still, the challenge of the meme for me has been to excavate things that may not be known about me that are interesting and illuminating to me right now. So here are the five things that you may not know about me:

1. When I was fourteen I worked on the Vice Presidential campaign to elect Geraldine Ferraro. It was the first of many losing electoral campaigns in my lifetime. I really loved the notion of a woman being at the highest levels of elective office. I had no knowledge or awareness of the different strains of feminism at that time and so to me the ultimate feminist stance was to want a woman to be in the highest levels of the executive branch of government. Today I see other possibilities for feminist action, but still I must confess, the fourteen-year-old liberal feminist inside of me wants there to be a woman vice president or president.
2. It was around this time that I first encountered the wonderful work of May Sarton. I’m still a little mystified as to why May Sarton does not have a bigger reputation in American literature. I found her journals and her novels and her poetry so simply enchanting when I was fourteen and fifteen. I think that she was one of the first glimpses at the sort of life that I wanted to have. I understood her life to be autonomous and focused on reading and writing. That was as appealing to me at fifteen as it is to me today.
3. I’m obsessed with the history of the nuclear age from a narrowly defined feminist perspective. Part of the narrowness is that while I am interested in the entire history of the nuclear age, it inevitably leads to the history of the relationship between the US and the Soviet Union and the Cold War and that feels like a body of literature that I can’t tackle in any way so I limit my interest, my obsession about this into the realm of science and then US activism in the post World War II era. I’m working on a book on this topic and am knee deep in reading and synthesizing the history and the analysis of women’s role in the discovery of the nuclear age and the opposition to the nuclear age.
4. I collect fountain pens. I love them. I received a new one for Christmas and am right this moment covered in ink from loading it and transferring ink into an inkwell. Ever since seeing The Hours I call myself Virginia when my fingers are ink-stained. I like that.
5. It is a tie between two movies for what movie I have seen the most in my lifetime. This is not flattering to me, nor particularly intellectual or literary, but here they are: St. Elmo’s Fire and Flashdance. Yes, I have the sound tracks from both on my ipod as well.

I tag the following people for this meme:

Nicki Hastie from Out On a Dike
Ren Powell from Sidestepping Real
Laura from Wooflian Feminist Queries
Steffan, who is in HK right now and I don’t have his blog, but I know that he will send it to me when he finishes the meme.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Bettina Aptheker's New Memoir

I just finished Bettina Aptheker’s new memoir, Intimate Politics: How I Grew Up Red, Fought for Free Speech, and Became a Feminist Rebel. It is a fantastic book. A review from AlterNet is available here. There are many things I loved about this book, but the things that stand out for me include the ways in which she talks about her abuse as a child and how her relationship with her father, the man who molested her as a child, unfolded as she was an adult and through his death. It is an incredibly sharp in its feminist analysis as well as compassionate. I’ve not read anything quite like it about child abuse. Her recount of the trial of Angela Davis was also fascinating to me. It makes me want to go back and read Angela’s biography again -- probably a good move in light of the upcoming election in the U.S. It will recommit me to voting for her! There are things that I missed in this book: more analysis of the Communist Party in the United States during the 1970s as well as her sense of a contemporary political agenda for feminists. It is not a polemic, however, it is an intimate personal history. I won’t say much more about it because Aptheker is going to be in the Washington, DC metropolitan area in the spring. I’m going to try to set up a few bookstore readings for her when she is in town and hope to do a more in-depth interview with her for off our backs. Meanwhile, it’s a great book - get it now and make plans to see her while she is in town.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

List, list, list, lisp

This time of year is a season of lists, many retrospective and ordered to highlight the best, or worst, things of the year. I have little to contribute to this annual phenomenon. For one reason, I have migrated my annual reflections from the end of the calendar year to the lunar year corresponding with Rosh Hashanah. It has been a great change because now at this time of year, I feel little reflective pressure. In the spirit of things, however, because indeed the spirit is pervasive, I offer this list of things that I have done within the past week:

1. Made over 60 holiday cookies - chocolate chip; ginger snaps, and rolled sugar cookies.
2. Made Reindeer Poo as well as Chex Mix - probably in excess of 12 cups of each.
3. Spent three hours with a five year old. (Yeah, I was exhausted).
4. Took one of our dogs to the vet.
5. Ate Indian food (delicious).
6. Finished one book.
7. Am immersed in three other books and loving the ability to read wantonly with no regard for other’s deadlines.
8. Shipped 20 boxes to Michigan and other places around the country and the world.
9. Handmade and mailed 75 holiday cards.
10. Completed my first official semester of graduate school, including writing two long papers.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Natalie Goldberg's The Great Failure

Three days from the completion of my semester and I’ve been struggling with a cold. An odd cold, no less. My throat is sore, though today that is getting better, and when I am sleeping it seems to seize up, waking me struggling with a cough as though to clear it, but getting no relief. As I said though, today, I am feeling better - I woke up and showered and finished my first non-school book of the break.

I was actually reading Mary Rose O’Reilley’s book, The Love of Impermanent Things, which is really lovely, but I paused from it because I need to write a review of this book and her book of poetry, Half-Wild, when I finish it and I am not yet read to take up writing book reviews (and I really for deadline purposes have to look at Mary Daly’s new book). So I picked up The Great Failure by Natalie Goldberg. I ordered this book on a lark. My writing buddy, Sally, was reading Thunder and Lightning, and was inspired wildly by Goldberg as we writers tend to be. She makes writing seem so possible and exhilarating and not at all challenging and painful and terrifying, which I think it is (that is to say writing is more often on the negative side of the emotional realm than the positive). So I went to and ordered Thunder and Lightning wanting that boost when my semester ended. I added The Great Failure to my list only because it was cheap and I hadn’t heard about it. Yesterday, sick and rooting through stacks of books, I picked up The Great Failure because it was available and easy to find. Thunder and Lightning is somewhere as yet unknown. The Great Failure was neither exciting nor exhilarating. It is, however, clearly a book that I needed to read. In it, Goldberg writes about the death of her Zen teacher and the death of her father, and most importantly about learning things about them either during their life or after their death that were painful and challenging to her, her relationships with each of them and her understanding of herself in the world. It is in the Natalie Goldberg way and accessible and easy to understand read. It is a book that I needed, not for myself, immediately as I think I have a pretty nuanced understanding of the imperfections of people in the world and in my life, but for my sister, who continues to be angry and alienated from my father based on information that she has gained that challenges her and her relationship with him and her sense of herself in the world. I needed to read this book so that I could give it to her and hope that it will help her. The family of my birth needs some of the magic that Goldberg uncovers in her unexpected path to truth. We’ll see if it works.

Meanwhile, I’m going to look for Thunder and Lightning and try to get some of the exhilaration that it gave to Sally.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

New Poem

Well, the two papers are nearly done. One is completely done with just a few administrative matters to take up; the other is 95% done with a final proof-read tomorrow and then submission. It will be great to have these two done and this wonderful first semester in the MFA program completed. Yesterday I was feeling really bluesy about the end of the semester. Ending projects, especially big writing projects makes me sad. I worry that I’ll never write something good again and that the things I have just written were horrible, but I have new projects that I’ll take up this weekend and move forward. As my friend Sally says, I need to turn the blues to purple.

