Writing into the Void

By Emily Alexander

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A notated Adrienne Rich book.

I’m taking a class on Women and Poetry, and while it is by far my favorite class, it’s also made me feel like a bit of a failure in terms of both poetry and feminism.

I’ve been working on an essay analyzing June Jordan’s poem, “Case in Point,” while also reading Sylvia Plath’s Ariel; both poets were highly influential in making a name for women’s poetry. Their confessional styles were often mocked and not taken seriously, but these are the poems that got them noticed, and more importantly, got them noticed as three-dimensional, subjective human beings. Their poetry allowed all women to step out of the univocal space they had been given, and into their multitudes.

The most recent poems I’ve written: “Latham St, San Rafael, 1993,” a poem about my parents before my siblings and I were born and before their divorce, “john’s alley,” a poem about my friend and our favorite bar, “first poem for him,” a poem about walking home after spending a night with a guy I liked.

Until now, I haven’t spent too much time thinking about how my poems fit into the world, what world they might be entering into, and what exactly they have to say about this world. Probably, of course, because I never really considered my poems to be a part of any world beyond my own head. I’ve always kept journals, but never let anyone see them. I kept most of my writing a secret, not necessarily because I didn’t want people to read it, but mostly because I was pretty certain no one would be particularly interested in the glimpse I caught of my unrequited love as he biked down the street outside and I happened to be passing the window at the exact same time. And why would they?

I’m back here at this same question. What are my poems doing out here, where poems like “Case in Point” and Adrienne Rich’s “Diving into the Wreck” are opening up discussions about the very core aspects of womanhood and feminism. There are bigger issues at hand in those poems, just like there are bigger issues at hand all around me; tragedies, injustices that I, as a middle-class, straight, white woman, am not necessarily a part of. I know only how it feels to inhabit this body. And I know that a large part of inhabiting this body is writing about it.

My boyfriend said to me the other night that art, for him, is about connection. It’s about making someone feel something, being able to put forth a feeling and inviting someone else into it. I like to think of it like this: here is this big, deep, dark darkness that we are all walking through, and here I am, this tiny speck of a person feeling all the big and small things I feel, and I am waving my hands and jumping up and down just trying to prove that I am here.

I am here.

A part of being here, for me, at least for now, is a space that contains a degree of uncertainty that I am learning and trying to stand up straight in. I’m not sure if I am smart enough or angry enough or experienced enough to be sure of what I want to say. Still, I will say it because I want this clumsy shout into the void and because I want to firmly believe in the importance of my own voice, no matter how clumsy. I am human. I am messy. I’m not trying to be an example. I am not trying to be perfect. I am not trying to say I have all the answers. I am not trying to say I’m right. I am just trying — trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world, trying to make some noise with my writing while also being myself” (Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist).

I want to write about being myself, I want to write about being here now. And right now that means the seasons unfolding and folding and the leaves against the grey of early morning, the coffee I hold between cold hands every morning, the meal I share with people I love, the pressing feeling of inadequacy and the reach to do more, learn more, feel more.

I am here. All of my simplicity, all of my complexity. All my messy multitudes and insignificancies. I want all of it. “Because living means wanting everything that is, everything that lives, and wanting it alive” (Hélène Cixous, “The Laugh of the Medusa).

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