Gay men are gay because they have been feminized by over-contact with the mother. This prevailing piece of Oedipal wisdom has always seemed ignorant to me. More to the point, it seemed to be exactly the explanation that patriarchy would produce: Why not make a hatred of women into the cause and justification for hating gay men, women-men? At the same time, however, I was aware of the power exerted by mothers in gay poets’ lives…but in a positive way…their openness to the Jungian Anima, the Feminine Principle. The binding power of the Mother is something fully expressed by Robert Duncan when he wrote “My mother would be a falconress,/And I her gay falcon treading her wrist…" (Bending the Bow, p.52).
Interestingly, Issue 22 of Boxcar Poetry Review, includes a fascinating discussion between Jericho Brown and James Hall about the personal origins of their poetry. It is a discussion in which the Mother, in one form or another, looms.
James Allen opens their dialogue with a reference to Mark Doty on the dangers of revising the past from the present. (A good point for writers, since there is nothing more futile than trying to revise what is enmeshed in the past with a view from the present. It is the mistake of Orpheus: do not try to turn back. Let the past follow the present until it becomes part of the present). And Jericho Brown responds with a similar point of reference. (Not surprising, since both poets were mentored by Mark Doty as writing students). For them both, Mark Doty appears as a matrix, a mother to their work, what the alchemist’s term the prima materia.
As the dialogue progresses, Jericho Brown suggests that poetry/writing is a conversation. That does not, on the surface, seem much like a definition for poetry. But as Nor Hall, the author of the perceptive The Moon and the Virgin, a study of the Mother and poetics, would say, those poets who are bound to the mother are also bound to the roots and origins of words, the mother-language of creativity. A conversation is vers, a turning, literally, a turning around: it is vers libre in which the placement of words and line-breaks/turns give structure to speech. There is something quite intimate and fitting about how James Hall recounts the following:
“I remember late nights with you on the phone as we played with line breaks of our poems…”
The phone conversation has conversation as its subject. In the mothering night, both poets play the Mother’s games.
Following the paradigm of Toni Wolff in Structural Forms of the Feminine Psyche (1956), Nor Hall develops a four-fold view of the Anima. She is Amazon, Medial, Mother and Hetaira: virgin, sibyl, creator and wife. For James Hall, in Now You're the Enemy, the Mother is the Dark Mother, the witch-mother:
“My mother has struggled with depression, adultery, and suicide for most of her adult life.”
She is a haunted space into which his book of poems allows an undesired entry. He expresses a wish to close that door, to write free of the mother. He doesn’t explain what that would be like. H.D., knowing the opposite pole to the Dark Mother, the hetaira, would describe it as a way of self-containment, of divorce from any relationship, of a wish to “melt down/integrate” in the crucible of the imagination (Trilogy).
The Mother does not appear explicitly, during the interview, in Jericho Brown’s world. It is the Father that raises his head…and hand. But she is subtly present in two major parts of the dialogue. Firstly, she appears when Jericho Brown discusses his poem “Rick” (a poem in reply to Rick Barot). A close friend suggested that “Rick” should not be included in Please because it was too “gossipy” (for a poem about inter-racial relationships?) Jericho Brown defends his decision, during the dialogue, by suggesting its seriousness, the fact that Rick Barot loved its “metaphors”. In fact, “Rick” is one of the best poems in Please, not at all superficial, for gossiping is a vital aspect of the Mother. Gossip is derived from the roots, god and sybbe, and implies truthful speaking, a medial voice. The mediatorial aspect of the Mother comes in many guises. In ancient Greece, she would have been the gossiping sibyl of Apollo. In Tudor times, she was the truth-telling prophetess, such as Paulina in The Winter’s Tale. In the seventeenth century, she became the unbridled woman, the Puritan woman testifying to God. Today, she is the Diva, the voice that transmits emotional truths and stands between the world of patriarchy and matriachy. This quality is beautifully realised by Jericho Brown whilst discussing the divas within Please:
“Divas are also quite unapologetically talented...They mean for their very presence to make people cry, just as the poet must mean for his or her poems to make readers fully feel an emotion."
That is a wonderful example of the Mother speaking from within the man— a revelation of the alignment between the Diva and the gay poet who is open to the liberating voice of his Anima. Jericho Brown closes the interview by recognising the medial nature of his next manuscript and describes his present life as
“…the Wood Between the Worlds”…
In other words a world that saps the power of the witch-mother (The White Witch in Narnia) yet advances passivity and waiting. This implies, as with James Hall, a future shifting within the Mother paradigm. Hopefully, this will be towards the pole of the Amazon, ARTemis, a state that allows the self to support, yet stand-back from creation, to explore points of involvement in life and art.
Do read…it is a fascinating dialogue!