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Why I Am a Woman Poet

By Annie Finch

susie-marta-rebecca-annie-april-041

My Sister-in-Law, Sister, Niece, and Me in My Mother’s Kitchen

Anna Leahy
reminds us, in her recent essay “Is Women’s Poetry Passé?” in Legacy, that “in the January 2006 issue of Poetry, the three female poets who had been asked to comment on “women’s poetry” (Meghan O’Rourke, J. Allyn Rosser, and Eleanor Wilner) asserted, “we all concur that we ought to abolish the unpleasant term ‘women’s poetry.” And in the ensuing few years, consensus on this point seems, if anything, to have become wider. Even I, who claimed for myself the name of “poetess” in a 2002 essay, found myself beginning a paragraph in my recent Women’s Work post on Harriet with the caveat that “there may not be such a thing as women’s poetry. . .”

But the more I have thought about it since writing that post, the more I have decided that, whether or not women’s poetry exists, I am a woman poet, for three reasons:

1. First, being a woman poet helps me write the way I want to write. I like to write about mothers, daughters, female ancestors, and their lives and lore. I like to write about babies, birth, and breastfeeding. I like to write about nature, food, and spiritual life in ways that can feel female; for example, I learned this week that women have much better senses of smell than men and that women’s voices help plants grow significantly faster than men’s. These sorts of new truths make me wonder how such things affect poetry by women and more importantly, they give me the kind of deep curiosity that leads to poems. Women’s stories and experiences have been missing from so much of our cultural history; Judy Chicago, in her monumental feminist installation The Dinner Party, which I took my daughter to see recently, conveys this brutal lack of access to information about women by making it frustratingly difficult to see the gorgeously intricate patterns and embroiderery on the backs of each of the table runners commemorating the female guests of honor. Now at the earliest dawn of female recovery—a time when, in certain parts of the planet, it is just finally beginning to be possible to imagine a world in which women’s experience is valued equally with men’s—I feel lucky to be born a poet into a gender that brings with it so much experience that needs urgently to be expressed. To be a woman poet gives me access to a pomegranate, a cornucopia, of inspirations crying to be articulated through more than just my one lifetime. Whether I am writing about a female experience or about a female perception of a “universal” experience, if I start out from the position of a woman poet, it leaves more room within each poem to explore being a woman; there is that much less I need to establish for the reader at the outset.

And the way I want to write involves not only theme and subject matter but also form, style, poetics. My poetics involve incantation and repetition that grew directly out of my experiences of participation in women-led, earth-centered spiritual groups. Also, the meaning of literary traditions changes when I respond to them as a woman poet. Were I a male poet, for example, I imagine that I would not be nearly so interested, or at least would be interested in a different way, in the complexities of poetic form and meter. The fact that women have worked less than men in the range of traditional English meters makes these patterns especially intriguing to me as a woman; at the least, it has given me a fresh angle of approach towards the traditionally male field of prosody (and, going full circle from the male prosodists who were my own teachers, one that seems to be of fresh value to some male poets and prosodists as well).

2. Being a woman poet connects me consciously with a literary tradition of other women poets. As described above, I find myself writing about themes that women poets wrote about for centuries, and sometimes in subtly similar ways to the ways that they wrote about those things for centuries (for the curious, some of my thoughts about the aesthetics of the “poetesses” are summarized here). When undertaking an endeavor, it is helpful to have an accurate idea of who else has undertaken it and how they have fared, so this connection with tradition is one of the most obvious practical benefits of deciding to be a woman poet. As I have grown to know myself better as a woman poet, that self-knowledge has also spared me some real-life pain; for example, if an editor admires my poetry overall but finds fault with some aspect of it that seems essential to the fact that I am a woman poet (for example, suggesting my poems would be better with “bigger” themes or a “harder, rougher” tone (yes, both of these things have happened)), rather than beat myself up trying fruitlessly to change something integral to my work and meaningful within the traditions of women’s poetry, now I can seek out those editors, female and male, who are used to understanding and appreciating poetry by women poets, and can trust them for a more informed reaction to these types of poems.

3. Being a woman poet connects me with a literary future that I am excited about. And again, since literary traditions far outlast the tastes of any particular literary moment, this gives me a certain respite from the currencies of literary taste, as if I held onto an anchor of self-awareness in a sometimes difficult sea. Leahy, for example, quotes Sue Miller to the effect that “Women . . . are rewarded today not for writing as women traditionally have, but for writing as men have,” and suggests that the most highly-praised books by women may be those “in which so-called male subject matter—cultural clashes, war, anger—overcame female authorship.” [Please note: this is not to fall into the trap of essentialism; Miller is not saying women shouldn’t write about these things: clearly, many women are inspired to write about these topics and write very well about them. Miller simply means that the books that do take on these topics (or ones in which the authors take on familiar female roles such as the vamp or the mommy—also evident in creative nonfiction, as articulated in Anne Trubek’s essay “Where Are the Queens of Nonfiction”)—may be likelier to succeed in the current climate.] As a “woman poet,” I am free and even justified in maintaining a longterm view.

I realize that my decision to be a woman poet is a rather idiosyncratic choice. No doubt it is influenced partly by the fact that my mother is a poet too (see my Mother’s Day post). The women’s poetic tradition is a living reality for me. I don’t expect other women poets to do the same, nor do I question the importance for many women poets, such as those who opened this article, of trying to get rid of the term “women’s poetry.” I am simply speaking for myself, describing how it feels for me to have decided to be a woman poet.

Richard Epstein, commenting on Eratosphere on my Poetic Justice post, writes, “When I see forums devoted to poems by and about women or by and about people of color or by and about gay poets, my reaction is always pretty much the same: How would you feel if you encountered a forum called Poems by Men, White Poets, or Heterosexual Poets?” Epstein’s post makes clear that he expects such a forum would inspire “indignation” on the part of someone like me, for example, who has started a listserv for the discussion of women’s poetry). But in fact, I would feel exactly the opposite. I would be ecstatic to see anthologies, forums, and panels devoted to “men’s poetry.” It would signal to me that men had become conscious that maleness is a gender and can influence men’s poetic choices and voices.

One of the most exciting literary-critical thrills I have had recently came from an experience just like that. I was outside reader for a senior thesis at Middlebury College about the use of mythology in women’s poetry. Among the excellent feminist readings of poems by Sexton, Bogan, Plath, and many others, what knocked my socks off most of all was a brilliant “masculinist” reading of Frost’s “For Once, Then, Something” in terms of the male tradition of writing about the Narcissus myth. When this kind of reading is no longer shockingly new, that may be the time I will be ready to stop thinking of myself as a woman poet. When white poetry, male poetry, and heterosexual poetry are understood to be the poetries of specific kinds of people and not of the universal Poet, then all poems will have a good chance of being appreciated for what they are—poems by specific kinds of people. When my privileged status in terms of race (Anglo-Celtic), class (upper middle), and sexuality (hetero) is just as obvious and visible a classification as my gender status, that may be the right time to stop thinking of myself as a woman poet. At that point all of us will, I expect, be more tolerant of poetry built on unfamiliar assumptions; more curious to learn about the variety of poetic traditions in which poems operate, and more literate in the varieties of possible poetic excellence.

