marlene mountain
february 1987


an outer:review

PISSED OFF POEMS AND CROSS WORDS by Marlene Mountain, $6.00 ($5.00 within the haiku community) plus 73c postage.

A few years ago a commentator on a radio program told of a profound enlightenment in her life. It caused her to see what patriarchal culture was and how it perpetuated itself in/through literature and all the arts--how everything was one-sided, i.e., Male. That women had been devalued in art and as artists (when they were 'allowed' to be artists); that women had hidden their work in a drawer, or had written under a male name; that those who saw the hopeless situation didn't bother to try and/or having tried, committed suicide 1. This awareness of reality--real reality--caused her to destroy all the books in her library.

My heart raced. Many a time I had wanted to do the same thing with a whole wall of such books. Sometimes I had thought of giving them to the Salvation Army or to the local library, but that just would have further shared the lies and denigrations. The other option I considered was to burn them. That sounded good--but, THEY are BOOKS, I would always get back to saying. Then, I thought, when/if my son goes to college/becomes a reader, we'll just have to spend money to get them again. On his reading them, I reasoned I could at least point out a few things about them. For years I saw it all as a moral dilemma but could make no move--and still they sit, taking up needed space and gathering dust (occasionally one read 'just to see').

The commentator went on to say that she eventually regretted her decision, and was slowly rebuilding her library. Damn, I thought, I've lost a hero (read: hera).

What in the world one might still be asking would cause a woman to go so far as to destroy her books? Well, that full explanation is a book (more like a thousand) in itself. But to go on. In lieu of burning books--Great Books, some have oddly called them--which are blatantly degrading or carefully subtle about it, a woman's other avenue is to write a book or two of her own.

It would not erase the pain these 'masterpieces' have caused, nor would it undo the damage done by misogynist cultures to Shakespeare's 'sister' 2 and to all other sisters, mothers, wives, lovers and daughters for untold generations who weren't allowed the chance to make art, nor would it recognize all those women who wrote, half-wrote, or created the idea for the books for which males ('grateful thanks to my wife who did the typing' ad nauseam) took sole credit. But it is a beginning.

Winter 80/81, knowing better but unable to express what I meant and really felt, and finding no true models for content change, I wrote:

'life hard' not zen not haiku she says to blinding snow 3

November/84, in my notebook I scrawled what I had for some time finally and fully realized, yet was still unnerved by:

haiku how life can change it

PISSED OFF POEMS AND CROSS WORDS, in which this latter poem appears, is an Allowing. I allowed myself, through considerable pain, cold feet, misgivings, and intimidation--real or imagined 4, to write about certain aspects of life, and how I see them, in particular as they effect women. The Allowing had trickled out over the years, then WHAM, the Allowing burst out. I finally broke through the oppressiveness of haiku---the grand and deceiving generations-old concept of Shut Up, sometimes called 'wordlessness' or 'no thought' or 'egolessness' or 'the haiku spirit' and other such strange words.

WHAT? you say. But I go on. To ask some questions long overdue in the haiku community. When we write--having been told by Various Sources representing The Great Far East's Established Truth regarding what haiku is--do we really mean 'moments keenly perceived' or do we mean 'nice moments keenly perceived'? Do we really mean 'the here and now' or 'the pleasant here and now'? Do we really mean 'things as they are' or 'attractive things as they are'? And so on and on. Should we dump these Grand Concepts if we really don't mean them, or should we truly mean them and embrace them fully?

(Then there's the unfortunate 'haiku is about nature, but not about human nature' Concept. But that belongs in another discussion.)

To ask it simply: Are we half poets?

Often at the end of a review, there is a statement 'Buy this book.' I would make the same suggestion. POP&CW is a book which can collect dust on the bookshelf, which can be burned, or which can be read as how one woman has expressed in haiku some of that Other stuff.

1 These things may not have been said precisely, but were inherent. 2 Virginia Woolf, A ROOM OF ONE'S OWN. 3 Frogpond 4:2 1981. 4 'How many times have I edited myself today?' Beverly Nadis speaking of women's self-censorship, Women's Caucus for Art, NYC, 1986

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