On the Revolutionary and Transformative Effects of Poetry: A Five Part Interview Series with Five Poets from Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence: Jane Satterfield
cover art by Elayne Safir
Super excited to present an LFF EXCLUSIVE!: On the Revolutionary and Transformative Effects of Poetry: A Five Part Interview Series with Five Poets from Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2013), edited by Laura Madeline Wiseman. For Five Fridays, I am posting an interview with a poet and the editor Laura Madeline Wiseman, along with a poem. Enjoy and be stirred. (Part 1 featured Rebecca Frost; check it out here. Part 2 featured Gaynell Gavin; check it out here.)
On the Revolutionary and Transformative Effects of Poetry: A Five Part Interview Series with Five Poets from Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2013), edited by Laura Madeline Wiseman.
Part III: Jane Satterfield
Laura Madeline Wiseman: Adrienne Rich wrote that “Revolution is poetry.” How has poetry been revolutionary and transformative in your life and work?
Jane Satterfield: On the eve of my first marriage, my aunt gave me a Royal Albert tea set she’d bought on her recent trip back to her hometown in England. It was white bone china, scattered over with a delicate pastel pattern named “Meadow Flower,” the pattern my aunt thought perfect for the quiet young poet I appeared to be. Though I’ve never stood at a barricade, that idea of the woman poet—a cultivator of beauty, a gentle spirit removed from the fray—seems torn from another age. It’s rare that I have time to wander quiet suburban streets, let alone the meadow (if I can find one). Even so, I value the quiet that seems to grow scarcer every year: it’s impossible for me to write without some degree of concentration—-quiet reflection and inner peace—at least for the time it takes to arrange and rearrange words on the page.
By encouraging reflection, poetry is revolutionary: it has led me to break away from expectations of gender and class; it has deepened my attention and turned me to larger questions. Take that tea set, for example—what hands and histories shaped this object that has passed, at a particular moment in time, into my own? Years after opening my aunt’s gift, I visited a pottery museum in the Staffordshire town where my daughter was born, and read first-hand testimonies of industrial-era workers’ conditions. I remember hoisting the baby onto my hip to read a plaque that included this telling detail—that inspectors actually advised managers to hire women because “their labor is cheaper and they can be more easily induced to undergo severe bodily fatigue than men.” Today, the same words might be whispered, but I have no doubt that they’re said.
I can think of nothing more revolutionary than the individual voice rising above the daily din to speak about subjects that others—in the fusty air of the boardroom, at the restorative ceremony of tea—would encourage us to turn from. Whether I approach these from a first-person perspective or through the lens of a persona, the goal is the same: to resist the silence of forgetfulness and the chatter of distraction. In writing about the prevalence of sexual trafficking and a mother’s fears for her teenaged daughter, sixteenth century witch trials and contemporary high school cliques, or male artists’ exploitation of models, I hope to raise awareness about the connections between the individual body and the body politic—above all, to pay tribute to the resiliency of the human spirit.
The Body Impolitic
Peak District, England, 1995
I set some record that year
with my rest stop requests,
marriage on life support,
the ex & I in a beat up Mini,
Sour Times on cassette EP spooling
on what was the only godsend
of that year-long trip: sound system
that cancelled conversation … .
A singer crooned through
sampled bars & beats
End the vows no need to lie, enjoy
Take a ride, take a shot now …
A long one, really, this ride or even that
we’d raise this child happily, together.
Hugging curves & hairpin turns,
we traveled on as moorland
laced with drystone walls
gave way to coal smoke & cobblestoned towns—
Ashbourne, Bakewell, Buxton, Leek,
the village markets where I bought books,
distinctive cakes or cheese (impolitic? Such appetite!).
The car would overheat, throw steam—each outing
brought some misadventure.
Not bad, he said,
as the souvenir rat bobbled on the rear-view
mirror, not bad to have puked at the plague
museum. I’d snapped
photos of stones drilled to hold coins
soaked in medieval disinfectant—vinegar
brining the payment for a dwindling village’s
food supplies. Back on the winding road
I begged another stop. So there in the welcoming heart
of the nation, in some dimly remembered town,
the walls of the public loo were plastered
with porn, the peeling pages of skin mags
the anorexic bleached blondes’ orange-tinted
airbrushed tan & practiced gaze
suggestive, always, of utmost oblige—
black markered, stained, & slashed through.
No sign of those who plied their trade or were
plied into trade, no visible trace of the hands
who slashed graffitied, bore down
an imprint of heat & hate. Thirteen
years on, my girl child’s nearly a woman.
Walks further from me & into the world.
Eight months gone, prepared with midwife,
ante-natal class, & all those Mama manuals.
I was, I thought, good & ready.
“The Body Impolitic” from Her Familiars by Jane Satterfield, © 2013 by Jane Satterfield and published by Elixir Press. Reprinted with permission of the author.
Jane Satterfield is the author of three books of poems: Her Familiars, Assignation at Vanishing Point, and Shepherdess with an Automatic, as well as Daughters of Empire: A Memoir of a Year in Britain and Beyond. Her awards include a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in poetry, the William Faulkner Society’s Gold Medal for the Essay, the Mslexia women’s poetry prize, and the49th Parallel Poetry Prize from The Bellingham Review. Satterfield is the literary editor for the Journal of the Motherhood Initiative and lives in Baltimore.
Laura Madeline Wiseman has a doctorate from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where she teaches creative writing. She is the author of seven collections of poetry, including the book Sprung (San Francisco Bay Press, 2012). She is the editor of Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2013).
WWR on amazon: amazon.com/Women-Write-Resistance-Resist-Violence
WWR on Facebook: facebook.com/WomenWriteResistancePoetsResistGenderViolence
WWR on Twitter:
Past features of other WWR writers on LFF:
Elayne Safir (cover artist)
Stay tuned for the next in the series, an interview with Ellin Sarot by editor Laura Madeline Wiseman next Friday, August 23.