Meanwhile, a new poem of mine has been published at Poemeleon. The poem is “After a Photograph by Frederic Brenner.” It is one of my favorites.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Knee Deep in Writing Papers

I love the two papers that I am writing and I’m working on a new poem - Ashes. When it rains. . . .Here are two quick items for today:

I'm the first mention on Queerty.

• If there's one thing November's election taught us, it's that sexual panic's alive and well. What, however, does that mean for gay people? Julie Enszer investigates. [SOVO]

However, I do wish the column had involved more investigation - on a personal sexual level.

The World is Too Much with Us
William Wordsworth
The world is too much with us; late and soon,  
    Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:  
    Little we see in Nature that is ours; 
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon! 
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
    The winds that will be howling at all hours  
    And are up-gather'd now like sleeping flowers, 
For this, for everything, we are out of tune; 
It moves us not. -- Great God! I'd rather be  
    A pagan suckled in a creed outworn, --
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,  
    Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn; 
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;  
    Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

I love this poem. Most of all, I remember loving this poem when I was seventeen years old. Sometimes, I think that I loved poems more then.

Friday, December 08, 2006


There are many things I’d like to be called. Provocateur is one of them. If last weeks commentary in the Baltimore Sun could be described in one word it would be normalizing. This weeks commentary in the Washington Blade in one word? Provocative. I’ve excerpted the beginning below or you can click here and jump to the full column.

Stop using sex as a weapon (Gay)Spinning gay ‘sex panic’ scandals to our political advantage will eventually backfire.
By JULIE ENSZERFriday, December 08, 2006

LAST MONTH’S ELECTION results were filled with victories large and small for gay rights supporters, but those results were achieved in part by using sex panic, a political strategy that always damages our community.
One of the keys to the Democratic victory was the exposure of former Rep. Mark Foley’s (R-Fla.) inappropriate messages to congressional pages.
The Foley incident was a contemporary sex panic, similar to the controversy that surrounded Gerry Studds, the late Democratic congressman from Massachusetts.
Certainly 20-plus years altered the rhetoric from Democrats and Republicans, as both feared being labeled homophobic, but sex panic still works, and it still works in hackneyed and hurtful ways. In Foley’s case, the sex panic unfolded like this: a closeted Republican’s homosexuality is exposed in conjunction with lurid references to his potential as a child abuser. The Republican Party is shamed by a homosexual in its midst, termed, at best, abusive of his power, or, at worst, a child-molesting pervert. The silence of the Democrats and the gay and lesbian leadership allowed the issue to linger, leading to victory for the Democrats. It’s a reliable formula: link someone to homosexuality, perverse sex, extend it to their associates and watch them fall.
Read the full column here.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Jack with the Curly Tail

My friend Michelle Brown has written a book, Jack with the Curly Tail: A Home for Jack. It looks delightful. Some information is below and you can order it at A great gift for children in your life!

About the Book
Life is full of ups and downs especially if you are a puppy in need of a name and in search of a home. Although it can sometimes be a scary world, Jack learns the importance of caring, sharing and friendship and that home really is where the heart is. With lots of love and the help of new friends Jack discovers that even a puppy has strength and talents and being himself is the best thing in the world.
Often the real world has questions and situations that are more frightening than any movie. Who am I? Where do I belong? Who are my friends? Why do bad things happen to good people? are questions every child asks and sometimes are the most difficult to answer. "Jack with The Curly Tail" addresses  these situations and more, in a thoughtful, non-threatening  and charming way designed to foster comunication between parent and child.

Three Angry Poems by an Eighteenth Century Feminist

Ellen Moody posted the following--in her words--scathing poems to the Wompo list. I very much admire Ellen’s contributions to the Wompo list and on the list that she moderates, Women Writer’s Through the Ages. Ellen is always teaching me something; I appreciate that. She also is a fierce feminist, which I also appreciate.

The Emulation

Say, Tyrant Custom, why must we obey
The impositions of thy haughty Sway;
From the first dawn of Life, unto the Grave,
Poor Womankind's in every State, a Slave.
The Nurse, the Mistress, Parent and the Swain,
For Love she must, there's none escape that Pain;
Then comes the last, the fatal Slavery,
The Husband with insulting Tyranny
Can have ill Manners justify'd by Law;
For Men all join to keep the Wife in awe.
Moses who first our Freedom did rebuke,
Was Marry'd when he writ the Pentateuch;
They're Wise to keep us Slaves, for well they know,
If we were loose, we soon should make them so.
We yield like vanquish'd Kings whom Fetters bind,
When chance of War is to Usurpers kind;
Submit in Form; but they'd our Thoughts control,
And lay restraints on the impassive Soul:
They fear we should excel their sluggish parts,
Should we attempt the Sciences and Arts;
Pretend they were design'd for them alone,
So keep us Fools to raise their own Renown;
Thus Priests of old their Grandeur to maintain,
Cry'd vulgar Eyes would sacred Laws Profane.
So kept the Mysteries behind a Screen,
There Homage and the Name were lost had they been seen:
But in this blessed Age, such Freedom's given,
That every Man explains the Will of Heaven;
And shall we Women now sit tamely by,
Make no excursions in Philosophy,
Or grace our Thoughts in tuneful Poetry?
We will our Rights in Learning's World maintain,
Wit's Empire, now, shall know a Female Reign,
Come all ye Fair, the great Attempt improve,
Divinely imitate the Realms above:
There's ten celestial Females govern Wit,
And but two Gods that dare pretend to it;
And shall these finite Males reverse their Rules,
No, we'll be Wits, and then Men must be Fools.

Another, this time on the hypocrisy social norms elicits from some women:

To Marina

Plague to thy husband, scandal to thy sex,
Whose wearying tongue does every ear perplex;
False to thy own false soul, thou dost declare
How lust and pride do reign and revel there,
Tell the world too how nicely chaste you are.
This dull, compulsive virtue's owned: for who,
With one so odious, would have aught to do?
But this misfortune you too oft condole,
Whilst loosest thoughts debauch your willing soul.
Thy best discourse is but mere ribaldry,
Telling how fond all that e'er see thee be,
And, loving all thyself, think'st all in love with thee.
With pious heart thou studies! vanity,
And talk'st obscene by rules of modesty.
Thus sins nick-named speak the infernal saint,
Whose shining robes are tawdry clothes and paint:
Extravagance and cheats you mark for wit,
Thou abstract of contention, fraud and spite.
If Socrates could have made choice of thee,
Thou wouldst have baffled his philosophy,
And turned his patience to a lunacy.
The restless waters of the raging sea
Are a serene and halcyon stream to thee:
They keep their banks and sometimes can be still,
Thou art all tempest, know'st no bounds in ill.
Pride, lust, contention reign and yet repine:
Vesuvius' noise and flame has less of hell than thine.