In deciding to be a woman poet, I know that I risk oversimplifying myself and my traditions. To reduce the staggering variety of women’s poetry to the “women’s poetic tradition” is just as absurd as reducing the staggering variety of men’s poetry to the “men’s poetic tradition.” It is absurd. Utterly absurd. But right now I prefer it to the alternatives: it feels as if it gives me more room to move.

Comments (109)

  • On June 24, 2009 at 4:05 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    I’ve been looking forward to this article, Annie, which I felt sure must be coming along after what you said at the very end of the “Women’s Work: the Poetic Justice Forum” thread. Indeed, we both agreed to leave that thread open-ended, and made a sort of pact to meet up soon to start again.

    And here we are, and I thank you for such a rich and promising start.

    Christopher

  • On June 24, 2009 at 2:13 pm Annie FInch wrote:

    Thanks Christopher, glad you are here, and perhaps we can use this thread to air out or clarify some of the tensions that used to be part of threads involving gender especially when I started on Harriet–just a few months ago, and it’s hard to believe my time here will be ending so soon–

    Annie

  • On June 24, 2009 at 2:34 pm Pascale Petit wrote:

    Thanks Annie for such a detailed and reasoned response to this difficult issue which is also topical in the UK, particularly after the publication of Women’s Work, eds Eva Salzman, Amy Wack (Seren, 2008). It is a problematic label and raises hackles. In an ideal world there would be no need to call ourselves ‘woman poet’. But there is still a long way to go.

  • On June 24, 2009 at 3:23 pm Ange Mlinko wrote:

    Annie — I don’t think that masculinist poets, and masculinist readings, are unusual. If you look at the critical reception of Frederick Seidel, Thom Gunn and August Kleinzahler, to name three obvious (and disparate) examples, you see an enthusiastic consensus that these are poets of maleness. Don’t you think?

  • On June 24, 2009 at 4:58 pm Margo Berdeshevsky wrote:

    Annie, again at a beginning.

    Last round, I posted a link to a review of an art fest at the Pompidou museum in Paris, titled elles@centrepompidou. I’ve just spent the day again with those 500 “elles.” “Shes.” Women. Artists. Not different to me, to consider, along with your thinking on being a woman poet. Am I that? But that? Only that? Is that what I too …yes. And oh, maybe, not so fast…a mere human, first.

    In fact, what I wandered through this day, in time to return and read your post — is a show to rattle my numerous cages. The subject is certainly, profoundly “woman”. And then there’s something that scrapes at the heart, room after room after room.. Many, even most, of the woman artists have responded to the rages and cages of being woman. Not with those kind images of “mothers, daughters, female ancestors, and their lives and lore…babies, birth, and breastfeeding … nature, food, and spiritual life in ways that can feel female” that you invoke above.

    More–there is the giant and torn out tongue of a Louise Bourgeois instalation. More, the confrontations with beauty or its impositions upon a woman, beauty or its damnations, scrawled words and dripping colors, a poster shouting “what big muscles you have, superimposed upon smaller words: my lordship, my lancelot, my better half, my wunderkind, my landlord, my ayatollah, my daddy….etc. And next room: the large bodied woman desperately wanting to fly, grounded, titled “bird.” More the poster “Do Women Have to Be Naked to Get into U.S. Museums?” (1989), that shouts: if one gets rid of sexism and racism, will you still buy the art? More the liquid miasmas of femininity submerged or drowning in itself. The efforts to confront the beauteous models that male art has enshrined, by creating harsh and shocking images.A woman, a woman artist, a woman poet, a woman–that, and that, and that.

    I found it a deep confrontation with the self – and remain with my questions. my shouts. my rages. my quests for humanity. if labeling oneself, or the art made by humans with a body called woman leads us there — is that our moment in herstory, or our step to a future…I dare to wonder profoundly. And to look at the words “woman poet” with the same chills, thrills, and concerns.

    here are a few clicks to get a bird’s eye taste:

    http://artobserved.com/go-see-paris-ellescentrepompidou-at-pompidou-center-from-may-27/

    http://www.centrepompidou.fr/Pompidou/Manifs.nsf/0/44638f832f0afabfc12575290030cf0d!OpenDocument&sessionM=2.2.1&L=2&Click=

    According to the Pompidou Center, this is the first time ever that a museum has presented only works by women in its permanent collection. “The new hang is neither feminine nor feminist in its approach,” say the curators. “The idea is first of all to show and pay homage to these artists.” They’ve entitled one section of the show “A Room of One’s Own,” …explaining very clearly how the traditional role of women kept many of them from achieving greatness in the arts. This historic deprivation offers an apt justification for the affirmative action of this show.

    And, here is a quote from the exhibit walls,de Beauvoir’s 1949 words– “One is not born a woman, one becomes one. No biological, psychological, or economic fate determines the figure that the human female presents in society; it is civilization as a whole that produces this creature, intermediate between male and eunuch, which is described as feminine. Only the intervention of someone else can establish the individual as an other.”

    As sun sets on the Parisian Seine, here,I find myself walking on water, not miraculously, but in the sense that the foundations of this thought–being woman poet, woman writer, woman — belong to us each, to sculpt, but out of the shimmer that is liquid and universal. That which fills the major part of our bodies. Water. And then, of course, there’s our soul. And that is made of… well, all we dare to be.

    with care, and again, at a beginning,this night. Again.

    margo

  • On June 24, 2009 at 5:13 pm Robin Kemp wrote:

    I just can’t resist:

    How would I feel about a collection called “Poems by Men, White Poets, or Heterosexual Poets”?

    I would feel that it was–and still overwhelmingly is–The Norton Anthology of Poetry. I would know for a fact that it is the overwhelming majority of the comprehensive exam reading list. Token suicidal crazy bitches and token lesbian beards excepted, of course.

    Next question?

  • On June 24, 2009 at 4:46 pm A. Leahy wrote:

    What a wonderful conversation. As I mentioned in my essay, it makes me a bit uncomfortable because it sounds much like conversations when I was an undergrad more than twenty years ago. But discussion is important because the issues still exist.

    Annie Finch gets at the point with which I continue to struggle: the term “woman poet” both carries with it limitations & expectations that may well be unfair and beside the point in artistic creation but also carries with it a literary tradition that might not exist without such a term. She goes beyond my essay by rightly pointing to the many identities with which a poet might be labeled–by herself and/or others–and points out that the lack of a label may carry assumptions, too.

    It might be great to eliminate the term, as the Poetry conversation suggested, because poems are poems. I believe that. But after looking at the cultural context of contemporary American poetry, I don’t think we’re there yet. Who we are–those many and changing identities–shapes what we write, of course, though I prefer to think that creation is not confined by cultural labels. But Annie Finch actually finds labels to be invigorating! I want to consider further whether deciding to write as a “woman poet” is altogether different than deciding to write a sonnet or a war poem. Is being a “woman poet” for a single poem or for a career any different than claiming other externally defined conventions to create an original piece? Is it fundamentally different than knowing your poem has a better shot at being published by a journal that favors a certain aesthetic? Are the risks or rewards–personally or professionally–greater?

