Tag Archives: kate walbert

“…No More a Boy than a Fish with Wings.” – Kate Walbert

The Gardens of Kyoto - Kate Walbert

Swoon.  Sigh.  Let me dust my cheek with my handkerchief and lean my palm against my chin.  My elbow against this balcony.  My eyes against the green stems of the Gardens of Kyoto.  If you can picture this, my bottom lip is out, plush, my hair huffed up with each breath.  This story was a doozy, it makes me want to be a romantic in a dainty cloth dress.  The Gardens of Kyoto spans years of wars, men going insane, or sad.  It spans gardens, Philadelphia, dark slave rooms filled with walls of scratched numbers, mansions, and sisters.  How can you span sisters without spanning generations, without explaining they’re like their mother or their father.  You read Gardens of Kyoto and you see sisters, their span of lives, their similarities and differences.  I love the confusion of sisters, the “why does she do it this way when it’s so clear our duty is this.”

This is a sad book.  Nobody is happy in the end, well Daphne, but Daphne is such a flower name that you can’t make her outcomes ugly.  (NOBODY WON THE PULITZER IN FICTION).

The Pulitzer

*EXCUSE ME WHILE I RANT AND THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE DISAGREE WITH MY OPINION:  The reason no one won the Pulitzer this year, in my humble blogging opinion, is that the art of fiction in America needs to do better.  We are in an age where people are selling e-books and e-stories for pennies and people are self-publishing due to various reasons (some that they can’t find a publisher who will take their story).  Let’s not forget Harry Potter was discarded by numerous publisher’s before a humble small publishing house finally accepted it for publication.  We need to remember it isn’t always in the name.  All of the people up for Pulitzer’s this year had made a name in contemporary fiction.  Does a name mean that the book you published, the trees you killed for that paper, were worth it?  We just need to ask ourselves this before we publish our books.  If I’m going to buy a hardcover, I expect that the book is as good as its binding.

I’m not saying any of the books up for this years Pulitzer Prize were bad (I haven’t read them), I’m just saying that maybe it’s a sign for American fiction.  We need to stay true to our spirit.  Just because a book is outlandish, does not mean it’s wonderful.  Just because your last name is Wallace, does not mean everything you write will turn to gold.  I do love some Denis Johnson though, he gets me every time.  I will read this new novella even though it was not awarded.

I hope the publishing world starts looking for writers in the humblest of places.  We all have a story, but we don’t all want to write it down.  Do you trust publishing houses to tell you what’s wonderful in fiction?  Or do you ever wonder if something great is out there that you’ll never read because it’s been turned down too many times, and the writer is now stuffing it into a drawer, folding a twine string around the parchment, or leaving it to collect dust, for their children to find after their death.  I wonder…I often wonder.

Thank you, Pulitzer committee for making us scared again.  What is writing if not fear?  Fear that we won’t have time to tell our stories.  Fear that these characters will die and disappear.  Fear that the people won’t love you, that the words won’t be beautifully strung together like a back home Christmas wreath on your dying mother’s door.  Fear is what writing is.  Be memorable.

*END RANT.

Gardens of Kyoto is a lovely book if you don’t mind being unhappy for a few days.  The words are beautiful, Kate Walbert has a way of saying something with a choir of bodies that makes you want to scream, bury your face in a pillow and shove the book into the sleeve of the pillow case to dream about later.  I’m especially bias about this book because I have this sick fantasy about being a girl someone writes letters home too.  I think I was meant to be born in the thirty’s, when my father was born.  I was meant to feel a sliver of the depression and then send someone off into the clutches of battlefields, dead trees, winter.

Maybe that’s why I especially love books written from the narration of war widows, or war girlfriends, girls who’ve been pinned and are always waiting.  I have this ideal of running down the dust road to the mail box, missing the pot holes slick with mud from yesterday’s rain.  And while Ellen doesn’t ever get to do this, she does have men who belong to her, but belong more to the war.  Men who gave her a small piece of themselves, but took the rest to be closed and trampled.

I think that’s the thing I loved most of the book, the small pieces of human.  Every character gave Ellen a small bit of themselves.  Her child, who she writes too, gave her the smell of fresh skin, of babies, a murmur.  Her cousin Randall, gave her a goodbye – his hands pressed to the round parts of her face.  Her mother gave her nothing but quiet, to mourn.  Sterling gave her a view of history.  Everyone gave her something of themselves, something of history.  Isn’t that the way though, we will never truly know someone because we won’t know their thoughts.