And lastly, she triumphs:

To Philaster
        Go perjur'd Youth and court what Nymph you please,
Your Passion now is but a dull disease;
With worn-out Sighs decieve some list'ning Ear,
Who longs to know how 'tis and what Men swear;
She'll think they're new from you; 'cause so to her.
Poor cousin'd Fool, she ne'er can know the Charms
Of being first encircled in thy Arms,
When all Love's Joys were innocent and gay,
As fresh and blooming as the new-born day.
Your Charms did then with native Sweetness flow;
The forc'd-kind Complaisance you now bestow,
Is but a false agreeable Design,
But you had Innocence when you were mine,
And all your Words, and Smiles, and Looks divine.
How proud, methinks, thy Mistress does appear
In sully'd Clothes, which I'd no longer wear ;
Her Bosom too with wither'd Flowers drest,
Which lost their Sweets in my first chosen Breast ;
Perjur'd imposing Youth, cheat who you will,
Supply defect of Truth with amorous Skill :
Yet thy Address must needs insipid be,
For the first Ardour of thy Soul was all possess'd by me.

The above poems come from the Net and also Roger Lonsdale's _Eighteenth-Century Women

Although other of Sarah Fyge Field Egerton's bitter poems appear in Germaine Greer's _Kissing
the Rod_ (an anthology of 17th century poems by women), in poetry Egerton kissed no rods --
whatever she was coerced into doing outside poetry. Egerton is famous for writing a long verse
response at age 14 to a leeringly misogynistic poem (not atypical of the era) called Robert Gould's
"A Late Satyr Against the Pride, Lust and Inconstancy, &c of Woman."

Sarah Fyge was born in 1670, London, her father a physician and city councilman. At around the
age she wrote her reply to Gould, her father sent his "disobedient" daughter into the country and
married her off, unwillingly, to Edward Field, an attorney. Field died in the mid-1690s, leaving her
childless and well-to-do. Sarah remarried not long afterwards to a much older man, a second
cousin (probably once again coerced as this pattern of marrying much older men you are related
to was common in this era -- to aggrandize and keep the money in the family); his name was
Thomas Egerton. In 1710 she sued Egerton for divorce on grounds of cruelty, and he sued her
and her father in chancery for the estate left her by Field. Egerton accused Sarah of adultery and
going to London with a married man, Henry Pierce. (We know something about this because
Mary Delarieve Manley included the story of this divorce in a popular scandal chronicle where
Manley is unsympathetic to Egerton, describing her as hideously ugly [she may not have been]
and quoting her husband as saying, "Deliver me from a poetical wife.") The divorce suit was
unsuccessful on both sides, and they remained tied to one another legally until 1720. He then
died. She died in 1723, leaving a tiny legacy to the "poor" of her parish, but we are told this
money was lost through the abuses of her executors. Greer says her monument depicts her a
victim of her era and fate, an "image she often elaborated in her poetry", e.g.,

        In vain I strive to be with quiet blest
        Various sorrows wreck't my destin'd brest,
        And I could only in the grave find rest.


Friday, December 01, 2006

Op-ed in the Baltimore Sun

I’m thrilled to have an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun today. It is titled, Gay couples hope holidays bring gift of marriage rights, and you can read it here.

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I did a radio interview with C. S. Soong of Against the Grain on KPFA regarding my article, The End of Marriage. They podcast so if you are interested, you can download and listen from this website.

Friday, November 24, 2006

More on Annie Liebovitz

Not that I am obsessed, but here is another article on Annie Liebovitz from

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Poetry Book Gift List ~ Give the Gift of Poetry this Holiday Season

Poetry Book Gift List ~ Give the Gift of Poetry this Holiday Season

This list is from Wom-po, the list-serv for people interested in discussing women’s poetry. It has books by members of the list with a pitch as to who on your gift list would appreciate them. It’s a fantastic list. Buying poetry as a gift is always a great idea. I’ve put a star next to the ones that I haven’t read and would like to read ;-) or you can check out my Amazon wish list. (double ;-))

Poetry Book Gift List ~ Give the Gift of Poetry this Holiday Season
For All of You Who Fell in Love with Horses, or Dreamed of Doing So; and for the Lover of Rights-Both Animal and Human:
Horses and the Human Soul by Judith Barrington (Story Line Press,, 2004) $15
Available from,, or direct via
*For Anyone Who's Visited Alaska or Wants To:
Blaze, sensual Alaskan poems by Peggy Shumaker and paintings by Kesler E. Woodward (Red Hen Press, 2005)  Hardcover $39.95, paperback $29.95 
Available at  More titles available at
For your favorite Art Lover:
Femme au chapeau, Rachel Dacus, David Robert Books, 2005 - $17.00
Available David Roberts Books or Amazon
*For your favorite Bad Girl--
Becoming the Villainess by Jeannine Hall Gailey (Steel Toe Books, 2006)  $12
Available through Steel Toe Books, Amazon, or the author's website
For your favorite Bird Lover--
White Summer  by Joelle Biele (Southern Illinois Univ. Press 2002) $15
Available at Southern Illinois Univ Press  or Amazon
For your favorite Chameleon
Shapeshifting by Celia Lisset Alvarez (Spire Press, 2006) $10
Available at
For Creative Writing Teachers with an Experimental Bent, Collectors of Old Mimeos, or Lovers of Prose Poetry:
To Delite and Instruct (blue lion books, 2006), $19.26 
Available only through cafe press.  Be sure to search online for a cafe press coupon code before buying!
*For your favorite Divorcee (or Sonneteer):
The Paragon by Kathrine Varnes (WordTech Editions 2005), $17
available through WordTech, Barnes & Noble or Amazon
*For your favorite Domestic Goddess:
Famous by Kathleen Flenniken
Available through Univ of Nebraska Press,  Amazon or your local bookstore
For your favorite DJ or any Midwesterner:
Diane Kendig's Greatest Hits_ by Diane Kendig (Pudding House 2001). Chapbook, $8.95.
Available through the publisher at  or phone 614 986-1881.
For a signed copy at no extra cost, contact the poet at
For your favorite 8-12 year old or K-8 teacher, or lover of poetry for children:
Spinning Through the Universe, by Helen Frost (FSG, 2004)
Available through your local bookstore or Amazon (If you would like a signed bookplate, email me.)
For more information:
*For your favorite Feminist and Pop Culture Critic:
Unbound & Bounded by Christine Stewart-Nunez (chapbook based on a series of artists responding to icon Kate Moss). Published by Finishing Line Press, 2006. Available at
For your Favorite Female Who Has Been Challenged by Loss, Love, or Illness (specifically breast cancer):
Small Knots by Kelli Russell Agodon (Cherry Grove, 2004) $17
Available through Cherry Grove Press, BooksenseAmazon or signed/ inscribed copies available at the author's website
For your favorite Food Lover or Regular Lover:
What Feeds Us, by Diane Lockward (Wind Publications, October 2006) $15.00
Available at or
For your favorite Friend Obsessed with Hardness and Vulnerability
Armor and Flesh, by Mendi Lewis Obadike (Lotus Press, 2004) $12.00
Available at and
For your Friend Who Maybe Likes a Sestina Now and Then:
Passing, by Eloise Klein Healy (Red Hen Books, 2002) $11.95 
Available at  or Amazon
For your favorite Friend with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder):
Radiance by Barbara Crooker (Word Press, August, 2005) $17.00,
available at or Amazon or Barnes&
For your Favorite Funny Foodie--
Miracle Fruit by Aimee Nezhukumatathil (Tupelo Press, 2003) $14
Available at Tupelo Press, your local bookseller and Amazon
*For your favorite Global Traveler, or for your Favorite Armchair Traveler,
Cures Include Travel by Susan Rich (White Pine Press, 2006) $14
Available from Susan will inscribe the book as you would like and also sign it.
Also available from or or by calling Susan (206) 930-1276.
For your favorite Grown-Up
Five Terraces by Ann Fisher-Wirth (Wind Publications, 2005), $14.
Available at Wind Publications and Amazon
For your favorite Healer, or Older Woman, or Anyone Grieving and For all Who Need Consolations in the Face of the Terror: 
Duties of the Spirit,  Patricia Fargnoli (Tupelo Press, 2005) $16.95 
Available through Tupelo Press, your local independent bookseller, or Amazon.
For your favorite Homebody with a Checkered Past: Laura Cherry's chapbook,
What We Planted (Providence Athenaeum), $5.
Available through the Providence Athenaeum 
For Anyone Who's Interested in How Poems Come into Being: 
Encore: More of Parallel Press Poets (Parallel Press, 2006). $15 (Each of the 40 poets contributed a poem and a statement commenting on their experience writing the poem.)
Available through Parallel Press, $15 includes shipping and handling.
For your favorite Latina in Crisis
The Stones by Celia Lisset Alvarez (Finishing Line Press, 2006) $14
Available at Finishing Line Press
For your favorite Literate Healthcare Provider:
A Form of Optimism by Roy Jacobstein (University Press of New England, October 2006) $15.95, available at 1-800-421-1561 or, or Amazon
*For your favorite Lovelorn friend or relative:
Love is a Weed by Lana Hechtman Ayers (Finishing Line Press, October 2006, 29 pages) $12,
Available from Finishing Line Press or for a signed, personally inscribed copy with free shipping via PayPal, email author at
For Anyone who Loves Language and Sees Life's Lessons as a Journey Toward Wholeness : 
Light Made from Nothing, Susan Elbe (Parallel Press, 2003).  $10
Available through Parallel Press, $10 includes shipping and handling.
For Magpies in Love with Shiny Gold Items and Love Poetry:
Locket, (Tupelo Press, 2005), $16.95 
Available through Tupelo Press, your local independent bookseller, or Amazon.
For your favorite Mathematicians and Pattern-seekers:
Rare Momentum by Athena Kildegaard (Red Dragonfly Press, 2006) $15.
Available through, your favorite independent
bookstore, or Amazon.
For your favorite Neophyte Cosmic Gazer Obsessed with the Rhythm of Death, Sex, & Recklessness
South of Here by Lydia Melvin (New Issues Press, 2005), $14.
For your favorite New Mom--
Blue Positive by Martha Silano (Steel Toe Books, 2006) $12
Available at Steel Toe Books, your local bookstore or at Amazon.
For your favorite New Mother, Old Southerner, or Feminist Biblical Revisionist (and lover of heavy rains):

