Wednesday, November 11, 2009


I would like to invite you all to read this poem by Katha Pollitt:


In the hygienic sand
of the new municipal sandbox,
toddlers with names from the soaps,
Brandon and Samantha,
fill and empty, fill and empty
their bright plastic buckets
alongside children with names
from obscure books of the Bible.
We are all mothers here,
friendly and polite.
We are teaching our children to share.

A man could slice his way
through us like a pirate!
And why not? Didn't we open
our bodies recklessly
to any star, say, Little one,
whoever you are, come in?
But the men are busy elsewhere.
Broad-hipped in fashionable sweatpants,
we discuss the day--a tabloid
murder, does cold cream work,
those students in China--

and as we talk
not one of us isn't thinking
Mama! Was it like this?
Did I do this to you?
But Mama too is busy,
she is dead, or in Florida,
or taking up new interests,
and the children want apple juice
and Cheerios, diapers and naps.
We have no one to ask but each other.
But we do not ask each other.

This poem centers on a depression that seems distanced by irony and fueled by the inability of this woman to connect to the others who so clearly share her situation. Aside from its commentary on gender relations, I posted it because I think it contains valuable elements of many of our recent discussions: "otherness", self-awareness, social norms, progress...

What do you take from it?


  1. I really enjoyed this poem and found it extremely interesting. What I liked most was the fact that this woman has all of these thoughts building up in her head but she does not have the confidence or certainty to express them out loud. This makes me wonder what the entire human race is actually thinking opposed to what is actually "being done." Are people really acting on what they believe in or social and societal norms? and if people are acting on what is "normal" and not "what is right" how does this actually affect our progress as a culture?

  2. I read this poem after finishing Butler's essay. I think that Pollitt illustrates, indirectly at least, a lot of what Butler was getting at with the tenuity of gender itself.

    "If gender is instituted through acts which are internally discontinuous, then the appearance of substance is precisely that, a constructed identity, a performative accomplishment which the mundane social audience, including the actors themselves, come to believe and to perform in the mode of belief." (2500)

    I really believe that this excerpt and Pollitt's poem are profoundly complementary. Pollitt's description of her fellow mothers in "fashionable sweatpants," combined with the underlying restlessness of the last stanza, illustrates that internal discontinuity that Butler bespeaks. Pollitt feels as if this act of the playground mother (the socially accepted act of a female) is a performance and one senses her frustration to turn to someone and ask, "Why are we doing this? Do you want to do this?" One senses that Pollitt is held back ("But we do not ask each other") by that "gender border control" and those hegemonic constraints that Butler points to. I believe that Pollitt is conscious of the gender performance she is playing. Furthermore, I believe that, although she yearns for that gender fluidity Butler describes, the power of social norms seems to be extraordinary (even when she seems to be conscious of its falsities.

  3. I see this theme of personal challenge with norm compliance often in literature, rightly so in my opinion as it is a prevelant challenge in shared human experience. I'm thinking of such characters as the Lily in The House of Mirth, Gatbsy in The Great Gatsby (though he brings much of his conflict upon himself), Holden in The Catcher in the Rye, and the list goes on. Again, as many of us conflict with, either externally or internally, societal norms, representations of such tension can be enlightening and helpful - be it in catharis or catalyst to action.

  4. I think all of the above comments, and Aubrey's parsing of the poem, are insightful. However, allow me to ask the following: Doesn't the tension of the poem rely on stock gender constructions? The man, slicing through the women's lives, is literally the bad guy, right? That's not to say that the central problem isn't the social construction of these gendered categories. I just wonder if this poem--in its attempt to point out the oppressive power of patriarchy, which reduces women to baby makers--ultimately reasserts those categories. In short, is the poem not queer enough?

  5. The speaker needs some new friends. Some new, queerer friends.