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Word by word: The utopia of a female writer Word by word: The utopia of a female writer
by Abigail George
2010-10-26 06:29:03
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Male writers will have their own utopias as will female writers. We do not write; create, from the same pool of thought or work at the same lessons in the same old traditions following the mould, the instruction gathered since infancy. As the letters branch out into the curves of words we all take cognisance of that fact. So we draw maps of our histories. One male, one female; I shudder at that word equality; even more at the word feminism. I do not find either when I read poetry, when I seek insight in the hollows of the words or when I commit myself to the page to write.

There are others who think words common and boring and find neither joy nor peace of mind in them. For me words are a drug in mourning, in melancholy, in the bliss of feeding off the shine on a just well cleaned plate with the pink stripe of a tongue. I feel sorry for them and for what they’re missing out on; if not on the life that is created there on that page but the infinite journey that resides there, how it graces you with its presence so that you can go back to it countless times and relive it over and over again.

A country to call my own

The world expands in front of me on the page; it is a country I call my own, a country I call home. It holds me captive; it offers me magic, misery guts, mystery, sadness, angst; so many, many things. It is my winter guest, my heat and chemistry in summer, it is the salt on my tongue, the white feather nestled in my grasp, it is my fishes and loaves, it rooms in the inner sanctum of my mind with fine lines running tenderly between spite, hate, betrayal; powerful, magnificent, omnipotent and energetic. I have discovered throughout the decades that it is both haunting and wonderful to be blessed with this cerebral gift.

Words, they unleash forces beyond your control. For the creator, the writer, the poet must create a world unto himself. This is the fate and the burden of loss of love and the measure of love in the soul of the poet and the writer. These days we witness violence, aggression and eroticism on a daily basis whether we want to see it voraciously or not. It is slammed in our faces. Their developments are sometimes comic, serious and tragic. How we comprehend them is completely up to us; the audience, the reader.

Thinking aloud

What do good girls write about? Sylvia Plath taught me much about the good girl in ‘The bell jar’. They smile when inside they’re grimacing or cringing away, the hard lines of maturity only come later when they grow into middle age, they are not loud and they do not shout, they shun immature boys, they do not tempt strange men into conversation, flirt with them shamelessly, cavort with them in dark alleys and they are dull.

When you attempt to find out their opinion about something in the news they stare vacuously into space. Oh, how I knew those girls with names like ‘Louise’, ‘Chanel’, ‘Laverne’, ‘Shakira’ in high school. Strangely I find them in pieces of fleeting thought accidentally in incidents in my stories and poems. Even now I reach out to them. Why? Heaven knows but it comes with the territory of being a writer; your subconscious lets loose on you and yet there is still no letting go of the ego; even now after all these years, you still want, yearn to be popular too, part of the in-crowd.

I find myself writing for them. However much I was estranged from them in school halls, how I found their sexuality shocking, their ripped stockings; I still want after all this time their acceptance and to be apart of their group; their clique. It is still burned on my brain; this holy life experience that I endured simply and quietly. Not all writers of poetry are shunned at some point in their lives. Some are beautiful; some are athletic and startling handsome like Rupert Brooke.

But writing applauds loneliness, rejection, isolation and solitude. It calls it up even in children. Without those cruel experiences, those torments, growing up with adults who called their arguments ‘talking’ I would not be who I am today or write about what I write. Children are by their very nature cruel. Bullying comes naturally to some; timidity to others. Writing about bullying is like writing about losing one self to blackness, your reputation tarnished; no cracks of brilliant islands of sunlight shining through.

It comes unabashed with the territory of growing up. It doesn’t matter if it is in a hut in a rural village or kraal in somewhere on the war torn African continent or priviledged Europe or the decadent West; children live their own lives with the themes garnered in a spider’s web. What they accept to be popular is what comes easy to them to accept, pay attention to, listening to their peers. You’re either in or you’re out.

Poetry lovers

Where do you find poetry lovers? In bookstores, in libraries filled to the brim with people, fat, thin, of all shapes, colours and sizes hugging books to their chests. What is a poetry lover? They are lovers of the law of abundance that exists between the depths of words, the flood of mute words singularly or plural, in the stillness of air, grounded and independent. They celebrate the warm, tender comfort that engages them when they read. I could say so much more on this subject (it is one that is very close to my heart; it is one that is probably close to every reader of poetry who desires wholeheartedly to write like that contemporary or famous poet and who fervently struggle to find the words and to put them down frozen stiff on paper.)

