I was dropping a reply comment to my gal Emily Lloyd's allusion to the Adrienne Rich poem "Aunt Jennifer's Tigers," and it suddenly struck me that I was making a very enormous gendered distinction.
Is form masculine?
And when I ask about form, of course I mean pattern. It occurred to me within seconds of writing the comment that I perceive poetic form to be a systemization of language. I mean, language is already the grandparent of all systems (and truly it is our guide for all symbolic systems we create), so employing a second layer of system on top of it seems strange, antithetical, almost. There's more.
Jacques Lacan, one of the great explicators of Freudian psychoanalytic theory, revises "penis envy" to "phallus envy." A phallus is a symbol most often represented by—yup, penises—but the phallus is not a penis. The phallus is power. Lacan connects the power of the phallus with two primary arenas: the Law and masculinity. The Law is our system of control in society—and it includes both legislation and social law (the unwritten but deeply meaningful). Lacan often calls this system "The Law of the Father," which brings it back toward the Oedipal scene—the Law becomes the true opponent of the child, freeing it from sexual competition with the male parent. Because the father, by virtue of malehood, seems to possess the phallus (and therefore power), some cultures support a patriarchal structure.
Maybe poetry's like this.
In "Aunt Jennifer's Tigers," you get a very sing-songy rhythm—almost nursery-rhymish in its music—and a repetitive rhyme scheme. The poem discusses a the oppression a woman experiences through the institution (read: Law) of marriage. Her rebellion occurs in the fact that she creates a beautiful, defiant, genderless art in the form of tigers dancing across a screen. The poem alludes to the fact that the rebellion isn't read after the act, but that the rebellion occurs within the act. Furthermore, the rebellion is not visible to the oppressor, making it a form of language they can't access.
Since, at the time of the poem's writing, the business of poetry was primarily a man's game, it makes sense that Rich would rig this poem into a traditional form. And when I say Tradition, I say Male. I allege that the masculine is the enforcer of tradition, of repetition.
I'm going to think more about this, but I would be interested in hearing other people's thoughts about it.