Cassandra J. Voss, cherished student, friend, and daughter, passed away in a car accident on May 21, 2007. On earth, Cassandra inspired us all with her loving compassion, her generous, vibrant spirit, and vigorous activism. Truly, Cassandra embodied loving kindness.
A talented dancer, writer, artist, singer, and healer, Cassandra leaves us here with vivid memories. These writings show the range of her intellect and vision.
Mainly, my poetry tends to be confessional. I feel drawn to poets like Plath, who shares her battle between a feminist consciousness, and a desire to be accepted (by society, but also by herself). I write to “kill the angel in the house” so to speak, and yet, I want to preserve the angel. Identifying the line where human’s free will to choose becomes grey, is I believe my strength in creative writing. My goal as a writer is always to bring the reader (and even more so myself) to that edge, that place where you are forced to make a decision, and where you will sit there for hours analyzing the possible ways to jump off the cliff, because you definitely cannot go back now. Finally, a conclusion is made, and through some catharsis you are free to let go.
In the future, I would like to develop my skills in writing about things external to me. I am often times so consumed by self wonder that I forget there is a world worth writing about which exists outside. I would like to experiment with different styles, and push myself to not just write poetry as if I was simply journaling about my day. Becoming more conscious about what I want to share with the world, instead of counting on it coming out of me at random, would be much more reassuring in terms of my creative skill. Yes, creativity is intuitive, but it can also be learned.
Salt on a Wound
I dream of a bird whose body is similar to a peacock,
although it has a slightly longer neck.
Its feathers are green,
like a granny smith apple,
like the kind my mother used to
to make them sparkle,
and then eat in devouring and passionate bites.
Her tongue absorbing the sour flesh,
down to the heart of the fruit.
The bird is a normal bird, it has
two black eyes
from which to see its way,
and a beak which it uses to speak
out of, and take in
It differs however in its ability to fly,
for the poor creature has but one wing.
So it drowns in the air,
shrieking and yelping and
Its head over its green body,
just like my mother’s salt shaker
her granny smith apples
to make them sparkle.
I gasp, that I might be able to save the heart creature.
But in its desperation it
and springs through the window of the house.
Its feathers and flesh
cut by the separation of
glass, and old wood.
Splintering sound echoes,
and the bird is shaking on the floor of the room.
I think it dead, yet the echo of the break is alive, and the
of the bird, is just like
my mother’s hand
on her granny smith apples
to make them sparkle.
But then, miraculously, or perhaps, in masochism,
the bird gets up and flies back out the same window
just to fall again.
This time, on the cold snake scale pavement, still
I realize now that the bird will not die,
That in fact it is salvageable.
The bird’s open wounds bleed onto its sparkling green feathers,
just like the open wound on the skin of my mother’s
granny smith apples sparkle from the salt
she herself has
Don't Worry. I'm not Sleeping Here Tonight.
I feel as though I may snap. Like
I miss my mother.
miss my mother when I was a child, and sick, and she mixed orange juice and Fresca together in a giant green cup just for me.
always told myself that I would become a lesbian if he ever cheated on me, but I’d rather be single. I’m so sick of women. Passive aggressiveness. That poem about condoms last week was so great—how wonderful to worry about if you’re putting your penis in her vagina the right way. I bet she’s worrying about if you will believe her when she fakes it. I’m so sick of men who don’t know where the clitoris is. Would it be ok if I said I just wanted a good fuck—a good fuck with a man? Is that Antithetical to feminism? Would it be ok if I went out and got drunk, and in my vulnerability I slept with a boy who didn’t know how to put a condom on. Look at him pretending like it gets easier every time. Is that what scares them? That I see through their masculinity? Don’t worry. I’m not sleeping here tonight.
I miss my mother.
I miss my mother when I got my period, and she gave me two aspirin and a wine cooler.
feel like I’m going to crack. Like Edna Pontellier, I’m going to forget how to swim. I’ve become aware of my dependency on men. There energy is soothing like my blanket, or my mother…or my father, when I was very young. What can soothe me now? Live women do not do it. But perhaps, dead women can. Perhaps Sylvia had it right. To die is an art. Oh if I died, I could be with her now, express my love for her, kiss her burned lips and taste the fire from the stove on her tongue. But even though I love you, I cannot follow in your footsteps. I am not a martyr. So, instead of suicide I will write poetry and miss my mother.
