Writing on Women Writers

A site for college students to write about women writers.


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The Strength of the Visual

It is clear, that some of the most powerful forms of documentation are those of writers who witness a situation first hand. Wars, famine and oppression can be illustrated using words in a way that is so powerful that the reader can often tell what the people were going through and how they felt throughout these historical milestones. Without much of this documentation, the truth of history may have been lost or even skewed incredibly.

muriel-rukeyser

Poet Muriel Rukeyser does exactly this with her poem about famous documentary artist Kathe Kollwitz. With this poem, she shows what it would be like for a person, like Kollwitz, who lived between war and suffering.

“Held between was my lifetime among wars, the big hands of the world of death my lifetime listens to yours. The faces of the sufferers in the street, in daliness, their lives showing through their bodies.” (1208)

Attempting to document what was happening in the world that she was writing in while accrediting the work of female artist Kathe Kollwitz. There is an important function to work like this, because it has a much stronger message to the reader, just as Kollwitz’s work had on her viewers. Documenting this pain and agony not only raises awareness, but also has a larger impact on the viewers by giving the more of a visual.

not_detected_235978Kathe Kollwitz, The Survivors, 1923

In this piece by Kollwitz, she uses the same ideas that Rukeyser does in her poem and creates a raw visual of the suffering of the people post WWI Germany. The innocents of the children has been taken away and they have seen so much death and agony. This is shown by making their eyes black and lifeless. An image like this can be quite shocking and definitely has an impact on the people of the world at this time.

This approach has been loved by many writers and artists and has impacted the world and politics immensely. Artists like Dorothea Lange and writers like Adrienne Rich had great contributions to the world with their work, by exposing the hardships of the world that have been so easily covered up or ignored.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3lct_SSqwHY

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ou08HU3LM60

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQPS3KI5-yM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TRQapdNY-F4


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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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Carol Ann Duffy and the Aesop’s

“Carol Ann Duffy was born in Glasgow, Scotland and raised in Staffordshire” (333). She wrote a poem that we read in class called Mrs. Aesop. In the poem she satirizes the life of Mrs. Aesop. She was so annoyed with her husband always telling fables that she begins to degrade him in the poem. It was a very funny poem and relates to other women who have been recreated by poems that we have read in class.

Aesop was an ancient Greek storyteller who lived around 550 BCE. He was a slave who lived in ancient Rome in the home of a wealthy family. Supposedly Aesop’s master was so pleased by his stories that he granted Aesop his freedom. “Little is known about the ancient Greek writer Aesop (c. 620 B.C.E.–c. 560 B.C.E.), whose stories of clever animals and foolish humans are considered Western civilization’s first morality tales. He was said to have been a slave who earned his freedom through his storytelling and went on to serve as advisor to a king. Both his name and the animist tone of his tales have led some scholars to believe he may have been Ethiopian in origin.”

It is interesting to me the way that she recreates Mrs. Aesop. When I read this poem I laughed and I thought that it was very clever. I love the modern way that Carol Ann Duffy writes. “Mrs. Aesop… loses all patience with her husbands witless clichés” (334). In the poem she mentions some of his famous fables including The Fox and the Grapes. She says “What race? What sour Grapes” (336). This line in the poem refers to The Fox and the Grapes and The Tortoise and the Hare; two very famous fables.


The Fox and the Grapes

One hot summer’s day a Fox was strolling through an orchard till he came to a bunch of Grapes just ripening on a vine which had been trained over a lofty branch. “Just the thing to quench my thirst,” quoth he. Drawing back a few paces, he took a run and a jump, and just missed the bunch. Turning round again with a One, Two, Three, he jumped up, but with no greater success. Again and again he tried after the tempting morsel, but at last had to give it up, and walked away with his nose in the air, saying: “I am sure they are sour.”

Moral: It is easy to despise what you cannot get. (from: AesopFables.com)

I have included a very funny video that tells this story in a modern cartoon.

WORK CITED:

Aesop. “AesopFables.com – – General Fable Collection.” AesopFables.com – – General Fable Collection. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 May 2013.

“Aesop.” Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2005. Encyclopedia.com. 8 May. 2013 .