Thursday, January 7, 2010

“A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN’, with apologies to Virginia Woolf

On wintry days when the tin-colored sky could be depressing, I look for places of light, and the room in which I begin my days is the dining room where I sit at the mahogany dining room table and look through undraped windows at a small sunroom, the room with the most light in the house. The sunroom “came with the house” and is only large enough to hold a glass-topped wrought-iron table painted a bright yellow by my much-appreciated son-in-law who also likes brightness. It’s flanked by four yellow wrought-iron chairs holding soft blue cushions.

The sunroom heats up mightily during summer, but in the early Spring, it’s a pleasant place to lunch while looking at another view–a Louisiana coulee bordered by abundant fern, ginger, elderberry trees, vines, and giant elephant ears. I once used the glass porch as my writing room and moved two shelves of poetry books into it, then moved out because the dining room table provided more writing space. A futon was housed on the glass porch until we moved to Sewanee, and several friends have used the room during times of emotional crises in their lives. These women have told me that it’s a magical room with an aura of sooth and peace. One friend sat on the floor of the porch (before the futon arrived) an entire afternoon, recovering from the schism of a broken marriage, and in recent years, she sometimes shares lunch with us on the yellow, glass-topped table, talking about the powerful atmosphere in the room, about writing, religion, and relationships in a “let your hair down” chat that stretches into three-hour conversations.

It’s important for women to have a “room of one’s own,” a meditative space of “incandescence (as Virginia Woolf once wrote) in which creative activity is unfettered and free.” Woolf advocated that female Shakespeares should have two avenues to freedom: fixed incomes and rooms of their own. I remember Virginia’s remark every time I go onto the porch, thinking about her big question: Why is it that men have always had power, influence, wealth and fame, while women have had nothing but children? This is a wry question that doesn’t quite describe the condition of post modern American females, but there are many women in the world who still lack freedom, fixed incomes, and rooms of their very own.

I’m fortunate to have these privileges, and even a third—another room at Sewanee where I converted a utility space into a narrow study with one wall of windows overlooking the woods (Joyce Carol Oates says that all of her writing desks have faced windows). Right now, these woods are blanketed with snow, and in March, when I usually return to my study overlooking the woods at Sewanee, I’m treated to the sight of large clusters of white and yellow daffodils growing beneath trees that haven’t leafed out. I’m not the female Shakespeare Virginia Woolf talked about, but in this narrow room, I’m free to write many poems, one of which appears below, taken from my newest book entitled OLD RIDGES. The poem is redolent of the atmosphere in early Spring at Sewanee and is entitled “Sewanee Socked In.”


How many dead moons hover over us,
birthing the mist that stores itself
between the dark tree trunks,
obscuring the valley,
the air dense and wordless,
mountains gathering the only light.
In the gloom of gray rock and mist,
the subtle energy of a lone hummingbird
beating its wings
becomes words in the morning.

If I did not take time to write,
I would read poets all day,
layer after layer of metaphor
puncturing the subconscious
with bloody darts,
significant tortures done
to thousands of psyches,
poets putting their hands
into the dark wounds
and bringing up birds,
black crows squawking,
wind in the grass,
daffodils in their white hoods
come up from snow,
furnaces in words,
sublimation and art,
madrigals of song.
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