Garnet Lanterns, a chapbook by Sally Rosen Kindred (Anabiosis Press, 2006) $6.50 
Available at:
For your favorite (Overworked) Woman with Mate and Children
Kitchen Heat by Ava Leavell Haymon (LSU Press, Aug, 2006) $17.95
Available through LSU Press and Amazon
*For your favorite Peace Activist:
Homefront, Patricia Monaghan (WordTech Communications, 2005)  $17.00
Available From WordTech Communications or Amazon.
For your favorite Person Who Cares About Others and the Life of Our  Planet --
Sight Lines, poems by Charlotte Mandel (Midmarch Arts Press, 1998)  $12.50.
With photographs by artist Judy Siegel.
Available from Midmarch Arts Press, 300 Riverside Drive, New York, NY 10025.
For Your favorite Person Obsessed with Death but Looking for Comfort Anyway,
Mortal by Ivy Alvarez (Red Morning Press, 2006) £12
Available at Red Morning Press:
For your favorite Philhellene: 
On the Altar of Greece, winner of the 2005 Gival Press Poetry Award, Donna J. Gelagotis Lee (Gival Press, 2006) $15.00 
Available through Gival Press (1.866.203.8926 + 7444; or (On the Altar of Greece)
For your favorite Poetry Lover: childhood/mother/marriage poems--
Keep and Give Away (Winner of the SC Poetry Book Prize) by Susan Meyers (University of South Carolina Press, 2006), $14.95
Available through the University South Carolina Press, your local independent bookseller, or Amazon.
Press info for Susan Meyers: 800-768-2500
For your favorite Sister, Teenager, High School English teacher, Genealogist, Scots-Canadian, lover of historical (1850's) novels-in-poems:
The Braid, by Helen Frost (FSG, 2006)
Available through your local bookstore or Amazon (If you would like a signed bookplate, email me.)
For more information:
For your favorite Teenager, High school English teacher, or Lover of novels-in-poems (sestinas and sonnets):
Keesha's House, by Helen Frost (FSG, 2003)
Available through your local bookstore or Amazon (If you would like a signed bookplate, email me.)
For more information:
For your favorite Urban Contemplative:
Here from Away by Kate Bernadette Benedict (CustomWords, 2003) $16,
available from the publisher or  Amazon.
For People You Don't Want To Give a Book of Poetry, But Do:
Whimsy Daybook, 2007 Maryrose Larkin (flash + card press, 2006)
[it is an actual day book, spiro bound, heavy stock, full color painting repros, calendar] with "poetic" (they were published as poetry) entries for everyday (ex., "Diffuse Radiance Week"), illustrated with paintings by Nita Hill 
$12 directly from Maryrose Larkin, maryrose at gmail dot com.
For your favorite Person Grieving the Loss of a Parent
Night In The Shape Of A Mirror, Lynne Knight (David Robert Books, 2006) - $17.00
Available at David Robert Books or Amazon

For your favorite Visual Artist or Ekphrasis Enthusiast: 
Nude in Winter by Francine Sterle (Tupelo Press, 2006) $16.95 
Available through Tupelo Press, your local independent bookseller, or
For Those Who Dare To Hope
NorthSight by Lois Roma-Deeley (Singularity Press, 2006, cloth) $25.00
Available at or
For a Poetry Reader Who Knows Motherhood Is Way More Complex Than Greeting Cards Ever Suggest:
What if your mother by Judith Arcana (Chicory Blue Press, 2005) $15.00
Order from your local independent bookseller,, or direct from
 For your favorite Wilderness Backpacker/Adventurous Woman/ or Buddhist:
The Strict Economy of Fire by Ava Leavell Haymon (LSU Press, Aug, 2004)  $16
Available through LSU Press and Amazon
For your favorite Women’s History Buff, Medievalist, or Lover of Saints:
The Love of Unreal Things by Christine Stewart-Nunez (chapbook based on the life of Catherine of Siena). Published by Finishing Line Press, 2005. Available on

Tuesday, November 21, 2006



I'll be interviewed on the radio on Wednesday, 22 November 2006 on KPFA at 3 p.m. EST/12 noon PST on Against the Grain with C.S. Soong.

You can stream from here:

I'll be talking about "Gay Marriage" and the article that Alternet picked up last week. This is part of my on-going play to be a political commentator, which is really just part of my overall lifetime goal of infiltrating, upsetting, and ultimately overturning the oppressive, patriarchal powers that be in the world, what we might call, if we were not sensitive to the oppressive paradigms of language, world domination.

Tune in if you are able.

