April 14, 2009
Literature by Women
Questions of Identity, Difference, and Cultural Memory
What constitutes your identity? Identity goes beyond appearance and physical
attributes. It constitutes values and morals, family, race, ethnicity, religious and political
“We suffer from. . .hunger for uniformity, the shared norm of ambition and habit and
living standard. The repressive codes are everywhere[…] Its action means that our
emotions are supposed to be uniform. This leads on the one hand to the immense
incidence of ‘mental’ disease which we find in America now; and, on the other, I believe
we may say that it leads to a fear of poetry”--Muriel Rukeyser
Why is this dangerous?
This quote addresses conformity and basing identity on other people.
What kinds of things in poetry are we afraid of? Poetry expressing emotions and things
that we try to hide from and not address.
Alice Dunbar-Nelson’s “I Sit and Sew” (171)
What’s the importance of depicting this apparently negligible activity?
What does the speaker SEE as she sits and sews?
What’s the significance of the “wasted fields”?
“There are many causes for waste in our life. We are very sure of ourselves in some
powers and wildly insecure in others: the imbalance leads to random action, waste,
hostilities out of reason.”
Everywhere we are told that our human resources are all
to be used
, that our civilization
itself means the uses of everything it has--the inventions, the histories, every scrap of
fact. But there is one
of knowledge--infinitely precious, time-resistant more than
monuments, here to be passed between the generations in any way it may be: never to
be used. And that is poetry. . .a way of reaching complexes of emotion and relationship”
(Rukeyser, “Waste, and the Emotional Life,”
The Life of Poetry
, 17, 7)
War vs. Sitting and Sewing – while war destroys things, kills things, tears down buildings
– she is making things, creating things, inventing…