Thursday, October 24, 2019

Marie Howe's "Practicing": Pre-Teen Lipstick Lesbians in THE NEW YORKER

In preparation for a post, we're reading Sharon Lamb's The Secret Lives of Girls: What Good Girls Really Do--Sex Play, Aggression, and Their Guilt. Lamb writes that the purpose of The Secret Lives of Girls is to: 

"[...] to expose all of these acts that are going on in secrecy so that girls and women can feel less guilty about their sexual desires as well as their aggressive impulses, can learn to accept these as part of themselves and still love and honor themselves for them."

To give an example of what some girls do in secrecy, Lamb shared Marie Howe's poem "Practicing". But before sharing the poem, Lamb wrote:

Marie Howe [a State Poet for New York and National Endowment for the Arts and Guggenheim Fellow], in her poem "Practicing" [...], writes of the power of the erotic, even in seventh-grade girls. In this poem, [...] we learn that what might have been called "practicing" was more than "just" practice. In somebody's "parents' house," [...] there are some things that go unsaid. And what remains unsaid is not a story of lesbian romance [...] It is a story of girls' bodies and girls' pleasure, their sense of power in that pleasure, a story rarely told [...]

by Marie Howe

I want to write a love poem for the girls I kissed in seventh grade,
a song for what we did on the floor in the basement

of somebody’s parents’ house, a hymn for what we didn’t say but thought:
That feels good or I like that, when we learned how to open each other’s mouths

how to move our tongues to make somebody moan. We called it practicing, and
one was the boy, and we paired off—maybe six or eight girls—and turned out

the lights and kissed and kissed until we were stoned on kisses, and lifted our
nightgowns or let the straps drop, and, Now you be the boy:

concrete floor, sleeping bag or couch, playroom, game room, train room, laundry.
Linda’s basement was like a boat with booths and portholes

instead of windows. Gloria’s father had a bar downstairs with stools that spun,
plush carpeting. We kissed each other’s throats.

We sucked each other’s breasts, and we left marks, and never spoke of it upstairs
outdoors, in daylight, not once. We did it, and it was

practicing, and slept, sprawled so our legs still locked or crossed, a hand still lost
in someone’s hair . . . and we grew up and hardly mentioned who

the first kiss really was—a girl like us, still sticky with moisturizer we’d
shared in the bathroom. I want to write a song

for that thick silence in the dark, and the first pure thrill of unreluctant desire,
just before we’d made ourselves stop.

Interestingly, "Practicing" was published in the August 25, 1997 issue of The New Yorker.

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