I am taking a class studying four contemporary poets, the first is Stanley Kunitz whose work I like very much but have not read in depth. It is a large class with a great deal of discussion -- not exactly a lecture -- by the very erudite "coordinator" -- a man who likes Kunitz very much. He clarified the poems we read last week for me. Today again, several poems explicated helpfully. He was about to skip over "The Abduction" but one of the women in the class wanted some discussion. The poem was assigned as part of our reading to show Kunitz in a somewhat mystical mode which the teacher does not especially care for.
Near the beginning of the halucinatory first part are these lines:
... when you stumbled out of the wood,
distracted, with your white blouse torn,
and a blood stain on your skirt.
The teacher did not make much of this image. One woman said she found it horrifying, as it described a rape to her. I had felt exactly the same thing as I read it. There was slight discussion but it was largely passed over. When the class was over the woman sitting beside me said she read it as a rape also. I went to the woman who had made the remarked and said two of us agreed. Immediately two other women nearby also agreed. As the class ended I said to the teacher that several of the women very much agreed with the first one -- we all thought the lines describe a woman who has been raped. He was open minded but said it had never occurred to him before.
I am stunned that a person who reads carefully seeking meaning as this man does, should not even think the image was a woman who has been raped. For heaven sakes -- a woman stumbling out of the woods, is not making a fashion statement with her torn blouse and blood on her skirt! What about the title of the poem?
Occasionally the vast distance between men and woman catches me by surprise. I expect intelligent and sensitive men [surely a retired professor of literature is a sensitive man] to be attuned to such overt signs of a woman's violation. But apparently not. Here we are fifty plus years after The Feminine Mystique and even thoughtful men are still blind.
Beyond this discovery of blind spots, the class is fascinating both for the poems we are reading but because there are about 35 people in it and the average age is something around 75. These are people who have been taking poetry writing classes and who have learned to truly think about poetry and how to read it. They are not settled comfy into watching golf and playing bridge. They have active and acute minds and read real literature. It's wonderful to look around and listen to their interjections about their own readings of lines and poems. This is what continuing education can do for "the best and brightest".
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