    It matters to me now because my book is called Constituents of Matter, and initially that title took people aback in ways that sounded like, What’s nice girl like you writing about science? My new manuscript is called Among Virgins and Harlots, and that sounds like the title of something by a woman poet. I don’t do science, but I want to use its metaphors, whether or not I am a woman poet. I do woman, though, every day. Is drawing from woman different than drawing from science? Well, maybe we do science every day, too–metabolizing caffeine, looking at the sky and donning a raincoat–but are these issues similar? Do we get to choose?

    Reception, of course, moves a poem into a cultural context. And that’s where labels seem to matter most–for good or for ill–and be less under our control.

  • On June 24, 2009 at 5:21 pm Annie FInch wrote:

    Hi Ange, you’ve given excellent examples of poets who are indeed acknowledged as poets of maleness because of how they present themselves; their reception mirrors the explicit role of maleness in their work. What I hadn’t come across (and please correct me if I’m wrong, since I’d love to see it, and I’m sure you may know better than I), are literary-critical readings that go beyond acknowledging the poet’s self presentation, deeper into readings of male poets’ work within a specifically masculine tradition, set of masculine literary strategies, etc.. –even, for that matter, in the work of male poets who don’t consciously choose to present themselves as blatantly male. More akin to what the Middlebury student did with Frost might be, say, a psychological reading of phallic imagery in Gunn and Seidel, or a sociological analysis of the role of the father-figures in Kleinzahler and Bukowski. On the other hand, these kinds of gender-informed approaches have become quite common in readings of poetry by women, even women, like Dickinson, for example, who don’t consciously choose to present themselves in blatantly female ways.

    I hasten to say that there is plenty of literary scholarship that is beginning to think in more conscious terms about literary masculinity–Calvin Thomas’ book Male Matters http://www.press.uillinois.edu/books/catalog/33bgy7cs9780252022029.html comes to mind–but it seems that, aside from cases where a perticular male poet himself makes sure we don’t forget it, the effect of maleness on a poem is still quite in the beginning stages as regards how most people who think about poetry think about poetry.

  • On June 24, 2009 at 5:24 pm Annie FInch wrote:

    Margo, your questions, “Am I that? But that? Only that?,” bring to mind just how I felt when I was in the middle of writing this post. I realized that at one point it could have been hard for me to claim publicly that I was a woman poet—I think I might have felt threatened—but this time the thought crossed my mind, “that’s not ALL I am, so it is no threat.” So, no! NOT “only that.” But, perhaps, that. . .

  • On June 24, 2009 at 5:33 pm Annie FInch wrote:

    Hi Robin,
    Someone had to say this, of course! Yet, the difference might be that the Norton was not edited and few if any of the poems in it written with the explicit category of “man poet” in mind–the way that, for example, the anthology, Men of Our Time: An Anthology of Male Poetry in Contemporary America (ed. Fred Moramarco and Al Zolynas), was. Doesn’t “man poet” potentially mean something entirely different in a world that has the Moramarco anthology in it, than it meant when 90% male anthology was simply intended to be a collection of works by poets, and the word “man” was simply meant to indicate “human being”?

  • On June 24, 2009 at 7:21 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    As some of you may remember, I tried to analyze Annie’s earlier earlier thread, “Women’s Works: the Poetic Justice Forum,” a bit right at the end, and even ventured to deconstruct the painting on the cover of Eva Salzman’s and Amy Wack’s eponymous book, Women’s Work: Modern Women Poets Writing in English. I feel sure the same themes will come up here again, and hope we can deal with them this time better, and maybe right through to a loving end.

    (I’d be desperate if women didn’t like me any more, and hate to imagine what it would be like if I had to camp out just with the men!)

    As a person I have some of same advantages Annie does, at least in terms of race and sexual persuasion. But I’m afraid I don’t make it even to the very lowest levels of the middle class, despite my privileged background. Because I’ve been downwardly mobile all my life, and now I’m rooted well below the poverty line–I don’t even qualify for a credit card, for example, or have to think about paying taxes. Not only do I live in my wife Homprang’s house, I’m christopher@homprang.com. (How’s that?)

    And that’s like the anomaly of my gender too, because there’s no doubt whatsoever that I’m male. Some of you may have even seen my face on my website (it’s actually my wife’s, of course), and will have noticed I’ve got the stance, jaw and height to throw the old macho weight around should I choose to. On the other hand, I simply don’t write “man’s poetry,” not at all, and can’t imagine what that would be like either. I’m all female when I write—which I suspect is true of most “man poets” today (raise hands who’s with me?).

    But what does exist is male criticism, that’s for sure, and what a meany beany business that is too. Because that’s where the real gender imbalance and prejudice in letters lies, and certainly does “influence men’s poetic choices and voices,” as Annie says in the article—men are such magpies when it comes to owning information, views, and reputations! But if you watch the Michael Robbins / Thomas Brady show on Circus Harriet, you’ll see that it doesn’t have to be like that. You’ll see that Michael is a classic male critic who believes in what he says, of course, and says it very, very loudly, while Thomas is a female critic who delivers what he says with absolute conviction even when he’s wrong in the sweetest voice and with the utmost persuasion! And delivers is the word.

    (I love the way when Thomas is caught out in a factual error, which does happen from time to time despite his extraordinary memory, he turns it to his advantage every time. Like magic he does that—presto and it’s something else all in his favor. It’s mesmerizing, like a woman!)

    Take your choice, Thomas or Michael—I certainly know where I stand. I certainly know who makes the new poem on my desk I’m getting down to right now get up and fly!

    Joan Houlihan is a male critic, though her animus level is only half of Michael Robbins’ what is more Ron Silliman’s—and, of course, William Logan is a woman (thank God!).

    Now there’s a challenge from one woman poet to another, Annie. There’s my man-poet’s gauntlet!

    Christopher

  • On June 24, 2009 at 7:27 pm Desmond Swords wrote:

    I am currently reading A.S. Byatt’s satirical novel, Possession, which pokes fun at the poe-faced side of academic literary scholarship.

    The plot is summarised by wikipedia (full details at the link):

    “The novel concerns the relationship between two fictional Victorian poets, Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte, as revealed to present day academics Roland Michell and Maud Bailey. Following a trail of clues from various letters and journals, they attempt to uncover the truth about Ash and LaMotte’s past before it is discovered by rival colleagues.”

    Byatt uses a variety of genres in her book, including, diary entries, fictional poems and letters, as the two academics, Maud Bailey a femminist running the Women’s Resource Centre ast Lincoln University and who had built her career on LaMotte scholarship, the other a meek and timid male academic in the final stages of his Phd on the major (ficticious) Victorian poet Randolph Ash, whose every word and reference in his oeuvre has a team of academics pouring over and studiously interpeting them.

