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Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Occupation: Poet

My friend Helen Patrice (aka Satyapriya) is at present on retreat somewhere in North America. This is a recent blog post from her, which she says I may share here:

Sitting above the valley of the creek, I am writing in my journal. A woman stops being dragged about the park by her black dog, and we chat. She smiles at me indulgently.
"So, what do you do?"
"I'm a poet."
I let it hang there, for the first time ever. No adding on 'dance tutor' or 'yogini' or 'columnist' or 'single mother'.
An even more indulgent smile from her. "And what does your husband think of that?"
It is obvious that, to her, I fancy myself a poet in my off hours, and am a lucky, indulged stay-at-home wife. She is having a day off work while the office hires professional movers to shift everything to a new building. She WORKS.
I do not have a husband. Have not had one for 16 years. I oscillate between wanting one, and not.
The man I am living with these past ten days could pass as a husband if I let him. Very occasionally I think of him that way, when my mind slips out of gear, and I let down my pointed, jagged guard.
"He likes it just fine," I say. "I earn my keep."
I do not earn much from poetry. I earn something from being a columnist. I once was paid $150 for a ten line poem. If I could get that every day, I'd be laughing.
That shuts her up. She sees only that I am sitting in the sunshine, on a yoga mat, looking out over the valley, a packet of cherries and a bottle of water by my side.
She does not see that every day I wrestle with my pen and page to make them sketch out, in wordplay, the feeling in my head. My arm muscles are the match of any man's, so hard is my work. At the end of each day, if I am lucky, is a pale resemblance to what was inside, and I am empty of anything but the touch of the Goddess. If I am not lucky, I have before me a twitching wretched mess that has no life but will not die.
There is no holiday pay, no sick leave, no bereavement days.
I would have no other job.
The woman and her black dog walk on.


I want to share it because:
a) I think it’s a lovely piece of writing.
b) I like what she says about the job of being a poet.
c) I’m astounded that, in this day and age, the woman who spoke to her would really ask such a question as, ’What does your husband think of that?’  Shocked, I commented that if feminism is not dead, it’s obviously pretty weak. A fellow-Aussie reminded me that such a comment would be unlikely in her neck of the woods, where people would probably be much more interested in the poem being written. True. I acknowledge in relief that it is a most unlikely comment anywhere in Australia, from anyone. I can’t imagine anyone even thinking like that any more. Even so, it still seems amazingly backward for North America, too. Please tell me it’s atypical!


  1. I enjoyed reading that. I think the comment made was fairly typical. On the one hand it is a pity that people think that way, but on the other hand it is better to know how people think out in the open than have them conceal their true nature because they are aware it is non-pc.

    I am not convinced that attitudes are so much different in different places - more that in some places people feel free to express their thoughts (no matter how disagreeable) and in others people censor themselves.

    At least if one knows what people really think there is an opportunity to change their minds. :)

  2. I don't think the lady quoted felt that her thoughts were disagreeable. It sounds to me as if she considered them perfectly natural and normal.

    Aussies don't do a lot of self-censoring; we tend to be quite blunt and outspoken.

    But I think I am quite good at surrounding myself with the like-minded, so possibly I'm just not very aware of what's out there.

  3. that is lovely writing.

    unfortunately I'm not shocked. what does your husband do/think are ubiquitous questions. even from other writers.

    lovely story of validating ones own hard work in words.

  4. Well (sssh!) the conversation did actually happen in Canada.

  5. Argh! I can't believe that comment! I wonder what I would say if someone asked me that. I think what makes me wince the most is that a woman said it. I can't imagine anyone round here saying something like that... and yet I wouldn't be utterly surprised if I heard it here.

  6. Jenny, I'm glad someone had the same reaction as me! To be fair, the women and men in my writers' group did too — but afterwards said they could imagine people here saying it. (One woman suggested that perhaps my friend's questioner was'trying to crack onto her'!)