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Winter/Spring 2003

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Born in England, raised in Rochester, New York, Karen Alkalay-Gut has been living in Israel since 1972. She teaches at Tel Aviv University and writes obsessively. Her latest book, The Love of Clothes and Nakedness, was published in Israel in March of 1999. Women Writers is pleased to present a selection of poems from that latest book, which is available in both English and Hebrew versions. More of Karen's work can be found at Zygzag.com. Click for the press release. Also, see Karen's article on the book party for this book.




The Love of Clothes and Nakedness

And bring some covering
For this naked soul
-King Lear (IV, 1, 43)


I contain
many bodies

and in the morning
never know
which form will emerge.

In the mirror
I have learned to greet
each one warmly and ask
with deference
how it desires to be dressed



Protecting a child's name
with a voluminous cape
was the first mistake -
an anonymous little girl
her face hooded
from human gaze
in the forest

And why red?
Shouldn't I have given her
a briar patch color
to maneuver
the enticing wood
knowing the wolf
was drawn
to the brightness
of little girls?

And why is she known only
by this garish robe
instead of her kindness
to her ancestor?

It was a mistake
to place the weight
of our existence
on her shoulders



You must admit
that for our purposes
glass is so much more appropriate
than fur. The sheer rigidity of it-
the diminutive foot perfectly placed
in the form too small for all
the sisters, hiding
nothing of its consummate lines,
able to maneuver on the dance floor
even to the intricacies of a Gavotte.

Perfect size was always the first rule of beauty.
The second is slipping in to a prescribed shape.  



We must consider, as a red cloak suits a young man, what suits an old one; for the same garment is not suitable for both.

Aristotle and I go shopping at Bloomingdales.
It is one of those sales when everything
is seventy per cent off and if you don't grab the stuff first
and decide later if it suits you, you'll lose the opportunity.

So we come home, totally blown,
with a dozen robes between us,
a bottle-green pantsuit, some tight dresses,
a pale cashmere sweater, and a red cloak.

Aristotle wants to try it all on at once-
he's such a dandy-and begins dreaming,
immediately, of where he will wear each treasure.
The cloak is perfect for tonight's lecture,
he declares. It gives me energy,

Listen, Dear,
I try to remind him of his own philosophies,
there is the matter of proportion.
Your size, your age, your dignity-

Stay out of this sister, he explodes.
If I want your friendly advice, I'll ask for it.


to Anne Sexton

Remember the lady in the red dress
with buttons all the way down
from the Chinese collar to the ankles
remember how the buttons opened
with each poem-one from the bottom
                   one from the top-slowly revealing
and thighs.

This is the plot
of a woman poet  




In the mirror is an ordinary body,
flesh that would not be used
to advertise underwear
in a poster or a magazine,
a form still intact
though I have ridden
busses in Israel
and have seen pieces of meat
picked out of bushes near the house
where my husband grew up.

Let us separate
the personal from the political
just for now. We have here
a middle aged woman,
anonymous in nakedness
vulnerable in imperfection

trying to decide what to wear
to a funeral.


I will not speak
of the friends I have lost,
piece by piece, organ
by organ. Somehow sickness
seems terrible
but fair.

Even the boy smashing top speed
into a truck
has found a place
in my peace with the world

It is the stones, it is the stones,
the stones of one that the other desires
so much he can wrap himself
in plastic explosives

can sit for a ride with a group of women
with innocuous forms like mine
and watch them and smile
and blow their bodies
to bits 

Press Release

The Love of Clothes and Nakedness is a series of poems reflecting on the significance of clothes, the body, and identity, and the relationship between these three factors, The poems deal with poetry, politics, sexuality, reflected self-image, and society as well. Following an introduction concerning the necessity and the power for renewal, the manuscript begins with a series of poems charting a 'disrobing' from coat to dresses and suits to underwear - both dirty and clean linen, evolves to reflections on the naked self, and then concludes with a gradual re-clothing of the self by choice, a reconstitution of identity as well as an establishment of a poetic voice and philosophy.

Some of the poems are direct 'comments' on well-known works dealing with the same theme, such as "The Exhibitionist in Her Boudoir," which feminizes and modernizes William Carlos Williams' "Danse Russe." Others are analyses of the unacknowledged symbolic significance of clothing and history direct descriptions of iconic clothing, such as a poem about Joan of Arc and the necessity for convention. Still others are concerned with individual and personal clothing, such as "Why I Wear Black," or "Red Sequined Dress," illustrating the fact that there are basic and profound choices made about the self almost every morning and evening. Woven into the poetry are dialogues with Shakespeare, Blake, and Yeats, whose use of clothing as metaphors for poetry, identity, and social imperatives are ubiquitous and basic to their work and their conceptions of the social and poetic self.
Publisher: Israel Federation of Writers Unions, Tel Aviv 1999 , ISBN 965-7030-04-8

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