Tuesday, March 2, 2010

My Final Essay for English 102

The Secretary Chant
My hips are a desk,
From my ears hang
chains of paper clips.
Rubber bands form my hair.
My breasts are quills of
mimeograph ink.
My feet bear casters,
Buzz. Click.
My head is a badly organized file.
My head is a switchboard
where crossed lines crackle.
Press my fingers
and in my eyes appear
credit and debit.
Zing. Tinkle.
My navel is a reject button.
From my mouth issue canceled reams.
Swollen, heavy, rectangular
I am about to be delivered
of a baby
Xerox machine.
File me under W
because I wonce
a woman.

Small note before you read this: Going into this essay I had been up over 24 hours and 30 minutes before class was about to die of exhaustion, so I bought a cup of coffee and headed into class and got really hyper. I had no idea what poem I was going to write on, no idea what I was going to write about. That's why the title is so simple. We were supposed to bring an outline and thesis into class but since I didn't know or care what I was going to write about I didn't have these things. I just read this shitty poem and then started writing and got an idea of what I wanted to say about it in the process.

"Reader Response to "The Secretary Chant"

The Secretary Chant, published by Marge Piercy, is a poem composed with a simple point and idea that manages to be both humorous and incisive. It comes out as an evocative statement and commentary of women in the position that the title holds namesake to. It does this by using imagery and onomatopoeia to illustrate how they may be regarded merely as functionaries for their assigned tasks. While it may do this in an entertaining fashion, one could muse over whether or not this is actually a negative, or rather, uncommon enough occurrence to warrant such a critical approach or image.

The poem jumps right into its spiel and instantly one is placed within the world of this nameless ant. "My hips are a desk." It's jarring, monotone, and succinct. This secretary is right off the bat informing the reader that her body parts do not feel like organic, natural set-pieces. They have transformed into the objects around which her occupation is focused. Instead of her being the one who uses these tools, she is now a tool herself. "From my ears hang chains of paperclips. Rubber bands form my hair." The objects she initially describes are normal enough in what they're replacing. Parts of the body that all human's share. At this point the reader could just as easily assume this poem could relate to anyone or any sex. It could be retitled as "The Assistant's Chant" and make the same impression. But then, like a rising tide, the speaker's sex and femininity overwhelms in what is the longest single line of the poem. "My breasts are wells of mimeograph ink." The length and juxtaposition make it clear that the speaker being a lady is of utmost importance. She is a woman. Or, as the poem later informs us, was a woman.

As the author of this knows nothing of Piercy or her views he must use the poem as the only clear idea of her standing in regards to women's role in society. The poem, working almost as just one large analogy with a diverse amount of comparisons, makes it clear how the speaker feels. She feels dehumanized. More than that though, she feels a loss of identity in regards to her gender and sex. She is no longer looked upon as a female but as a secretary. An interesting viewpoint to be certain but one should wonder why this idea plagues our speaker so. If one considers the poem's content and overall message they can come to the interpretation that she doesn't like being only perceived as the secretary.

So she faces dehumanization and a loss of gender identity. So clearly she is being too selfish, or more likely, self-conscious. Given that it is merely her occupation and this idea about her is something that could only occur at the work place, this author begins to question the relevance and importance of the poem's themes. Surely one cannot be deluded into thinking that only secretaries face this loss of identity. It's a job. It is not the person, it's the tasks they perform for the money to pay bills an for groceries. Every occupation turns one into a function for their employer. Would the speaker really want to be perceived as more when that could lead to more pressing problems for a female? A more urgent and well-known problem is harassment of women in work places as objects of mere desire and inferiority beyond that.

The final point is that the ending line, "File me under W for I wonce was a woman," should be a sigh of relief in regards to the workplace. Save your humanity and gender for a more appropriate environment. If one's main problem is how they are not viewed as a person at work, this author suggests getting a life.

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