Liz’s Weekend Poetry Series: Misogyny

by lizard

This week I’m glad to see end for various reasons included the birthday of the notorious Charles Bukowski (August 16th), so naturally I figured if nothing else came up, a celebration of this grit-driven poet would be fun to put together. I could start by describing my introduction to the dirty old man during my first summer in Missoula—the summer that saw a downtown riot, blazing wild fires, and clusters of Rainbow kids left over from their Montana gathering. I partied with these random dudes at their Northside pad, and after the joint made its rounds, one of ’em snatched up a book and started a boisterous performance. I was floored.

So yes, this week’s LWPS will include a Bukowski poem or two, but a recent back and forth got me thinking about something else. I found myself in the peculiar position of defending my appreciation for the imaginative writing of fantasy author George R.R. Martin, who has come under some criticism for the serial adaptation of his book series, A Song of Ice and Fire.

The criticism leveled against Martin claims his material is misogynistic…so when I held him up as an example of imagination, the implication leveled against me is that my imagination is tainted by that alleged misogyny.

In a recent Google-driven question/answer session, Martin had this to say:

Martin, asked about whether he has any insight into women in power — since he writes so many of them — ends up talking about the demands of power in general.

“I don’t know if I have any particular views about women in positions of power, though I do think it’s more difficult for women, particularly in a Medieval setting,” he says. “They have the additional problem that they’re a woman and people don’t want them in a position of power in an essentially patriarchal society.”

But what seems to be closer to his heart, is the notion that anyone who must wield power will face enormous challenges.

You have to “show that this stuff is hard,” he says. “An awful lot of fantasy, and even some great fantasy, falls into the mistake of assuming that a good man will be a good king, that all that is necessary is to be a decent human being and when you’re king everything will go swimmingly.”

Even Tolkien, who he respects greatly (“All modern fantasy flows from Tolkien, he says), has this problem.

“Aragorn is king now and the land will propser and the crops will be good and justice for all and the enemies will all be defeated,” he says of the ending of The Return of the King. “You never get into the nitty gritty of Aragorn ruling and what is his tax policy and what are his views on crop rotation — these are the hard parts of ruling, be it the middle ages or now.”

For anyone familiar with the series (the book one, not the tv one) gender and power have a dynamic interaction across the field of main characters, and the existence of strong female characters should be taken into consideration for those who would try to insinuate and (character) assassinate.

With Martin’s criticism of misogyny in mind, I should probably pose the following question: should I celebrate Charles Bukowski? Because the man wasn’t always a gentleman, and in fact, in uglier moments caught on tape, was terribly abusive, especially toward women. Though the following clip is hard to watch, it’s a part of who and what this writer is.

How respond? There are too many examples of his verse that echo his (drunken) actions.

This poem from Love Is A Dog From Hell uncomfortably compliments the video.

me

women don’t know how to love,
she told me.
you know how to love
but women just want to
leech.
I know this because I’m a
woman.

hahaha, I laughed.

so don’t worry about your breakup
with Susan
because she’ll just leech onto
somebody else.

we talked a while longer
then I said goodbye
hungup
went into the crapper and
took a good beershit
mainly thinking, well,
I’m still alive
and have the ability to expell
wastes from my body.
and poems.
and as long as that’s happening
I have the ability to handle
betrayal
loneliness
hangnail
clap
and the economic reports in the
financial section.

with that
I stood up
wiped
flushed
then thought:
it’s true:
I know how to
love

I pulled up my pants and walked
into the other room.

—Charles Bukowski

*

To counter this nasty depiction, a poem by Sharon Olds

A Woman In Heat Wiping Herself

High in the inner regions of my body
this gloss is spun, high up
under the overhanging ledge where the
light pours down on the cliff night and day.
No workers stand around in the
camaraderie of workers,
no one lays the color down on the
lip of the braid, there is only the light,
band and folds of light, and the clean
sand at the edge, the working surface—there is
no one around for miles, no one hungry,
no one being fed. Just as in the side of the
lamb no one is tending the hole where the
light pours out, no one is folding or
carding while the gold grease of the floss
flows through the follicle, beading and ripple back and
curving forward in solemn spillage.
Things done with no reference to the human.
Most things are done with no reference to the human
even if they happen inside us, in our
body that is far beyond our powers, that we could
never invent. Deep in my sex, the
glittering threads are thrown outward and thrown outward
the way the sea lifts up the whole edge of its body,
the rim, the slit where once or twice in a lifetime
you can look through and see the other world—
it is this world, without us,
this earth and our bodies
without us watching.

—Sharon Olds

*

With the image of Bukowski’s actual violence firmly established, could even one of his best poems offset his documented behavior? I don’t know. But this is where he tries:

Bluebird

there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
I say, stay in there, I’m not going
to let anybody see
you.

there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I pour whiskey on him and inhale
cigarette smoke
and the whores and the bartenders
and the grocery clerks
never know that
he’s
in there.
there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
I say,
stay down, do you want to mess
me up?
you want to screw up the
works?
you want to blow my book sales in
Europe?

there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too clever, I only let him out
at night sometimes
when everybody’s asleep.
I say, I know that you’re there,
so don’t be
sad.
then I put him back,
but he’s singing a little
in there, I haven’t quite let him
die
and we sleep together like
that
with our
secret pact
and it’s nice enough to
make a man
weep, but I don’t
weep, do
you?