    He stumbles across the draft of a letter from Ash to the minor Victorian poetess LaMotte whose masterpiece is a mermaid epic titled Melusina, who American femminist academic Lenora Stern has a glittering career specialising in – but as the story unfolds it becomes clear the most important relationship of LaMotte’s life has remained hidden in a stash of letters between LaMotte and the married Ash, revealing an illicit affair and love-child which seriously changes the version of LaMotte Stern has been confidently propounding after interpreting her life in a way which a letter from Stern to Bailey gives the general idea about:

    When I last wrote I mentioned I might write something on water and milk and amniotic fluid in Melusina – why is water always seen as the female? – we’ve discussed this – I want to write a big piece on the undines and nixies and melusinas – women perceived as dangerous – what do you think? I could extend it to the Drowned City – with special reference to non-genital imagery for female sexuality – we need to get away from the cunt as well as the phallus – the drowned women in the city might represent the totality of the female body as an erogenous zone if the circumambient fluid were seen as an undifferentiated eroticism, and this might be possible to connect to the erotic totality of the woman/dragon stirring the waters of the large marble bath, or “submergin her person” in it as LaM. tellingly describes her. What do you think Maud?

    Would you be prepared to give a paper at the Australian meeting of the Sapphic Society ion 1988? I had in mind that we would devote that session entirely to the study of the female erotic in nineteenth-century poetry and the strategies and subterfuges through which it had to present or dis-cover itself. You might have extended your thinking about liminality and the dissolution of boundaries. Or you might wish to be more rigorous in your exploration of LaMotte’s lesbian sexuality as the empowering force behind her work. (I accept her inhibitions made her characteristically devious and secretive – but you do not give her sufficient credit for the strength with which she does nevertheless obliquely speak out.

    It’s a great read.

    ~

    My own thinking on Woman poets is, they are just the same as Man poets.

    I haven’t read enough specifically woman-themed prose writing written by women (for women?) to speak knowledgably on. What I have read by a few of the French and American first, second and third wavers, the common feature i discerned was a focus on speculative discourse, articulating a proposition and setting about proving it in a fairly rigid intellectual language not wholly dissimilar to that of the fictional example of above.

    The pieces I remember, would launch into a premise and pertinaciously set about developing an argument by investigating certain positions and roles women from the past occupied, and via what seemed an operose compositional process that results in wading through – what to the lay reader was – some textually nubilous thickets, to arrive at fairly rigid outcomes on what being a woman is all about.

    Overall there was an intellectually-weighted semplice prose-metrical undertow to the tightly wrought investigative sentences I remember reading, with an organized propriety and consistency whose foucus and regard was patterned to a reliablely smooth, if somewhat polysemic plane whereby the Reader is challenged, invited, tempted, allured and simultaneously frosted and kept at a distance because of the acute depths and highly specific areas of expertise and understanding some of the higher end texts are concerned with.

    The sedulous nature of the authorial personae making new and manifestoizing in the sostenuto, was occasionally interspered with a melismatic ethereal burst of flowy nucamentaceous flowerings, like an aquatic body surfacing in certain irregular nodes, knotts and notes of accelerando and ritardando, contrasting with punctual and precise currents, regulated, rhythmic and routine, which the unexpected textual-layerings that appeared seminlgy at random – drew me in to a realization that the Feminine of silence and the oppressed and the ungiven otherness of a gender i little thought I could speak of or for — was in fact mine also. I too was a woman poet, if i so chose, the same as most man poets unthinkingly had been making a choice to be man-poets when all along, should we decide, a universal feminizing principle was theirs to pursue and appropriate as a writerly strategy.

  • On June 24, 2009 at 7:51 pm Ange Mlinko wrote:

    Alas, I am not the person to ask about what’s happening in academic journals; their firewalls are unbreachable, and as you probably know I don’t teach. Or go to conferences. But I’m interested in how poetry is presented and received in the “real world” (tongue in cheek) and I think overt gender identification is a big part of poetry’s appeal, male and female. I guess I want to suggest that your advocacy of “women’s poetry” and “woman poet” is not as — correct me if I’m overstating things here — embattled as you seem to present it. From where I stand, the popularity of the men I mentioned is firmly grounded in their maleness; the popularity of, say, Sharon Olds, Mary Oliver, Anne Carson, are firmly grounded in their femininity. And often I think that some of my favorite poets and thinkers — who emulate Virginia Woolf’s “androgynous mind” — are the sort to fall through the cracks.

    (And then, in my cynical moments, I think that what many women mean by “women’s poetry” is rife with unspoken rules and exclusionary criteria. That is, by “women’s poetry” does one mean the poetry of a person with the correct plumbing, or a person with the correct ideas — or both?)

    Not to put this on you personally, of course. But as a point of general discussion, it needs to be aired.

  • On June 25, 2009 at 1:40 am Margo Berdeshevsky wrote:

    Ain’t it interesting how some of our guys here are lining up to redefine themselves as woman. Seems they’d prefer it to be about ‘them.” But it’s not, really, I don’t think. That’s surely one of the points. Despite the various Harriet circuses, or others, it does not have to be. And, one may continue to be a ‘self’ without going in costume or drag.

    Your note above, annie, saying so well,”I realized that at one point it could have been hard for me to claim publicly that I was a woman poet—I think I might have felt threatened” bore my re-reading. If threat is the issue, then we each need to live first in our own skins, yes. If the threat is from outside, what we tell ourselves is all important: how on earth to be the best “me”(possible.)Sounds like what one may say to a child. So be it.

    Dealing with aggressivity and career jousting does not need comparing of who is a better or worse man who is more like a woman. Higgins did that trick on Liza well enough. Why can’t a woman be more like a man, etc. Looking at what the rages and cages do to us, part of what I wondered above, may be a little helpful.

    To me, the act of being a poet is already a vulnerable one. Whether the real threat would be to draw a circle round the gender of it-or whether the greather demand is to draw a circle round the self, and be willing to remain vulnerable, to serve the work best – that is how I’d rather “be” it. At least in the sunrise of a post-solstice day.

    margo

  • On June 25, 2009 at 1:54 am Michael James wrote:

    …I write poems for women. Women-poets and non.

    What is a man?

    What is a woman?

    There are certain genetic traits, yes. And these genetic/instinctual traits affect the world around us, how we interact with the world, and how the world interacts with us. Much like the voice-plant experiment (which I found fascinating). But you will notice the article said, ‘on average’. This means (possibly) there is always a point where the male voice makes a plant grow a little taller, and the female voice does not, or the male voice grows equally as tall as the female voice, etc.

    I believe the social contraptions which inform our opinions of how one should be often end up manifesting in our voices. Much like how our emotions change our vocal pitch. This same idea is then applied to how your social view will, obviously, affect your poetic approach.

    Some people rather enjoy their poets representing their cultural/societal view of what masculinity means. Cowboy poetry, or un-metro-sexual maleness. Some prefer to have their sex be absent from their work. “Androgynous mind”. Others prefer to work outside of constructs, free themselves of these imposed notions of femininity and masculinity and follow their own awareness of instinct.

    You then end up asking questions such as: does sexual orientation change the approaches? If a poet who is gay approaches his/her poetry in a masculine/feminine way, is the reader correct/incorrect in feeling one way if this approach isn’t what they consider masculine/feminine?

    Is another woman correct/incorrect in feeling another woman-poet isn’t following a feminine line of her liking? Does this then represent the idea we are only following what we believe we represent to ourselves? Much like how Langston Hughes throwing his books into the sea was, maybe, more for him than for the people watching?

