We are two part-time academics. Ellen teaches in the English department and Jim in the IT program at George Mason University.

Why study women's poetry (2) · 20 February 08

Dear Marianne,

In discussing why study women’s poetry on Wompo, we veered off to topics which included why women don’t seem to aim at the same high achievement as men, and “where we write from.” I wrote postings on these theme (which I put into this blog in the form of comments
on why study women’s poetry), and then let go in the following ditty or set of verses. I wanted to emphasize the centrality of my thesis, make it emphatic by turning it into a refrain:

Less is expected

Less is expected; that’s it, you know.
There’s your problem

Less is expected from women
Less is wanted

How can you say that?
motherhood? marriage, not to omit

Romance: he harasses you for sex,
and if you yield, he won; if you don’t,
you’re a prig, Prudie, who likes to read

I call this sexist, you call it
human nature, and I agree.
We get nowhere.

But less is expected:
Less room is made for women
even in the home,
how many have a desk?
a room of her own.

Where do you write from?

If you have it (a desk)
and prefer life there
above everything, nothing
else you want to do but that
you’re odd, very wrong,
when not perceived as a threat,
a nuisance, useless,
you’re too full of yourself,

Mildly autistic, anyone?
a new label.

It’s hard not to get depressed.

I was once told, “Be a cow.”

closes with Prudie enormously
by her football watching

She had wanted to think
coolly, accurately about Emma
and correct others :(
I grant she’s permitted recognition:
what the sexy young man is—just in the nick of time.
Still we certainly got back at her.

It all derives from that; the woman
who wants to do something for herself,
can’t get round that.

Less is expected.

Place setting for Aspasia, an ancient Greek scholar & philosopher, one of 39 at
Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party.

As far as we can tell Aspasia was a scholar and philospher who came to Athens from an area in Greece where women were allowed some independence. She was not subject to the restrictions against Athenian women. (Their lives seemed to have been marked by total segregation from anyone outside their family groups; most were illiterate.) Aspasia joined the hetaerae, the only Athenian women allowed actively to participate in Athenian culture. “Hataera” has come to denote a courtesan or prostitute, it’s orginal meaning was a woman who was unmarried, literate and (therefore?) free. She became Pericles’s companion, and they lived together in 445. She is described in the usual way as having a salon. She became known for discussing the role of women in society, arguing woman had a right to live as men’s equals; she would urge her guests to bring their wives. She was eventually tried for “impiety,” and only Pericles’ intervention and power saved her life.

The dangers of doing more than what is expected are before us.

Farideh Hassanzadeh-Mostafavi responded with two poems about the importance, the centrality of a desk. One she wrote, beautiful and ironic:

An International Question

Can you find somewhere
or a woman’s desk?

In the middle of sea , for instance
Where this boat needs only two lost oars
For wandering;
Or on a leafless branch
Where this little bird will be covered with snow
And will be freezed for ever.

Can you find somewhere
For a woman’s desk ,
In the East or in the West
except but a home in which
a desk can be a coffin
a heavy burden to carry
on her husband’s shoulder?

The other a powerful poem written by Marina Tsvetaeva in a letter she wrote to Pasternak:

my desk is a kitchen table

translated by Elaine Feinstein

My desk, most loyal friend
thank you. You ‘ve been with me on
every road I’ve taken.
My scar and my protection.

My loaded writing mule .
Your tough legs have endured
the weight of all my dreams , and
burdens of piled-up thoughts.

Thank you for toughening me.
no worldly joy could pass
your severe looking-glass
you blocked the first temptation,

and every base desire
your heavy oak oughtweighed
lions of hate, elephamts
of spite you intercepted.

Thank you for growing with me
as my need grew in size
I’ve been laid out across you
so many years alive

While you’ve grown broad and wide
and overcome me. Yes,
however my mouth opens
You stretch out limitless.

You are a pillar
of light. My source of Power!
You lead me as the Hebrews once
were led forward by fire.

Annie Finch said she thought it Tsvetaeva’s most powerful poem.

Place setting for Virginia Woolf (at Chicago’s Dinner Party)

Famously, Woolf said a woman could derive strength and power from a room of her own. Chicago’s plate for her is almost fully 3-dimensional, a bursting center which harks back to the power embodied in Chicago’s goddess plates


Posted by: Ellen

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  1. P.S. My first response to Tsvetaeva's poem was how comforting, strengthening, inspiriting, but then I thought my desk hasn't grown.

    Since 1971 or so when Jim first bought me this heavy mahogany desk, it’s been my mainstay of my existence. We bought it in Macy’s and I was embarrassed because when he bought his (directly after mine) he went to a specialized store and bought an elegant fashionable looking desk. His is really a table with one little and one deep drawer and it was a pretty amber color in 1971. My mind was this dull stable looking heavy thing with big drawer down each side, dark colored, but I consoled myself it was sensible, heavy duty and so on.

    Then I realized it has expanded. I have a library table stuck right next to it, and the two takes up 3/4s of the wall with the window I face (as I said in the comments to my first blog on this topic). Further I have another library table in back of me with more books and references and papers and a microfilm reader in the center (hardly ever opened, nowadays, a present from Jim for a birthday when a local junior high was getting rid of microfilm readers.

    On the desk itself is my computer and a row of reference books and anthologies. On the library table next to it a player of DVDs and videocassettes, a machine which prints and copies pictures and text, and another computer which Jim uses to set us up somehow or other.

    Elinor    Feb 19, 11:44pm    #
  2. People blame the media for eating disorders, because the media only shows thin actresses and models. Adolescents and adults, especially women, are dissatisfied with their body weight and shape because of the cultural standards that thin is good and overweight is bad. But why is it bad to be dissatisfied with weight and shape? People are healthier if they are not overweight, so isn’t it a good thing for me to be unsatisfied with my weight, because if I lose 10-15 pounds I will be healthier? Isn’t being healthy good? Well, maybe the problem is that the media makes people who are healthy think that they need to be thinner than they are. And the reason I am not satisfied with my weight is not because I think that I need to look better, the reason I’m not satisfied with my weight is that I want to be healthier. I am happy with the way I look.
    Jennica    Feb 20, 10:17am    #

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