Southern Belle

In my head, I talk in a southern accent.  I have to be careful it doesn’t come out in my real life but I like to decorate the words, round them, drawl out my conversations with myself.  It’s strange the way we have these small secrets with ourselves.  It must be the reason our imagination is at its best in the night, just before sleep, when we are the most ourself – the most alone with these bodies.

Clearly, mine is a body lying in the sweat of the South.  And yours…


A Short History of Women | Rant

Sometimes you read books that don’t have a conclusion but they tell you something about the world. A lot of bloggers have said “this story has no point” and while it has no points plot-wise, or nothing to tell you in a sort of moral conclusion, it has a lot to say about women and womanhood.

A Short History of Women gives the story of four generations of women, some suffragists, some trying to find themselves, and some a hollow bone.  It’s painful, it’s a painful symbol for how the world sees womanhood, or how the world expects women to be.

I certainly do not have the strength of a few of these characters.  I could burn a bra against a metal barrel in the back woods of North Carolina, or a field grown over with weeds and clovers.  I could throw eggs at protestors and watch the clear jelly slide down their cheeks.  It’s yellow round – in a pan glowing white, rosing over, sunny side.  Enough of that though.  I’m saying I’ll hold a sign to get the vote, I’ll stand in the silent line to protest invasive sonograms.  But would I ever starve myself for the cause?

How far will I go for my own rights, if starvation…after passing – was the fact my ribs showed and my voice sunk to nothing even worth it?

These are the questions Kate Walbert asks.  How much is too much?  How far will we go and how will we do it?  And why?  When your son is buried in the desert mire during war, or the metal fence boasts “No Photographs after this Point” will you barge through, will you weep, will you seek arrest and council?  What do we do for the control of our bodies…

I think I liked this book so much, not for it’s story climax, or “point,” but because I was forced to ask myself these questions.  What morally is my duty to my body – this body filled with pores, causing hips to round in its shadows, asking for motherhood and spreading it’s legs against the ash of men (or women).  I’m not sure at this point what my duty is to my body.

I rise with the times, I suppose – I expect to be paid the same as a man in the same job, I expect to be judged on my hard work and not what my body was born into, and I believe in poetry and women’s place in literature, although articles are coming out announcing men’s publishing rates are rising higher than woman’s and this great article about chick lit @ Huffington Post. (Thank you Unputdownables).

I believe in Sylvia Plath’s words:

“Out of the ash I rise with my red hair
and I eat men like air.”
― Sylvia PlathAriel: The Restored Edition

If you need to ask yourself these questions – answer them with the literature, read this book.  Ask yourself what your mother, or grandmother has taught you about being a woman.  What did they instill in you – a sense of urgency, kindness, sexuality?  My grandmother instilled power, erratic driving, perseverance, self-teaching.  My mother instilled everything – the idea to be fierce, but soft.  I often think about what my daughters will think when they read my journals (if I have daughters) or what I will teach them in actions, and then later how they’ll discover my voice on paper.  I’m not sure what they’ll say about me – that I over-analyze, I scribble, I make lists.

At least though, I’m thinking about it, and thinking about it more after A Short History of Women.  Thinking about my contribution to not only my own line of females, but my voice in the public sphere (on women).

This brings me to: Samantha Brick, the woman too pretty and attractive to have any female friends.  If you haven’t read it, her article can be found here.   Here is the premise of the article: other women hate me because I’m beautiful and they treat me unfairly due to my stunningly good looks.  She’s a free lance journalist in France.  While I think her discussion is important, I don’t think she went at it the right way.  I believe pretty woman probably do struggle with making friends and it may be that other women are jealous, or it may just be that attractive women constantly discuss their looks, and their suitors and other women get bored with the conversation.  It’s strange how she writes this article with so many stories of hatred from other women who in secret praise her.  Last year, I wanted to watch the Victoria Secret Fashion Show for several reasons.

1. The women are absolutely stunning and they’re fun to look at, their hips ticking like a grandfather clock and those giant wings sparkling along the runway.

