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May Swenson was a poet who loved to write, and her poetry took many unusual forms. She would write about unusual things.
As an example, she wrote about the fixing of her watch (a seemingly mundane ritual, but quirky). In another poem, based on a childhood experience, a girl runs through the grass with a stick horse (perhaps an imaginary friend), but has "green around the girl's mouth." Her writing was "precise," and she used literary devices that served her poetic endeavors well. For example, as she described sailing, she uses the device of alliteration, as seen with her use of the repeated "k" sound, in words closely bundled together:
How close-hauled, canted, apt to capsize...
Swenson also wrote "shaped poems," poems written in a form that reflected the subject of a poem (e.g., jagged positioning of words on paper to represent it's topic, lightning). She called these poems "iconographs."
However, perhaps more than anything, she was a poet who very much wanted to write with honesty. At one time she wrote:
“I wish/ to be honest in poetry.” In her writing she can “say and cross out/ and say over” the truth she would hide in person...
Perhaps it is the essence of this sentiment so obvious in her poem, "Women Should Be Pedestals." First, note the metaphor she employs with her first example—and we assume that she did not appreciate a woman's place supporting men, beyond simply caring or loving, but elevating them above the women who forever lifted men up:
Women should be pedestals
moving to the motions of men...
This sense gives one the idea that a woman has no life of her own, but like a magician, keeps dishes spinning constantly as women run to and fro following the movements of men as they hold them up to be noticed and praised by others, while the women go virtually unnoticed.
Another metaphor is presented: the woman acting like an "old-fashioned painted rocking horse..." Here the woman is compared to a play thing, that shows that while a man may at one point find her "familiar and dear," ultimately he becomes unfeeling. Once he is entertained—his self-importance his "ego," is restored—he leaves confident, striding away—as the woman remains behind, virtually dismissed:
To be joyfully ridden
until the restored egos dismount and the legs stride away...
The sense of servitude is presented again at the poem's end—that women be always "moving"—to be of service, to support—but losing one's identity in the meantime. This is not Swenson's truth: this is her observation; but I believe that by drawing an inference, we find that there is an irony here: the difference between what is said and what is meant. Independent and honest, Swenson would notice that this is a role often assigned by society to women as creatures secondary in importance, often expected to leave their lives behind to sacrifice themselves to "servicing" men. My guess is that she would advocate nothing of the sort, but simply makes a point to her audience with regard to the waste of a woman's time and intellect in losing herself...to be forever smiling; entertainment in the toyroom; and forever willing. Women should never be happy to be taken out when needed and left behind when no longer necessary.
Swenson's sense of independence and her honesty would make this poem a commentary on what she too often saw among the women in her society.
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