Tag Archives: Muriel Rukeyser

All Our Masks

One of the fun things about writing a blog is being able to write about whatever I want to write about ;). Today it’s poetry. Specifically the poetry of Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980).

Muriel Rukeyser

Muriel Rukeyser (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She’s one of my favorite poets.  Her most famous poem ended up creating a rallying cry for feminist scholars and women writers.

 The Poem as Mask

Orpheus

When I wrote of the women in their dances and
wildness, it was a mask,
on their mountain, gold-hunting, singing, in orgy,
it was a mask; when I wrote of the god,
fragmented, exiled from himself, his life, the love gone
down with song,
it was myself, split open, unable to speak, in exile from
myself.

There is no mountain, there is no god, there is memory
of my torn life, myself split open in sleep, the rescued
child
beside me among the doctors, and a word
of rescue from the great eyes.

No more masks! No more mythologies!

Now, for the first time, the god lifts his hand,
the fragments join in me with their own music.

Once, Rukeyser wrote about herself under the mask of myth. But now Rukeyser was throwing off the mask. She (and by extension, all women) could now show herself in print and in real life without masks.

Women no longer had to pretend to be what they were not.

Unfortunately, I think people are still wearing masks.

Today, it might be easier to have masks. We lurk behind social media, cell phones, and, yes, blogs, never fully showing ourselves without masks.

I will say that I think some masks are necessary, and that we have to protect ourselves.

But the masks Rukeyser is referring to are masks that deny who we truly are. For instance, she was a lesbian, and in a time when it was considered abnormal to be gay, homosexuality was one identity that many people felt forced to deny. A good mask to abandon.

In trying to figure out what masks I’ve worn, I think too often I have been in social settings where I didn’t feel comfortable being the nerd that I really am and have pretended to be more conventional and modulated, hiding my passions for nerdy pursuits like scholarship, writing, and poetry.

What masks have you worn that you have abandoned or want to abandon?

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Filed under Blogging, Poetry, Writing

Through the Woods in My Cape

Since I’m the new kid in town, I was thrilled to get an invitation from LouAnn at her blog, On the Homefront , to attend her Virtual Christmas Party on December 15.  Ok, I admit it: it’s true that she’s invited virtually everyone (or everyone virtual).  But I choose to think of it as a personal invitation since I enjoy her blog so much.  We’re simpatico (says me) since we share the name Luanne (which technically is the correct spelling, but please don’t mention that to LouAnn).

Party-goers are to come as their favorite author or character from a book.  We’re to bring a 1970s appetizer and a song request selected from specific artists.  As if I were planning a costume for a costume party, I’ve been obsessing over my masquerade identity for days.

It didn’t take me long to realize I want to attend as Little Red Riding Hood.  She’s my writing alter ego.  I figured this out after reading Tristine Rainer’s Your Life as Story.  In this fabulous book on writing memoir, Rainer describes how each writer (read: person) inherits a myth which forms a pattern for her own life.  It’s our duty as writers to understand this and not to get trapped in old patterns to the extent that we follow them to an unhappy conclusion.

IMG_5289

I could see right away, that though I was the princess who felt the pea under 4,000 mattresses and feather beds when I was a kid and Cinderella when I married a rescuing prince, my main storyline has been that of Little Red.  In my journeys as Red, I have travelled from the family home back to my grandmother’s home to save grandmother from her own sad story.  I’ve dodged the wolf many times.  There are hundreds of Little Red versions around the world, and they all have different endings.  I like that Little Red–whether she gets eaten, kills the wolf, or saves her siblings—remains tough and spunky.

Little Red is the pattern for my memoir Scrap.  In this first draft of my book the narrator describes this connection: “This past year, a girl in my kindergarten class had brought her doll for Show and Tell.  The little cloth Red Riding Hood was three dolls in one.  When you turned Little Red upside down, you pulled her skirt over her head, and on the other end you got Granny.  When you took off Granny’s cap and turned her around, it was the Wolf’s face on the reverse of Granny’s.  The difference between Granny and the Wolf was like the difference between Dad’s two sides.  I, of course, was Little Red Riding Hood.”

Facsimile 3-character doll: Little Red and Grandmother

3-character doll: the wolf

Facsimile 3-character doll: the wolf

For years I collected Little Red dolls, without understanding why.  When I taught college-level children’s literature, we read and compared many versions of the fairy tale.  I’m not sure if Red’s story became mine because reading the Little Golden Book version was one of my earliest memories, although it’s certainly possible.

What I do know is that I won’t be attending LouAnn’s party as Nancy Drew or Judy Bolton, as Catherine Earnshaw or Lucy Snowe, as Emily Dickinson or Muriel Rukeyser.  I’m going as Little Red Riding Hood and if my cape and hood look particularly Christmassy, that will just be the frosting on the Christmas cookie.

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Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Memoir writing theory