In 2002, I decided to finally wrap up my undergraduate education and returned to the university where my feminist identity had first taken root. I had been active in grassroots politics and women’s health for years and so decided to carry out feminist narrative research centered on women’s choices in childbirth for my thesis project. One of the final requirements of the program was a presentation class—a one credit, short-term course in which we all came together to plan our presentations that were open to the public. I’ve never forgotten the night that I was scheduled to do a dry run of my presentation, which included pictures of women with their midwives, facts and statistics from the narrative research, and audio of a young mother choking up when describing her daughter’s birth, attended by her own mother, a midwife. When I finished the presentation and sat down in my seat, the next student jumped up, her spiky red hair waving in the air from her rapid expulsion from her chair. She set her papers on the table in front of her, cleared her throat and opened her presentation by saying, “Well, I can assure you that I am not an angry feminist.”
When I read Sheila McMullin’s StS review of Manhater, I knew that it was a collection I had to read this summer. The woman in my presentation class is not the first woman I’ve run across who has appeared uncomfortable with femininity, with the female body and its full sexual expression. A woman’s sexuality is complex and mysterious and includes words like moist and dark and blood. It can include pregnancy and childbirth and lactation. It can include the dreaming world, the spirit world, or early parental love. It often includes violence, which Sarah Marcus, author of Back Country, says can be seen even in cases of consensual love (i.e. love sick).
All of these themes can be found in the seven outstanding collections of poetry that StS has reviewed this past year. Challenging societal and universal constructs, and touching on themes of love, space, reinvention of myth and lore, family and childhood, and even the spirit world, these collections provide important feminist discourse in unexpected places. Tuck one of these books into a beach bag and while vacationing embark on a journey of words—the kind of journey that only poetry can provide.
Little did that woman in my class know that while I sat in my seat, milk that would soon be meant for my newborn daughter leaked into pads strategically placed in my bra. Little did she know that my project was done, not from anger, but from love and respect. Respect for my fellow sisters in their personal journeys of motherhood, and love for all women, regardless of their choices. Including her: the classmate with the spiky red hair and discomfort with words like moist, feminist, childbirth, or anger.
Below is the past year’s line-up of poetry reviews: