Bit of news first as it’s been a long time since I posted a blog…my first short story collection, flesh to bone was published by Aunt Lute Books…Order here for a special discounted new release rate: http://store.auntlute.com/flesh-to-bone-p240.html
And…my first published essay was recently translated and published in Mexico’s Revista Sincope (special Chican@ issue):
Original text in English below:
Reflections on mothers, fathers, poets, and the androgynous mind….
by ire’ne lara silva
“Poetry ought to have a mother as well as a father.” –Virginia Woolf
I think mother and I think Amá, my mother. I think father and I think Apá, my father. Now that they are both dead, every thought of them is rendered a one-sided conversation. I can ask questions. I don’t know if they hear them. Though I refine and refine my questions, I won’t ever hear another answer. Lately, it seems I am always talking about them and their relation to creating, to art, to wanting.
I wrote a poem about the quality of my mother’s wanting— how she was an unrecognized artist, how she channeled an immense energy for art-making, for beauty into raising a family, making a home, gardening, making quilts, and cooking meals…and the high regard she had for her own spirituality. She cared for everything around her. She breathed life and intention into everything she did.
My father, on the other hand, did not. The only thing I ever saw him care for were machines. The trucks that made up his business. I never heard him pray, not even when he was ill. Never heard him say anything that would lead me to think he believed spirit existed. His only pure joy was dancing. He could light up an entire dance hall with the energy that shone through him when he was dancing. I remember a dance at the local Catholic Church reception hall when I was eight. My brother and I watched from the food counter as my father led everyone there in a huapango, his black booted feet summoning thunder that made the roof shake. He always said he wanted to sing. That he would have wanted to be part of a conjunto playing polkas and cumbias and corridos everywhere they went. But he never learned how to read, and he couldn’t see how he could learn so many songs without knowing how to read. He had a powerful voice, but he never trained it, never nurtured it, never explored it to see if it had limits, never poured himself into his singing.
I found words when I was five. I poured myself into them. They have been escape. Freedom. Healing. Wholeness. When I have words, I am alive. When I have no words, I am dying. So it makes sense to me that I have given my life over to words, to becoming a conduit.
i never had dolls that were babies
i never gave one a bottle
or changed its diaper or heard it cry
though when i was a baby i was given a small cloth-covered bear
with B A B Y scripted across its soft belly
when i was five my mother opened it along its seams
and changed out the cotton stuffing
B A B Y made new made soft again
she stitched it closed
B A B Y still bears the scars
Poets make poems. Poems are only barely tangible. In order to make poems, poets must learn ‘to make,’ as much as that work may involve re-making. My parents were the first to teach me how to make and re-make things. How to see things as compilations of their parts. How to re-imagine them.
Poetry is and is not made of words on a page. Is and is not the sound of those words spoken. Is and is not the meaning of those words—received or refused. Is and is not the white space, the silent space, the absence or presence of understanding. Poetry is and is not the emotion conjured by word and sound and meaning.
We work with words but forget—daily—what words truly are. They are not solid, not blocks, not dead things. They are not live things either. Words are conduits. Words are vessels for the lightning. For the rare moments of naked perception, naked knowing, naked being. For the truth of living.
Poets are not solid things. Poets are conduits. Poets are vessels. We judge them as we would other conduits, other vessels—how strong are they? how much can they carry? how durable are they? how much heat/energy/etc. do they let through? And also, how sympathetic is their energy to ours? This is how we find the poets we love. The poets who teach us. The poets who spark the current within us until it, in turn, must also speak, must also begin shaping itself into a conduit.
The poetry I love is the poetry that is infused with spirit, inseparable from spirit.
spirit without body spirit born of body
body with name without name
are my fingers woman are my eyes woman
are my ears man are my feet man
what is the body if the light comes through
I’ve always been fascinated by Virginia Woolf’s discussion of Coleridge’s ‘androgynous mind’…the womanmanly mind and the manwomanly mind, especially this quote: “If one is a man, still the woman part of his brain must have effect; and a woman also must have intercourse with the man in her. Coleridge perhaps meant this when he said that a great mind is androgynous. It is when this fusion takes place that the mind is fully fertilized and uses all its faculties. Perhaps a mind that is purely masculine cannot create, any more than a mind that is purely feminine.”
Everything I had ever read until I read those words expressed sharp divisions between a man’s mind and a woman’s mind…and therefore, a man’s writing and a woman’s writing. I have often thought that women’s and men’s mind overlap more than we are willing to believe. And it makes sense to me that a wholly masculine mind or a wholly feminine mind would not be able to create. Though I think this is due more to what qualities we associate with ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ or ‘mother’ and ‘father.’ Masculine/Father: logic, strength, objectivity, structure. Feminine/Mother: intuition, vulnerability, subjectivity, organic creation. Poetry requires balance and tension. Poetry requires the individual calibration that each writer arrives at after incorporating the masculine and the feminine. In writing, as in life, we can become easily stifled by what is expected of us when we must perform as anything less than the unique balance we have achieved.
which ones to heed
which ones to kill
which ones to venerate
which ones to cannibalize
which ones to become
What do we retain? What do we shed? If the Canon= Father, then does that render everything else our Mother? Is that why writing by women, by Third World writers, by writers of color, by working class writers, by LGBT writers is not as valued by the dominant/mainstream literary world? Poetry—or writing—without a mother leads to a skewed world, to a narrowed humanity. Our spirits require more light than that.
I feel extremely fortunate to be a writer, a lesbian woman of color writer from a working class background, in this time—when powerful writers have come before and created a space for me and my words. Even a few decades ago, the challenges facing me would have been exponentially more difficult.
And I am so privileged to know so many women of my own generation who are daily pushing the boundaries of their creativity, imagination, and abilities. It inspires me to see them flourish. It inspires me to read their new works. I am inspired by the desire to share my work with them.
But we aren’t just following the writers who have come before—we are making and re-making language and literature as our conduit-selves demand. In that work, we are deciding what to retain and what to shed of what we have received from our real and literary mothers and fathers. In the heat of our wanting, whole traditions must be destroyed. And at other times, we must eat the hearts of those literary bodies, hoping to absorb some of their fearlessness, inventiveness, and power.