“If you write you can forge / A substance that is other than the woman of substance / You are. If you do it to such a point you can find / Yourself declining substance altogether. It happens. It is a danger.” ~Ariana Reines
Being a poet means being an organism that already exists at the edges. By poet I mean woman. Either way, I’m embarrassed most of the time. I’m not invested in a career. I’m not invested in making money through something I love. I’m just trying hard to like myself more and to be of more use in the world, but there’s no money and little money in these things, respectively.
Does teaching (by which I mostly mean, adjuncting) count as being a professional poet? As with motherhood: you give your small body over to something else and, in exchange for your own silencing, achieve some sort of validation. Women are validated quietly, desperately, relegated to a world of making things in recognizable, nameable forms. Flattened by the pavement of existence, two feet on a ground that suggests over time how two-dimensional you really might be. Thoreau said men lead lives of quiet desperation but even still they get to be assertive about it you know? Pioneers with muscles.
As a poet in space, I write toward the things I read; and the poems I read are an attempt to make up (for) some things, to hold sustained, critical inquiries in creative spaces, without fear of reaching the end before an answer has been obtained. Because the poem knows to live for the questions and not the answers. The poem got that line from Rilke. Sometimes, a poem can even switch between registers partway through, verging toward and away from a certain tone or sentiment. Poems of this sort model confusion—not confusion, but a lack of intelligibility (see Butler). But it’s only poetry and most poems are already Confusing so it’s fine. Meanwhile, I—in my body, at work, around my neighborhood—cannot afford to be confusing in that same way. So I tend to stick to a familiar register: quiet.
Can you be at the very edges of your selfhood while writing from the center of yourself? Can writing be a dangerous edge that the body refuses? Or is my writing the edge with which I touch things, a fingertip?
Looking at women → creating women. I’m talking about women looking toward each other, over and beyond their wage gaps and thigh gaps, the valleys that keep us competing.
Despite such distance, I am still engulfed by the feeling that I cannot take up too much space. Perhaps even poems can take up too much space. In the space of poemworld. Perhaps writing—whether it be messy or solemn or experience-informed or “confessional”—can approach words and ideas through composure and seriousness and control so as to avoid seeming neurotic or hysterical or female in an expected way. (I don’t want to be expected but I’d very much like to be needed.) What if I am hysterical and crazy and emotional, and then I write a poem? What if I am hysterical in the poemworld only? What if I pretend to be? What if I say make-believe and you say fact?
Sometimes all it takes is a finger pointing at you, someone telling you to not get so upset; one half of a conversation can mistakenly suggest what’s taking place on the other end, whether the receiver is a telephone or a brick wall. Whether you’re being heard or categorized.
“She’s a train wreck,” I heard one man say to another, a hundred times in a row.
Imitation of hysterics → being unwell. Women don’t benefit from the usual distance of fiction when it comes to our wellbeing. Women are just so good at trying things on. Sometimes we don’t even need to be the ones doing the dressing: we simply wake up one day and find ourselves outfitted.
Can you choose to put your body near unwellness without succumbing to its gravitational force?
Can you write through mental illness without committing yourself to its singular public trajectory?
Can you joke about gender tropes in a way that doesn’t accidentally reinforce their existence?
Can you reinforce your own existence, seriously?
Can you misrepresent a poem as your body?
Can you be emotional without being vulnerable?
Can a woman write a poem that doesn’t come from her heart?
Can a woman wear other kinds of organs on her sleeve?
Can a woman have guts?
Can a woman spill her guts?
Can a woman shit her pants?
Can a woman plant her bones?
Can a woman pet her plants?
Can a woman love too many organisms?
Can a woman have too many orgasms?
Can a woman enough or too much anything, at all? It is a very delicate and difficult process, the one in which you fall outside the bounds set up before you, dismissing the pull you once believed was the only way to stay grounded.
“She’s all over the place.” Where else could she be?
When the female body creates differently, how does this interrupt what is expected of her personhood? Her presentation? Her performances? Or create new possibilities in what she may one day expect from herself—what could even, in some bright distant future, be expected of her? Or not. And what about the act of creating to the point of unrecognition? To find yourself getting bigger, changing shape, untethered by organ or name; to will yourself toward a new image, a multiplicity of determination; your brain and your body parts shifting beyond the purview of reproduction. “It happens.” Of course it’s dangerous. It barely has a name. That ever-widening space between body and ground. Undiagnosable.
Sarah Cook’s prose has appeared in Cosmonauts Avenue, ASAP/J, many gendered mothers, Black Warrior Review, and elsewhere. She can be found rollerblading on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge and, occasionally, at freelancefeminist.com.