'Adele Bloch-Bauer by Gustav Klimt

Women & Creativity (& Aging)

by Robert Kelly


Nobody recognizes creativity.
(Isn't recognition itself creative?)

What is creativity? Swift: "make two blades of grass grow where one grew Before". But isn't that the same as making babies? Saint-Saens: "make music the way a pear tree makes pears." It's interesting that it's men who come up with these maternal, womby, "natural" metaphors for what people do when they make things. Wombless as they are, men dream of what they fantastically suppose to be effortless making.

Making things is creative. But what if the things made (like the tired old music on every radio) is just dull old imitation stuff, sounds-like-music, looks-like-art, looks-like-a-poem on the page?

To be creative, it's not enough just to make things.

The things made must be new--won from nowhere, won for us, for all of us, and brought into our world from the Far outside--the world where creative people go to find it, and find it by paying attention to that wonderment.

To be creative is to listen hard.

(Can women listen? Do they listen harder as they get older?)

In the ancient story (a story we all know -- does that make it true? Is a story finished, perfect, hence true, when everybody knows it?) God listened to the silence, listened hard, and breathed out a sound that was a word that made a world.

In art as in medicine, action is the line of least resistance.

Whatever you do, don't communicate. Don't express. Especially don't express some self you think you are.

Don't be anybody.

Make something new instead.

If you know what you want to say, you'll write a pretty boring poem "about" it.

A story gets interesting when you have to figure it out as you go along. A story already familiar to you in mind will be dull as can be when you write it down.

Autobiographies are almost always interesting, however dull the writer (and thus the writer's "subject"), because the writer constantly has to figure out what happened and what it means. (Whereas biographers have to work hard -- and almost in the dark -- to be interesting.)

Is having children creative?

Of course not. Having children is passive, reactive. Creation is different from procreation.

Is building a house creative? Of course not. Every wasp builds a house.

Are singing and dancing creative? Of course not. Creation is different from recreation.

Is getting old creative? That's more like it, you're getting warm. Aging is creative, in one sense: one is silently and thoroughly making oneself.

Lincoln: "After forty, sir, a man is responsible for his face!"

Is having a body creative? Almost. The one thing everybody creates is body. But is it conscious? Or is consciously building the body ("bodybuilding") creative? No, that is like building a house. A stag preens his horns. A crocodile swings its tail.

I'm told that Moondance (what is a moon dance? Does the moon do it? Do women do it? Do they do it with the moon or do it for the moon? Do men do it for women? ) is a magazine for women.

I hope that doesn't mean women who think of themselves as women. That leaves out most of the interesting ones.

(Just think of men who think of themselves as men. Oi.)

What are women, anyhow? In white western society, I see that we have been provided with only four post-Mediterranean paradigms for how to be a woman:

Eve. Lilith. Miriam (Mary Magdalene). Sappho.

I imagine that a woman can decide which she is, or which to try to be. And to decide if there are any other paradigms of how to be a woman, paradigms that come from other places or times, even from modern times.

But these four are the women I seem to have known around me in my life. I tell about them, and find only one of them truly creative in herself, though all four of them feed the creativity of other women, other men.

Eve, mother of all living, Eve is mother -- is mild is productive of the child.

Her first born slew her next born,
and our world, the spring of society is made by her third born.
From her we all descend, and still go down.
She is the kind mother, paired with her man,
eternally known as part of another, Adam's rib,
his bone in her, her body from his wood. Ordered pair.
They are inconceivable without each other.
We are inconceivable without her.


Lilith is the Woman before Eve. Lilith enjoys. She is the woman who is not a breeder. She is pre-genital. She is mouth and yearning skin, skin and hair and lips. She is sensation everywhere. She is centripetal, like Eve, but gives no return. No return except the wild excitement of her caress. She is pleasure insofar as sensation is pleasure. Lilith brings nothing forth but the self, the self's pleasure, the self's meaning. Lilith is the woman who does not have children. The children are not killed -- they are just not summoned from the unborn. Lilith is the queen of the kingdom before society, before the family. Lilith is touch. Lilith is language beginning. Beginning with the simplest places. Lilith is certainly the night, the Moon.


Miriam (Mary Magdalene) raptly beholds truth in the form of the Other -- often enough the Man, her lord her beloved her truth and withdraws from all others to gaze upon him and find herself in his gaze. In interaction Miriam exists,
but she does not make things,
she is the apple of his eye and the center of his glance.
She does not have his child. She is the child,
center of all his arrivals, all his care.
She does not always know who he fully is.
She thinks he is the gardener. That is enough.
She loves what she sees and what she knows.
She is still. All her restlessness takes itself out in love,
horniness, self-control. Adoration. It is rare.
So rare it is not clear
if adoration fosters creation, as it is clear that love does.


Sappho loves. And because of loving, she makes. It is loving another that makes creativity happen. Sappho knows that when women are loved, whether they are well or ill loved, they need make nothing. Being loved can silence them, satisfy them, almost sate them, almost stifle them. But Sappho is lucky, she doesn't want to be loved -- she wants to love. A love turned outward is the surest fire. It is the source of all making. Sappho makes. Quia pauper amavi ...

Because she has nothing she must make everything. Magic spells of poetry to make the girls of Lydia sit up in their sumptuous couches and take notice, come back home.
She is the primal poet for us because her love outward summons her to the world of other people, all the other people. She wants to reach them (touch them, love them), and triumphs in a medium meant by people for people: language.
Creation is reaching to the other.
(It doesn't matter if the other is man or woman, one or many -- as long as the lover reaches outward from inward.)
There is an old idea that Sappho was so good because she was a Lesbian, because she was in love with women -- and this view (touchingly and intricately spoken in our time by Robert Graves) assumes that the secret nature or essence of poetry is The Praise of Women. By a sinister corollary of this profound intuition, only heterosexual men and homosexual women can aspire to poetic creativity.
It is obvious what is wrong in this business: it is the praise of the other, the reaching towards the other that actually counts. Whoever the other may be.


We don't just live once, you know. Try all of these paradigms. Be Sappho or Miriam in this life if you can (they're rarer), and try other roles in other lives. We don't live all our lives in one gender, you know. Some of us are barely able to get through even one life in just one gender. Onward, avanti! Creativity is loving outward. If you love, you make.

The truly creative can only be entrained by love. Loving the other. As Sappho got older she got better at charming, chanting, making. It's quite rare for people to keep creating after they've finished one cycle of Uranus (that is, after they are 85 years old or so). But up till then, the older you get the more creative you should expect to be. You know more, and have therefore more to love.

Creating is loving hard. You have more, so you can give more away. Creating is giving away. You feel more, so you can love harder. But if you stop loving, loving outward -- then you'll likely stop creating. If you get caught in a web of wanting to be wanted, in a web of supposed entitlements, creativity stops. Nobody owes anybody anything. Except perhaps to listen.

 The author of forty-seven books of poetry and ten books of fiction, Robert Kelly lives in Upstate New York. His most recent book is Red Actions: Selected Poems 1960-1993, (Black Sparrow Press, 1995). He has long been associated with the writing program at Bard College.

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