I think I may be having a funeral in my brain, like Emily, isolating myself to the point of invisibility. I do like her poetry by the way. But I agree, she was also a martyr, Daddy’s little girl. I wonder if she ever had an orgasm? I like to imagine her with someone, perhaps a woman, although a man would probably make her father angrier. There they are in the garden, in the early hours of the morning, reciting lines from Paradise Lost and fucking in the dirt—right on top of the tulips. And I bet she’s thinking she loves him, but he’s too busy worrying about her father who might wake up from her loud moaning. She looks up at the sky and knows her mother is watching over her.
I feel like I just got back from a dinner party. Like Judy, making myself so full of women’s stories that I become sick to my stomach. I cannot distinguish anymore—do I miss my mother or you? No, it is not you. It is me that I miss. Wasn’t I an artist once? A dancer? A witch? I used to paint for days at a time without eating or sleeping, and I would cry over my work. When I was finished I would lie in my bed and dream about planting roses. But this institution doesn’t allow for that kind of freedom. I stay up writing poetry until 3 in the morning—there is no time for dreaming. I wake up 4 hours later and have to argue my feminist dissertation…
Don’t worry. I’m not sleeping here tonight…I just need a catharsis.
On Poetry II
I guess it is no surprise to you that everything in this collection is... confessional. I have learned that that is what I write best... myself. I write what I know—loss, anger, love, appreciation... I have learned that these emotions are not around all the time, so when you feel them, write them, because you don't know when or if you will ever have them again. Do not wait a day, or an hour, or even a minute. Grab a pen, tell the guy you're fucking to 'hold his horses ' and write down whatever you need to write down.
The Painting That Speaks to My Chakras
It says that my heart is connected
to my will.
That they spin together to light
and move me.
They're working together now
to try and absorb you away,
but you do not back down.
I see in the corner,
my belly has also attempted to
weave a net for you;
with intent to devour your pricking horn,
and save my green and yellow
center from all this work.
But you do not fall.
Cento For Plath
Send my muse Alice packing with gaudy scraps
You do not do, you do not do
Look right, look left, I dwell alone;
As Venus, pedestalled on a half-shell
I sought my image
A witch’s face?
Pure as a pane of ice. It’s a gift.
Lulled in the ample womb of the full-tilt globe.
And the shadow stretched, the lights went out
They bow and stand: they suffer such attacks!
Herr God, Herr Lucifer
I am in control.
Some damned condition you are in:
A third person is watching
Opening, in spring, like an industrious virgin
Do you do no harm?
Down here the sky is always falling.
Exit seraphim and Satan’s men:
She is used to this sort of thing.
She doesn’t need food, she is one of the real saints.
You are my dark Goddess.
I hated You at first.
I hated You for taking him away from Me,
and tearing Me open.
I knew it was You, because he could have never done it himself—coward.
You are my Angelina Jolie.
I want to seduce You.
I want You to fall in love with me,
and leave him, tearing him open.
You know i have more passion then he does—You know because You crafted me—and him.
You are my black hole.
i love Your depth.
i love You for taking me deeper and wider,
so that I could remember how to be alone in the darkness.
I needed to remember the darkness,
I miss having a leech to lie with.
But now he’s stuck to You.
Although perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself.
You love him too.
Of course You do.
In any case,
So let’s celebrate.
Because it’s my cake,
Car c’est mon gateau,
and my knife,
et mon Couteau,
and my resurrected life.
The Scent of Dead Illusions
Do you remember how incredibly illusive we were?
Our brains were the mist that
rolled over the water and onto the sand,
and then back again.
Broken glass beer bottles cutting the fog
that was closest to the ground,
but we were walking on the air.
I remember it was cold.
I was glad it was cold, because it disguised the smell of
Fish that lie carelessly buried in the sand,
some in clumps, all on top of each other,
as if they died while making love.
