We Are Nobody's Darling

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Being a poet affords an artistic licence, moulding of language, and ...perhaps, insanity, that not all other writers are afforded. Most often, the lauded poets of our age are often men, and the women who are, can be boxed into women who write exclusively about their own pain (for more, definitely read Empathy Exams!) as a direct consequence of being a woman. This, it is considered, is a narrow range.

I have grown up around poetry - from my dad's own writing, to his morning recitations of Dylan Thomas, waxing lyrical has been a constant soundtrack, as it were, to my growing up. My dad's feminist streak made me aware of Plath, Dillard, and Dickinson -- women poets were always on our radar. This exposure encouraged me to write - not just poetry, but in general.

Poetry speaks to the soul in a way a lot of other writing cannot. It can use troupes, clichés, and the most stretched of metaphors in all seriousness or complete self-irony. It can move between tenses, points of view, and worlds with no more than a semicolon.

I am freak user of words, not a poet.

Yesterday was National Poetry Day, and at work Radio 6 played the People's Poetry List - a brilliant collection of mashed up poetry and music, but what I found so often was that the poetry that was being recited was written by men. And, for the times women poets were mentioned (cheers, Ryan Adams) were in an objectifying way. A longing to have Sylvia Plath because she might provide the protagonist with ...something, is a world away from Richard Burton reading Dylan Thomas.

As a lover of Sylvia Plath, when the song came on the radio I rolled my eyes. Plath has become a symbol, a pariah, and a role model for a lot of people. What Ryan Adam's song does is fetishise Plath, and that I cannot abide. Women's work is seen as so intrinsic to their womanliness that they become a symbol instead of a person; a thing to be admired, lusted after, acquired, picked apart, understood -- sometimes discarded and sometimes revered. Shrugging off a writer like Plath as 'a product of her womanhood' is dismissive and counterproductive to the whole exercise of poetry.

Luckily we live in a time with poets like Alice Walker -- who has taken her life, which is inseparable from her being African American and a woman, and turned it into beautifully worded works of incredible power. The best poets can offer us catharsis, ecstasy, understanding. They can unsettle us, make us see the world through someone else's eyes, open a door into a world we would never know. It teaches. We should encourage more women to write about their lives instead of thinking that their experiences are inconsequential.

Alice Walker says it best:

Be Nobody's Darling

Be nobody's darling; Be an outcast. Take the contradictions Of your life And wrap around You like a shawl, To parry stones To keep you warm. Watch the people succumb To madness With ample cheer; Let them look askance at you And you askance reply. Be an outcast; Be pleased to walk alone (Uncool) Or line the crowded River beds With other impetuous Fools.

Make a merry gathering On the bank Where thousands perished For brave hurt words They said.

But be nobody's darling; Be an outcast. Qualified to live Among your dead.