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.


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:


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.





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Tomás Rivera Book PrizeSubmit your manuscript to be entered to win

Open to any author writing in English about the Chicanx/Latinx experience, the Rivera Book Prize is committed to the discovery and fostering of extraordinary writing by a first-time or early career author whose work examines the long and varied contributions of Chicanx/Latinx in the US. The Rivera Book Prize aims to provide a platform that showcases the emerging literary talent of the Chicanx/Latinx community, to cultivate the next generation of Chicanx/Latinx writers, and to continue the rich literary memory of Tomás Rivera, Chicano author, poet, activist, and educator.

AWARD: $1,000 prize, publication of manuscript by LARB Libros, and ten copies. Additionally, winner will receive a stipend to assist with travel to Southern California for a reading and book signing at UC Riverside during Writers Week.

DEADLINE: January 17, 2020. Apply via Submittable Here.

Entry Fee: $35. Entry fees are non-refundable.

Eligibility: All previously unpublished works in prose written primarily in English focused on the Chicanx/Latinx experience in the United States.