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  1. Lizard, I appreciate the poems. Good stuff. I think, however, that Bukowski was in now way a misogynist. And not to go all Harold Bloom on you, but I think the contemporary (or perhaps colloquial) use of the word “misogynist” dumbs-down the English language. That is to say, one can be sexist without being misogynistic as one can be prejudiced without being racist.

    The conflation of words diminishes the dialogue. I think that might be intentional at times.

    • lizard19

      i don’t think either authors i mentioned hate or mistrust women (the definition of misogyny) but both authors have done things to provoke that accusation.

      and it’s good to point out the distinction between misogyny and sexism. one of the definitions of sexism both men could be more accurately pegged with:

      behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex.

      i’m not sure how i feel about that. might make for a good discussion. one i hope some women could chime in on.

      • Lizard, I politely submit that the distinction made here, and a discussion of it, has been suggested to you before. Your response was to dismiss such distinction, dismiss any discussion, dismiss others who have brought the topic up and assert your rights to act juvenile on the Internet. All well and good. But, as I have before, I would happy to provide a wealth of resources and locals where such a discussion takes place on an almost daily basis. It is a good discussion; and whether men hope so or not, lots of women tend to “chime in”.

  2. Shit: “now way” s/b “no way”.

  3. flaws are what create art. talent infuses it with life. but the flaws are necessary to provide the spark; the reason for creating it.

  4. lizard19

    someone on twitter today linked to a letter Nick Cave sent MTV in response to his nomination for best male artist in 1996.

    it provides an interesting look into how this particular artist relates to his muse:

    TO ALL THOSE AT MTV,

    I WOULD LIKE TO START BY THANKING YOU ALL FOR THE SUPPORT YOU HAVE GIVEN ME OVER RECENT YEARS AND I AM BOTH GRATEFUL AND FLATTERED BY THE NOMINATIONS THAT I HAVE RECEIVED FOR BEST MALE ARTIST. THE AIR PLAY GIVEN TO BOTH THE KYLIE MINOGUE AND P. J. HARVEY DUETS FROM MY LATEST ALBUM MURDER BALLADS HAS NOT GONE UNNOTICED AND HAS BEEN GREATLY APPRECIATED. SO AGAIN MY SINCERE THANKS.

    HAVING SAID THAT, I FEEL THAT IT’S NECESSARY FOR ME TO REQUEST THAT MY NOMINATION FOR BEST MALE ARTIST BE WITHDRAWN AND FURTHERMORE ANY AWARDS OR NOMINATIONS FOR SUCH AWARDS THAT MAY ARISE IN LATER YEARS BE PRESENTED TO THOSE WHO FEEL MORE COMFORTABLE WITH THE COMPETITIVE NATURE OF THESE AWARD CEREMONIES. I MYSELF, DO NOT.

    I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN OF THE OPINION THAT MY MUSIC IS UNIQUE AND INDIVIDUAL AND EXISTS BEYOND THE REALMS INHABITED BY THOSE WHO WOULD REDUCE THINGS TO MERE MEASURING. I AM IN COMPETITION WITH NO-ONE.
    MY RELATIONSHIP WITH MY MUSE IS A DELICATE ONE AT THE BEST OF TIMES AND I FEEL THAT IT IS MY DUTY TO PROTECT HER FROM INFLUENCES THAT MAY OFFEND HER FRAGILE NATURE.

    SHE COMES TO ME WITH THE GIFT OF SONG AND IN RETURN I TREAT HER WITH THE RESPECT I FEEL SHE DESERVES – IN THIS CASE THIS MEANS NOT SUBJECTING HER TO THE INDIGNITIES OF JUDGEMENT AND COMPETITION.

    MY MUSE IS NOT A HORSE AND I AM IN NO HORSE RACE AND IF INDEED SHE WAS, STILL I WOULD NOT HARNESS HER TO THIS TUMBREL – THIS BLOODY CART OF SEVERED HEADS AND GLITTERING PRIZES. MY MUSE MAY SPOOK! MAY BOLT! MAY ABANDON ME COMPLETELY!

    SO ONCE AGAIN, TO THE PEOPLE AT MTV, I APPRECIATE THE ZEAL AND ENERGY THAT WAS PUT BEHIND MY LAST RECORD, I TRULY DO AND SAY THANK YOU AND AGAIN I SAY THANK YOU BUT NO…NO THANK YOU.

    i don’t know what kind of muse Nick Cave was running with back in 1996, but if it’s anything like this heathen child, i doubt she spooks easily.

  1. 1 An April Feast Of Poetry « 4&20 blackbirds

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  2. 2 Liz’s Weekly Poetry Series: Anticipating April | 4&20 blackbirds

    […] Misogyny […]

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