Alicia Ostriker

American poet and scholar

Alicia Suskin Ostriker (born November 11, 1937) is an poet and scholar who is Jewish and lives in the USA.

Quotes edit

  • the silence of women was, for better or worse, built into the culture of Hebrew as a sacred language. Talmudic study was not for women, nor was the language of liturgy; women's worship was separated from men's; tkhines, special prayers for women, were usually written in Yiddish, the "mother tongue." Thus the sacred linguistic soil from which Hebrew poetry-sacred and secular-sprang for nearly two millennia, was off-limits for most women.
    • Forward to The Defiant Muse: Hebrew Feminist Poems from Antiquity (1999)
  • writing can be a spiritual experience. The writer, the poet, can experience himself/ herself as a vessel the wind of the spirit blows through. The more you open yourself to that possibility, the more likely it is to happen.
  • Ezra Pound in ABC of Reading remarks that when poetry and music move too far from their origins in music and dance, they atrophy and need renewal. We should add that when poetry and the poet move too far from their origins in communal expression-too far from participatory performance and the expectation of shared human feeling, too far into a regulated and predictable literacy bound up in academic role playing, where the reader is either passive appreciator-student or judgmental critic-professor-they are again in need of reinvigoration. Today our schools for the most part train poets and critics into postures of detachment and impersonality, as if our encounters with the life of poetry ought to resemble our encounters with law and bureaucracy. We dread, it seems, the embarrassment and pain of personal and poetic self-disclosure. We have forgotten that "subjectivity" may be as severe and demanding a discipline as "objectivity." If poetry written by women today demands that we read as participants-identifying, gratified, terrified, irritated, disagreeing, even repelled-it may help us "discover self' and may also help us discover wider perspectives for art. I have stressed throughout this book the adversary relation between the women's poetry movement and the "larger" culture, derived from women's cultural marginality. In our own time, a gynocentric poetics is necessarily adversarial. Yet in another sense it may be that women's poetry is simply a vehicle through which, at the present moment, the ongoing life of poetry is being preserved and extended. We must remember that all poetry is marginal in relation to the material preoccupations of society; that all poetry is potentially disruptive to rulers and institutions; and that all poetry depends for its survival not on literary fashions but on the interior needs of readers who for their own reasons respond with pleasure to it. When Whitman in Song of Myself wrote "Camerado, this is no book. Who touches this touches a man, and "What I assume you shall assume," he articulated an abiding impulse latent within all poetry. The women's poetry movement today is a carrier of that same impulse and makes it possible for us to "assume" more than we did before.
    • Epilogue to Stealing the Language: The Emergence of Women's Poetry in America (1986)

Interview (2019) edit

  • I began as a poet in the 1960s, and became a feminist poet in the 1970s. In the mid-1980s, I discovered I was a feminist Jewish poet.
  • I grew up as a third-generation atheist-socialist Jew. My religious training consisted of being told that religion was the opiate of the masses.
  • For Jews, God is an option.
  • I wrote my first poems on pregnancy and childbirth in 1964–’65, based on my first two pregnancies. I was living in Cambridge, United Kingdom, and I found myself thinking, why don’t I have any models, where are the poems about pregnancy and childbirth? I realized finally that it was taboo, and that you’re not aware that your taboos are taboos until they’re broken.
  • I write about this in very first sentence of The Nakedness of the Fathers: “I am and am not a Jew.” I am a Jew by blood, but according to Orthodox Judaism, I have no status. I think that being half in and half out is a great driver, a great source of energy. Poets are outsiders by definition.
  • Poetry gives you permission to put into language what your reality is without sounding like an op-ed. I don’t think I ever get very far from politics; sometimes what I write is overtly political, sometimes it isn’t, but it’s always there. Just like being a Jew is always there. The difference between writing prose and writing poetry for me is that when I’m writing prose I know what I think before I start to write and when I’m writing poetry I’m just crawling into the dark. If something doesn’t surprise me I know it’s not a good poem. Poetry is very often problem solving for me, like there’s something I don’t understand and the only way I have of untangling it is by writing.

Interview edit

  • Acts of violence enter my poems because we live in a violent world.
  • Much more killing has been done by people who believed in heaven than by those who didn’t.
  • My writing is always a gamble. I take the risk of going deep into myself, trusting that if I can go deeply enough, and translate the complex of feelings within myself into articulate language, it will be meaningful to others. We are all islands, but connected—so to speak—on the ocean floor, where human experience is very much shared in common.
  • I typically don’t work in fixed forms, because I like a poem to have a feel of improvisation about it.
  • It seems to me that poetry helps women claim spaces for themselves whenever the poet is true to her experience, true to her sensation and emotion. Our thinking does tend to be dominated—colonized, you might say—by the history of patriarchal thought and language, but it is still possible to think independently if you make up your mind to do it and be vigilant.
  • Part of the task, of course, is simply insisting that female experience is human experience and worthy of being explored in literature. Before the women’s poetry movement, topics such as pregnancy and childbirth, mother-child relationships, sex, love, and marriage from a woman’s point of view, illness and aging from a woman’s point of view, were not considered “universal” enough for poetry. Ha ha ha. Women were silenced and condescended to when they wrote using the material of their own experience. But as Shostakovich said (speaking of Yevtoshenko’s Babi Yar poem mourning the massacre of the Jews of Kiev during World War II, defying the official cover-up), “Art destroys silence.” To bring what is silenced into speech is to make a space.
  • The idea that eroticism and spirituality should be separated is a travesty of both. Read the Song of Songs, a poem which is utterly erotic and utterly spiritual. Or read the great Persian poet Rumi. Or the Hindu Mirabai. All mystical poetry is erotic, uses erotic language, because it desires fusion with God. This is true of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu devotional writing. And all lovers see the beloved’s face and body as divine.
  • Experiment is valuable but so is tradition.
  • Anger has always played a role in poetry. Without anger there would be no Dante, no John Milton, no Jonathan Swift, no Ezra Pound or William Carlos Williams]]—to name a few large examples. All satire derives from anger. Most of the poetry written in Eastern Europe in the postwar period is charged with anger...What is relatively new for poetry is women expressing anger, which horrifies many readers because it is such an unfeminine thing for women to do. Women are supposed to be nice and courteous, and leave the violence to men...The anger in twentieth-century women’s poetry, beginning with Plath and continuing with Adrienne Rich and many others, especially Black women, has been thrillingly salutary, cleansing the air.
  • I am opposed to Orthodoxy in all its forms. Orthodoxy—“right” thinking, “right” dogma—depends on the assumption that your group, your authorities, already know everything there is to be known about God and what God wants us to do in this world. Orthodoxy pins God down to petty human formulations and pretends they are changeless and eternal. What could possibly be more arrogant?
  • Let us never suppose that the structures of our human minds can contain God.
  • I’d like to see new codes of morals that have less to do with respecting authority and berating sin, and more to do with human kindness and the celebration of both love and sexuality. I’d like to see the end of dualism. I’d like to forget about heaven and hell and concentrate on trying to improve life for everyone on this earth. I’d like everyone to recognize that worshiping a God in man’s image is idolatry. I would like every feminist to see herself as a midwife engaged in the task of re-birthing God the Mother who was swallowed by God the Father in pre-history.
  • The problem is that Orthodoxy has most of the best lines. This means that feminists, both men and women, will ultimately have to create language as powerful and resonant as the language used in religions today. New liturgy, new psalms, new tales, new parables, new revelations, new scriptures—standing beside the old, drawing from the old, yet embodying alternative spiritual realities. We are very far from this now. Most of the writing that attempts to be progressive is flat and uninspiring.

External links edit

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