Sunday, January 01, 2006

The Little Poem that Couldn't

Have you ever written a poem you liked a lot, but that nobody would ever, ever publish no matter how much you tried? Well, that's the theme of this month's entry. I always put a fresh batch of magazine and journal submissions together in January, and instead of trying one more time to get the poem below published, I'm giving up and choosing to post it here instead. Basically, I want to know why nobody wants it.

The Stepford Widow

After the dollmaker’s death, we tried
to find his suicidal wife—
under every high window there
was a life-sized porcelain model of her.
A decapitation in the kitchen,
torso on the floor and head in the oven,
all clothed in Victorian lace.
Hard whiteness under a veil of light—
a dead man’s ideal of womanhood
from which the widow banished herself.
Who can live on when the man
who played god, or Pygmalion, enters
his own perfection, no longer mediating
between the human and pristine beauty?
She hangs in effigy from the rafters,
but she has vanished all the same.
Had she been a prisoner all this time?
Or was there a narcissism that kept her here
till her charmed admirer was gone;
and was she ashamed to be left alone
with her twins and an archaic dream?
And will these dolls, suddenly reminded
of their firm, artificial limbs,
rise and let themselves be guided,
like Stepford wives, to unbroken homes?

Is it obscure? I thought most would know what a Stepford Wife was, and thus could imagine a Stepford widow. Perhaps I'm wrong, or perhaps the poem just doesn't work on some other level. It's weird, because for me it was all very compelling: the images were vivid and commanding as I wrote, and the ending unforced.

I suppose there's a danger in writing an obviously "feminist" poem like this one, especially if you're not a woman. And especially if the message isn't entirely clear, which it may not be here. If I had to boil it down, I'd say the poem's about the dangers that being an artist can pose to other people (one's "Muse," for instance).


Blogger Victor Schnickelfritz said...

I have to say that I like this poem too. There is a great intensity throughout, and I especially like the shift in focus that comes in line 18 that she actually enjoyed the dollmaker's efforts to capture her, and this is why she stayed on. I admit that this section had to be read a little more slowly to arrive at your point. But, I don't think, it was incomprehensible. [Personally, though, I am always deathly afraid that an editor without much time who hits a snag in a piece will give up on it.] I don't know if this section rises to the level of snag, but it does require a ritardo.

I very much like the macabre aspect of the dolls {i.e. the others we create?} getting up and taking on a life of their own.

As for giving up on sending it out? I'm not sure that it won't just need an editor who is willing to spend some time with it.

I have a piece like that entitled "Hölderlin's Garden" that I've loved for years. It's about Hölderlin's obsession with the word of God and his madness brought on by the loss of his first beloved to, of all things, a banker.

I shoppped it around for years. It has made at least four, maybe five, circuits through submissions. I gave it a couple of years off. Then, this week, John Matthias at Notre Dame Review accepted it. It is a strange land. Timing is so important. Perhaps this new year doesn't deserve this poem yet.

10:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The language seems pretentious and too academic. Try to unveil your language. You are a professor but you don't have to keep reiterating this fact in your poetry. Your comments about Stepford Wives also lends to an air of pomposity...

10:34 PM  

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