ALL THE FEMINIST POETS features a single poem and an interview from a feminist poet that we love.
He is told to send a lock of hair
but instead sends a dossier
of charts. There are bullets,
vectors, single choice answers.
No questions. On every page
appears a yellowish husband.
The husband is a sick man.
I want the diagram-sender
sicker. I want every man
fainting in a reservoir
of contaminated water.
I have black chrysanthemums
in each hole and a gypsy smell.
My climax shakes the basin.
I hold out one hand for every man
but I’m looking at my snake.
Marisa Crawford: Can you talk a bit about the poem you chose, and why you consider it feminist?
Melissa Broder: Okay, so how do I decide if one of my poems is feminist? Like, I feel that I am inherently a feminist and act and speak and live in that way, except for I am a terrible feminist in my treatment of myself in terms of what I have done to myself to try to fit certain standards of beauty. Like maybe I am a good feminist when it comes to other women but a bad feminist when it comes to me?
I grew up going to all-girls school for 13 years and it wasn’t religious school. It was feminist school. Girls did everything. We were class president, editors of the newspaper, the jocks. We played all of the characters in the play (men and women). When we played the men we were told to walk like we had something between our legs and then we tortured that male drama teacher. I believe he later tried to sue the school for sexual harassment.
So I feel like I got a very skewed perception of the world, because in my early learning and conception of myself creatively and intellectually, boys weren’t even in the picture. I think I have continued to just live from that place and, like, not see (or pretend not to see) any sexism that might appear in my path career-wise. Just trample that shit. At the same time, on a social and sexual level, I starved myself in high school and just wanted to be “beautiful” and “ok,” and some of those related attitudes and behaviors have never gone away.
Actually, that’s not all entirely true. Sometimes, while I am blindly trampling sexism, I let things affect me for just a sec. Like, recently I had some poems in Poetry magazine. This one poem, “Lunar Shatters” (which reimagines my body as having been born with a cock, which I then broke off, in relation to the myth of Pegasus as well as other myths—classic and personal) got posted on the magazine’s Facebook page. Some bruh posts a comment that says: “Which of Poetry’s editors did this chick sleep with? So not good.”
So I stopped and thought about this for a sec. I was like, wait. Did I sleep with any of Poetry’s editors? I didn’t. But should I be sleeping with editors? Am I missing out? Maybe I should be fucking men in power? (Power, of course, being relative, since we are, after all, talking about poetry). Like, usually I prefer to fuck much younger men who are not in any kind of power. Like, my favorite is much younger men who have no money and are sleeping on a sofa. If you are under 25 and sleeping on a sofa and it is not your sofa, we could have a shot. But now I’m thinking that maybe it could be really good for my career to change my tastes. Like, I haven’t been published in The Paris Review yet. Is there anyone hot on the editorial board of The Paris Review? Maybe I should fuck him.
In terms of my poetry though, the work itself, I like to think of it outside the constraints of time and space, let alone -ist labels. Like, I wanna get the fuck off of earth. It hurts my heart to put an -ist on my poetry. Any -ist. How do I know what is feminist? Is the poem where I eat boys feminist? Is the poem where I love every woman feminist? Is the poem where I suck a cosmic titty feminist? Is the poem where I have a cock feminist?
I think I see myself as a witch more than any kind of -ist. I have a tendency to shrink from -ists. It might be because I am an isolator and have social anxiety, and don’t like groups or labels. At the same time, there are some really good -ists who make me want to embrace my -istness. I recently re-read both Shulamith Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for the Feminist Revolution and Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider and am like fuck yes, bitches. My first exposure to feminism was through Audre Lorde, and the first time feminism clicked for me was reading her essay, “The Uses of The Erotic,” while I was going through puberty.
One thing I hate seeing is when feminism is used as clickbait. Like think pieces about the feminism or lack of feminism in this particular TV show or that particular TV show. It kind of makes me want to puke or die. This is not a condemnation of the contemporary feminist movement (or movements) at all, but a revulsion to clickbait. To engage in depth with the ephemeral that is pop culture just makes my inner witch nauseous. I feel like if I read the article I am being poisoned. Like, I am a vampire and clickbait is my garlic, and to turn feminism into clickbait is just a giant fucking puke—and not the sexy kind.
My deep desire, I think, is to just burn right through memes and clickbait and much of pop culture. Please keep that shit far away from my poetry. I don’t like things that are time-sensitive. I don’t even like time. I’d rather alchemize trash into something more evergreen. Like, I prefer to digest my own critiques of pop culture privately and then shit out universal magick that doesn’t even fucking acknowledge the initial subject or give it any more power. In my desire to alchemize or transcend, I would say that I feel most aligned with witchcraft. And I would say that feminism is absolutely implicit in my witchery.
