Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Bragging rights

I love the way Sharon Olds simultaneously demystifies and heroicizes pregnancy and childbirth in this poem. She is one of my favorite poets, and I think Woolf would have appreciated her.

The Language of the Brag

I have wanted excellence in the knife-throw
I have wanted to use my exceptionally strong and accurate arms
and my straight posture and quick electric muscles
to achieve something at the center of a crowd,
the blade piercing the bark deep,
the haft slowly and heavily vibrating like the cock.

I have wanted some epic use for my excellent body,
some heroism, some American achievement
beyond the ordinary for my extraordinary self,
magnetic and tensile, I have stood by the sandlot
and watched the boys play.

I have wanted courage, I have thought about fire
and the crossing of waterfalls, I have dragged around

my belly big with cowardice and safety,
my stool black with iron pills,
my huge breasts oozing mucus,
my legs swelling, my hands swelling,
my face swelling and darkening, my hair
falling out, my inner sex
stabbed again and again with terrible pain like a knife.
I have lain down.

I have lain down and sweated and shaken
and passed blood and feces and water and slowly alone in the center of a circle I have
passed the new person out
and they have lifted the new person free of the act
and wiped the new person free of that
language of blood like praise all over the body.

I have done what you wanted to do, Walt Whitman,
Allen Ginsburg, I have done this thing,
I and other women this exceptional
act with exceptional heroic body,
this giving birth, this glistening verb,
and I am putting my proud American boast
right here with the others.

Sharon Olds

Ok, I'll stop posting and do actual homework now.


  1. Thanks for the poem, beautiful work, really interesting language/images etc. But you are doing homework, in Prof. Fisher's lovely blog :D

  2. Correction, kbdancer: This is your lovely blog. And that poem was great, Carolyn. Whitman is an interesting reference point for a whole slew of reasons: He's the American poet, he's the poet of the body, he's a homosexual poet, etc. (Same with Ginsburg, arguably.) Given that, it's interesting to read this poem through the history of those epic poets who were male, but who were not masculine in the way that mainstream American society constructs masculinity. Similarly, Olds's speaker isn't traditionally feminine, either. Complex stuff.

  3. This is a bit off topic.... but have any of you guys every come across a book called the Madwomen in the Attic. Its a wonderful work that explores Victorian Literature from a feminist perspective. A lot of what we were talking about with Virginia Woolf in class on Tuesday reminded me of this book. Their main argument (if I remember correctly) was that women in the 19th century literature were confined to either being portrayed as an 'angel' or 'wicked/flawed/madwomen'. Similar to Woolf, the authors of the Mad Women in the Attic argue for the need to go beyond/kill these two identities for women.

    The Madwomen in the Attic by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar is definitely worth a look!

  4. Carolyn, have you read Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys? It's really good. It's about the madwoman in the attic from Jane Eyre (Bertha).
    That book sounds interesting, I'll definitely check it out.

  5. Dos Carolyns: Great literary connections! Yes, Virginia Woolf once wrote that she had to kill the angel of the house, a reference to the typical gender role of many 19th century female characters, in order to write. I also really like Jane Eyre, but I haven't read Rhys's book. I'm also really sick at the moment, so I'm quite sure that this comment doesn't make any sense.

  6. To be honest I have only seen movie productions of Wide Sargasso Sea. I've always told myself I would get around to reading the book, but only time will tell!