Saturday, November 18, 2006



by Adrienne Rich

Originally published:
Saturday November 18, 2006
The Guardian

In "The Defence of Poetry" 1821, Shelley claimed that "poets are the
unacknowledged legislators of the world". This has been taken to suggest
that simply by virtue of composing verse, poets exert some exemplary moral
power - in a vague unthreatening way. In fact, in his earlier political
essay, "A Philosophic View of Reform," Shelley had written that "Poets and
philosophers are the unacknowledged" etc. The philosophers he was talking
about were revolutionary-minded: Thomas Paine, William Godwin, Voltaire,
Mary Wollstonecraft.

And Shelley was, no mistake, out to change the legislation of his time. For
him there was no contradiction between poetry, political philosophy, and
active confrontation with illegitimate authority. For him, art bore an
integral relationship to the "struggle between Revolution and Oppression".
His "West Wind" was the "trumpet of a prophecy", driving "dead thoughts ...
like withered leaves, to quicken a new birth".
I'm both a poet and one of the "everybodies" of my country. I live with
manipulated fear, ignorance, cultural confusion and social antagonism
huddling together on the faultline of an empire. I hope never to idealise
poetry - it has suffered enough from that. Poetry is not a healing lotion,
an emotional massage, a kind of linguistic aromatherapy. Neither is it a
blueprint, nor an instruction manual, nor a billboard. There is no
universal Poetry, anyway, only poetries and poetics, and the streaming,
intertwining histories to which they belong. There is room, indeed
necessity, for both Neruda and César Valléjo, for Pier Paolo Pasolini and
Alfonsina Storni, for both Ezra Pound and Nelly Sachs. Poetries are no more
pure and simple than human histories are pure and simple. And there are
colonised poetics and resilient poetics, transmissions across frontiers not
easily traced.

Walt Whitman never separated his poetry from his vision of American
democracy. Late in life he called "poetic lore ... a conversation overheard
in the dusk, from speakers far or hid, of which we get only a few broken
murmurs" - the obscurity, we might think now, of democracy itself. But also
of those "dark times" in and about which Bertolt Brecht assured us there
would be songs.

Poetry has been charged with "aestheticizing," thus being complicit in, the
violent realities of power, of practices like collective punishment,
torture, rape and genocide. This accusation was famously invoked in
Adorno's "after the Holocaust lyric poetry is impossible" - which he later
retracted and which a succession of Jewish poets have in their practice

But if poetry had gone mute after every genocide in history, there would be
no poetry left in the world. If to "aestheticize" is to glide across
brutality and cruelty, treat them merely as dramatic occasions for the
artist rather than structures of power to be described and dismantled -
much hangs on that word "merely". Opportunism isn't the same as committed
attention. But we can also define the "aesthetic", not as a privileged and
sequestered rendering of human suffering, but as news of an awareness, a
resistance, which totalising systems want to quell: art reaching into us
for what's still passionate, still unintimidated, still unquenched.

Poetry has been written-off on other counts: it's not a mass-market
"product", it doesn't get sold on airport newsstands or in supermarket
aisles; it's too "difficult" for the average mind; it's too elite, but the
wealthy don't bid for it at Sotheby's; it is, in short, redundant. This
might be called the free-market critique of poetry.

There's actually an odd correlation between these ideas: poetry is either
inadequate, even immoral, in the face of human suffering, or it's
unprofitable, hence useless. Either way, poets are advised to hang our
heads or fold our tents. Yet in fact, throughout the world, transfusions of
poetic language can and do quite literally keep bodies and souls together -
and more.

Critical discourse about poetry has said little about the daily conditions
of our material existence, past and present: how they imprint the life of
the feelings, of involuntary human responses - how we glimpse a blur of
smoke in the air, look at a pair of shoes in a shop window, or a group of
men on a street-corner, how we hear rain on the roof or music on the radio
upstairs, how we meet or avoid the eyes of a neighbour or a stranger. That
pressure bends our angle of vision whether we recognise it or not. A great
many well-wrought, banal poems, like a great many essays on poetry and
poetics, are written as if such pressures didn't exist. But this only
reveals their existence.

But when poetry lays its hand on our shoulder we are, to an almost physical
degree, touched and moved. The imagination's roads open before us, giving
the lie to that brute dictum, "There is no alternative".

Of course, like the consciousness behind it, behind any art, a poem can be
deep or shallow, glib or visionary, prescient or stuck in an already
lagging trendiness. What's pushing the grammar and syntax, the sounds, the
images - is it the constriction of literalism, fundamentalism,
professionalism - a stunted language? Or is it the great muscle of
metaphor, drawing strength from resemblance in difference? Poetry has the
capacity to remind us of something we are forbidden to see. A forgotten
future: a still uncreated site whose moral architecture is founded not on
ownership and dispossession, the subjection of women, outcast and tribe,
but on the continuous redefining of freedom - that word now held under
house arrest by the rhetoric of the "free" market. This on-going future,
written-off over and over, is still within view. All over the world its
paths are being rediscovered and reinvented.

There is always that in poetry which will not be grasped, which cannot be
described, which survives our ardent attention, our critical theories, our
late-night arguments. There is always (I am quoting the poet/translator
Américo Ferrari) "an unspeakable where, perhaps, the nucleus of the living
relation between the poem and the world resides".

Adrienne Rich was awarded the US National Book Foundation 2006 Medal for
Distinguished Contribution to American Letters on Wednesday. Her School
Among the Ruins
published by WW Norton is available at independent
bookstores or

Friday, November 17, 2006



One day last week between classes, I trudged into Vertigo Books and was delighted to find the S.C.U.M. Manifesto by Valerie Solanas. I admit, somewhat bitter about graduate school, perhaps more as a function of just being a graduate student rather than anything in particular, I thought to myself, no one around here is going to buy these other copies of the book. The students that go here don’t know Andrea Dworkin and they think when I write poems about my wife that I am writing persona poems from a male perspective. Poor Valerie, she will be on this shelf forever. I nearly bought them all myself thinking that I, like Valerie could give them away on the street corner to women needing to be radicalized while scowling and snarling at men passing by. I didn’t do that; I’m a poor graduate student, though wanting to rescue Solanas had its appeal. in retrospect, however, I’m glad I didn’t.

The next day, after working up enough nerve to hang out, socialize, pretend that I fit in, I was in the graduate student lounge in the English Department when a fellow student from Queers and Theory came in. “Guess what I just bought?” He held it up proudly: The S.C.U.M. Manifesto. I was so thrilled! A kindred spirit, a fellow traveler.

When I am out on the corner of Baltimore Avenue and Lehigh Rd, handing out my own mimeographed P.R.I.C. Manifesto (Proclaiming Radical Interpellations to my Cunt), perhaps someone will gently take me to Coldstone Creamery, call my wife, and make sure that I get home safely.


On Wednesday night, while drinking bourbon, I sent an ecstatic email to all of my friends about being on Alternet. It seemed like a fine thing to do and I’ll confess, I wanted some sugar. (This has been one of my mantras of the semester: give me some sugar. Alas, we seem to be on a diet, there is little sugar shared in graduate school at least to the first year graduate students.) I got lots of sugar from my friends, but one dear friend who I respect enormously was more critical.

