Saturday, November 17, 2007

Are we ("women") Poets?

7-9 November in Clermont-Ferrand, an amazing conference with an inspiring mix of academic/university presentations on the questions of women’s poetry, or poetry by women, called “Voi(es)x de l’Autres: Poètes Femmes XIXe-XXIe siècles”, with readings by poets such as Marie-Claire Bancquart, Claude Ber, Marilyn Hacker, Béatrice Bonhomme, Marie Etienne, Marielle Anselmo, myself & others, a film projection of a documentary on Vénus Khory-Gata & a soirée in a gallery with amazing art shown by Annie Bascoul, Brigitte Batteaux, Muriel Richard-Dufourquet, Diagne Chanel, & Nandre. Unusual for my experiences (though mine are not yet so numerous) at conferences in France, because this conference opened itself to a non-academic public & environment as well as a very academic one, & as such a wonderful three days of non-stop dialogue between artists, academics, artist-academics, authors, publishers, etc was born—thanks very much to the organizers, including Patricia Godi who has a new book out on Sylvia Plath—read online the article by Florence Trocmé (also present at the conference to talk about her site, Poezibao) on this biography of Plath: HERE: (scroll down to it, 2nd article I believe).

For me, this conference comes at a time when I am (yes, still) trying to bring my PhD dissertation on, conveniently for the colloque, 3 women authors—Anne-Marie Albiach, Susan Howe & Myung Mi Kim—to a close. I am already dreading the possible defense questions regarding my selecting 3 women when, for me, the choice had nothing to do with gender & everything to do with a natural progression in my own study of authors & poetics—that is, form & technique, not theme or origins. I selected three authors that, here in France at least, had been, in my view, somewhat forgotten by the general criticism, or criticism which addressed the questions of form, visual & typographical writing, & how that linked to lyric & notions of narrative—a “dire” as it were. Certainly, I could just as well have selected male authors working in a parallel vein, but perhaps somewhere I do agree with the citation by Susan Gervitz in the Spahr/Young article that “Across the ages from older to younger & in reverse, I think there’s a responsibility for women to attend to one another’s work.” After all, having studied more men myself throughout my life, I felt that Albiach, Howe & Kim’s work needed attending to, & it was also asking me questions I felt like addressing in a PhD; it was for me a natural progression from the tradition of men I had studied in depth throughout numerous survey courses as an undergrad, from the lyric poets that I had studied among whom I had been encouraged to read mostly men, & then to get to a 20th century where I had likely read even numbers of men & women but had personally still written more critical work on men. So it was a choice for me to study them as a natural progression, & I felt it would also help me seek answers I have about myself & my own formal (not gender related) work & development over time.

This said, I did note at the conference that it felt as if the poetry studied was in general (with some exceptions, such as a great talk on day one about Columbian poets & formal revolt,) far more traditional formally than works I tend to be focused on myself, or my own writing. Among talks on Anglophone authors, there were no presentations on G Stein, Hejinian, DuPlessis, Drucker, et al, & many on Plath, even Plath’s daughter, as well as presentations on A Rich, Dickinson, Stevie Smith, the Brontes, Browning, Gwendolyn Brooks, L Neidecker, Rukeyser, & H.D. There were also comments made about “the new opportunities online for publication” but it seemed as if no one at the conference had ever heard of hypertext works (which I doubt, but it was just the way people spoke of online works) or were even aware that in Paris there are annual ePoetry conferences & a current call for a contest for an ePoetry work, making more elaborate use of the web than simply posting a text online instead of a page. This said, academia is usually behind the times in what it selects to study & present at conferences, & many of the anglo authors presented are less well known here in France (some are not yet even translated into French) than in the states where they are sort of the cannon for a teenage girl who is becoming aware of poetry & the permission to say things that the confessionalists made possible.

However, the end result of all this is that at this point in my PhD I feel I am ending up now relegated, it seems, or feels, to a side-category of critics, those who are women studying women, as if we were some sort of minority. Moreso, of a poet studying “weird” or “unreadable” poetries (the number of gasps alongside “do you find her work readable?” that I receive upon introducing myself & my subject to professors at conferences here in France makes me want to roll my eyes!!!)