    Ange Mlinko brought up an excellent point:

    “(And then, in my cynical moments, I think that what many women mean by “women’s poetry” is rife with unspoken rules and exclusionary criteria. That is, by “women’s poetry” does one mean the poetry of a person with the correct plumbing, or a person with the correct ideas — or both?)”

    This is why I choose to simply be. To exist. I acknowledge the differences, but admire those poets who choose to separate from imposed gender identities and form their own.

    I love women. Can’t wait to find the woman I will spend the rest of my life with, the omega to my alpha, the one who will connect all the points inbetween. I enjoy sports; play them just as much as I enjoy them. I’m terrible at math and yet, due to my maleness, should be quite good at it. I can understand odd complex formulas, and spatial complications. But I write like the dickens. Many of the qualities associated with femininity I tend to display, as well as the male qualities. I believe it is beyond social trait absorption (though this is likely an issue), I believe it is more a genetic trait I carry. Not neutrality or androgyny, more of a doubled awareness, where the estrogen may be a bit higher.

    So, if I were to see an anthology dedicated to “men’s poetry”, I’d wonder, what is that?

    I’d wonder if I would be represented.

  • On June 25, 2009 at 2:02 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    That’s mean, Margo–a cheap shot.

    You write: “To me, the act of being a poet is already a vulnerable one.” That has been clear in everything I’ve ever read of yours but this.

    And you know my reply to what youve written, Margo? “Me too.”

    In another post I will write a description of the exhibitin I saw recently called “Luis.” A real nightmare, that one–my God, what also it means to be be a man!

    Everybody thinks Bobbit invented that off-with-it nightmare. Well, it happens almost daily here, and one of the reasons Thailand has become a center for sex change surgery is because there are so many surgeons with so much experience of sewing it back on.

    And I’m not fooling. The word for knife in Thai is “mete.” Try it in any group of Thai men and see how they laugh their heads off to disguise their angst.

    Ask them too what it means to sleep with a pillow between your legs.

    Christopher

  • On June 25, 2009 at 2:43 am Margo Berdeshevsky wrote:

    No cheap shot meant at all, Christopher. I think you misread, perhaps based on your own vulnerability, which is understandable, but my words were clear, i hope, and not a slam, but a seeing and an understanding. What occurs in your land, or mine, or any land– violence is violence, be it in the hand of woman or man, and to be abhored. Period.
    best, margo

  • On June 25, 2009 at 4:47 am Annie FInch wrote:

    Ange, I agree these questions and points need to be aired, and I’ll address them again in the main thread below, because they tie in with Anna’s points as well. I admire the way you have gotten to the gist of the issue. What I am advocating for at the core, I suppose, is increased recognition and acknowledgment of an underrecognized aesthetic tradition in poetry. Elsewhere I’ve written about this tradition without gender words, using the term “sentimentist” (as opposed to romanticist”) and I’ve also written about it in terms of the history of the “poetess” tradition I link to in the main post. It has to do, mainly, with the less subjective stance of the poet, the less central identity of the “I” in the poem, but still maintaining syntactic coherence–in one essay I’ve referred to it as “Coherent Decentering”– and a concomitant greater acceptance of artifice and rhetoric, than the currently dominant tradition. This is the tradition I think women poets defined and maintained in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, though men can and do write that way too. It’s the tradition of Teasdale and Millay and Alice Dunbar-Nelson.

    While I agree that a lot of Sharon Olds’ work and reception is baeed in her female identity, I don’t think of her as a “woman poet” in the sense of this aesthetic tradition, because her use of the “I” is so firmly rooted in the tradition of the romantic self. In terms of the self, Olds is writing much more like Keats than like Poe; she is using her female experience as objective fodder for her firmly-rooted ego to turn into poetry. Anne Carson, for all her fragmentation of style, is doing the same thing. Her romantic central poet self is firmly in control of all her experience–that’s why she relies on syntactic incoherence in order to mirror the postmodern inocherence she perceives in the world, in the tradition of that highly scientific and objective writer Gertrude Stein. That the material she writes about is sometimes autobiographical, based in female experience, and even psychological doesn’t change this aesthetic stance.

    The sentimentist tradition I shorthanded as the “women’s” poetic tradition uses the poet’s self in a different way, as a poetic object rather than a subject. Poe would be an example of a male “woman poet” in this mode—also Longfellow—because they don’t put themSELVES into their work in the Romantic way, as subjects, but more as objects. When Longfellow writes about himself in “My Lost Youth,” he is not speculating about his experiences in order to meditate on them from the central perspective of the subjective self, as Keats or Olds might do; instead, he is making himself a poetic object for the sake of the poem, just as Teasdale does repeatedly in her love lyrics, as Poe does in his poems, and as Lucille Clifton–who I think is probably the most critically acclaimed sentimentist poet writing today–does when she meditates on her hips. Clifton’s meditation on her hips is purely rhetorical, not about self-knowledge as an Olds meditation on her hips might be, but about effectively communicating a mutually-agreed-on-(almost)-in-advance feeling to the reader. Carolyn Kizer has some of the same quality (Kizer actually coined the term “sentimentist” for me since i was writing an essay on her and she didn’t want to be called “sentimental”!). Lyn Hejinian, I think, also has elements of sentimentism, in the highly rhetorical way she puts herself into her work.

    I would put Kay Ryan and Mary Oliver in the androgynous or middle way camp, also probably Maxine Kumin. They are not putting themselves into their poems as objects, but unlike Olds, they are not focusing primarly on their selves’ experience as a central subjects either—they are more focused on the objective world, in the tradition of Moore, and Bishop. So even if that objective world includes specifically female experiences, as it does in Kumin’s case and you are implying in Oliver’s, I wouldn’t think of their tactics as particularly part of the sentimentist tradition.

    In my original post, i was writing as a poet about what helps me survive aesthetically–I wasn’t thinking explicitly of these critical categories I’ve developed in the past–but as you ascertained, there were assumed definitions underlying some of my remarks…

  • On June 25, 2009 at 5:06 am Annie FInch wrote:

    Christopher and Desmond, yes, absolutely, I think man poets can be woman poets in the aesthetic sense–I’ve just gone into some depth about what I mean aesthetically/crtically by the term “woman poet” in the reply to Ange that appears under her post above.

    So, Margo et al, after having thought about the aesthetic assumptions underlying my original post in the context of my discussion with Ange, I think perhaps the subtitle of my original post should have been, “Why it helps me as a woman poet to think of myself as aesthetically a “woman poet.” That seems to be the cause of the confusion here–there are two aspects to my original post, an aesthetic one (subdivided into two points, one about subject matter and one about aesthetic tradition) and a political one. Some comments on the thrad are responding more to the aesthetic aspect, some more to the political aspect.

    Anna put it well by pointing out that “the term “woman poet” both carries with it limitations & expectations that may well be unfair and beside the point in artistic creation but also carries with it a literary tradition that might not exist without such a term.” It’s that literary tradition I found so useful.

    Pascale, good to see you here!!

