Feminist Boot Camp #89: Know Your Materials

–Eva Hesse’s Materials
As Woolf said, words fail us. Words fail us because they are so common. Because they have been the mouths of generations before us. And now around us. Everyone sucking on them. People you admire and people you wouldn’t think to share a common language with. But you do. Words, common as ideas. We use them for the most banal forms of communication. We use them daily. We use them often without thinking. We want to write and yet we don’t stop and think about the molecular structure of our language. Never mind the meaning. Or what we can mean. Or how we can shift the word back into a more permanent or less permanent meaning. We eat them. We choke on them. If we allow ourselves to be aware of their shapes. Like eating a game of Jacks. They bounce around in us. Or they don’t. Do we let ourselves be aware of language? How it is gestating?
And what is the exact elasticity of your form? How do you take a sonnet and reinvent the shape and weight of the iambic line? How do you own erasure after Jen Bervin? Or lipograms after Christian Bok?  How do you take the domestic and make it something more than the Toys R Us version of childhood? What does it take to transform motherhood into art?  How do you make your insights about grief more than a Hallmark moment? All around the shapes of feelings gather in piles like seeds and the chafing of old women. Even the squirrels are more diligent about picking through the images. A young sparrow chases a feather into traffic. Desperate for that particular shape.
Know your materials. Stretch them into new shapes. If your poem feels comfortable. If it doesn’t astonish you, kiss it, thank it for taking you this far, and then let it go. Walk away. Walk away into the unknown. Look closer at your materials and begin again.
-Sina Queyras, Montreal, 7:32 am

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