So, I think—& kept thinking throughout the colloque in Clermont-Ferrand, about the article just published in the Chicago Review by Juliana Spahr & Stephanie Young (see link below, in last paragraph), asking many questions regarding “womens’” poetry stemming from questions about whether we still need poetry anthologies that fore-front women’s writing apart from bi-generderd anthologies.

In parallel, one may ask, do we still need a conference only focusing on women’s poetry? One of the men present at the conference said that in fact he felt that he (as man) was questioned far more than I (as woman) am/would be regarding the choice to focus on women authors. I was surprised by this, having in fact not considered what it might be like for a man to select a woman or women authors as their focus for a PhD in France. I suppose I need merely recount that at this, one of the few conferences this year focused on women’s work (not one author, but conferences like this which are open to a wide range of authors & authors writing in a wide range of languages) &, furthermore, on women’s poetry (the number of conferences focused on prose seems to me significantly higher in general) that the number of men in the room was always minimal. I started to take count at one point, how in one of the presentation rooms two days in a row there were 4 presenters, & 29 audience members, of which 4 were men (both times) & in these cases, the four men were often different men, whereas more women tended to stay for two to all three days of the conference. On another day, there were 40 people in the room & 5 were men. I kept asking myself, if I were in the states at a similar conference, would the situation be the same—as in, would there be such a cast difference in the number of men & women present? Feel free, those of you in the states, to let me know!

This said, despite what I feel about women being studied, I still don’t feel that women are a minority (& I don’t see myself as a minority) at this time in publishing, at least in the realms I am currently reading; in presses I tend to keep my eye on. Yet I do question whether more women are hermetic in their working methods, work habits, life as authors, in their ways of not sending out work—& whether some young men have established a kind of dynamic of prolific writing & publishing that is less a product of or within an “anxiety of influence” (Bloom) but is rather a positive, bolstering, exciting, even perhaps rather a game-like, almost amusing competition to publish & write more books, get more prizes, not be left behind by friends who also are getting 3 or so books per year onto the market (ie, I think here of the surprising number of manuscripts that Brian Henry, Noah Eli Gordon, or currently Joshua Wilkinson are getting out there—& great for them! I would like to see some of the women poets I know send their work like this as well, but many tend to hold onto it, not submit it, or wait to see if one book is taken before sending another they have finished). Women I know are also not, or purposefully not, joining groups or shy away from bi-gender groups, writing exchanges, etc. Just as (I gather) many women invited to join Oulipo in France have declined the offer, women I know tend to shy away from many group collaborative moments in a gesture of self/time or some other mysterious form of protection. Men I know (not all, but some) tend to do the opposite. Certainly, these are my own generalizations, my own current observations among my own restricted number of friends. But I have started questioning myself in relationship to these personal observations, asking myself questions—being, as I am, at the same time really hermetic at this stage of my life (my PhD at the root of that) & also extremely motivated to send off work, play online on the rewords blogsite, etc, in new public collaborative ways, ways that for me are lifelines at a stage when otherwise I might drown under my own personal need to be an academic, to write critically, & thus to lose the side of me that is the lifeline, the author.

I see that much is being reflected on questions of gender anthologies & the like, & currently debated. I therefore wanted to point to two debates, the later of which is ongoing. First, perhaps see Poezibao’s series of questions about "pourquoi si peu de femmes poètes de grande stature ?" women & writing, the questions Florence asked many authors are at: & the responses in a generalized grouping can be read at: & a sub-debate on the formulated question itself is at: Then you can read some specific detailed responses from some of the authors selected at these links, which often address how these women poets perceive they are seen here in France versus how they perceive women poets seen in other countries—quite interesting: , , ,

Secondly, the article, in the Chicago Review, I had read just before going to the conference, & now I see there is a lot of ongoing online debate surrounding it, is up on the Chicago Review website: Juliana Spahr & Stephanie Young’s really interesting article which springs from questions (& responses to) of whether or not there are equal numbers of women authors, publishers, editors in the “innovative” poetry scene & which ends with a great call or invitation for answers, conversations, projects, etc to address how “poetry or poetry communities might do more to engage the living & working conditions of women in a national/international arena” They invite your emaile responses to this, so get involved, reflect, open up this arena….: click HERE or cut & paste To see their article & to read some of the pdf filed responses that the CHICAGO REVIEW is so kindly making possible, go to:


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