For Poetry Friday --a poetry full speach by Ursula Le Guin

"The bringing of light
is no simple matter.
The offering of flowers
is a work of generations."

Ursula Le Guin, from The Vigil for Ben Linder, here on her website.

At the end of my sophomore year in college, I missed the commencement address--I had put off packing too long. So from my tower room, I heard vague noises from the gathered crowds, but not a word spoken by Ursula Le Guin. They were good words, too, as I discovered recently via Google, and full of poetry (and poems, mostly by other people). The words were about words, and talking, and creating relationships and being in the world, all things that Le Guin excels at.

I have two boys. I read to them and talk to them; I want them to talk to me. So I found this bit of Le Guin's speech rather thought provoking:

"People crave objectivity because to be subjective is to be embodied, to be a body, vulnerable, violable. Men especially aren't used to that; they're trained not to offer but to attack. It's often easier for women to trust one another, to try to speak our experience in our own language, the language we talk to each other in, the mother tongue; so we empower each other.

But you and I have learned to use the mother tongue only at home or safe among friends, and many men learn not to speak it at all. They're taught that there's no safe place for them. From adolescence on, they talk a kind of degraded version of the father tongue with each other - sports scores, job technicalities, sex technicalities, and TV politics. At home, to women and children talking the mother tongue, they respond with a grunt and turn on the ball game. They have let themselves be silenced and dimly they know it, and so resent speakers of the mother tongue; women babble, gabble all the time.... Can't listen to that stuff.
NB: The men that I know well enough to talk to are not like the stereotypes here, so I take this with a grain of salt.

But still, reading out loud to my sons, I wonder what they are hearing. So many books about people busily doing things...you can't really ask, after reading "Go, Dog, Go," a question like "how did that make you feel?" (I generally ask, once we get the party scene, "Which dog would you like to be?" And anyway, "how did that make you feel" is such a forced question that the whole communication experience becomes moot).

Reading poetry is a much more relaxing way to offer children a nice subjective experience. I have been amazed at the pure emotional, subjective reactions poems elicit from my kids (although thinking about it, their response is often couched in un-woman-tongue: "Read it Again" they say. Or "I don't like it." Or still more disturbingly, "I don't get it," as if meaning was a possession. But their little faces are just full of flickering expressions, and they aren't running away or hitting each other). Words whose meanings must surely be unclear to them still have meanings when taken together.

In a book where all is clear, it is the words that have power--the dogs are going, and no subjecive feelings can stop them. But in the poems that I think of as "really good", the reader or listener has a voice too. So I try to read them poetry, although it is hard, especially these days while we are painting the living room and the house falls into disaster around it ("how does this mess make you feel, children?").

Here is part of another of the poems Le Guin quotes:

The Blanket Around Her

maybe it is her birth
which she holds close to herself
or her death
which is just as inseparable
and the white wind
that encircles her is a part
just as
the blue sky
hanging in turquoise from her neck

It was written by Joy Harjo of the Creek people, and was published in: That's What She Said: Contemporary Poetry and Fiction by Native American Women, ed. Rayna Green (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984), p. 127.

The Poetry Friday roundup is hosted today by Kelly Fineman, here today!


  1. I found something interesting happened when I was the visiting poet at a local elementary school this spring. The kids all paid attention. Especially the ADD/ADHD kids. There's something about the condensed language of poetry that seems to really get their attention -- and the kids definitely focused; their responses showed it definitively. So there's something in poetic language that speaks in a way that regular speech (be it girl talk or guy speak) doesn't.

  2. Charlotte,

    I love the excerpt from "The Blanket Around Her." Thanks for this great post.

  3. Wow - a thoughtful post bracketed by such lovely poetry. Thanks~!

  4. "How does this mess make you feel, children?" Woo-hoo, I laughed at that!

    This is such a thoughtful post, and I'm a big fan of LeGuin. I'm struggling a bit with her extreme stereotypes, and I'm thinking of my own son, who learned to read from Calvin and Hobbes. Yes, there was TONS of action there, but oh, such great subjectively and imagination too. I think it might be that men are imaginative and subjective about DIFFERENT things, not that they aren't at all.


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