What Can I Ask - New and Selected Poems 1975 - 2014. Elana Dykewomon. A Midsummer Night's Press & Sinister Wisdom. Sapphic Classics 96. New York, New York. 2015.
The Jewish lesbian-feminist activist poet with the extraordinary name of Elana Dykewomon brings a myriad of irons to the fire, isms, movements, belief systems and survivalist strategies. They are all welcome. Today's book of poetry is here to champion Dykewomon's persuasions with all the respect we can -- but it is only because we like the poems that we are here.
Intelligent passion is always a good way to go and Elana Dykewomon is all over that. These poems are a rebuke to a culture that has yet to embrace women as equals in every way. Today's book of poetry read What Can I Ask with reasonable diligence and we can say that Dykewomon never asks for anything, she's long past that, the women in these poems are making demands, living with strident purpose,
my mother used to have that dream
We were standing in her kitchen
the kitchen of the womon who
had been my lover
I was trying to leave
She didn't want me to go
I didn't want to go
but I could see no other
way to be
She could not move toward me
she was crying
she said it wasn't that she
didn't want to, she didn't know
what stopped her
my need wasn't strange or
unreasonable to her still
she could not respond to me
unless we were having this scene
she said she dreamed she could not
move, she opened her mouth
and no words came out
my mother used to have that dream
she was standing on a beach
watching her children drowning
swept away on the surf
and she couldn't move to save them
she opened her mouth, like you
but she could not scream
I am my mother's daughter
I am out beyond the breakers
in dangerous water
the womon on the beach
sees me go down
tangled in kelp, exhausted
or a huge wave
catches me in its break
I see her standing there
fixed unable to swim toward me
unable to make a sound,
neither cry for help nor encouragement
I have been lost at sea
to many womyn in just this way
including my mother
one minute they are thinking
everything is well with us
and the next
I'm a ghost
What they never see is how I
surface on the other side
of the wave
for another coast
Remember that Today's book of poetry has no agenda other than poetry and frankly we tread with some trepidation when venturing into Dykewomon world. Elana Dykewomon is writing for an audience of women/womyn and doing so without apology.
Today's book of poetry wants to be clear that when we see the big hearted, big loving, big eating, big thinking poems Dykewomon has hammered out over the years we are filled with admiration. But how does a sixty year old straight man, a product of a patriarchal culture and of Protestant/Catholic heritage and culture write glowingly about a Jewish lesbian activist and her poetry?
I went outside a few minutes ago to take a break and have a smoke. I always have a celebratory smoke between finishing writing the blog and actually typing it out to post. I write the blog by hand, usually on lined paper folded in half lengthwise. It is very cold here in Ottawa this morning, -11 C. So, I'm outside for my smoke and our newest staff member Odin was with me. He doesn't say much most of the time and he wasn't saying anything this morning. But Today's book of poetry remembered that Odin, more than anyone TBOP has ever known, greets every single person he meets with the same gracious and open welcome and we remembered that is why we love him, that excellent example.
The lesson here, Today's book of poetry doesn't want to try and mansplain Elana Dykewomon or her very powerful What Can I Ask. But we certainly encourage you readers to enjoy it.
We change each other
I am a womon of opaque windows
set at oblique angles
a face in each one
covered in nylon stocking or gray crepe.
I close the shutters of my body
one by one
-- let no light in this house
and don't poke around in my vagina either.
You refuse to take it
Suddenly I turn a corner
in the twenty-fourth corridor
where all the windows are made
of polished black amber
and the sills are volcanic ash.
There you are
you've brought your bright red pillow
you've got your feet up against the window
and have hung your god dam plants.
Doesn't that look nice?
No I say get out
I may love you in meadows
but this is queer palace
no room for two.
Effortlessly you unhinge the locked blinds.
There that's better these vines need sun.
Come on now -- we have to live where we can.
I start to weep
and you pull me to your breasts
with tough hands
Elana Dykewomon is writing for womyn but I doubt she she'll mind that there are men who admire her poetry.
Our morning read was an all women affair today. Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, thought it only right and proper that these poems be read by women so she brought in two friends. Sally and Jody were a hoot and good readers to boot. They were also wearing two pairs of cowgirl boots between them, one from each pair on both of their feet.
A fool for love
It's harder now, to organize,
than in my 20s. Then
when I said I wanted to do it for lesbians
if there was a question
the question was
why do it for lesbians, who are they?
I was sure of my answer
of my love and pride
my pride in love
But now I fear
when I say I want us
who so clearly need each other
to speak every phrase of that need --
I want journeys with womyn
I can depend on, who can depend on me
the answer will be:
o that old thing
And no one wants to be a fool for love
Redwoods gutted by fire and ax
Where one redwood is destroyed
a ring of young trees sprout
redwoods have shallow roots
they need these circles
where root holds fast with root
after everything that's happened
because of everything that's happened
I want to imagine a world
in which we thrive
where difference engages us
and root hold fast with roots
Today's book of poetry thought Elana Dykewomon's What Can I Ask - New and Selected Poems 1971 - 2014 was properly incendiary. This book brims with brave and honest poetry.
ABOUT THE AUTHORElana Dykewomon is a Jewish lesbian activist, award-winning author, editor, and professor. Her first novel, Riverfinger Woman, published in 1974, was selected for The Publishing Triangle’s list of 100 best lesbian and gay novels. Best known for her Lammy winning historical novel, Beyond the Pale, Dykewomon was also awarded the 2009 James Duggins Outstanding Mid-Career Novelist’s Prize. She was the editor of Sinister Wisdom from 1987 to 1994 and currently lives in Oakland, California.
Elana Dykewomon’s poems are reminders not to take anything for granted: to listen to the messages embedded in others' silences, to look beneath the rubble of violence, and to value the pleasures of intimate loving. Presenting the poetry written over the past four decades, What Can I Ask is wise, passionate, and inspirational. I so value this work and always keep it close to my heart.”
--Irena Klepfisz, Author of A Few Words in the Mother Tongue
Here is a video of Elana Dykewomon in Belgrade, the video is courtesy of
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