Friday, June 22, 2012

Natasha Trethewey, our Poet Laureate....


Our country has a new Poet Laureate, Natasha Trethewey, a talented, forty-six year old, bi-racial Emory University professor with deep roots in her native South. [Here]  Ms. Trethewey gained national recognition when she received a Pulitzer Prize in 2007 for Native Guard, a collection of poems focused on one of the first black regiments formed in the Civil War.  Woven into that poetic narrative are other personal themes, such as the murder of her mother, the illegal interracial marriage of her parents, and the pain of her childhood. [Here
Trethewey’s parents were married before Loving v. Virginia banned all miscegenation laws.[Here]  Their daughter Natasha was born a year before Loving became the law of the land.  She was born in Gulfport, Mississippi on Confederate Memorial Day (April 26), a date which became a constant reminder to the young girl of the tragic themes of her native land.  
While still a child, her parents divorced and her mother remarried a man who gradually became physically abusive.  Natasha was nineteen and in college, when her mother was murdered by him.  These early violent shocks would have been sufficient to freeze most young sensibilities but instead Trethewey found a healing response in her poetic voice.
Trethewey has published 3 poetry volumes: Domestic Work, published in 2000; Bellocq’s Ophelia, published in 2002; and Native Guard, published in 2006.  She has also published a non-fiction book, Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, 2010. 
Since the present selection system began in 1986, there have been 19 Poet Laureates, who were officially titled The Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library Of Congress.” The Librarian of the United States Congress decides each nomination.  Of the 19 chosen since 1986, five (26 per cent) have been women: Mona Van Duyn (1992-3); Rita Dove (1993-5); Louise Glück (2003-4); Kay Ryan (2009-10); and now Natasha Trethewey.  The previous laureate system, called Consultants in Poetry, was begun in 1937, ending in 1986.  Of the 30 poets selected during those almost 50 years, only six were women: Louise Bogan (1945-6); Léonie Adams (1948-9); Mona Van Duyn (1992-3); Josephine Jacobsen (1971-3); Maxine Kumin (1981-2); and Gwendolyn Brooks (1985-6).  [Here
Perhaps we should be pleased that the percentage of women chosen for this literary honor is increasing; however, notable, distinguished and talented female poets--Marianne Moore, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Audre Lorde to name just a few--were never thus honored.  Furthermore, the present percentage of 26% women to men who were chosen is far from what we must demand, viz. complete equality.  If women do not demand equality of recognition, our work will never be equally honored.
As Bella reminded us years ago, parity must continue to be our beacon and our goal.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The war against women continues....


Yes, unfortunately, the attacks continue.  Didn’t we think that we had won most of these battles long ago or were those simply skirmishes in the larger battle for gender equality?  I guess we just have to keep battling.  I’m sure that Margaret Sanger was forced to learn the same lesson when she had opened her first birth control clinic in 1916 in New York City.  
The liberal journalist, Naomi Wolf, in a Guardian article, [Here] wrote that the legislative attacks in states all across the country have been well-coordinated and well-funded.   Wolf also pointed out that Planned Parenthood appears to be the primary target of these assaults.  Eight states--Maine, Texas, Arizona, Ohio, Tennessee, Indiana, North Carolina, and Kansas--have actually passed laws defunding Planned Parenthood or have had bills introduced in their legislatures which will begin the process.
The other target is abortion rights.  In the last year and a half, 92 new anti-abortions laws have been passed in eleven states.  Some laws shrink the time that abortions are allowed and legal, while others make women wait a number of days, the so-called “thinking it over” period, after a woman first seeks medical advice and before she undergoes the medical procedure.  
These latter laws are particularly irksome to me because they treat women with disdain and assume that a woman who wishes to abort her fetus has not already agonized over the decision.  This is a glittering example of the male establishment’s assumption that women are ninnies and must be told what to do, what to think, and how to think.
We see this dynamic written large in the current open conflict between the Vatican’s all-male hierarchy and the Roman Church’s nuns.  Five weeks ago we wrote about this in detail [Here] and reported then that the Catholic Church’s highest doctrinal group, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), had issued an eight-page report directed against the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), which accused them, among other things, of harboring “certain radical feminist themes.”  The Leadership Conference represents a majority of working Roman Catholic nuns in this country, the women who do the hands-on, gritty and often irksome charitable work of their church. 
Last week the LCWR met in Washington to address the charges and released this courageous statement: [Here]
Board members concluded that the [Vatican’s] assessment was based on unsubstantiated accusations and the result of a flawed process that lacked transparency. Moreover, the sanctions imposed were disproportionate to the concerns raised and could compromise their ability to fulfill their mission. The report has furthermore caused scandal and pain throughout the church community, and created greater polarization.
In addition, the LCWR is sending two of its members--the President and the Executive Director--to Rome to discuss the findings of the CDF and to raise objections with its conclusions.  

Amy Davidson in the New Yorker quotes an interview with Sister Christine Schenk, an executive of a “church reform group.” [Here]  Sister Schenk sums up the problem:
Here you see women, very competent, highly educated, doctorates in theology, masters in ministry, C.E.O.’s of hospitals, heads of school systems, being treated as if they were children... That in itself goes to the issue of where are the women in the decision-making structures in Rome.
Where indeed are the women?  We should ask this same question of our Congress, our White House, and our courts.  In fact, we must ask this question of every power structure in this country and throughout the world.
In the meanwhile, we shall watch and listen as two brave and devout women confront a centuries-old, male-only religious power structure in Rome.  This will indeed be the epitome of speaking truth to power.  

God speed, good Sisters...