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Subject:

Re: "form" (Commanders of the British Empire)

From:

"david.bircumshaw" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Poetryetc provides a venue for a dialogue relating to poetry and poetics <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 6 Jan 2003 19:22:55 -0000

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

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text/plain (141 lines)

Alison's post I find both fascinating and contentious. Her account of her
own experiences as a woman writer is both moving and rings profound bells of
truth, her remarks about being 'patronised as sweet' are particularly
telling, I pride myself on being non-sexist yet I've found myself at times,
to my horror, treating women as 'nice little girls'. 'There, there, dear'
etc. That is unacceptable and I can only endorse Alison's distaste, fury,
frustration, whatever you will, at it.

Where I do have problems is the suggestion that Duffy's poem is not
connected to issues of class, I can't see how anyone can look at a poem
which is ostensibly in the 'voice' of an Edwardian/Victorian servant and not
register the issue of class. Here it should be said that Duffy is
'appropriating' a voice, no servant of that time would have talked in that
way, the language is recent and, not a 'pillaging' of Larkin, but certainly
a product of his shadow (see'The Less Deceived' for example). I can see
where Alison is going on the Barbara Cartland issue but the trouble is that
Duffy's poem doesn't establish a linguistic scenario that convinces one of
this. I can use a comparison here: the 'Nausica' episode of 'Ulysses'. In it
we have a description of a middle-aged man masturbating over a disabled
teenage woman on a beach. On such a bald statement the piece sounds
repulsive yet Joyce writes the episode from the point of view of the woman
AND, most importantly, he does deploy the language of the novelette so the
result is not a cheap thrill but instead profoundly humanistic. It has pity
for what is pitiful. Duffy's poem, by contrast, just presents some
furniture, 'object's, as it were.

Asides - to Liz, sorry about the misattribution, so many people have said
things on this thread it's difficult to remember who said what! And as for
Hamlet, phew, yeah, Lemmon sucks, I just don't like speaking ill about the
recently dead, and the gravedigger's cameo is brilliant.


Best


Dave





David Bircumshaw

Leicester, England

Home Page

A Chide's Alphabet

Painting Without Numbers

http://homepage.ntlworld.com/david.bircumshaw/index.htm
----- Original Message -----
From: "Alison Croggon" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Monday, January 06, 2003 11:36 AM
Subject: Re: "form" (Commanders of the British Empire)


Chris

Your questions are far from naive and (to my mind) absolutely to the
point.  Rebecca also has raised the same questions in a different
way.  These are genuinely difficult issues, and not easily dismissed
by a reference to a "heirachy of tastes", because that begs the
question: whose taste?  And this is not easily, either, untangled
into a question of snobbery or elitism: it is rather more subtle than
that, and I can only refer slantingly to what Helmut Lachenmann, the
composer, calls the "cultural machine" in order to signal the
complexity of what I'm talking about.  Women have always been accused
of being in "bad taste": this is one of many common methods of
silencing.  Which is why a woman such as Mary Coleridge barely
figures on the map of 19C poetry, although - objectively speaking, in
terms of her skills with language - she is at least as good as many
far better known poets of her time.  "Standards" are a game where the
rules change.  And for centuries the rules have been set by men in a
highly gendered society.  This is such an inescapable and unarguable
fact, that I do wonder why it is so often so easily ignored in these
arguments.

I think it is a perfectly fine strategy to invert/pervert given
poetic forms and tropes to one's own purposes: but it's only an
initial strategy.  Why such a sin, if that is what one is doing, to
pillage Larkin? It's risky if it's taken at face value: I've been
infuriated by such misunderstandings of my own poems -for example,
early on I decided to write a bunch of stuff about child birth,
menstruation, domestic life &c in the most formal literary language I
could manage, believing that by doing so I was (a) challenging and
demystifying the masculine values which coalesce around this language
and (b) validating my own experience, which I found so little
reflected in the canonical literature.  I got a number of responses:
some women said I was not properly feminist because I was using
"masculine" models and some men patronised me as a sweet conservative
poet.  So I figured I had to get cleverer, because both responses
erased what I thought I had done, or had at least tried.  But I
realise also, partly (but not only) as a response to _that_ ,that
I've got more violent in my own exploration of literary form.  I want
to be good enough and skilful enough and intelligent enough to be
able to blow the whole form thing to bits to my own satisfaction.
Because I also love the game of poetic form. Well, one day.

Dave's criticisms of Duffy's language in this light might be beside
the point: or wilfully missing it (and who can bear comparison to
Shakespeare?).  One ought to take into account what is being
inverted, and why, and the implications of that: there might be
reasons for using such imagry that go beyond the merely banal.  I
have certain reservations about the poem, but they don't exist in the
area of it not being "about contemporary Britain" (so? and is female
desire not "relevant" to the present day? or are poems henceforth to
be literal?)  There is a question being begged, which is, what is the
female desire here doing to the social situation being employed in
the poem - the mistress and the servant?  Is it reinforcing it?
Destabilising it?  It is the male eye which is supposed to look, to
desire: here it is the female eye; moreover, it is the eye of a
female inferior: and the eye looking is a traditional assertion of
ownership and power (which might explain the 19C setting, redolent of
so many of those portraits in the National Gallery).  This makes it a
more interesting poem than the merely unthinking portrayal of class
stereotypes, whether or not one likes it.  I don't think it is
entirely successful, but a critical response should surely take what
it's clearly wanting to do into account - it might not be sophism at
all to take the language of Cartland and use it in a literary poem,
but an attempt, rather, to de-sacralise the heirachy of literary
language.  To argue against that on a basis of _class_ makes no sense
at all.

Best

A

--



Alison Croggon
Home page
http://www.users.bigpond.com/acroggon/

Masthead Online
http://au.geocities.com/masthead_2/

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