  • On June 25, 2009 at 5:15 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    I absolutely believe you, Margo–I have no doubt about your goodwill and sensitivity, always. But what you said will undoubtedly be used as amunition by anyone, male or female, who assumes men always talk too much and run the show. It was simply bad luck that Desmond Swords and I posted at the same moment–neither of us saw that coming, he in Dublin, me in Chiang Mai. We both just hit “Post Comment,” at the same time, that’s all. But there are those who will conclude, “Oh that’s the way they always are, these men.” Whereas we’re not. We’re simply not.

    And about that other Exhibition, “500 Luis”–I have no doubt I could mount as large and disturbing a presentation based on the suffering of men as the “500 Elles” odepicts the suffering of women. Indeed, I’m sure it would be just as helpful to those men who had not yet thought through the subject of male physical, emotional and spiritual mutilation. And just as painful.

    Of course we have to do something about the awful subjection of women, that’s as urgent a priority as any on the planet. But men need rescuing too!

    Rescuing one side or the other doesn’t work when we’re all in each others arms on the deck of the Titanic!

    Christopher

  • On June 25, 2009 at 5:24 am thomas brady wrote:

    Why Poetry Should Be Given To The Women

    Women love each other’s company and in that company
    They make, they adorn, they moralize.

    Men, together, butt heads,
    Seeking objects, the abstract, a prize.

    Excited by male energy,
    Women drift on a dangerous path–
    Broken hopes and adultery;
    Take the suicide, Sylvia Plath,
    Who hungered after male recognition,
    Thinking Ransom of Kenyon to win,
    Male new critics who stab with their spears
    Poetry which is beautiful and lies too deep for tears.

    Men who love women
    Are happy to learn their ways,
    And weave delicate ballads of love
    And grateful, extravagant lays;
    I would rest contentedly on the breast
    Of the earth–who instinctively plays
    Choirs and strings by harmony dressed–
    For the rest of my beautiful days!

    And what of the gays?
    Oh, can’t you see the mistake
    Of leaving out the one gender
    Who is earthy and tender?
    Insult her by dressing in drag?
    The male as female is fake,
    None can ape, no matter the rag,
    Divine womanhood–
    Remember the stag
    Who was once a man?
    Or the poet skinned because he challenged Apollo?
    Do not insult women! Dionysian madness will follow.

    Lesbians have the right idea, as long
    As they remember to which divinity they belong–
    The feminine of sweet, tender song
    And poetry–which cures even cupid’s wrong.

    This is my surrender
    To the goddess of the meadow
    And her flowers–
    I feel uplifted already!
    The cherubim and the giddy hours
    Call to me on their little wings
    To see the women poets, those harmonious beings,
    Who in odorous darkness sing
    Of ardor, not order,
    The delicacy that shrouds the sting!

  • On June 25, 2009 at 5:34 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    Annie, I think you presented that extremely well in the original post. I read it like that right from the start.

  • On June 25, 2009 at 9:28 am Margo Berdeshevsky wrote:

    Fine points taken, and mulled–both Christopher’s & Annie’s. Aesthetics. yes, Annie, that I understand, and crave; although object/subject as you define those, Annie–feels constricting to me.

    And if the boat is leaking, Titanic, or dark star or unmoored and unknown and unhinged shore, then we need one another terribly. wantonly. wisely. I think what helps me survive aesthetically, is hope, facing our collective gravity. I would not wish to limit the “I” or the “you, ” to find it. We need our voices in the dark.

    And I’m re-thinking de Beauvoir’s words which I mentioned earlier-– “One is not born a woman, one becomes one. ” And I’ll add a quote from my friend who just sent me these reminding, resonating words of Wilde: “Every woman becomes her mother. That is her tragedy. No man does, and that is his.”

    margo

  • On June 25, 2009 at 1:16 pm Robin Kemp wrote:

    I like the distinction you make here, Annie, about man-as-category-of-poet. I am both a woman who is a poet and a poet who is a woman, and I’m fortunate enough to be living in a time when we (men, women, those in between) can have these kinds of discussions.

    I don’t particularly write for other women. For example, a poem may have encoded or explicit (in the sense of not-hidden) lesbian content, but I didn’t sit down and say, “I’m gonna write one for the sisters!” Any poem finds its own audience eventually. The problem I have is not so much, say, Elizabeth Bishop’s (as detailed by Hayden Carruth). I don’t have to worry about being put into a separate, secondary, ladies’ auxiliary of poets because I’m a woman; oddly, I find myself continually and ferociously boxed into the “formalist” tag merely because I like to write in form about half the time and because I actually care passionately about what I consider to be the equivalent of music theory in our craft.

    But more to the point: those of us who pay attention or who have been schooled (literally or metaphorically) in how women’s educational opportunities have evolved, both in the U.S. and elsewhere, are well aware that there remains a disproportionate number of men in the Norton and other canonical anthologies. When I wrote that letter to the editor of Poetry a couple of years back, I averred that “bean-counting” was perhaps not the most productive activity. What I do think is that more and more opportunities exist for women poets (heck, poets of all categories) to publish, to edit anthologies, to create communities and conversations, and that these are, unfortunately, still necessary. It’s more complicated than stereotypically gendered ideas about the ability to give or take criticism; communication styles, which are largely– but not completely–gender-related play a huge role, especially online.

    I haven’t read the Moramarco/Zolynas anthology, but I wonder how it compares to, say, anthologies by gay males, African-American males, etc. There’s always the woulda-coulda-shoulda-included factor, but this is becoming the standard defense for why some anthologies do privilege poetry by men over poetry by women, and poetry by whites over poetry by people of color. What’s astounding to me is when a relatively weak and little-known poem by a male poet gets anthology space, while major women poets whose influence, importance, and artistic ability are beyond question (case in point: Hacker) are elided completely. The old “we couldn’t include everybody” line wears thin.

  • On June 25, 2009 at 3:06 pm Annie FInch wrote:

    “This is why I choose to simply be. To exist.”

    Michael, here’s one basic point: a statement like this is easy to make from a position of privilege. Many people don’t have that option of simply being, invisibly, which is, in essence, bought at the cost of others’ freedom simply to be.

  • On June 25, 2009 at 3:13 pm michael robbins wrote:

    (And then, in my cynical moments, I think that what many women mean by “women’s poetry” is rife with unspoken rules and exclusionary criteria. That is, by “women’s poetry” does one mean the poetry of a person with the correct plumbing, or a person with the correct ideas — or both?)

    Ah, blessed reason …

  • On June 25, 2009 at 3:13 pm Annie FInch wrote:

    Hi Margo,

    I have been thinking about your own work–one of the posts I’ve been mulling over doing at Harriet and still hope to have time to write about at some point, hopefully here, is the contemporary rhapsodic poem, a category in which I think both your poetry and your prose would fall. If such ideas feel constricting to you, I wonder if it’s because you don’t see a way that they describe your own aesthetic. I would say that your work might locate the poetic self in a fourth place (as opposed to subject, object, or androgynous–perhaps you locate it in more of a non-place, something like the place the Romantics were perhaps aiming towards. I’ll give it some more thought.

    I was surprised when I got my PhD to find how liberating I found the consciousness of critical and literary-theoretical ways of reading to be to me as a poet. There’s a little piece about that in the first essay in The Body of Poetry.

