I would call reading O: The Oprah Magazine a guilty pleasure except I don't feel guilty about it. Aside from offering alluring fashion and juicy self-help, Oprah always employs A-list literary writers to write reviews, essays and features. So I was delighted to open the latest issue and find a special section in honor of National Poetry Month entitled "The Power of a Poem." Interviews with W.S. Merwin and Mary Oliver (where the famously reclusive Oliver actually mentions her 40-year "steadfast, loving relationship" with "Molly") were extra-pleasurable accompanied by O's glossy pictures. There are articles by Wally Lamb and Maya Angelou (one of Oprah's well-known BFFs) and brief moments with Camille Rankine, Marina Abramovic, Maxine Kumin, and Sharon Olds. Yes, there are a few too many flower petals strewn over the pages, the girly line drawing and typeface get a bit wearing, AND the whole thing is edited by Maria Shriver of all people,
but most important, the issue is simply studded with poems. Here's one of Oliver's:
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though voices around you
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
but you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations--
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice,
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.
After enjoying the issue thoroughly, though, I got a message via a women poets list I'm on from the L.A. poet Kate Durbin. Here's Kate:
Her message was titled "Oprah Magazine Scandal Rip-off." Whoa. As you can see, in addition to being the author of two poetry collections, Kate is a magazine-ready fashionista. O Magazine contacted her about the possibility of including her in a fashion feature, in which "eight up-and-coming poets express their dynamic personal styles." Kate says that after some back-and-forth, the magazine decided not to feature her, but that when she opened the latest issue she saw that they had ripped off one of her own text-and-textile projects. Here's her take, as described on her own blog:
Looking at Kate's work with felt letters on clothing, it's pretty clear to me at least that the designers of the O feature were inspired by the images on Kate's blog. Of course, all artists steal--also known as homage, quotation, inspiration. The difference here, though, has to do with economies of scale. For O Magazine to use a similar concept--felt letters combined with fashion in the context of poetry-- especially after having been in correspondence with Kate, but then declining to feature her or her work, is a rip-off because O has a giant audience and vast resources compared to that of most poets, no doubt including Kate. It just isn't generous to take inspiration from Kate's innovative work and then give nothing back, not even acknowledgement, when the Oprah dynasty has so much.
I hope Oprah herself takes a look at this issue and decides to give Kate her due....or better yet, publish her work in the magazine. Until then, here is one of Kate's poems, from her book The Ravenous Audience (appropriately enough for readers of this blog, it's from the book's first section, entitled The Garden Plot):
A Real Young Girl
1) A greenish grainy hue of a 1960s movie
2) Flies stuck to a comb of urine-yellow honey, wings limply moving
3) A pot of tea, black, too scalding to drink
4) Toast and cherry preserves, red as clots of blood
5) A moan of flies outside in thick summer air
6) A moan of flies inside in a dim airless kitchen
7) A fat man in a brown suit, scooping spoonfuls of brown sugar into a cup of tea
8) A woman with a string of blue beads around her neck, almost tight enough to cut off her oxygen
9) A girl with the face of a child and the body of a woman, dressed entirely in blue
(but not her lips, those are crimson as a sudden gash cut
into flesh, as the secret opening between her legs, which
she feels warm and tingling even now, in this bleak
picture, at this terrible table, between these two strangers
who are her parents)
She takes the spoon in her hand, to scoop sugar into her tea, and drops it to the floor.
10) A spoon on the floor
She reaches down to pick it up next to her father's foot. Her fingers clasp the metal handle. Moving it along the underside of the table she hesitates near the opening of her dress.
11) A spoon in her cunt
There was a cigarette on the bathroom floor of the girls' dormitory. She smeared it with her toes on the dirty tile, black smudges circling like rings around a planet. Bleeding her mark. Ash.
Her mother made her come with her each morning to collect eggs from the hens. One day when her mother's back was turned, the girl crushed a warm shell between her fingers, yolk slipping down her arm.
I can't accept the proximity of my face and my vagina.
She threw up on her frilly nightgown, and her bile was black as old blood. Afterwards, she felt empty and whole.
I'm very well developed for my age.
When she went in the front yard to tan in her bikini, she fell asleep. Her mother threw a bucket of cold water on her.
I decided to see what I'd look like if I were a whore like my mother said.
When she snuck out of the house, her crotch rubbed agains the seat of her old bike.
The dog sniffed her cast-off panties.
Her Fantasy: At the beach. Rubbing sunscreen into her girlfriend's tender skin. They are laughing.
She wrote her name on the mirror in the girls' dormitory with her own cum.
Her Nightmare: Tied naked to the earth with barbed wire. His face above hers. Her legs spread, nipples pointing to the sky. He dangles an earthworm above her, long and moist and squirming. He is laughing.
She always loved peeing after holding it in until she thought she would burst or die.
I'd never give my self to a man.
12) A fly in the jam
I know, a little edgy for Oprah. But the poetry issue does include Sharon Olds, so maybe there's hope.