Apostrophe as Invocation of the Female Writer Archetype: My Own Lady Lazarus

Consider the apostrophe, that silly cuticle interrupting a word; the little eyelash that says something belongs to something else. The apostrophe is, metaphorically, a hook, a crooked finger gesturing come hither, a zygote, a dimple, the yin. But more than that, it says you are mine, you belong to me. Come, come.

Unlike a comma or period, the apostrophe floats above the words, an interruption, a replacement, and an imposter posing as a letter of the alphabet, a stand-in. It cuts into the middle of the word, usually towards the end, and decreases syllable count. It is the steam left over from an evaporating letter or series of letters. It is the end of the seed and the first sprouting of the bud. In fact, it is a ghost. It is not there, unpronounced but aware of its purpose to remind the reader that something has been lost but not entirely. The sentiment remains, the idea of the missing o or a, the i or wi. The apostrophe says hurry along now, no time to dally, but also mourns the loss of said letters, and, if I may veer towards the melodramatic, the apostrophe may also be a woman bowing her head in shame, and she must be written to her grave.

Now consider the apostrophe as it is used in literature, as a formal invocation to an absent or dead person, a figure of speech wherein the speaker may even speak directly to something nonhuman, in a sense, personifying it. Wordsworth invokes Milton to save England, Donne scolds the gentle day sky for interrupting his dreams, Shakespeare has Marc Antony address Caesar’s corpse, and Whitman, the master of apostrophizing, does not hold back at all. Leaves of Grass is basically one long bellow to America.  But normally, an apostrophe is meant to be an interruption, a sudden burst of emotion that can no longer be held back. Like its grammatical namesake, it is an imposter of sorts, a glimpse into an unhinged emotion by the poet or the character in the play; one’s shadow-self emerging from the psyche. Thus, there is not much apostrophizing in argumentative or expository writing since argument by its very nature is fairly restrained and intellectual rather than emotional. In addition, church hymns are also considered apostrophes for they praise God, speaking directly to the higher power, and elegies and odes are common forms of apostrophe.

Writing a book of apostrophes or poems speaking to the dead allows a shadow self to emerge, the poet’s own dark, hidden secrets and confessions communicated through the dead, namely women, in this case, throughout history, mythology and religion whose lives were at once literary and solitary and who will give me permission to write and to be a woman.

Why, when reading Anne Sexton, do I get the feeling that someone is sitting at the edge of my bed? Somehow, buried deep in memory, there is this female archetype, this writer figure alone in a room, writing unapologetically. To that woman, writing was not, as it is to me, shameful, silly, a pointless profession for a childless, single woman, a self-indulgent act like masturbation. What is a poem’s weight in gold? Does it scream when it is born? Will there be kitchen appliances purchased for its new home?  Will I buy it a diamond ring to make sure it remains mine? Or, does it get released into the vacuous air like a burst of steam, expired breath, a moan, and joins the collective unconscious someday, invisible yet floating like a curlicue of ideas levitating somewhere for a girl to pluck out of the air?

Just as Sexton did not apologize for her so-called “self-indulgent” verse, Emily Dickinson, Margery Kempe, Anaïs Nin and Sylvia Plath, to name just a few, were lone rangers in their own right, who reveled in an unimpeded flow of creativity, who transcended the cultural, sexual, intellectual, and/or psychological stereotypes of women during their time. They have fed my research when considering the themes of my manuscript, and their biographies and personal letters show evidence of a possession and an undressing. Essentially, my book is about daring to remember, daring to seek pleasure through self-expression and daring to forgo the expectations society has placed on women in order to reach a higher consciousness of oneself as a woman and what that is. The poems will revel in this feminine jouissance, each a loud bellow to silence the timeless nature of shame and the woman, the setting of each poem vastly different from the next, whether it is the medieval era or the third-wave-of-feminism.

In Hélène Cixous’s essay, “The Laugh of the Medusa,” she asserts, “Woman must write her self, must write about women and bring women to writing, from which they have been driven away as violently as from their bodies.”  With this in mind, I will attempt to invoke the spirits of the past, the dead who gesture, Come, come, you belong to us. We will bury you, and then, if you want it badly enough, will resurrect you as a writer.

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