Yet, as I said before, I am a crappy feminist when it comes to my body and so am thus a crappy witch. Like, what the fuck kind of witch eats Lean Cuisine mac and cheese and not Kraft full-fat macaroni and cheese, or regular, homemade mac and cheese (or vegan mac and cheese, if she is a steward of the earth and all of god’s creation, which seems to me would be implicit in being the best witch one could be and best feminist/humanist/person one could be) (I am not currently vegan). Like, if I were the CEO of a coven I would be like “yo, this Lean Cuisine-eating witch is unacceptable.” Though, if I were truly the ultimate witch I would accept me where I am and embrace me, so maybe in that way if I were the ultimate feminist I would do the same—not just for others but for myself. I feel that I do embrace others’ humanity in this way. But for me there is still no embrace. I just cannot seem to give myself that fucking hug of the divine mother that is like baby baby baby it’s ok.
Having said aaaaaaaalllll that, I went with the poem “Thousands” from SCARECRONE.
This poem takes the feeling of rejection that can arise from reaching out to another human and then not receiving a response (or the desired response), and empowering oneself with that rejection. The speaker is a she. She wants a lock of hair from some bruh. He is told to send one, but instead he sends a logical, linear, totally unromantic dossier of charts and vectors (and also bullets, which may be read as actual bullets or like bullet points). This dossier explains—implicitly, and in my mind, literally—why they can’t be together. One of the reasons is because she already has a husband. Oops. But this bruh clearly lacks imagination. Like, just because a woman has a husband doesn’t mean she is monogamous. Lame. Hasn’t he ever read Madame Bovary? I mean really. Also, it appears the husband is sick. This could be seen as mentally sick or socially poisoned (as in all men are sick) but when I wrote it I meant it literally. Ailing, physical ailment. The speaker is retaliating. She is pissed. She wants all the men sick. She wants to fuck them up with her sexual power. She wants a harem of them in a cosmic bathtub that is hers. She wants her orgasm to be an earthquake.
Also, she wants to help them too, not just kill them. Like, kill them and help them. Like, she is going to reach out her hand to them as she is killing them and maybe not kill them. She is a humanist. At the same time though, there is treachery. She is looking at her snake—a snake being a symbol of the original sin, or whatevs, of Eve’s fuck-up. We also can infer (lol) that the snake is a phallic symbol. She is a woman but she has a cock. She has a mystic cock and mythic cock.
But, here’s the thing. Yes this poem might appear feminist, because the female speaker is reframing an experience of male rejection (and frankly, male linear boringness) into personal power. But, like, is it? She isn’t looking at her grapefruit. She isn’t looking at her pomegranate or peach. Why does it have to be a snake? Why does she need a stand-in cock for power? Well, I hate to say it, but I wish I had a cock. Like, I’m sorry but I do. Also, we probably shouldn’t kill all the men or poison them (as much as that would would be really fun).
MC: Your poems feel so rich with feminist commentary to me—like even if it is coming through subconsciously, it’s totally there. It’s one thing that I love about your work. For example, I read a lot of the poems in Meat Heart as related to ambivalence re. marriage and the female “wife” role, and in SCARECRONE I see a lot of connections to aging and what that means for women in particular. How does an overarching question, connection, or theme play into how you put together a manuscript of poems, if at all?
MB: I just write my obsessions, and usually I’m obsessed with the same thing(s) for an extended period of time. So all of the poems from that time (a year, let’s say, which is about how long it took me to write Meat Heart and SCARECRONE each) have some sort of cohesion. And they become the manuscript. But I usually don’t know what the cohesion is until the end of that period of time. It usually happens when I have around 120 poems. And then I work with my editor to make cuts.
MC: The female body is very present in your work, often in ways that are awesomely, stunningly gross, crass and absurd—just flipping randomly through the pages of SCARECRONE, I see phrases including: “let me cream the cord/ right to my heart,” “humping god’s knee,” “I hold my legs/ like two chicken drumsticks,” “My climax shakes the basin,” “I am the worst body,” and “I want to lick a cosmic titty/ because god built me/ with these holes” What are your thoughts about the role of female embodiment and the grotesque in your work?
MB: I have struggled so much with living in a body and that body happens to be a female body, so that is the one I grapple with. I tend to also think that some of my struggles with living in a body are because it is a female body. Like, things I learned that I should do to it and what it should look like have caused me great pain, though maybe that would be true in other ways if I had a male body. I tend to think that if I had a male body all of my problems would be solved, but that’s probably false. If I had a cock I’d probably never get it up. But as I said, I really do want a cock. It’s not that I don’t love my vagina. I love my vagina. But ideally I would have both.
MC: Favorite feminist poet(s), living or dead?
MC: Last awesome feminist poetry book you read?
MB: Who am I to say what is or isn’t feminist? Fine. ROME by Dorothea Lasky.
MC: Favorite girl band, “chick flick,” or reality TV show (or all of the above)?
MB: Grimes and PJ Harvey. And Lil’ Kim Hard Core is still one of my fav albums of all time.