Sunday, September 19, 2010

Dedication to Hunger

One of my final requirements before completing my MFA in Creative Writing degree this December is to teach a lecture to fellow students at the grad school I attend in Los Angeles. I am teaching about anorexia, of course. Specifically, anorexia in poetry. The lecture is still a few months away, but I've been looking through my research today and trying to focus my thoughts. One of the poems I am going to ask the group to consider is "Dedication to Hunger" by Louise Gluck. Gluck had her own personal bouts with anorexia when she was a young woman and this poem certainly reflects that, as many of her poems do. She says

It begins quietly
in certain female children:
the fear of death, taking as its form
dedication to hunger
because a woman’s body
is a grave; it will accept

She later identifies the propelling force behind her eating disorder as "the same need to be perfect/ of which death is the mere byproduct."

One of the major goals of this class will be, I hope, to educate and raise awareness for eating disorders, specifically for how serious they are. How deadly they are. How devastating. I want to choose poems that represent anorexic logic accurately, but also drive home a message that will allow people to understand how horrible and unnecessary eating disorders are.

I am also considering the poem by Alice Jones called "Anorexia." I think it enforces the dangerousness and seriousness of anorexia. The poem begins by making anorexia seem artful, an "ancient skill" that requires grace and discipline and control. This is a popular myth (often among anorexics themselves) that couldn't be further from truth. There is nothing beautiful or skillful or artistic about starving yourself. The poet, of course, knows this too. As the poem progresses, the myth unravels. The anorexic in the poem is no longer presented as artful or skillful. The illusion shatters. She becomes animalistic, "a cannibal of self." She loses her power, which was never there in the first place, “her scapulae prepared like/ thin birds to fly away from/ the spine." She is “barely held together/ by silk and liquid and air”. The grace has shifted to sadness, to powerlessness. The realization is that anorexia, in this and in many cases, equals death.

She tries not to be sucked
down by the black cold,
its deadliness pulling
at the nape of her long neck,
biting at her unfeathered heels

Anorexia is that "black cold"; that "deadliness pulling" and "biting." There is nothing beautiful about it. There is nothing glorious about it. Being anorexic doesn't make you elite. It doesn't make you strong. It doesn't make you disciplined. It makes you sick. And dependent. And weak. And broken.

Recovery, on the other hand, offers all of those things anorexia promised and couldn't deliver. Being anorexic doesn't make you strong. Being anorexic and recovering from it does.

Fighting it does.

Overcoming it does.

Dedicating your life to health and happiness does.


  1. You're so right! The things in life that try to break you, can only make you stronger if you overcome them.

  2. wow, an MFA that's impressive! I'm intrigued to read that poem in ite entirety. I love how you are raising awareness and I admire your sttrength.
    Dietcolagirl Tia

  3. Very interesting! Aside from Gluck and Jones, have you found other poets that deal with anorexia?