  • On June 25, 2009 at 3:15 pm Annie FInch wrote:

    Robin, an excellent point and one with which I assume few commenting here would argue.

  • On June 25, 2009 at 3:24 pm Tom Harr wrote:

    Wonder what Willy Loman (or rather, men who lived a life like his) would make of this characterization of privilege, not to mention the yearning to exist, invisibly. I don’t say this snarkily.

  • On June 25, 2009 at 4:34 pm michael robbins wrote:

    Well the real point to make is that the statement is empty. What could it possibly mean to “simply exist, to be”? New Age platitudes.

    On the other hand, as Ashbery says, “If living is a hate crime, so be it.”

  • On June 25, 2009 at 5:21 pm Ange Mlinko wrote:

    I understand much better now where you’re coming from, Annie. This historical, “sentimentist” perspective is substantial though very — very! — revisionist. Thank you…

  • On June 25, 2009 at 6:25 pm Margo Berdeshevsky wrote:

    Dear Annie,
    Eager for your further thoughts on the contemporary rhapsodic. Very. I do remember your Horse With Two Wings of instinct and consciousness and how your images of it shook me when I first read them. Still do. Sincere thanks, now, for this insight about my work and where it may reside–I think that fourth land-less land you speak of here is, yes, familiar to me in its otherness, even its muds and skies. That comforts, oddly. I hope you may eventually pursue this thought, Annie. My own foundations are not in the critical / theoretical, but I can listen well.

    margo

  • On June 25, 2009 at 10:22 pm Annie FInch wrote:

    Glad it was of interest, Ange. Revisionist indeed (I like your use of the word “but” which seems honest and informative), and, if you can believe it, it would have seemed even more revisionist in 1987 when I started thinking about these ideas–that was the year I published an article on “poetesses’ poetics” in Legacy and the year that, as a graduate student, I organized a panel on “Nineteenth Century Women Poets Other Than Dickinson” at the MLA conference. Now, over twenty years later, there are more editions of nineteenth century women’s poetry than there were then (then it was only the novelists who received that kind of attention), but the aesthetic understanding of what this whole tradition is about still seems frozen pretty much where it was then. This is one reason I so much appreciated your remark in an online forum that a description you were quoting of Modernist poetics (was it Jarrell’s?) could have been written today; the two facts seem connected.

  • On June 26, 2009 at 12:07 pm Michael James wrote:

    New age, sir? … Okay.

    I haven’t read whatever responses came after my post, because I normally start reading threads from the bottom, up.

    Well, what it means (to exist, to simply be) is I am who I am, without classifying myself by whatever outside notions. Such as being an African-American male. I do not call myself a “black” individual. When I was in 3rd grade, I came up to my father and asked him, “Why do they call us black when we’re brown?” He grinned. He is also a poet. He understood what I meant. And I do now, as I’ve grown and realized certain things.

    I am me. I a male, but not the male other people think I should be. And I am not the African-American male other people assume I am (or would be). As there is an automatic representation, depending on the culture you were raised in, of what these things *are*. When, truthfully, nothing is that simple. I would rather be the person I am, or have come to be, rather than absorbing attributes. As I believe people as born with particular souls, particular energies, and this is simply who they are. I grew up across America, tough neighborhoods, and semi-surburban neighborhoods. I always was the bookish kid who played sports, had very feminine and very male traits, and looked like a “gool ol’ man”, which is why I receive an odd reaction when people meet me. I am juxtapositions, conundrums, complexities… I guess (to be, like I said, I simply am).

    But this is me. I go to gay bars and sing karaoke, the only straight guy in my group of gay friends. Hang on the block with my friends in Compton. Then get into a discussion on the poetic differences and approaches between Bukowski and Ashbery. And then comment to a woman on how beautiful her shoes match her outfit before asking her on a date. And then have her comment on how messed up my nails are, how scraggley my clothes, etc etc.

    It is what it is.

  • On June 26, 2009 at 12:10 pm Michael James wrote:

    One last thing…

    I am not privileged. Only mentally, perhaps.

    I grew up sometimes poor, sometimes lower middle class.

    I had to pay my own way through school. Had to stop because I could no longer afford it.

    And lived homeless for a time because I couldn’t afford shit else.

    I exist the way I do because it is who I am. Not due to my economic status.

  • On June 26, 2009 at 12:53 pm Matt wrote:

    “simply being, invisibly, which is, in essence, bought at the cost of others’ freedom simply to be.”

    I don’t think a Buddhist monk (for example) would agree with that…

  • On June 26, 2009 at 12:58 pm Matt wrote:

    I mean, I don’t see why “simply being” would automatically mean “not caring about other people”…

  • On June 26, 2009 at 1:01 pm thomas brady wrote:

    “But I write like the dickens.”

    Michael,

    Do you mean you write like Charles Dickens?

    Part of me just wants poetry and wants nothing to do with identity politics. That impulse is a good one, I think, and should always be in play.

    But at the same time, there’s only one Human and there’s only two genders to that Human, and how can we pretend that this does not inform everything we do and write and feel? The feminine does not come out of thin air, for instance, it comes FROM WOMEN. A fiction writer has a ‘real person in the real world’ identity most of the time, so why shouldn’t poets?

    Does anyone think Keats was faking his love for Fanny Brawne?

    Even Shakespeare, perhaps the most universal writer of all, and who wrote memorable roles for women, probably put the best of himself into male characters.

    So perhaps it would be best for women–and everyone–if Letters backs off from any attempt at ‘Noble Neutrality’ and go nuts with the gender thing, publish “Men’s Poetry,” etc The frisson of it all may just get the general public interested in poetry again. Let’s make it all very gender-specific.

    Is there a Post-1900, Heterosexual, Male Poetry Anthology? Does one exist, so termed?

    Let’s have it!

    Thomas

  • On June 26, 2009 at 3:11 pm thomas brady wrote:

    THE STRAIGHT MALE POETRY ANTHOLOGY

    THE GUYS:

    HOMER (War Correspondent)

    JUVENAL (Comedian)

    LI PO (Mountain recluse)

    HAFIZ (Party Animal)

    DANTE ALIGHIERI (Exile)

    FRANK PETRARCA (Lover)

    PHIL SIDNEY (Soldier, Spy)

    BILL SHAKESPEARE (Screen Writer)

    CHRIS MARLOWE (Killed in Bar)

    JOHN MILTON (Government Official)

    ALEX POPE (Gardener)

    LORD BYRON (Member of Parliament)

    P.B. SHELLEY (Rogue)

    JOHN KEATS (Doctor, Dead at 26)

    SAM COLERIDGE (Trading Co. Official, Opium Addict)

    BILL WORDSWORTH (Hiker)

    ED POE (Secret Code Writer, Horror Writer)

    LORD TENNYSON (Tobacco & Whiskey Stinking)

    FORD MADOX FORD (Womanizer, War Propaganda Director)

    RICHARD ALDINGTON (Soldier)

    EZRA POUND (Traitor)

    TOM ELIOT (Banker)

    JAMES DICKEY (World War Two Pilot)

    PHIL LARKIN (Smut Addict, Librarian)

    BILLY COLLINS (Best-Selling Author)

    PLUS BONUS SECTION!

