When someone with the authority of a teacher, say, describes the world and you are not in it, there is a moment of psychic disequilibrium, as if you looked into a mirror and saw nothing. Yet you know you exist and others like you, that this is a game with mirrors. It takes some strength of soul--and not just individual strength, but collective understanding--to resist this void, this nonbeing, into which are thrust, and to stand up, demanding to be seen and heard.
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... people are growing up in the slack flicker of a pale light which lacks the concentrated burn of a candle flame or oil wick or the bulb of a gooseneck desk lamp: a pale, wavering, oblong shimmer, emitting incessant noise, which is to real knowledge or discourse what the manic or weepy protestations of a drunk are to responsible speech. Drunks do have a way of holding an audience, though, and so does the shimmery ill-focused oblong screen.
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We need to imagine a world in which every woman is the presiding genius of her own body. In such a world women will truly create new life, bringing forth not only children if and as we choose but the visions, and the thinking, necessary to sustain, console and alter human existence-a new relationship to the universe. Sexuality, politics, intelligence, power, motherhood, work, community, intimacy will develop new meanings; thinking itself will be transformed. This is where we have to begin.
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We may feel bitterly how little our poems can do in the face of seemingly out-of-control technological power and seemingly limitless corporate greed, yet it has always been true that poetry can break isolation, show us to ourselves when we are outlawed or made invisible, remind us of beauty where no beauty seems possible, remind us of kinship where all is represented as separation.
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I've known great happiness in my life along with great darkness, and a question that has repeatedly entered my poetry has been, how do we use the direct experience of happiness that may be given us, whether of love and sexuality or creativity or the sense of connectedness with other beings, human and otherwise?
White hate crimes, white hate speech. I still try to claim I wasn't brought up to hate. But hate isn't the half of it. I grew up in the vast encircling presumption of whiteness - that primary quality of being which knows itself, its passions, only against an otherness that has to be dehumanized. I grew up in white silence that was utterly obsessional. Race was the theme whatever the topic.
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To read as if your life depended on it would mean to let into your reading your beliefs, the swirl of your dreamlife, the physical sensations of your ordinary carnal life; and simultaneously, to allow what you're reading to pierce routines, safe and impermeable, in which ordinary carnal life is tracked, charted, channeled. Then, what of the right answers, the so-called multiple-choice examination sheet with the number 2 pencil to mark one choice and one choice only?
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There is the falsely mystical view of art that assumes a kind of supernatural inspiration, a possession by universal forces unrelated to questions of power and privilege or the artist's relation to bread and blood. In this view, the channel of art can only become clogged and misdirected by the artist's concern with merely temporary and local disturbances. The song is higher than the struggle.
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There is a cop who is both prowler and father: he comes from your block, grew up with your brothers, had certain ideals. You hardly know him in his boots and silver badge, on horseback, one hand touching his gun. You hardly know him but you have to get to know him: he has access to machinery that could kill you. He and his stallion clop like warlords among the trash, his ideals stand in the air, a frozen cloud from between his unsmiling lips. And so, when the time comes, you have to turn to him, the maniac's sperm still greasing your thighs, your mind whirling like crazy. You have to confess to him, you are guilty of the crime of having been forced. And you see his blue eyes, the blue eyes of all the family whom you used to know, grow narrow and glisten, his hand types out the details and he wants them all but the hysteria in your voice pleases him best. You hardly know him but now he thinks he knows you: he has taken down you worst moment on a machine and filed it in a file. He knows, or thinks he knows, how much you imagined; he knows, or thinks he knows, what you secretly wanted. He has access to machinery that could get you put away; and if, in the sickening light of the precinct, and if, in the sickening light of the precinct, your details sound like a portrait of your confessor, will you swallow, will you deny them, will you lie your way home?
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the phantom of the man-who-would-understand, the lost brother, the twin - for him did we leave our mothers, deny our sisters, over and over? did we invent him, conjure him over the charring log, nights, late, in the snowbound cabin did we dream or scry his face in the liquid embers, the man-who-would-dare-to-know-us? It was never the rapist: it was the brother, lost, the comrade/twin whose palm would bear a lifeline like our own: decisive, arrowy, forked-lightning of insatiate desire It was never the crude pestle, the blind ramrod we were after: merely a fellow-creature with natural resources equal to our own.
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Behind all art is an element of desire... Love of life, of existence, love of another human being, love of human beings is in some way behind all art - even the most angry, even the darkest, even the most grief-stricken, and even the most embittered art has that element somewhere behind it. Because how could you be so despairing, so embittered, if you had not had something you loved that you lost?
Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you... it means that you do not treat your body as a commodity with which to purchase superficial intimacy or economic security; for our bodies to be treated as objects, our minds are in mortal danger. It means insisting that those to whom you give your friendship and love are able to respect your mind. It means being able to say, with Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre: "I have an inward treasure born with me, which can keep me alive if all the extraneous delights should be withheld or offered only at a price I cannot afford to give. Responsibility to yourself means that you don't fall for shallow and easy solutions-predigested books and ideas... marrying early as an escape from real decisions, getting pregnant as an evasion of already existing problems. It means that you refuse to sell your talents and aspirations short... and this, in turn, means resisting the forces in society which say that women should be nice, play safe, have low professional expectations, drown in love and forget about work, live through others, and stay in the places assigned to us. It means that we insist on a life of meaningful work, insist that work be as meaningful as love and friendship in our lives. It means, therefore, the courage to be "different"... The difference between a life lived actively, and a life of passive drifting and dispersal of energies, is an immense difference. Once we begin to feel committed to our lives, responsible to ourselves, we can never again be satisfied with the old, passive way.
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