Madame X, as she wishes to be called, wrote this:

I love you truly, I am very proud of you, but you gotta know I we are not seeing eye to eye.
        •        The most powerful institution in America is whiteness, and it has always been extremely exclusive.  I guess now quadroons are in vogue (daughters/granddaughters of Eartha Kitt, Persia White, that Thandie chick, what's her name from the Young and the Restless, etc) but still...
        •        I'm down with gay marriage but I'm not down with other families of choice (see Utah and mail orders for child brides).  I hope people include AND CONTINUE to exclude some folks and I won't take it back.
        •        Not being down doesn't make me an enemy to Dr. King, who by the way was a front man but that's another article.
        •        You're still the most famous one in the bunch!  Go Rudy!

I love my people for the sugar and for the smacks.

People before positions; principles before politics


I fancy myself a radical and at different times through different lenses others have seen me that way. I realized, however, yesterday in class that pressing my radicalism too much makes it retreat. The reason is quite simple. While I consider myself intellectually a radical, in practice in my life I have two fundamental values that I won’t alter. I believe in people before positions, and I believe in principles before politics. This isn’t to say that some radicals don’t believe exactly the same thing. I don’t mean to sound pious or self-righteous about it because in fact I found the realization of all of this quite disturbing. It didn’t make me feel better about myself or morally superior. There was no hierarchical positioning associated with it; it just seems to be the fact of how I want to choose to live my life. Look at that verbal construction: want choose live. That is the other part of this; it isn’t a default automatically chosen position; it is something that requires foresight, action, and persistence.

All of this came up in a discussion of comparing the political projects of Social Text: What’s Queer about Queer Studies Now and Black Queer Studies. Social Text is the cutting edge queer studies cohort. In many ways, I feel more politically and intellectually aligned with the writings in social text. They all are radically positioned and designed to resist and confront “mainstream” queer thought. In particular, for my professional project I’ve been working with the one about the law post-Lawrence. Yet, there is a tenor in the book that makes me bristle. I am constantly thinking about the people not represented. The people missing or maligned. I would almost describe them as ghosts whispering to me. They want to speak. While I am completely in agreement with Ruskola’s view of expanding the law’s understanding of sex so that it is not imitative of heterosexuals, I think of all of the folks for whom Lawrence reflected their view of sexuality. While I agree with the political project of Hiram Perez to attack the Gay Shame conference, I want to know what the people at the Gay Shame conference were thinking. I want them to have a voice. This makes me intellectually a “hopeless liberal,” which in many ways feels like how we used to talk about people who were bourgeois when I was a socialist. That made me uncomfortable, too. I don’t consider myself a “liberal” intellectual. In fact, I would position myself oppositionally to liberal intellectuals; I consider myself a radical, but for these truths that emerge when I am pressed to the wall. When pressed, I will always put people before positions. I won’t exclude people based on some sense of intellectual purity. I couldn’t really be a member of the Womyn’s Musical Festival collective - I would let people in; I would crumble under the pressure. I will always chose the more open and inclusive option. I will always draw the circle larger to bring in more people. Terribly liberal. I will also chose the principle over the politics. This was my challenge at HRC. I didn’t care that there was more power for incumbents. It mattered not to me that people were good on some issues and bad on others--that was politics. I wanted principles--the ability for people to stand with us, regardless on the principles of equality. I despise people who will not stand on their principles and let the politics dictate their lives.

The thought of being an intellectual liberal makes me shudder. I want to be an intellectual radical engaged in a life practice of liberalism. For liberalism in the life practice I want to ascribe the values and actions of kindness and generosity, openness and expansiveness. I want to do work that builds up others and doesn’t attack people or their work. I want to write alternatives not rebukes. I want to create new spaces not poison old. The more I read it, it sounds like liberal blather which makes me uncomfortable. Again, I shudder. Though perhaps it will not matter at all, I fear that I’ll do this two year MFA program and never find a place for myself to get a PhD and I’ll be expelled from the academy again (and there lovely library - which will be what I miss the most - those books! those resources! those articles!) and I’ll wander until I have to make money and am once again fundraising being a radical in the liberal environment. I should not write that - I should resist and write what I want not what I fear, but there it is and now I work.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


I heard about Judith Arcana’s book, What If Your Mother, prior to it’s publication through the women’s poetry listserv, WOM-PO. I knew that I wanted to read it; it’s a book of poems about Arcana’s experience as a “Jane” - the organization in Chicago that provided abortion services. I loved the book and reviewed it for Moondance. (I encourage you to buy the book ( link) and in particular to order through Chicory Blue Press - they are a fabulous small press and if you order it through them the old-fashioned way by printing out the order form and sending a check you’ll be directly supporting their operations and the future fabulous books that they are bound to publish.)

Judith continues to share with me and the world things that I/we need to know. This piece about the history of the Catholic church in relation to abortion is one of those particular gems because it is information that I need to know but prior to receiving it didn’t even know that I needed to know it. I hope you enjoy reading it.

A Short Essay About A Long History
by Judith Arcana, November 2006

Recently I learned that my work was being discussed on some anti-abortion websites because I’d been invited to do three events in early October at Loyola University of Chicago.

There was one guy who wrote that he was moved to reach for his baseball bat and shotgun when he thought about my being a guest at Loyola. There was one woman who argued for the value of diverse opinions. Everybody else expressed anger and sadness. The general outrage was focused on the fact that I, a writer and activist for reproductive justice, had been invited to visit a Catholic school, a Jesuit university (of which, by the way, I am a graduate).

The anti-abortion people’s responses reminded me how ignorant almost everybody is about the history of the Church in relation to abortion, how crucial that history is for Catholic women and girls, and how damaging that ignorance can be in the lives of millions, both Catholic and not. Fact is, Church thinking and policy on abortion have been various, to say the least, over many hundreds of years.

I learned this while studying at the Rockefeller Archives in New York in 1999. I was reading texts about abortion, contraception and related issues, including the founding of Planned Parenthood, an enterprise of importance to some members of the Rockefeller family. I read a pamphlet prepared in the nineteen-seventies by Catholics for a Free Choice; I read hundreds of pages of minutes from meetings, a variety of reports, and lots of correspondence. My goal was simply to take in as much as I could and maybe riff on what I’d found, writing poems for a book manuscript (What if your mother*). I was flat-out amazed at what I learned, and I want to tell everybody all about it.

You might ask: Why? What’s the big deal? And if you did, I’d answer: The Catholic Church is a source of huge amounts of money and influence in the international politics of reproductive justice, and fights fiercely to prevent access to authentic sex education and effective family planning services all over the world.

So. First of all, I see it’s useful to include Aristotle, that ever-present precursor to, and influence upon, Christianity: he theorized that a fetus becomes human (is “ensouled”) 40 days after conception if male, 80 if female. Since there was no way for him or anybody else in those days to know the sex of a fetus at any time during pregnancy, his theory is intriguing, to say the least. Aristotle was born in 384 BCE and died in 322 BCE; clever as he was, he did a certain amount of damage in his 62 years.

Now, on to the Church he influenced, for a selection of useful, interesting bits:
St. Jerome (b.347, d.420), was beatified in 1747 and canonized in 1767. He wrote to a woman named Algasis (probably his student) that “seeds are gradually formed in the uterus, and it [abortion] is not reputed homicide until the scattered elements receive their appearances and members.” Why he embraced that idea we cannot say, but we can say that such thinking scarcely supports an absolute anti-abortion position.

Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) held that abortion was “not irregular” if the fetus was not yet “vivified” or “animated.” This distinction evokes the concept of “quickening,” which was until recently a notable marker in fetal development but now is often displaced by “viability” as a result of new medical technology and legal considerations.

Innocent’s principles were adopted into the Decretals of Pope Gregory IX, who was pope in his very old age (1227-1241). Gregory was a complicated guy, by no means a champ on every front. His record is a fine reminder of how important it is for us to recognize complexity. Born in 1145, he lived almost a hundred years and is sometimes said to have been a hero to St. Francis (who died the year before Gregory became pope), but he preached in favor of the Crusades and burned heretics.

Thomas Aquinas (b.1225, d.1274), of all people, turns out to have been one of those who thought that abortion of only an “animated” fetus should be considered murder, a thoughtful position even now, despite the complications of “viability.”

One of my personal favorites is Tomás Sanchez (b.1550, d.1610), a Jesuit scholar. He said that abortion was lawful when the fetus was not yet “ensouled” and also when the mother would die from carrying it to term. I thought of him instantly when the anti-abortion people complained about my being invited to a Jesuit university. (I have to tell you that my copy of the Fall issue of Loyola’s magazine arrived this week, and its cover says: “Welcome home to Loyola.”)

It’s useful to know that the catechism of the Council of Trent in 1566 held that “in the natural order, no body can be informed by a human soul except after the prescribed space of time.” Though the “prescribed space of time” is unclear, council discussion was about the business of ensuring that Jesus was understood to be different from everyone else in human form because his soul was joined to his body at the time of conception, unlike all (other) human beings. This seems a useful note to sound when discussing abortion.

Sixtus V outlawed all abortion in 1588. That was the year the Protestant Virgin Queen, Elizabeth Tudor, thoroughly trounced the power of the Church through her navy’s defeat of the Spanish Armada, a fleet blessed by the Pope and considered invincible in much the same way the Titanic was later considered unsinkable. As I recall, the Armada suffered from rough weather in the English Channel almost as much as from the smaller, faster ships that harried them, but I can’t help thinking Sixtus may have been in an especially misogynist frame of mind. Mind you, I don’t even know which came first, the edict or the defeat; but he certainly was in a near-constant rage about Elizabeth in those years.

Only three years later, another victory for the girls’ team: Pope Gregory XIV changed the law in 1591. He allowed abortions to be done up to the 40th day of gestation (some scholars dispute this, putting Gregory’s deadline at the even longer sixteen and a half weeks). Pinpointing the moment of conception then was surely no less dicey than it is now, so this ruling was a gift to women.

Saint Alphonsus Ligouri (b. 1696, d.1787) said that the fetus is “certainly not animated before it is formed.” It’s fair to assume he was referring to the “form” of a human being (as opposed, for example, to a five or six week fetus, which still has a discernible tail). He also said abortion should be allowed when needed to save the life of the mother.

In 1869, less than a hundred years after Saint Alphonsus’ death, Pope Pius IX forbade all abortion. Like Sixtus V, he was a hardliner, and that hard line, a ruling made less than 150 years ago, is church law in our time.

Pius XII announced in 1958 that the pill, that miracle of mid-20th century chemistry, was immoral because it prevents ovulation. Pius was a big opponent of overt sexuality as well as birth control. (What with the current connections so often made among stem cell research, conception, contraception, and abortion, I’ll note here that in that same year a Nobel prize for physiology and medicine was shared by Joshua Lederberg and the team of George W. Beadle/Edward Tatum, all of whom were working on genetics.)

Pius died the same year he banned the pill, and John XXIII became pope, bringing joy to millions of people all over the world, many of whom were not even members of his church. But he died in less than five years, so we will never know if his intelligence and compassion could have led him to the kind of radical shift implemented by those other popes in the past. We do know that his bishops affirmed “the value and necessity of wisely planned education of children in human sexuality.” Whatever they actually meant by this, their statement certainly could, even now, be interpreted as good news.

In the middle of 1964, Pope Paul announced that the Church position on birth control was “being studied.” Though this is a time-honored method of delaying action (often forever), John D. Rockefeller III considered it an opportunity to further the cause of family planning. He was cautioned, in the correspondence I read at the Archives, that there would be no overturning of papal proclamations, only the possibility of reinterpretation. There was an exchange in which he was urged to understand that the Church would not accept contraception that “destroys the natural structure of the marital act,” but he still thought there might be some acceptance of methods that intervene in the physiology of an individual person. That is, devices would be forbidden while chemicals would be allowed. But the pill remained condemned, and no part of JDR3’s hopeful interpretation has yet been realized.

Benedict now occupies the papal throne. His presence there may seem a grim emblem in the face of the desperately difficult struggle for women’s reproductive health. But Benedict now has to consider the use of condoms in relation to AIDS. I bet he’s thinking about this history of differing opinions, edicts, principles, and the willingness of all those men to contradict each other, to overturn each other’s rules.

Knowing that Vatican law has not been constant may make us angry: uncounted millions of women’s motherhood decisions have been dictated by all that back-and-forth. Or, knowing that Vatican law has not been constant may make us joyous: the generosity and grace of some men of the Church brought relief and release to many women and girls. Either way, knowing this history is provocative, energizing, liberating. Let’s tell everybody all about it.

*You can order copies of What if your mother from your local independent bookstore, from, or directly from the publisher at

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

WOW! I’m on Alternet!

And I went around all day not even knowing it.

Check it out here.

(Please note, my name is spelled E-N-S-Z-E-R, not as it is indicated on the site. We’re working to get that corrected.)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


The new issue of Beltway is on the theme of Profiles. There is an article about Reetika Vazirani and her poetry by Jane Alberdeston Coralin that is well worth reading.

Cloaked Silences 

In 1968, Reetika and the Vaziranis, her four brothers and sisters and her parents, migrated from Punjab to Silver Spring, MD. At the age of twelve, her father, a Professor of Dentistry at Howard University, committed suicide (Shea, 40).
“…it was a disappearance…because I was never told that he died. I read two obituaries sitting at the kitchen table, and at that time, I didn’t know what suicide was – I thought it was a disease. We never saw the body, there was never a funeral” (40).
Though the strain of his passing ate at the family's hopes, they did not speak about his death, the mother's silence a contagion amongst the children. In the 2003 Poets and Writers interview, Vazirani continues to explain that until she was 26, she was emotionally numb, having “…no sense that there was a place for me in the world except in books" (40). Though her father’s suicide was, in Reetika’s terms, a “complete rejection,” his act begins Vazirani's journey toward definition, not a place for her in the world, but a way to live in the world that doesn’t want you. Watching her mother bleach her skin, Vazirani encountered the migrant’s hunger for acceptance via an attempt at self-erasure. She named this “…proof that we [people of color] needed to get rid of our surface in order to be presentable” (40). In contrast, were Vazirani’s poems attempts to reassemble herself?
Read more here.


The Montserrat Review, Grace Cavalieri has a great piece about “little magazines” - the backbone of poetry. It is well worth the read for both the history and her reflection of the present in light of history.