Our bodies were like those fish that night—
too hastily perhaps,
but we didn’t notice then.
I remember we were scared.
We even admitted it to each other.
What was lurking inside the giant black pine trees?
We were waiting for some man or other creature
to jump out and attack us,
but we made it back to your car unassaulted.
I turned back and took in the lake one last time,
still illusioned, still
under its spell.
I wish I could go back to lake Michigan with you.
Lie on the sand like the dead fish, making love.
If I went back I could find it again,
the two of us.
we are there, lying clumped together.
Dead, because the water has washed us ashore and then
eating the sand. We are not making love anymore.
The illusion is gone.
All that is left are fish skeletons.
but at least
when it is cold the
smell is bearable.
A Short Story
Every detail of her character was blurry still. Just as her professor had said the grandmother stories were getting old, and she was sick of writing in first person. Her voice wasn’t as real as it had been before. Somehow through all the stress of her life she had forgotten who she was—I write for myself—but all she had been doing lately is writing to fill the gaping hole inside her, trying to fill up space with superficial energies. Not that her grandmother stories were completely void of depth, but never depth inside her, only external depth, only the depth of the situation—How interesting can my life be? —she thought, instead of asking the more important question— How important am I? — That’s what she really wanted to know anyway.
So, she continued to write in her hard cover notebook, the one that made her feel so unique, like such an individual, when all her classmates brought in their spiral bounds- What a joke—It was so cliché to be an individual, and now here she sat at 2 a.m. —just like a writer—doing it for it’s mere martyrdom effect, attempting to reach some edge, some breaking point, where, with a flick of ink something would strike her, something which she would collapse into, and where black runs would be all over the paper from her indulgent tears—How do I really feel about my gramma? …What is still inside me? Anything?
All she could think of was her vision of her grandmother as a high priestess, with long blond hair. She wondered why her grandmother didn’t give her luck when she played cards the night of her funeral.
Her writing was turning into a journal. She remembered her professor’s words— “No one wants to hear about your pathetic, boring life.” —The truth was, her life was boring. She was over being mad at her father, and sick of playing the victim with her stepmother. She had a best friend and a boyfriend—both of which she had stable, healthy relationships with. She got along with her mother. —I think writers purposely try to make themselves miserable in order to write good stories. What a bunch of fucking martyrs. There’s a topic I could write on ‘Women as Martyrs,’ how fucking original. —In any case, she kept writing in her hard cover notebook, fighting for some epiphany to leap up off the cream colored page destroying the gray lines that separated the words of her story.
This is so fucking abstract—Her character still lacked any real personality. In fact the only real character was a chair, or a ring, or some other object laid out in some extraordinary metaphor that was supposed to represent love, or death, or herself. God damn it, I’m supposed to be a fucking feminist, how hard can this be? —She thought she had already claimed her voice, but now she was unsure.
I want to be a Slut—
overflowing and bubbling with passion.
I want to decorate my eyes
with black mystery,
and my hair with dark desire.
I want to call the shots.
I want all of them—
the cowboys, the pseudo intellectuals, the hippies, the biker dudes, all of them—
to want my body.
I used to wish that these men wanted to have my heart—but I don’t believe in that kind of ownership anymore—my heart is sick of being somebody else’s.
I used to want to be with these men because the accentuated my adventurousness, my intellectualism, my earthiness, my “bad ass” persona. —but it was all in vain.
Now I want to be my own cowboy, and I want to take a ride on my own motorcycle.
I want to buy my own drinks—
a very bloody Mary please.
I want to be a Slut—
I want to pretend to be men’s commodity, but then remind them that I am in control.
I don’t actually need them to salvage an identity—I don’t even need them for sex.
I want to be Mrs. Robinson.
I want to be Madonna.
I want to be the screamer that lives down the hall.
I want other girls to talk about me behind my back—just loud enough that I might hear.
I want to be educated in the art of desire,
and I want to teach men the tricks of the trade.
I want people to come up to me and ask me the questions they wish they could ask their mothers.