It will remain so, the recurring patterns that the words hold for us so dearly in the clutches of those who come after us. There will be poets who drown in their sorrow and others who are licked into shape by it. Who knows why a poet writes? Mystics have some clue but sometimes their ideas are undermined by those who do not accept the fundamental basics of their religion. All poetry is, it can be argued, is a religion. Rumi and Khalil Gibran proved that. But by what right do I have to say that? It is only my intention to share some of my own individual ideas and thoughts on poetry.


What do people do? They raise families, grow their children up, up, teach them values. What do I do? I write about other people, raising their families, growing their children up, up; other people teaching their children values. I wade in their dirty laundry, the voluptuous curves and bouncing bosoms of aunties, the vocabulary of small children as they triumph over words like ‘dinosaur’ and ‘birthday cake’ and ‘God’. Their understanding of the world around them is not unlike that of a writer or poetry.

Their world can be fractured one minute, intricate the next. It comes with shifting spaces of the faint ridiculous and the flawed hilarious and intense imagination. God is not only in the details, He exists in the fearful trials of unrequited love, the very young, those who fail at reaching some grave success, some invention of it. Poverty will always exist so long as there is ignorance. God will only be summoned once pleasure is reached in the poet’s mind and heart of his/her work.


There are days when my psyche is left a vacant island, an empty room in which nothing blooms. Not even flowers undercover in a womb-like, electric blue sphere like where the sky burns during the day.

I cannot even spit out curse words or even dirty ones that strike some utilitarian chord with me like ‘sex’, ‘sexual’, ‘sexuality’. The bodies of those words are made out of glass ceilings or something inherently resembling smoke. You can look but you can’t feel and you certainly can’t touch. But words you can feel. It can resonate within you, touching you with flight, birth, glorious grace and mercy.

I was raised to be a good girl. I come from a holier than thou and conservative background. It was church and chicken and roast potatoes on Sundays. But there was still D. H. Lawrence and ‘Lady Chatterly’s lover’ and Jeanette Winterson’s

‘Written on the body’ and ‘Oranges are not the only fruit’ on the sideline which ultimately sidetracked me. Words are so, so intimate and fragile. They can be hostile too, frantic; hostile secret agents or they can just be waiting, biding their time to die, to slip off the page into solemn memory, living off borrowed time, finding their own rhythm like two chess players going through their paces. Words can be arrogant, their passing into futility jarring; how can they not change you irrevocably?

Good girls retain their virginity until they’re married. It was drummed into my head at school as was Keats’s, Milton and Shakespeare. They do not have children out of wedlock. They marry from their own folk. I learnt that there are poets who love to drink (Dylan Thomas), they smoke like chimneys and they go mad slowly. Few live to a ripe, old age. The very best of them are sensitive when it comes to love and to loss, they suffer from ill health, they purge every single emotion that they bravely face and it shows up, surfaces like an event magnificently in their writing.

Poets give of themselves emotionally and physically with a childlike awareness and innocence and purity, they give up their worlds, surrender it and have no further connection to it like a child who leaves his/her parents’ home an empty nest.

There are those who at their first going are roughly inexperienced; feel lost and bewildered; much like the first time writer of poetry. It is heavy work not harmonious at all; words do not cut through the air with ease the first, second or even the third time. Each time the poet faces that blank, sterile, sanitary canvas or a hospital gown that has yet to be worn of a page; the words are just beyond his grasp.

What I am trying to say here is that if you do not have swarms of opinions, how can your formulate words into a battle stream, a convoluted river, a sea of subtly arranged thought.

Sylvia Plath and Bessie Head

Words like ‘suicide’ and ‘depression are not always woven into the psychic consciousness of a poet like some vacant possession. Two women, both brilliant, both possessed by a gift from completely different upbringings and backgrounds suffered the same malaise. Words cannot describe it no matter how hard a writer of poetry or prose tries. I have gleaned much wisdom from their writing. First it comes in waves of stone. Then in agonising tides last but not least it comes, it hits you in the face like a slap you didn’t see coming; a packed tsunami.

Depression comes with an oppressive determination for some poets. There are others who are much luckier. They write from the point of view that everything around them is filled with beauty. They write ardently fashioning poetry and prose out of the treasure trove of a happy childhood. No Cheshire cats there.

Here I meet myself; in the layered supreme, in this heavenly paradise, realm and sphere, I embrace this country as my own and it embraces me.

The end

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