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Another long one...

Rhapsodica's picture

First of all, I just wanted to say thank you to Gail for sharing your sculptures with us -- they're wonderful! I think it's interesting to see a visual representation of how ideas can change and grow over the course of just a month. I'm really glad you took the risk of showing us. :)

Now, in reference to Brooks' poem (and Johnson's article)... well, I'm not entirely sure what to say about either. Like Lydia, I wasn't struck with any sort of intense emotion upon reading "The Mother." To be honest, I can't put my finger on why. I suppose I initially tried to read it through a personal lens, rather than a political one, yet... I didn't connect with it. I haven't had an abortion myself, so I can't empathize completely, I guess... but I still feel like I should have felt something.

When I was 15, my mother told me that she had an abortion a few years before I was born. Even though she had the abortion early on, she said she had a feeling it would have been a girl... that she knows I would have had a sister if she'd gone through with it. I won't go any further into it because I feel like it's not my place to tell her story, but I'm wondering why knowing this doesn't give me a greater capacity to sympathize with the speaker of the poem. I can imagine my mother as the speaker, and see how the speaker of the poem still considers her dead children to be her children... and yet... no strong feeling of compassion on my part. It might have something to do with our weird relationship, I suppose, but I guess it doesn't really matter that much. I suppose it's just that my first reaction was that I didn't have much of a reaction at all, and I've been trying to figure out why.

Anyway... I had a thought about how we were going about analyzing the poem in class. It felt like we were acting on the assumption that Gwendolyn Brooks is the speaker of this poem... that she's writing from personal experience. If I remember correctly, we, at one point, tried to decide whether she had one abortion, or more than one (and, I believe, came to a consensus that it was the latter). But what if Brooks wasn't the speaker in the poem at all? Johnson does make this distinction in her article... referring to "Brooks' speaker" rather than simply "Brooks" when discussing the narrator within the poem itself. What if Brooks never actually had any abortions, and the speaker of the poem is just a voice created by Brooks, a talented poet? Does that change the way we perceive her message? Does that make it any more or less political... more or less personal? I guess I feel like making the distinction between whether it's a personal poem or a poem crafted to convey how a woman in this situation might feel... makes a difference somehow. Or maybe it doesn't since the emotion is based in a grim reality either way. I don't know.

I'm tempted to say that I do not think this poem is overtly political, but I guess I feel like I have no way of knowing what its intent was. Perhaps it really is just an incredibly personal poem, in which case I think it's almost rude in a sense to strip it down to just being "pro-choice" or "pro-life." However, I can see why groups which call themselves by those names would attempt to do so. After all, isn't evoking emotion a tactic of argumentation? Although I was not emotionally moved by this poem myself, I'm sure other people have been. If one side (of the abortion debate) were to "win" this poem, they could potentially shove it in the other side's face and say "look! see! this is why we're right!" And of course, the other side wouldn't be able to argue against it, since well... as we've established, no one can really say emotions or personal experiences are wrong.

But I think that's precisely what's so interesting about this poem: it's so ambiguous that either side can try to claim it, yet neither side can definitively win. Because whether Brooks actually had an abortion or not, the way she wrote the poem still creates a sense of truth. The truth in this poem is that abortion is not an easy choice to make, nor an easy choice to forget. And I can see a (potential?) mother not being so sure about her stake in the whole abortion debate after going through it herself, so I think the difficulty of pinning a classification on this poem is especially fitting.

Finally... I think that the speaker of this poem can be considered a mother because she considers herself a mother. Johnson's article talks about how Brooks uses apostrophe to bring the dead children to life... how language animates them in a sense. Through language, she makes us question at which point the children are considered alive, or are actually children at all, etc. But she also makes us question at which point a mother actually becomes a mother, if only because we believe the speaker is a mother for the duration of the poem, even though it appears she doesn't actually have children. (I suppose I can only speak for myself -- I didn't consider the irony of the title until someone else brought it up) But in addition to giving life to her dead children, the speaker of the poem seems to also... create the role of mother for herself.

Ah, so many unfinished thoughts, so little time...