I want to wear black lingerie
as everyday clothes.
I want to go to the store and buy condoms—just condoms
and maybe a bottle of cheap wine.
I want to be a Slut—
don’t you love that word?
Lemme break it down for you:
Sssssssssssss for Sassy,
Lllllll for lily’s like Georgia O’keefe draws them
U for Universal physical connection
ti-T for tentatively tasting tarnished men…
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:
I want to be a SLUT—
do I need to repeat myself:
you know you want it again:
Here we go now:
Calling all straight As, all goody two-shoes, all nice Christian girls, don’t you wish you were a---
The Awakening (Not for Chopin, but for Flora)
In my dream, I got a message from my mom, who said that my gramma died.
Bile duct cancer.
My gramma used to cut my hair, and every time she would say,
"A woman's hair is like her heart."
For the past six months her hair had been falling out,
and mine had been growing.
The next thing I remember is a glass on my gramma's kitchen table,
next to a white bottle of pills.
The problem is life.
And a half empty glass is more like milk, than it is like water,
you can't see it all.
The I woke up.
And the sound of love rang like a wicked laugh.
I found my scissors, and made my hair like my heart.
Conforming to the Soul
Stand in line--straight, still, and soulless.
all one single soul.
all arms and wrists
reflecting one movement.
One single string tied between them.
One pulls on the others.
If one falls,
they all fall,
tumbling down into
Their only identity
tied up with the string.
On Literary Criticism
How Feminists Read Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried”
In her essay “Are Women’s Novels Feminist Novels,” Rosalind Coward asserts that “As feminists we have to be constantly alerted to what reality is being constructed, and how representations are achieving this construction. In this respect, reading a novel can be a political activity, similar to activities which have always been important to feminist politics in general. (227-8). Coward names what I have struggled with as a feminist reader since my “click moment” one year ago when being a feminist became an innate part of who I was and exerted itself into every aspect of my life, including the way I read literature. Second semester of my freshman year of college I began reading “feminist” novels, such as Marilyn French’s The Women’s Room, which overtly allowed me to analyze them in terms of gender. However, my gender radar did not turn off when reading texts that were not considered open for feminist analysis. Thus, I became frustrated with my fellow classmates when I wanted to analyze classic texts, like Huck Finn in terms of gender, and they cast this interpretation aside as having no precedence. As Louise Rosenblatt states, “The literary experience must be phrased as a transaction between the reader and the text. Moreover, as in the creative activity of the artist, there will be selective factors molding the readers response” (35). In other words, as my relationship with feminism grew, so did the opinions that I brought to a text.
After reading Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried” for the third time, (now as a feminist) I realized how many male dominated texts lacked a feminist analysis. I concluded that this lack was because no one wanted to discredit the masculine actions of men (such as going to war). However, for a reader to deny that there are anti-feminist components to these types of stories, or even just to ignore them is problematic. As the authors claim in Gender Studies: Terms and Debates:
Given that the tactical reading is an articulation of the subject’s perception of their own positioning, an understanding of the tactical response can be an important tool for the analyst in understanding that subject’s self-perception, and in making a different perception available to the analyst which reveals the (mainstream) assumptions governing her/his own positioning…For gender theorists, an understanding of tactical reading can lead to valuable insights into the ways in which conservative gendering practices are resisted and transformed, which might in turn provide models for the receptualisation of gendered relationships and identities (Cranny-Francis et al. 135).
If we as readers fail to read texts that are not usually critiqued in terms of feminism and gender, then we will continue to reproduce texts that are sexist and that perpetuate sexist ideals in society. However, if readers take a tactical approach to literature, as previously mentioned, then our resistance to a sexist text is also a political resistance to a sexist society. We are then able to reconstruct what we think real relationships and identities ought to be like in society. Thus, I argue that a feminist reader cannot place a text outside of the sexist society, which it mirrors. Regardless of whether or not the text has been written overtly for feminist analysis or not, a feminist critic will always, and should always, work to deconstruct conservative notions of gender within it.
