Things About Which I Have (Almost) No Authority to Speak, Part III.

January 26, 2010 § 7 Comments

The Poetry Foundation’s blog Harriet caught my attention today because of the misleading title of Craig Santos Perez’s most recent post, “Gender & Poetry (Part 1): Why Don’t More Women Do Blog-Oriented Writing?” While I should probably wait patiently for Part 2, I can’t because I’m a woman & I don’t like waiting.  Or voting, or things that are icky.  So I’ll just respond to it now & apologize later through tears & wads of shredded tissue.

After a tragic missed opportunity to make me laugh with his parody of Dream Song #14  (& I have laughed at many a Berryman parody, my favorite being one about Mexican food: “Enchiladas bore me, / tamales bores me, especially great tamales…”), Perez cites Jessica Smith as one of his “favorite unboring woman bloggers,” & links to a post she unboringly posted about poetry & gender.

Perez pulls the unboringest chunks from her unboring post & uses them, to his credit, to start a conversation rather than come to any huge conclusions, aside from the one that’s implicit in the title of the post, which is that the blogosphere is a sausage-fest, & that this somehow relates to poetry.  (As a boring woman blogger, I’ve always wanted to use the words “sausage-fest” but haven’t for obvious reasons [cultural oppression].)

Even though this post has on its designer heels the post announcing this year’s National Book Critics Circle Award finalists, four out of the five of whom are women, it still seems as if the role of gender in poetry is being discussed against a backdrop of the cultural/intellectual oppression of women, & our resulting reticence when it comes to our writing & our careers.  Smith points out that “most of the great poets writing today are women,” & tries to explain that greatness by suggesting that because of this intellectual oppression, the female experience may be somehow more novel & compelling than that of men.  She uses all this as an opportunity to call upon women to write proud (&, more self-servingly, submit to her all-female magazine Foursquare [not to be confused with the next ridiculous wave of 140-character navel-gazing]).

I’m not sure I want to touch her argument about the female experience as unique or uniquely wedded to good writing, mostly because—as she points out, though rather dismissively—it’s made super complicated by class, ethnicity, etc., & I think that any discussion that throws around the words “oppression” and “anonymity” is owed a deeper treatment of those issues too.  (Even if they’re Boring!)

What I do find a little grating is this: “This is all to say to the self-effacing women: you may not be the best poet who ever lived, but demographically, the odds are in your favor that you have something to say, so please speak up.”  Maybe it’s pedantic & stupid to even say it (or maybe it’s the monolith of male-dominated intellectual culture that’s making me think I oughtn’t), but the four female National Book Critics Circle Award finalists weren’t recognized for being women and writing poems.  Lots of people have something to say; I’d be willing to bet that everyone does.  Whether or not a person can say what he or she has to say well probably depends upon discipline, education & opportunity (& that’s where class becomes problematic), & probably also luck.  & from the looks of it, plenty of women are putting themselves out there.  I guess I’m just more than a little hesitant to draw large conclusions about the effects of a male-dominated society from a small pile of submissions to an all-female journal.

Of course, I have absolutely no idea what it takes to say things well.  I just say things.  I am also absolutely not the kind of person who wants Susan Howe’s Singularities on my nightstand, so maybe I’m not the deep reader for whom this post was meant.

But if it helps, the slush I read is full of poems by women, many of them writing about womanly things.  Because if there’s one thing we ladies are good at, it’s submission.


§ 7 Responses to Things About Which I Have (Almost) No Authority to Speak, Part III.

  • c st p says:

    hi (cant find your name)–this post is really fantastic. you should post it in the comments on Harriet.

    you really didnt find my berrman spoof funny? haha.


  • hoostown says:

    Thanks, Craig. I will. Feel free to link to it too, if you’d like.

    No harm meant to your Berryman spoof. I look forward to more.

  • I did not post a blog post to come to “any huge conclusions,” but rather to wonder why I like poetry by women more; why women are so reluctant to put themselves out there; and what self-promotion that is not “male” might look like. It’s just a blog, not the Constitution.

  • […] Perez at Harriet, snarky Hoostown, Mark thinking.  There is a lot of debate here over why/whether women writing today are better […]

  • hoostown says:

    Of course. & I mean only to consider your post in my un-Constitution-like blog, too, as people do. The things you were wondering about made me wonder things, too, & wonder why I was wondering about them. Blogging, public wonderment, etc. I mean nothing personal by any of it, especially since I tend to assume nobody’s even reading.

  • Ha– that’s what I thought too (that no one was reading).

  • hoostown says:

    In all seriousness, I think it’s great that you started this conversation. Since it’s the ones who are already great at self-promotion that are the most easily visible, it’s easy to forget that there are so many who aren’t, & their predicament, whatever its cause, is worth considering. Thanks for pointing us all to that.

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