Tuesday, December 02, 2008


Women poets blogging

A student named Tom Speaker is conducting research on poetry, gender, and blogging and asked me (and a number of other women poets who blog) to answer some questions on the topic. I found the exercise so interesting that, with Tom's permission, I am posting his questions and my answers below.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on these issues. Please comment!

1. Have you ever published in a women's only anthology/website/forum or other venue? Why or why not?

I have published in Just Like a Girl, an anthology of women’s poetry, and I have submitted work to other publications. I have also given public readings in women’s reading series and at feminist bookstores. While I hope that we will all read and listen to poetry by all kinds of poets and read across our differences, I also believe there is still a role for targeted women’s venues, just as there is for poets of color or poets with disabilities, for example. For one thing, these targeted venues give women the opportunity to examine feminist or female issues in a context with their peers; that is, we get a chance to see what other women are writing about given subjects and to be in a kind of dialogue together. Another role of these venues is to promote women’s voices, which sadly still need additional support; witness, for example, the fact that only one out of five of the finalists for the National Book Award this year was a woman.

2. Are women's poetry blogs changing notions of gender? In literature? In society? If so, how?

Poetry blogs often help to build a sense of community and women’s blogs play a key role in that function. Of course women have often been community builders in literary culture, so this is not a new role. It’s been harder in the past for women to promote themselves and distribute their own work; blogs make this work easier and allow women to bypass the traditional means of promotion (which are disappearing in any case) such as publishers and reviewers. I think this is quite a significant change and is allowing the more widespread distribution of women’s voices – both their poetry and their other writing about poetry, the literary life, art and social issues, and the “poetry business,” for lack of a better term.

Women have traditionally been less well represented in the role of critic than as creative artists. As women and other traditionally marginalized groups become “tastemakers,” we are truly changing notions of gender (and race and class and sexuality and physical ability, for that matter), as well as of poetry itself. The internet is playing a crucial role in this shift, as there are more opportunities to write and publish reviews and other critical writings online. (I am indebted to the poet and literary activist E. Ethelbert Miller for helping me understand the crucial role of the critic.)

3. What are your own personal motivations for placing your poetry in your blog or online magazine?

I think I have only once posted a poem of my own on my blog. I’d rather have other people publish my work and use the blog to promote discussion, champion poets I love, spread the word about events at the intersection of poetry and social change, and think aloud about the topics that preoccupy me as a poet and activist. I’ve also used my blog to promote groups and events I’ve been involved in organizing, such as Split This Rock Poetry Festival and DC Poets Against the War.

I was a little late in submitting my work to online magazines, being just old enough to have a deeply held, instinctual preference for the printed page (I’m 45). But now I am very appreciative of the opportunity to reach a worldwide audience, crossing so many boundaries. Most people in the United States are not even aware of the existence of printed literary magazines and even if they are they have no idea how to get a hold of them or where to begin to differentiate between them. Online magazines obviously overcome these difficulties and allow potential readers of all sorts to find my work. For me this serves a political as well as a literary function, since I write a lot of socially engaged poetry, a genre that has sometimes had a hard time finding its way in traditional venues for poetry in the US.

4. On the internet, has women's poetry helped to advance any feminist causes? Give examples if possible.

A good deal of the poetry published on the web against the war in Iraq has been by women, and I believe peace to be a central feminist cause. As this is the issue I have been most active in over the past several years, it is the one with which I have the most familiarity. I published several poems from the perspective of mothers of American soldiers in a special wartime issue of Beltway Poetry Quarterly I edited in 2006. (Interestingly, one was by a man.) As Martín Espada has written, poetry can give politics a human face, and one of the faces of this war is the family irrevocably damaged by the loss of a child. Many readers told me these were among the most affecting poems in the issue.

5. Do you perceive any sexist biases on the Internet, and what do you perceive these to be? Is there pressure on the Internet for women to conform to "masculine" poetry standards? Are these pressures greater or lesser than in the past? Give examples if you can.

It’s a paradoxical situation: On the one hand, as I wrote above, there are a great deal more opportunities for women to reach a broad audience – with their poetry and their prose. On the other hand, a virulent, even violent sexism is still alive and well in the world and our very visibility and accessibility means that we are more exposed, more vulnerable to sexist attack than previously, especially with the potential for anonymity on the web. I am not speaking from personal experience, as I’ve never been subjected to this kind of harassment. But I know it happens. Nor am I speaking of disagreement and discussion. I am speaking of sexist name-calling and harassment, an altogether different thing. I do think I’ve censored myself a little bit because of this possibility, choosing not to write much about issues of sex and sexuality, for example, on the blog.

6. Do you see the aspect of anonymity inspiring more sexist vitriol on the web in poetry-related forums? Has anonymity helped to spread anti-feminist perspectives? Give examples if you can.

Please see my answer above. I don’t spend a lot of time reading poetry-related discussion forums, so I can’t comment specifically.

7. Do you think there is any connection between gender and the formal (not subject-oriented) aspects of poetry? If so, can you describe the connection?

Not intrinsic, no. I think women have been discouraged from being formally inventive by all sorts of forces, literary and more broadly historical and cultural. But many women have been battering down those walls for years and will continue to do so. One advantage poetry has over other art forms is there’s no money in it. So the pressure to conform, while still present, is substantially less. Not that I’m OK with this situation – there absolutely should be more money for poetry!

Inviting you to California, or Ireland or even Kenya this coming March 2009 for the Women's Festivals!

March is Women's History Month and we are celebrating International Women's Day on March 8, 2009.


Please find details at the website about the fabulous conferences in California, Limerick Ireland and Kenya. Please register NOW!

thanks and keep up the great fun!
Patty DeDominic, producer of the
International Women's Festivals

PLEASE share this info with your friends.
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