Saturday, October 2, 2021

I spent much of yesterday reading contest manuscripts and (sob) tearing out my six tomato plants--a sad but necessary job, as they were clearly exhausted. I picked off a good deal of unripened fruit, enough to fill a half-bushel basket. Only some of the greenies have any ripening potential, so today I'll start cooking down the runts for northcountry tomatillo sauce. I've got more stuff to do outside too: transplanting kale and winter broccoli, ripping out some dried-up flowers and possibly the peppers . . . The list is much longer, but none of it is urgent--more like a slow seasonal windup, an amble toward winter, shutting down the summer cottage, turning off the lights.

While I was immersed in my housekeeper duties, I started rereading Susan Strasser's Never Done: A History of American Housework, a complex and well-written exploration of not only the shifts in household burdens since the colonial era but also how those changes linked to industry, public health, economics, and corporate marketing. From the beginning, housewives have been at the mercy of the salesman--eager for anything that might relieve them from the brutal labor of hauling water, slops, and fuel. Yet here I am, blithely turning on a single burner of a spotless electric stovetop in order to make a cup of tea. Nobody in 1860 could turn on a single burner. Nobody could waste time and fuel just to make a personal cup of tea. Women felt lucky to possess a stove at all, given that their mothers and grandmothers had cooked in open fireplaces.

But in addition to all of this housework study and action,  I've still got my word work brewing. I spent time on my draft yesterday, adding new stanzas and then moving around the order to see how each episode might talk to the others. One thing I noticed was that as soon as I started moving the order, the pronouns took on new power: I had to really begin to think about I, you, they, not just as generalizations but as speaking and listening voices with a dramatic relationship to one another. Pronouns are so powerful, but they are also traps. Sometimes you in a poem is way to avoid saying the riskier I.  Sometimes you is a way to pontificate, or to avoid creating an individual character. Sometimes they bestows victimization status on the speaker or allows the poet to evade close examination of self-other issues. The traps are myriad, yet pronouns are also an elegant and efficient way to consider and invoke community and individual relationships without boxing these explorations into explicit fictions, as proper names and specific nouns can do.

1 comment:

Carlene Gadapee said...

Thanks for the micro-class in pronouns. Of course you are right; I feel like I should go through my poems just to scan for pronouns and the work they may or may not be doing.

It's a cold, drizzly day, and I, too, need to do some garden clean-up. Maybe I need to do some poem clean-up, as well.