2. I like to know what bathing suits will look like next season.

3. I like to have inspiration to continue on my exercising journey.  My favorite model, Miranda Kerr, recently had a baby before the 2011 show and yet she looked flawless.  I did find myself saying, “I’d love to look like that,” but that doesn’t mean I’m jealous, it means I’m appreciative.  Sometimes, I bite down on the strong urge to yell at women running the neighborhood with me, to cheer them on.  It’s good when we can find something in common like loving ourselves instead of constantly putting one another down.   Have I been catty in my lifetime?  Sure.  Have I ever been cruel to someone because I thought they were prettier than me? No.  I don’t think that’s fair, when society is so much more cruel to those who don’t solidly fit its standards of beauty.  What we should be talking about is Bully, not some pretty Brit who’s having a hard time being pretty.

It’s a shame we can’t chalk all this up to: we can’t all be the same, we have different genes, different geographical locations, different unique and beautiful physical qualities.  When I read the article I kept thinking, “it’s not because you’re pretty, it’s because you’re rude about it.  You’re narcissistic.  You live in a house of mirrors and yet throw stones.”

I think this states to me that we’re living in a world where women think they can use their looks against each other.  I have news for people out there: you’re born with looks.  Very few women get nose jobs (unless they play Baby in Dirty Dancing), or liposuction  to suit themselves more firmly in the attractive.   Can you name one friend who’s had breast implants, I can’t.

Slam Poet Katie Makkai – “Pretty”

Why is it that we’re still talking about looks anyway?  Did you know that in England circa 1800 women being overweight and pale was popular?  In fact, if you were skinny or tan, it was considered that you were a maid, or a slave of some sort (often working in the sun, or not getting enough nourishment).

Obviously Samantha Brick has done well in her career with all of the possible promotions she mentions and yet we hear nothing about how she strives to pass the glass ceiling, or how she competed easily with others in her position (regardless of gender, or physical attraction).

It’s sad when high school girls are going through life considering eating disorders because their self-esteem isn’t concerned with how many poems they can quote, or how they understand the periodic elements and their functions, or how improved they are in a chosen sport, but instead how formed their abs are, or how straight their hair.

It worries me.   I was that girl who got up an hour earlier on non-swimming days to straighten my hair.  I had and have quite high self-esteem.  I swam year round all through high school, five hours a day and always had a boyfriend, so I wasn’t supremely concerned with my body but I did concern myself with these golden sea weed strands on my head and the acne forming on my chin.  I wanted straighter teeth, hair, legs.  I wanted less thigh, and didn’t laugh when my mother told me I had birthing thighs given from my grandmother.

So, this all comes back to our bodies.  How will we respect them and use them in the world.  How much do we fight with our minds and how much with our physical womanhood.  Earlier this week, I read a great nonfiction piece in Revolution House.  You can read it by Chelsey Clammer,  titled “Body Home” here.

I’d like to quote just a piece of it,

“I am on my way to work, getting on a train in Chicago. My commute has become a ritual of sitting in my body, mapping out the space she inhabits.   Each day I go through the obstacles of my mind as I judge the way my body moves. At the train stop, I go through the turnstile, and it rushes up behind me as I push it with my hand. The metal bar hits the back of my bag, an overstuffed messenger bag that bustles with snacks for the day, with notes for my job. The metal hitting my bag does not indicate to me that I am carrying a large amount of stuff to work, but it means I exist too much, that I take up too much space, that there is too much of me in the world” (Clammers, 48).

I think Clammers gives us a deep and revolving look at the female psyche.  I don’t want to feel like I am too much in the world because of how much seat I take up on a subway, or how deep a trampoline dips as I’m jumping into the blue air.  I want to feel too much in the world because I’ve written an overwhelming amount of words, because I’ve spoken loud enough for the world to hear, because my journal is so filled with scraps of lettering that it is bunching out, papers are crowding the spine.  I want my body to be my words, my hips small syllables, my eyes rhymes, and my fingers every sweet curve of my unsmooth handwriting.  This is how I will be too much in the world: too much voice. Too fierce.  Too alive with expression, with correspondence, with this, here.

Here is the main question though: What do these messages say about womanhood.  Ask yourselves.

*Next week I will be in Philly working at St. Francis Inn.  I may not be able to blog — head’s up.


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