In the very first paragraph of O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried,” a feminist critic would immediately be set off by the sentence, “She was a virgin, he was almost sure” (90). This immediately sets up a sexual double standard between the male main character, and the female he is thinking about. A sexual double standard that feminist are uncomfortable with. As Rosenblatt explains,
A personal preoccupation or an automatic association with a minor phrase or an attitude toward the general theme will lead to a strong reaction that has very little to do with the work. A word such as home or mother or a phrase such as my country, with its many conventional, sentimental associations, may set off a reaction that tends to blind the reader to the context of these words (80).
Rosenblatt is correct that my reaction as a feminist to this phrase was strong. And although the main idea of the story is about men’s experience at war, and the literal and figurative “things that they carried” Rosenblatt is quick to assert that these “minor phrases” (like “she was a virgin”) have “very little to do with the work.” As a feminist it is impossible to read any text without reacting to anti-feminist phrases, or even words, and also analyzing in terms of gender. This reaction is further heightened by the recognition of a male author who clearly does not include women’s experience into the story, and equivocates misogyny as being merely a part of the natural male experience. As Terry Lovell explains in ‘Writing Like a Woman: A question of Politics,’
The development of the novel has been closely bound up with the social and political position of women…there is a fundamental continuity which firmly places them in a private domestic world where emotions and personal relationships are at once the focus of moral value and the core of women’s experience. In the novel women are ‘prisoners’ of feeling and of private life…Naturally, male writers have struggled against this taint of feminine identification (84).
Feminist readers recognize the complexities of gender oppression. In O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried,” a feminist analysis asserts that O’Brien’s masculine story lends itself also to misogyny. Although readers are taught to separate the author from the narrator of a story, a reader has a hard time distinguishing between the two, and often spends time discussing the life of an author and then applying it to the text. This is a valid response, sense the society in which one lives, and the experiences that person has had helps to shape that person and will, at least to some extent, affect that person’s writing. O’Brein, who served in war, was socialized in the army to be hyper-masculine, and a definition of hyper-masculinity assumes misogyny. Thus, in his story that comes out. The problem is not that his experience is wrong, or that he is wrong to feel the way that he does about women. The problem lies in the reason that he feels that way.
Readers who think that the main character in “The Things They Carried” is merely having “natural” feelings that a man has when at war, fail to take into account the crucial aspect of socialization that men at war go through. Or, if they do recognize this aspect, they fail to see it as problematic. A feminist reader recognizes the socialization, and then takes it one step further by asserting that that kind of socialization—of misogyny—is wrong, and O’Brien’s character’s failure to realize that reproduces hatred toward women. As Rosenblatt asserts,
Just as the personality and concerns of the reader are largely socially patterned, so the literary work, like language itself, is a social product. The genesis of literary techniques occurs in a social matrix. Both the creation and reception of literary works are influenced by literary tradition. Yet ultimately, any literary work gains its significance from the way in which the minds and emotions of particular readers respond to the verbal stimuli offered by the text (28).
Feminist readers, and other types of resistant readers, take into account the socialization of the author and the language itself. “Interestingly, resistant readings of this kind, which locate gendered identities which are very conventional and sometimes misogynistic in texts, have recently been attacked for their tendency to construct the (compliant) reader as victim” (Cranny-Francis et al. 121). However, as Rosenblatt states, a text only has power over us if we allow it to have power over us. A feminist reader does not claim that a compliant reader is “victim” to a text, but victim to the socializing of society. A reader who has been taught to experience things in a certain (gendered) way will be bringing that experience to the text. Thus, the “transaction,” as Rosenblatt defines it, is based on the reader’s prior knowledge of that experience, based on the general societal consensus. However, a feminist reader emphasizes that not everyone experiences the same thing the same way.
Often a text is considered great if it allows the reader to “relate” to a main character or main theme of the story. As Rosenblatt explains,
The ability to understand and sympathize with others reflects the multiple nature of the human being, his potentialities for many more selves and kinds of experience than any one being could express. This may be one of the things that enable us to seek through literature an enlargement of our experience. Although we may see some characters outside—that is, we may not identify with them as completely as we do with more congenial temperaments—we are nevertheless able to enter into their behavior and their emotions. Thus it is that the youth may identify with the aged, one sex with another, a reader of a particular limited social background with members of a different class or a different period (40).
