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Why I Like Arielle Greenberg; Or, I Hope The Reason I Like Arielle Greenberg Doesn’t Make Me a Sexist

with 2 comments

First of all, here’s a poem, copied directly from here:

Maybe two people went walking and maybe it was quiet. Maybe there were birds quitting morning work. Maybe there was a pond. Certainly there was a pond. Maybe there were ducks, frogs, lilies. Certainly there was a trail leading out of the woods and into an archetype. Certainly there was a villain. Maybe it was cold. Certainly it was Halloween and certainly that means something about the dead who have come before. Maybe it was a good day for dying. Certainly someone was to die. Certainly around the world many people died. Anyway. Maybe the doctor and his wife were taking a longer walk, because there was a plan. Maybe the doctor and his wife were taking a shorter walk, because it was cold and her back ached. Certainly the doctor and his wife took a walk. Maybe the wife walking a path already had that trouble in mind trouble in mind. Maybe the wrongness was already creeping in the minute they left their car with the dog to walk the path they so often walked it was known to them both. Maybe before a person dies they know it in their head like a strange cough or a song. Anyway. Certainly the doctor and his wife took a walk. Maybe the wife said no, no, you walk on with the dog to the doctor when her back ached and he left her side. Maybe at a certain point the doctor left his wife’s side. Maybe they agreed to meet in a bit by the road. Maybe he made an excuse to her. Maybe he slipped back around another trail. Maybe he never left her side. Maybe he left her side and did not see her again until she lay still upon the ground. Certainly she lay still upon the ground.

I very much like this poem.  It gets an A.  It’s by a poet called Arielle Greenberg who, according to her website, was born in Columbus, Ohio in 1972 and got her MFA in poetry from Syracuse University.  Sometime last year I read  her book Given, and became particularly smitten with a poem that began, “Lets make out in a new and interesting way tonight” (title, book currently unavailable to me (I never bought it)).  That line embodies much of what I like about Greenberg’s poetry.  In one sense it’s what I like about poetry in general (the clever turning of common phrase into unique and poignant statement), but there’s also something particularly “Greenbergian” to it.  It’s ebullient, and a little flirty.  It’s very precious.

Now, to be honest, it concerns me a bit to recognize that I am drawn to Greenberg’s poetry because of the preciousness of its cleverness.  To call someone’s cleverness “precious” itself sounds a tad condescending, and I also worry what it says about me that I sincerely believe Greenberg’s poetry to be inherently “feminine.”  What does that even mean, feminine poetry?  While I can’t say how I’d react to Greenberg’s poetry if she were a man, I can say I have read many women poets and not considered their poetry feminine in any pronounced way.

On the other hand, there are a number of male poets I would accuse of leaning toward the feminine side.  e.e. cummings comes to mind, and of course Walt Whitman (whose Leaves of Grass should have been cited when, I think it was de Beauvoir, claimed that womenness was “flying, encompassing, lending”).  Personally, I would describe feminine writing as coming from a worldview in which the universe is known through its reflection on the self, where life ultimately trumps death (“Certainly around the world many people died.  Anyway.”)

So having displayed my prejudice and ignorance for all to criticise, what can I say in my defense?  I suppose my only complaint against being labeled a sexist, or a misogynist, or worst, an anti-feminist, would be that…I think the feminine worldview I’ve described very often appears in my own writing.  We’ve reached a point (call it the post-political correctness world) wherein the terms “woman” and “man” are still incredibly difficult to dissect (perhaps moreso than ever), but terms like “masculine” and “feminine” can be used as descriptive tools rather than ultimate labels.  That’s a boon to writers and readers alike.  Even if I all the girl poetry I dig is precious.

The best place to find quality Greenberg poety is right on her website, ArielleGreenberg.com

UPDATE: Greenberg has chastised me (rightfully) for not mentioning her more recent book, My Kafka Century, which perhaps I will soon read and write about.


Written by Peter Kelly

April 9, 2009 at 3:48 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , ,

2 Responses

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  1. Hi, this is Arielle. “Precious” and “clever” are words that make me a little worried, actually, for obvious reasons, but I think they are also apt for some of my earlier work. I wish you’d read my second book, My Kafka Century, which I think has less of both. (That book is already quite old, by the way–it came out in 2005, and Given came out in 2002, so it’s a little odd to hear the work discussed as if it’s recent! I’ve written a lot since that first book!) But I do think all my work is quite gendered, and woman-centered, if not feminine.

    Hey, also, can I say that if you love someone’s work, it’s nice to buy the books! I say this for my press, not myself (since poets don’t generally make money off their books anyway). If poets who love other poets’ work don’t buy their books, who will?! And small poetry presses need the support to stay afloat.

    Anyway, thanks so much for reading my work and being so thoughtful about it.



    April 10, 2009 at 1:19 pm

  2. Thank you for your comment Arielle! I concur that it’s important to buy the work you like. I’m going to add a link to where your books are on sale, which I normally do when I discuss specific authors but somehow forgot with your post (I guess all the gender trouble got me bewildered).

    I didn’t buy your book when I read it because, well, I was in college and I was broke. And so were my friends. So I would buy one book, they would buy another, and we would share. In hard times, nerds make do.

    I’d like to read your new book. Think I can find it at The Strand?


    April 10, 2009 at 3:02 pm

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