Unsolved Problems: Erica Jong and Kim Dower




“Women and fiction remain, so far as I am concerned, unsolved problems.” – Virginia Woolf,  A Room of One’s Own 

Read more in the Unsolved Problems series in the LARB Quarterly Journal, No. 13.

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Many years ago, my friend Kim Dower and I began to send each other poems from California to New York or New York to California to inspire and delight one another. These were private poems, written for each other. Our friendship grew deeper, and our poetry reached beyond ourselves. Whatever I was doing or writing I stopped to write a poem. And it felt good. After all, poetry is a communal enterprise — an intimate conversation between friends. Isn’t the goal to crack open narcissism, to humble yourself in your mortality and not-knowing? Anne Sexton once admonished me to forget competition when writing: “we are all writing the same poem, god’s poem…” she said.

– Erica Jong

Kim writes to Erica:

Invitation

How starving we are in our tent
dresses, vivid with vertical stripes.
We yell to be fed a morsel of bread
a pull of pork anything to sustain us
through our dirt road nightmares.
I am dancing into of a haze of trouble,
surrendering to solitude, can hear
the heartbeats of my ancestors,
there’s nothing left but the starry sky
softly disguised as the enemy, my prophesy,
November light, last call, come out with me,
let’s take the late train to madhouse.

Erica answers Kim:

Taking the train to the madhouse
as I walk on my treadmill, legs
dream-heavy, trying to walk my way out
off this mortal coil.

Eating fish & raw vegs, fruits of the garden
the goddess gave but will take away
as I die of hunger like my mother,
fasting her way to 101,
but drinking water
& always eating chocolate.

O dearest Eda, my mother, you loved
caviar and foie gras, champagne,
black truffles — nothing that was not costly
& bad for the heart & liver
& yet you lived to 101
& died, slim as
a wraith.

What is the moral of the story?

Eat well, live long, have daughters.
Thank the goddess — Lakshmi, Fortuna, Juno, Aphrodite
Gaia, Persephone —
for being born a woman.

Amen.

 

 

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