by Martha Nell Smith

Page 7

This seems especially important at a time when dissensus, disagreement, disputation, difference, contention, anxiety, and angst are equated with critical sophistication and with excitement: things are much more interesting, it is assumed, in struggle and fierce debate. Most seem unquestioningly to concur with Willa Cather that "Success is never so interesting as struggle--not even to the successful." But when he wrote of Dickinson that she had "a mind so powerful and original that we scarcely have begun, even now to catch up with her," Harold Bloom, who popularized the phrase "the anxiety of influence" and the theoretical paradigm privileging fret, unwittingly echoed Ruth Stone's "In her cryptic inventions, she broke the tiresome mold of American poetry. We still stand among those shards and splinters." As we shall see, this powerful and original mind was committed to love and connectedness to the very end, and I am trying to learn and think harder about that.

Contributing to Titanic Operas, Sharon Olds has written:

When I think of the power of poetry, I keep thinking about Emily and women, Emily and her mother, Emily as a mother of us all. . . .I think Emily Dickinson would have been political today--I think she is political, intensely political. And I think in other times and in other circumstances, the kind of astonishing action she took in doing that writing would have found expression perhaps in other ways, as well. She would have acted, refused silence.

To make her point, Olds recalls "Despisals," by Muriel Rukeyser:
In the human cities
never again to despise the backside
of the city, the ghetto. Or build it
again as we build the despised backsides
of houses. Look at your own building.
You are the city.

among our secrecies
not to despise our jews, that is
ourselves, or our darkness, our blacks
or in our sexuality wherever it takes us
and we now know we are productive, too
productive, too reproductive for our present
never to despise the homosexual
who goes building another with touch with touch
not to despise any touch.
Each like himself like herself each
you are this

In the body's ghetto
never to go despising the asshole
nor the useful shit that is our clean clue
to what we need. Never to despise
the clitoris in her least speech.

Never to despise in myself what I have been taught
to despise. Nor to despise the other.
Not to despise the it. To make this relation
with the it: to know that I am it.

Thinking of Dickinson's legacy, Olds remembers the often-neglected Rukeyser, and in spotlighting and reclaiming the latter, asks audiences to remember the importance of connectedness.

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Copyright 1999 by Martha Nell Smith, all rights reserved
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Last updated on March 10, 2008
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