Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The new old invisibility

Last night, after a poetry reading, some old and new friends gathered around a bistro table and talked about trends in poetry. We were 5 women, mostly older, baby boomers and up in age.

We felt some of the poems we had heard recently were the works of overly young voices. As in, interesting concepts that grew tiresome because they lacked the depth or reach we associate with either older or more perceptive poets of any age. I knew what they meant, certainly the poems I wrote in college lacked perspective.

But, said one woman, we must help the younger emerging poets. "We do!" chorused the table. We are happy to give them advice, attend their readings, and buy their better books. We certainly give them more attention than they do us. "When I was younger, I really listened and got to know older people and older poets," said K., "seems like fewer of their generation are getting to know us." "Well there are so very many baby boomers, I think they are entirely sick of our generation," I said.

It's upsetting, said one of my friends, that teaching jobs keep going, again and again, to 35ish poets while a better older poet, who is also a great teacher, can't get hired.

So it comes down to sex appeal? The American obsession with youth? I posited that the new invisibility I am experiencing as a woman over 50 also affects the awarding of teaching jobs, plum reading series, and the other meager benefits of being a poet in America. "Not just women," said J., "some of my male friends complain of the same thing."

Yes, said the eldest woman, between 50 and 75 most poets are forgotten--invisible--until they are rediscovered and lionized in old age. We stared glumly at our gelattos.

America loves the new. Emerging poets, young poets, that is where the attention is. Do you want the photo of a wrinkled man or woman on your writing program brochure or the young hot new? I can take a guess as to which one sells more. Or is assumed to sell more. Are you more likely to enjoy the poetry reading if the poet is juicy looking? I think of the many plain older poets whose poems fill me with wonder.

I no longer turn any heads when I walk down the street or walk in a room, but I don't feel different or less appealing or less sexy or even less new as I experience the sights, smells, sounds and associations that can turn into the beginning of a poem in time to the beat of my feet.

Ah well, maybe with that old new invisibility comes some new poems.


Deborah said...

I know these feelings can be intense, but I have other women friends in their 50's and 60's who feel they are getting more attention now than ever before, and find the release of late middle age rather thrilling. Sometimes, honestly, I think it's the men who mind more. It's probably a day by day thing, adjusting to being older - some days we're up, some days we're down, and some days we're just glad we're still alive!

Claudia Carlson said...

Yeah, I've had elderly woman tell me the 50s and 60s are a terrific time, without the kids around, a woman can fill her life with her own pleasures and passions. Really take her interests from hobby (fit in around cooking meals or monitoring homework) to mastery. I look forward to that!