Although many agree with Rosenblatt’s explanation of the sympathetic reader, feminists argue differently. The claim that human beings have “multiple natures” which allow them to sympathize with others of a different age, sex, class, ect. is not valid, because gender and class are social constructions, not innate to human beings. For example, consider why when discussing “The Things They Carried,” unless there is feminist in the room, readers are unlikely to talk about gender issues. However, when discussing an overtly feminist text such as “The Yellow Wallpaper,” readers immediately jump to natural explanations for the narrator’s insanity such as post pardon depression. In Gender Studies: Terms and Debates,
Critic Elaine Showalter argued that women ‘are expected to identify with a masculine experience and perspective which is presented as the human one’ (1971, p. 856). The canon, feminists argued, was an engendering practice enacted through specific readings of a selection of texts characterized by the dominance of dead, white males.” As readers and teachers and scholars, women are taught to think as men, to identify with a male point of view, and to accept as normal and legitimate a male system of values, one of whose governing principle is misogyny. (Fetterley 1978, p. xx)” (Cranny-Francis 112).
Feminist readers break away from labeling men’s experiences as human experiences. In effect, when feminists question the so called “human experience” by asserting that—wait a minute, but that’s not my experience—the compliant readers become upset, because that questions everything that they have been taught about the way to read literature.
A feminist critic will always question conservative notions of gender within a text and within a society. To read from a feminist perspective is a political action that allows the individual and the collective community of readers to deconstruct society’s construction of gender. However, feminists must be careful to not reproduce binary notions of gender in their deconstruction. For example, to claim that a woman’s experience at war is innately different then a men’s experience at war perpetuates thinking about emotional differences between men and women as innate. In reality, the way in which someone emotionally deals with or expresses oneself is complexly constructed by society. And so, it is my own journey as a feminist reader to recognize where my own experiences impose themselves onto a text, and that they may not be the experience of everyone else, not even every woman.
Cranny-Francis, Anne, et al. Gender Studies: Terms andDebates.
Coward, Rosalind. “Are Women’s Novels Feminist Novels,” Eagleton 155-60.
Eagleton, Mary. Feminist Literary Theory: A Reader.
Lovell, Terry. “Writing Like a Woman: A question of Politics.” Eagleton 83-5.
Rosenblatt, Louise. Literature As Exploration.
O’Brien, Tim. “The Things They Carried.” Burroway, Janet. Writing Fiction: A guide to Narrative Craft. Longman:
Where Do You Go When You Die?
Cassie Voss, 1996
In memory of William Olson
Where do you go When you Die?
I believe you become nature. Sometimes you dance in the wind. You see the sky light and fluffy, and you become the clouds. Your bright puffy white looks down on the earth and you become the ground.
Your deep rich soil is strong and plentiful. You feel the warm bright light touch your surface, and you become the sun.
As you dim you see something out of the corner of your horizon. It’s a beautiful, blue crescent moon. You see it and you become it.
You see an old friend from the past, and she sees your face on the moon. You wink at her and then make her a shooting star to wish on. As you watch the star gliding through the night sky you wish you were it and you become it. As you settle your five points shimmer and you rest into a peaceful night.
Does Dying mean you’re gone forever?
I believe you’re never gone but just in a deep dream that gives you a better look at yourself. All the good things that you remember are held inside your heart like a picture in a locket. Your attitude when you were in the past is the same when you die. If you die happy that’s how you stay. If you die grumpy that’s how you stay. Therefore be careful, because Attitude is everything!
Why are you scared to Die?
Why are you scared to die? I think most people are scared to die because they think that they won’t see their old friends and you’ll just rot away. When really you remember everyone and love them forever! You see them off and on visiting in dreams and blowing their plants. You whisper to them of the deep dream you’re in. They seem scared because they’ve never heard an invisible person before but you know that in their heart they understand what you are saying. So why worry besides you’re just in a deep peaceful dream.