ALL THE FEMINIST POETS: Elline Lipkin

ALL THE FEMINIST POETS features a single poem and an interview from a feminist poet that we love.

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Elline Lipkin is currently a Research Scholar with UCLA’s Center for the Study of Women.  She also teaches poetry for Writing Workshop Los Angeles. Her first book, The Errant Thread, was chosen by Eavan Boland for the Kore Press First Book Award, and her second book Girls’ Studies was published by Seal Press. After many peripatetic years spent in all regions of the US and abroad, she now lives in Los Angeles.

 

 

                                                   La Sorcière

In literal French: a sorceress, a witch, also slang for any older,
 unmarried woman.  In French custom, a sorcière is also the name
for a simple band worn as a safeguard above a wedding ring.

                                                          It curls,
                           a thin slice of dun moon, its pressed lips
                           un-made-up against the stars’ hoyden brass.

                                                          And lines,
                           a tin wrinkle marring the stone’s set face,
                           a pucker of grey band capping the light’s fall.

                                                         It twists,
                          the concierge against her 6 a.m. broom, restless to sweep
                          two sets of 4 a.m. prints, fugitives fled past her door.

                                                        And taunts,
                          the loose gleam off a crinoline, a fille de joie’s indolent wink,
                          bordered by the nun’s stern wimple, the crone’s weird glance.

                                                        It sets,
                          flash status against the spinster’s slow fade, last aunt,
                          the mystery within the sealed attic’s rat-a-tat-tat.

                                                       Then pairs,
                          two cards pulled side by side from the arcana,
                          the diamond’s naive reach, the queen’s argentine pall. 

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Marisa Crawford: Can you talk a bit about the poem you chose, and why you consider it feminist?

Elline Lipkin: This is a poem I wrote after spending a few years living abroad and feeling even more so a sharp awareness of the restriction(s) of the roles women are expected to inhabit. It started with noticing a ring my mother wears (given to her by her mother) called a sorcière and suddenly realizing this was the French word for “witch.” I was amazed to learn that this type of ring is specifically used to guard a wedding band — literally, to keep it from falling off — but the metaphorical associations instantly seemed so rich and fraught — the play of witch figure or unmarried crone guarding this symbol on the bride’s hand — come on! 

I started to think about other stereotypes/archetypes and to name these contrasts in the poem: fille de joie, which is slang for prostitute, with nun; spinster or aunt with the Bertha-like madwoman rattling around and raging in the attic.  The reference to the lone female concierge is taken from the guardian/guard-like role I saw this figure play when I was living in a chamber de bonne attic room in Paris.  She’s leaning on her broom while erasing footprints, implying a set of lovers, who had to sneak by her door.  Finally, I visualized these stereotypes as embodied in two tarot cards placed side by side as a way of setting a contrast between the different roles women are allowed. 

MC: Your poetry book The Errant Thread weaves together family history with mythical, literary and fairy tale illusions, among other themes and sources. Can you talk about this weaving together of different sources, and how you see it relating to a feminist poetics, if at all?

EL: Ever since I was an undergrad focusing on poetry and gender and the intersection of these two, I’ve been voracious about reading/ finding/making a feminist poetics that is fluid, evolving, and feels dynamic.  Trying to figure out family history/identity, legacy, especially through a matrilineal heritage has been important for me, and often is a key through-line in many poets’ first books.  The phrase, “we think back through our mothers” has always stuck with me — as well as the comment I once heard that there is a “no name grandmother” in every family’s history.  Many of the themes in this book have to do with decoding silences, pulling back a closed curtain, and unearthing the buried, often by using myth, fairy tales, allusion, or exterior figures to bounce an invisible sound wave up against and see what echoes back. 

The book feels like it’s from along time ago (because it is!), but these themes are ongoing concerns, and the more I work with girls, even though some situations have changed, many of these issues are still current. 

MC: You’re currently a Research Scholar at UCLA, you wrote the comprehensive and absolutely fantastic Seals Studies book Girls’ Studies, and you work with young women writers through WriteGirl. How does your work in these different areas overlap? Do you see your scholarly work in girls’ studies as related to your work as a poet?

EL: Such great questions!  My scholarly work in girls’ studies is about bringing attention to girls’ lives and helping them to be seen and heard through their original voices.  As a poet, I hope to bring my own voice forward, and those of others as well, as we swim around the world of words, all intermingling. On a good day, I feel the intersection of all of these things — writing as a source of empowerment for girls and women by letting them know someone is waiting to hear their words — their words then giving permission or relief or ecstatic recognition to other girls and women — and the chain continuing. A lot of women still need permission to say what they think or rupture the veneer of gender expectations — they don’t realize their voices are missing.  If my writing, teaching or mentoring can bring that about I’m thrilled. 

MC: Favorite feminist poet(s), living or dead?

EL: I’m going to go old school and say Adrienne Rich and Eavan Boland.  Rich because I had that kind of magical-mystical-can-it-really-be-said-OMG-she’s-saying-it kind of awakening when I first read her work.  She symbolized the juncture of so many things that I wanted to come together but I didn’t know could — beautiful writing, unapologetic focus on the lives of women, revealing what is so often muted, strained, simmering (seething!) just below the surface. 

I’ll always be indebted to Eavan Boland for choosing The Errant Thread for the Kore Press First Book Award. Whenever I hear her read there’s something I catch in her elegant but completely fierce devotion to writing about women’s lives.  She models the kind of “I will stand up and be heard” courage that always inspires me.

MC: Last awesome feminist poetry book you read?

EL: I’ve spent a lot of time working on an article on Alice Notley and ended up going to the UCLA Special Collections to read her most beginning, often uncollected work.  I loved finding her raw, early poems — some of which are gathered into Grave of Light, particularly the selection Songs for the Unborn Second Baby, and was drawn to the poems she writes including the voices of her kids.  Close to that is Carmen Gimenez Smith’s Bring Down the Little Birds: On Mothering, Art, Work, and Everything Else.

MC: Favorite girl band, “chick flick,” or reality TV show (or all of the above).

EL: I’m just catching up with Amy Schumer—where has she been all my life?  She shows that there is always room for new voices, and once they’re finally heard we realize what we’ve been missing all along.


 

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