"Spelling" Part 2 - Identity
Read the poem - here
Read Part 1 here
Margaret Atwood’s poem “Spelling” starts
“My daughter plays on the floor
with plastic letters,
red, blue & hard yellow,
learning how to spell
how to make spells”
The idea of making spells connotes the mystical nature of language. Spells can refer to power over the physical or spiritual realm as well as power over (or of) words. To some spells were stories that enchanted and captured the imagination (good spell= good story =good news=godspell=gospel). For others it was a means of expressing understanding of the world or even power over that world.
The ability to spell – to use words was not always granted to women. Many thought that women had no use of literacy. So the ability to spell, to make spells, to use the power of language was denied to them. How can one have a voice and bring forth that which is inside of them if they are prevented from utilizing the very tools necessary to have that voice?
Atwood closes the poem this with -
“How do you learn to spell?
Blood, sky & the sun,
your own name first
your first naming, your first name,
your first word”
In some cultures the act of naming was like a spell. A name held power, it held the identity of a person and was not to be used lightly. For centuries women have been denied this identity – they have been denied having a name. Upon marriage they take on their husband’s name and are often known by just that name. At marriage, I exchanged my father’s last name for my husband’s. But I am not Mrs. Michael Clawson as if I am merely an extension or possession of his. I have an identity, I have a first name, I am my own person.
A few years ago, I read an editorial in Christianity Today by an African-American man who was offended by people who called him by his first name. He asserted that under racism, slavery, and segregation those of African descent were denied titles and respect and called only by their first names like children. He wanted to make it known that he wanted to be respected as a person and called by his formal name. As a woman, I sympathized, but came to the opposite conclusion. I wanted to be called by my first name because it was the closest thing I had to my own identity. I didn’t want to be referred to as another’s possession or appendage. I am Julie and feel the most respected as a person when people address me as such.
Identity as an individual, as in “your own name first”, must be established before one can do much else. It is hard to have a voice if one is not allowed to be a distinct person. It is after a woman establishes identity as her own person that she is able to voice her first word. And with that word comes the freedom to learn to spell – to use language, to make spells.
I want to make good spells, to tell good stories, to use language in powerful ways. I want to have power over the physical and spiritual realms – to speak prophetically, to affect change in the world, to heal the broken systems, to bring hope to the oppressed, to spread the goodspell. I had to learn that it was okay for me to have that voice. That I didn’t need permission or an invitation to speak up. That the ideas and passions inside of me could be birthed no matter who I was. It took me awhile, but I learned to spell.
Labels: Gender Issues, poetry reflections