Writing on Women Writers

A site for college students to write about women writers.


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Käthe Kollwitz

In 1968, Muriel Rukeyser created a poem based on the life of the German artist Käthe Kollwitz.

Picture of Rukeyser found on this site.

Picture of Rukeyser found on this site.

Within her poem, Rukeyser makes multiple references to Kollwitz’s works. We reviewed Woman With Dead Child in class, but there are quite a few other works and aspects of Kollwitz referenced.
In section II of the poem, Rukeyser writes in the voice of Kollwitz and explains her subject matter:

A woman pouring her opposites.
“After all there are happy things in life too.
Why do you show only the dark side?”
“I could not answer this. But I know–
in the beginning my impulse to know
the working life
had little to do with
pity or sympathy.
I simply felt
that the life of the workers was beautiful.” (1208-09)

Kollwitz tended to portray the lives of everyday people in her works, such as in March of the Weavers (1897) and Workers Going Home (1897).

Sourced from here.

March of the Weavers, sourced from here.

Workers Going Home sourced from here.

Workers Going Home, sourced from here.

Each of these works shows just what the poem says: the life of workers.

 

On page 1210, Rukeyser writes:

Looking at
all of them
death, the children
patients in wating-rooms
famine
the street
the corpse, with the baby
floating, on the dark river

Woman with Dead Child comes to mind after reading this, but there are other works of Kollwitz’s that are related to this. Some examples are Poverty (1893-94) and Unemployment (1909).

Poverty, sourced from here.

Poverty, sourced from here.

Unemployment, sourced from here.

Unemployment, sourced from here.

Both of these works show the emotional toll that famine and other related stresses (which is mentioned in the poem) have on a person.

 

After reading selections of Rukeyser’s poems and examining several of Kollwitz’s works, a similarity can be gathered between the two. Each based their respective expressions of art on more everyday-type people than anything else. While some authors we have read in class wrote sections of the Bible from female perspectives and some created short stories from their minds, Kollwitz and Rukeyser created based on actual people.


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Shara McCallum – Poems to Convey History

In class, we skyped with poet Shara McCallum, and she talked to us about her life history, the history of Jamaica, and her inspiration for writing.

Image

Photo of McCallum sourced from here.

Many poets write to express their emotions and reactions to their personal lives. McCallum does this as well as writes about the general history of Jamaica.

In her poem Psalm For Kingston, she writes:

City where power cuts left everyone in sudden dark,
    where the kerosene lamp’s blue fame wavered on kitchen walls,
        where empty bellies could not be filled,
    where no eggs, no milk, no beef today echoed
In shantytowns, around corners, down alleyways

This section and the entirety of this poem capture McCallum’s opinions of what Jamaica was like when she was young. In reading her poems, one is able to feel a more emotional connection to the history than they would from a textbook. It is one thing to read, “Jamaica endured hard times,” but it is another to read, “they paid weekly dues, saving for our passages back to Africa.”

In this video at around 9:30, McCallum explains to the interviewer that she writes about things to “say what’s unsayable.” In saying this, she essentially means that for her, writing is a way to both get out her feelings and to explain topics that may be taboo or uncomfortable to discuss.

A video of Kingston, Jamaica (where she was born) in 1972.

McCallum is able to write her poetry in a way that is generally easy to understand but also covers historical topics. She has said about writing:

“Poetry links us to each other and to the human experience. The precise use of language, the diligence and attentiveness poetry needs, makes it inherently meditative. It requires that we slow down and pay attention to our surroundings and to one another.”

(Quoted from this page)


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Giving Birth

On page 827, our textbook tells us, “One of [Margaret] Atwood’s goals as a scholar has been to bring international attention to Canadian literature,” but when I read “Giving Birth,” I felt it had a different focus.

margaret-atwood

Picture of Atwood, sourced from here.

From the very first lines of the story when she questions who gives birth, I felt myself unable to stop reading. Atwood’s style of writing is intriguing, clever, and unique. In this video, Atwood gives advice on how to start one’s own story.

It is interesting to note Atwood’s perspective in this work. In writing a story about the experience of childbirth, Atwood automatically breaks from the norm. Ordinarily, works written about motherhood are not centered around the actual act of birthing a child. This work is, however. It focuses on this act, and the mother’s point of view as it is happening. It is also interesting to note that Jeanie’s husband is never named in the story. Instead, he is only given the letter A. as his identifier.