The Little Magazine Movement in AMERICA
From print to electronics to print
An essay by Grace Cavalieri
Americans generally consider POETRY Magazine (1912) the first poetry periodical of note. It may be the one we know the most about but that it was first is not true on several counts. Washington DC's POET LORE preceded by several years. In fact Walt Whitman took out an ad for his work in its pages, near the close of the 19th century. Reed Whittemore's pamphlet Little Magazines, c1963, published by University of Minnesota's series on American writers, is the definitive work on the movement of the literary journal in the first half of the 20th century. Reed himself was editor of FURIOS0, along with John Pauker, from their college years at Yale (1939.) Reed went on to create others in his career, notably the Carleton Miscelleny from Carlton College where he later taught in Minnesota. From magazines of the 1930's, Whittemore cites that The Partisan Review, was originally begun (but not ended) as a communist organ, along with other southern magazines with political leanings: the Fugitive, the Southern Review, the Kenyon Review, the Sewanee Review. In all, there were forty prominent Little Magazines started before 1950.
Read the rest here.

Sunday, November 12, 2006


I heard Ariel Dorfman speak as a part of the NextBook series at the WDCJCC in the spring. He talked about his relationship with language and giving up speaking Spanish for ten years as a child. It made me think about transitions and moving from one part of life to another always seems to require giving up something in order to make space for the new thing, the next thing. So I'm thinking about what I'm giving up for the next ten years to do something new.

This is what I'm giving up:

1. Quitting fundraising
2. Quitting sitting on committees for non-profit organizations
3. Working less and creating more time for my creative work
4. Going on my partner’s health insurance
5. The notion that I have to completely support myself and not receive things from others

This is what I am doing anew:

1. Taking myself seriously as a writer which means giving myself time to write
2. Feeling unapologetic about making this change
3. Committing to writing and approaching it as a the central passion of my life
4. Telling people I am a writer
5. Yet not explaining myself to others to seek their approval

Saturday, November 11, 2006


Without them, I am just another dour lesbian. Without gay men, I am myopic in my own thinking about politics and what is important. Without them, I could spend entire days with no laughter or levity. Without them, I could begin to believe my own rhetoric, but with them, I have joy and humor and levity. With them, I can laugh - at myself and the world.

My buddy, the Gayest Editor Ever at AOL, mentioned my column in the Washington Blade yesterday in his blog. The last two words say it all. Where would we be without our brothers?
Ellen Willis, 64, Journalist and Feminist, Dies
Published: November 10, 2006
Ellen Willis, the noted journalist, feminist and cultural critic, whose work ranged seamlessly through politics and religion, sex, film and rock ’n’ roll, died yesterday at her home in Queens. She was 64.
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Ellen Willis in an undated photo.
The cause was lung cancer, said her husband, Stanley Aronowitz, the well-known sociologist and progressive activist.
At her death, Ms. Willis was a professor of journalism at New York University. She also directed the journalism department’s cultural reporting and criticism program, which she founded in 1995.
As a writer, she was best known for her political essays, which appeared in The Nation, Dissent and elsewhere. She was also widely recognized for her rock criticism: she was the first pop-music critic of The New Yorker, and wrote regularly about music for Rolling Stone, The Village Voice and other publications.
In addition, Ms. Willis was a vital figure in the women’s movement of the late 1960s and afterward. She was a founder of Redstockings, a short-lived but highly influential radical feminist group begun in 1969. In the 1980s, she helped found No More Nice Girls, a street theater and protest group that focused on abortion rights.
At its core, Ms. Willis’s work was rooted in the three R’s, which for her were radicalism, religion and rock. But little escaped her scrutiny, and over the years, her writings embraced subjects as diverse as psychoanalysis, the O. J. Simpson trial, Monica Lewinsky and “The Sopranos.” To Ms. Willis, each of these was a strand in the contemporary social fabric, and her responsibility as critic was to map out the complex ways in which they interlaced.
In an essay in The New York Times in 1999, Ms. Willis wrote:
“The Lewinsky scandal has prompted an impassioned national conversation on the relationship of the political to the personal, public authority to private behavior; on sexual privacy versus ‘family values’; on female sexual autonomy and victimization. Granted, the affair has also produced an outpouring of schlock with no redeeming social value. But far from vindicating the eat-your-vegetables school of journalism, the schlock suggests what’s wrong with it. Arguably, just as Victorian repression produced a thriving pornography industry, the exclusion of sex from ‘serious’ news media produced tabloidism. As this taboo passes into history, there should be more room for a public conversation on sex that is neither coy nor prurient, but simply frank.”
Though Ms. Willis liked to describe herself as an anti-authoritarian democratic socialist, she was leery of extremism of either stripe. An outspoken advocate of women’s sexual empowerment, she also publicly condemned feminists who wanted to ban pornography. (She was disturbed by what she viewed as their Puritanism, and by the threat to free expression.) She also took some members of the American left to task for what she saw as anti-Semitism thinly veiled as political animus toward Israel.
“My education was dominated by modernist thinkers and artists who taught me that the supreme imperative was courage to face the awful truth, to scorn the soft-minded optimism of religious and secular romantics as well as the corrupt optimism of governments, advertisers, and mechanistic or manipulative revolutionaries,” Ms. Willis wrote in an essay collected in “Beginning to See the Light: Pieces of a Decade” (Knopf, 1981). She continued:
“Yet the modernists’ once-subversive refusal to be gulled or lulled has long since degenerated into a ritual despair at least as corrupt, soft-minded, and cowardly — not to say smug — as the false cheer it replaced. The terms of the dialectic have reversed: now the subversive task is to affirm an authentic post-modernist optimism that gives full weight to existent horror and possible (or probable) apocalyptic disaster, yet insists — credibly — that we can, well, overcome. The catch is that you have to be an optimist (an American?) in the first place not to dismiss such a project as insane.”
Ellen Jane Willis was born in Manhattan on Dec. 14, 1941; her father was a lieutenant in the New York Police Department. Reared in the Bronx and Queens, she earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Barnard in 1962 and afterward did graduate work in comparative literature at the University of California, Berkeley.
Ms. Willis was divorced after an early marriage. She wed Mr. Aronowitz, her longtime companion, in 1998. She is survived by Mr. Aronowitz, a distinguished professor of sociology at the City University of New York and the Green Party candidate for governor of New York in 2002; their daughter, Nona Willis-Aronowitz, of Manhattan; two siblings, Michael Willis of Johannesburg, South Africa, and Penny Willis of Queens; four stepchildren, Michael O’Connell of Basking Ridge, N.J.; Kim O’Connell of Montclair, N.J.; Alice Finer and Hampton Finer, both of Brooklyn; and two step-grandchildren.
Ms. Willis’s other books include “No More Nice Girls: Countercultural Essays” (University Press of New England, 1992); and “Don’t Think, Smile! Notes on a Decade of Denial” (Beacon Press, 1999).
Despite her anti-authoritarian positions — or perhaps because of them — she confessed to being constitutionally hopeful, however unfashionable that might seem. In the essay from “Beginning to See the Light” she described the condition this way:
“My deepest impulses are optimistic, an attitude that seems to me as spiritually necessary and proper as it is intellectually suspect.”
Liza Featherstone’s Blog over at the Nation also has a lovely tribute.