by Jessie Carty
During my late 20’s, I stopped writing. I was a college grad, married, moving into my first home and I felt like I should focus on being a “grown-up” which, for some reason, didn’t seem to involve me writing poems anymore or reading comics.
As my 30’s loomed, I wasn’t hearing the sound of a biological clock because I had already decided not to have children, but I was listening to a “what is my life all about” constantly tocking. I found myself taking quizzes out of self-help books that were supposed to tell me what I wanted to do when I grew up even though I already had a full-time, white-collar, career based job.
What was missing?
My husband and I decided to travel. During a trip to Tokyo in 2006, I fell in love, again, with haiku and manga. I loved how men and women of all ages could be seen with manga and Nintendo DS’s while they rode the subway. My husband and I brought back action figures, video games and I started trying to write again. I started with haiku before I settled back into free verse. I wrote about my childhood, my work life, my home life, shows on TV. Everything was fodder for my poetry.
When I enrolled in a low-residency MFA program in 2007, I did so out of a desire to be around other writers. I wanted to find more books to read. I was not disappointed with the people I met or the new writers I discovered. I did find, however, that some of the topics I wanted to write about were frowned upon or considered “snarky.” I tried to avoid the inner “snark” for a while but then I wrote a poem, that I loved, called “What Would Buffy Do.” I realized, snarky or not, I wanted to put everything around me into my poems, including my nerdy heroes.
I thought I was creating these geeky mythologies in a vacuum until in 2009 when, soon after finishing my MFA, I attended the AWP Conference (Association of Writer’s and Writing Programs) in Chicago where I sat in a packed room for a panel titled “Poetry and Comix.” Low and behold, I was not the only one utilizing TV characters and comic book action heroes in my writing.
Why, exactly, were so many of us turning to comics and action heroes in our stories and poems? What is it about super heroes that speak to our generation? The generations before us turned to the classical myths as the international world opened to them through commerce, more readily available books, radio and then TV and film. Writers today are still pulling from these same ancient myths which are easily accessible on the internet through public domain, but I think we also want more than just the classics. We want to create our poetry, our literary world, out of the distant past as well as from more modern bits of myth and magic. What child, or heck even adult, doesn’t dream of having a magic wand or a super power alongside their very human weaknesses?
I wrote down the names of quite a few writers who were creating these new mythologies after the AWP panel in Chicago. The first book I was actually able to find was Quantum Lyrics by A. Van Jordan. With poems such as “The Green Lantern Unlocks the Secrets of Black Body Theory,” Jordan takes on the voice, the personal of The Green Lantern as a way to speak about being an African-American male in the US. The Green Lantern might be a super hero but he still has a touch of humanity that you witness when The Lantern says, “when a gun is in my back / and I throw up my hands. / We are all equal under fear.”
I love that Jordan, an award winning poet, pulls from super heroes and science for his metaphors. I love watching my contemporaries challenge the old mythologies. I have to admit, however, that many of the comic book characters portrayed in poetry, as well as in other literary genres, were of the male variety. That is until I found Jeannine Hall Gailey’s Becoming the Villainess.
In Becoming the Villainess, Gailey utilizes both classic and modern myths. Gailey wants to find a valid voice for the female experience. Where are the heroines in classic myth, fairy tales and comic books? With whom can a girl relate in literature and pop culture as she shapes her own identity? In“The Villainess” Gailey writes that the villainess, “smokes cigarettes, / wears fur, has sex without apologizing. / Sometimes she looks just like you.” Besides the villainess, so many women, in comics and other literature, are represented as victims. In “Women in Refrigerators” which, incidentally, has a quote from the female comic book writer Gail Simone, Gailey really nails it by saying, “we’ll take the spandex, content to play / the supporting role as long as it buys us time; / until someone comes along to free us, // to write us back to our real selves: / our dormant wings undamaged, injuries healed.” We want a hero, a female hero, with power.
Perhaps using pop culture references, especially something as “low-brow” as comic book heroes, is an act of rebellion. It is a way of saying that we can still speak to the tradition of the writers who came before us without having to always pull from the same pool of images. Now we see Zombies taking over Pride & Prejudice while at the same time Michael Chabon wrote an entire novel centered around the hey day of comic book writing in New York.
Even if I was late to the game, I am still enthralled that other people are making the connection between pop culture and poetry; that they are seeing the modern world as viable material to write about. I’m excited that writing the geek in you can be done. I have returned to my fallen pop culture poems with gusto. Heck, one titled “Drawn to Heroes” was even a finalist for last year’s Best of the Net awards. The naysayers just can’t see that sometimes we need a hero that looks just like us.
BIO: Jessie Carty’s writing has appeared in publications such as The Main Street Rag, Iodine Poetry Journal and The Houston Literary Review. She is the author of two poetry chapbooks At the A & P Meridiem (Pudding House 2009) and The Wait of Atom (Folded Word 2009) as well as a full length poetry collection, Paper House (Folded Word 2010). Jessie is a freelance writer and writing coach. She is also the photographer and editor for Referential Magazine. She can be found around the web, especially at http://jessiecarty.com where she blogs about everything from housework to the act of blogging itself.