On page 829, we’re told a lot about Jeanie:

She is doing her breathing exercises and timing her contractions with a stopwatch. She has been up since two-thirty in the morning, when she took a bath and ate some lime Jell-O, and it’s now almost ten. She has learned to count, during the slow breathing, in numbers (from one to ten while breathing in, from ten to one while breathing out) which she can actually see while she is silently pronouncing them. Each number is a different color and, if she’s concentrating very hard, a different typeface. They range from plain roman to ornamented circus numbers, red with gold filigree and dots. This is a refinement not mentioned in any of the numerous books she’s read on the subject. Jeanie is a devotee of handbooks. She has at least two shelves of books that cover everything from building kitchen cabinets to auto repairs to smoking your own hams. She doesn’t do many of these things, but she does some of them, and in her suitcase, along with a washcloth, a package of lemon Life Savers, a pair of glasses, a hot water bottle, some talcum powder and a paper bag, is the book that suggested she take along all of these things.

From this section of text, we can tell Jeanie is a very organized person. She plans ahead and has obviously read about the experience of childbirth. Primarily, the rest of the story revolves around Jeanie. We’re told very little about her husband, A.  He’s not the focus.

Atwood writes in this article about being a woman writer that, “the only reason for rocking the boat is if you’re still chained to the oars.” She goes on in the article to explain that she feels “writing” versus “women writing” is much stronger, and that being seen as a women writer gives one’s writing a weak connotation. I feel, in writing “Giving Birth,” Atwood was attempting to challenge these views. Jeanie is a strong and intelligent woman, even in the intensely painful moments of childbirth. In having a strong female as the main character in a story revolving around something only a woman could understand, having a child, Atwood attempts to break the stereotype of females being weak.


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The Yellow Wallpaper Rest Cure

In The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the reader witnesses the narrator’s gradual slip into insanity the longer she is left alone. Below is a picture of Gilman, the author of the short story.

This story takes up ten pages in our class textbook. On the second page, the narrator tells us, “I get unreasonably angry with John sometimes. I’m sure I never used to be so sensitive. I think it is due to this nervous condition” (Gilman 265). This tells us that in the beginning of the story, she is able to think rationally enough to realize she did not used to treat her husband this way. However, by the end of the novel she has lost almost all of her ability to think rationally. On the last page of the story (274), she tells us,

    I don’t like to look out of the windows even– there are so many of those creeping women, and they creep so fast.
I wonder if they all came out of that wallpaper as I did? But I am securely fastened now by my well-hidden rope– you don’t get me out in the road there.
I suppose I shall have to get back behind the pattern when it comes night, and that is hard!

By this point, the narrator believes she has become the woman she has been seeing in the wallpaper throughout the story. She has lost touch with reality because she has been left alone frequently and has not been able to leave the house.

Artist Julia Callon expressed her interpretation of The Yellow Wallpaper with before and after mini “Houses of Fiction.” Clicking on them will link you to Callon’s website.

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It seems the main reason the narrator went insane was that she was prescribed the rest cure. This cure recommended that women stay inside, eat frequently, and rest frequently (Martin 2007). Its intentions were to improve the mental health of women. However, for many women (including Gilman), it did the exact opposite. Gilman herself explained that she wrote this story as a way of critiquing the methods included in the rest cure in Why I Wrote The Yellow Wallpaper. The rest cure is likely for this woman’s loss of touch with reality.

– Michelle Hole


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Women – Women Relationships

In the third chapter of “A Room of One’s Own,” Woolf mentions the author Mary Carmichael and her novel Life’s Adventure. Eventually, on page 56, she mentions two characters in the novel who are both female and have a very close connection. Not just a friendship, a relationship. She uses this as a metaphor by stating, “Chloe liked Olivia perhaps for the first time in literature” (56), to say women were not typically written into stories as two people in a relationship. While the author Mary Carmichael and her novel Life’s Adventure are entirely created by Woolf for this essay, it does not diminish the meaning behind the point she is trying to make. She experienced many different types of relationships in her life, both healthy and unhealthy as is evidenced at 9:50 in this video about her life.

However, despite what she could have written about men based upon this experience, she decided to write about women in relationships.

When I read this, my first thought was to interpret it as a way of Woolf reflecting on who she was. It is known that Woolf had relationships with men as well as women, and we discussed this in class, so I was inclined to think it was a way of her expressing her sexuality and that she took interest in both men and women.

However, when I took into consideration the motifs that I had been noticing in the previous chapters, I realized mentioning Life’s Adventure could have a completely different significance. It could also be an indication of the changes of women in society. Traditionally, they would stay at home and therefore would mainly converse with their family members. However, in order for two women to form a relationship they must have left the house to meet each other and continually do so. A Room of One’s Own continually brings up points about things women are beginning to do to break from tradition, and I believe Woolf’s decision to mention it this way was likely intentional, to make the reader think deeper.