    GIRL POETS WHO REALLY DUG US:

    LIZ BARRETT

    FANNY OSGOOD

    SHARON OLDS

    THE ‘CRAZY SHIT CHICK’ POETS:

    EDNA MILLAY

    ANNE SEXTON

    SYLVIA PLATH

  • On June 26, 2009 at 5:04 pm Annie Finch wrote:

    Thanks Michael, I understand better where you are coming from now. I guess some of us find more strength in claiming an obvious identity category and others in not doing that–and, as I said earlier, it can be different at different times in your life as well. Ideally, I don’t think it should weaken anyone either to choose to be seen as part of a group, or to choose not to be.

    I started thinking a lot about this issue of the privilege of having your background be invisible many years ago during a gathering of previous Bollingen Prize winners, most (or maybe all, I can’t recall) of whom were also Academy of American Poets chancellors. There were ten white men and Louise Gluck on the stage. When several audience members pointed the race and gender and aesthetic monopoly out, and wondered why they kept picking other white men (who also wrote in a similar way to themselves) to join them in the academy, the prevailing response was, “we are not prejudiced in the slightest, we are perfectly objective, we just pick the best poems, that’s all.”

    And guess what, they really believed it. That’s what I call the privilege to be invisible–that they had actually gone through 7 or 8 decades of life, most of them, believing that, utterly objectively, white men just happen objectively to be the best poets, and the fact that they were white men themselves clearly had absolutely nothing to do with this perception; it was as if, in their view, everyone else in the room had a history that clouded their perceptions, except for the white men.

    When asked how they would respond to a poem by someone written in a style they didn’t normally read, only one of them (Merwin, bless him) had the courage to say he’d try to learn more about the new style from friends who were more familiar with it than he was. For saying which, he was ruthlessly attacked by most of the others, as if it weakened his authority to admit he was not omniscient. The others maintained with straight faces that they were already expert judges of poetry of any style by any poet of any background –even if they don’t normally read that kind of poetry or know anything about its traditions or cultural context–and that thus, their choices of poets like themselves were nothing more than objective judgements, and how could anyone dare claim otherwise.

    Imagine if it had been ten women on the stage,holding a virtual monopoly on the most prestigious (and lucrative) positions in U.S. poetry…. or ten men of color……do you honestly think an audience full of white men would have let them talk about their choices as being purely objective, purely made on the basis of quality, with a straight face?

  • On June 26, 2009 at 9:28 pm michael robbins wrote:

    Zizek has said it best, in words quoted before on this blog to no effect:

    “To be slightly cynical, if you read cultural studies texts you would think that sexual harassment, homophobic remarks, & so on are the big problems of today. But in reality these are the problems of the American upper-middle classes. So I think we should take a risk & break with what is a contemporary taboo & state clearly that none of these struggles – against harassment, for multiculturalism, gay liberation, cultural tolerance, & so on – is our problem. We shouldn’t get blackmailed into accepting these struggles of upper-middle-class victimization as the horizon of our political engagement. One should simply take this risk & break the taboo – even if one gets criticized for being racist, chauvinist, or whatever….

    “[Rather, we should recognize that] economy provides a generative matrix for phenomena which in the first approach have nothing to do with economy as such…. At the level of form, the capitalist economy has a universal scope. So what interests me is the global structuring dimension of what goes on at the level of capitalist economy. It is not just one domain among the others. Here again I disagree with the postmodern mantra: gender, ethnic struggle, gender, whatever, & then class. Class is not one in the series. For class, we read, of course, anti-capitalist economic struggle.”

  • On June 26, 2009 at 10:56 pm Michael James wrote:

    No. Not Charles Dickens.

    You are very much correct in your statement: one Human. Two Genders. It does inform everything we do.

    But when we talk about gender, is it the genetic/instinctual gender we speak of, or human constructions of what gender roles must be? Therein, as someone said, lies the rub.

  • On June 27, 2009 at 12:21 am Annie FInch wrote:

    Much to think about here Michael.

  • On June 27, 2009 at 7:41 am Margo Berdeshevsky wrote:

    Tried to post this earlier but it never appeared. Perhaps here is a better suite for it, anyhow: Another link to an artist’s work that I think pertains is that of Yinka Shonibare MBE…a friend today sent me this–about his Brooklyn Museum Exhibition. Here is a male artist, Yinka Shonibare MBE, with, yes, perhaps a woman sensibility(?) As I continue to mull our collective quest, here, regarding being a woman poet, and the play between subject, object, and reason/ un-reason … This title, “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters” got me going.

    here are a few links to the works.

    http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/yinka_shonibare_mbe/sleep_of_reason.php

    http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/yinka_shonibare_mbe/video.php

    http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/yinka_shonibare_mbe/

    http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/yinka_shonibare_mbe/diary_victorian_dandy.php

    http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/yinka_shonibare_mbe/scramble_for_africa.php

    http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/yinka_shonibare_mbe/sleep_of_reason.php

    http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/yinka_shonibare_mbe/how_to_blow_up_two_heads.php

    I’m finding that to consider this subject more & more deeply, I need to look outside only the poetic frames, and again, into the other arts. And I wonder, that I’m finding that to be so, & useful.

    Maybe it’s your wings of consciousness & instinct that are flapping for me again, Annie. Maybe it’s that the subject seems to have its own larger & larger flight pattern.

    margo

  • On June 27, 2009 at 12:52 pm Terreson wrote:

    Good on you, Annie Finch. The spirit in which I read your thoughts is Sapphic. Not in the limited, reductionist lesbian sense, but in the much larger, more encompassing sense. Sappho addressed her poetry to all that she loved. Women, her children, the men in her life, to her island home, to the earth itself and to nature, but, most of all, to the goddess Aphrodite, of whom she was an ardent devotee.

    As you say there are dangers to what you declare. Dangers, I am convinced, the small minded of both genders will succomb to. They will make of this essential gender-specific distinction in poetry something exclusionary, reductive, even competitive. But there is never any accounting for the small minded. You always end up having to leave them behind.

    The big thing your essay brings to mind is something Riane Eisler said she discovered in her studies of pre-Indo-European Minoan Civ. For her Minoan Civ amounted to the pinnacle of neolithic social and cultural orientation that prevailed through out the Mediterannean basin before the (conquering) arrival of the Indo-European tribes which, themselves, were inclined to domination models. Instead, in the Minoan setting she found a different sort of model. Here is something she said about that model:

    “To describe the real alternative to a system based on the ranking of half of humanity over the other, I propose the new term gylany. Gy derives from the Greek root word gyne, or ‘woman.’ An derives from andros, or ‘man.’ The letter l between the two has a double meaning. In English, it stands for the linking of both halves of humanity, rather than, as in androcracy, their ranking. In Greek, it derives from the verb lyein or lyo, which in turn has a double meaning: to solve or resolve (as in analysis) and to dissolve or set free (as in catalysis). In this sense, the letter l stands for the resolution of our problems through the freeing of both halves of humanity from the stultifying and distorting rigidity of roles imposed by the domination hierarchies inherent in androcratic systems.”

    In terms of poetry how is this linking, this creating of resolutions of the constant and shrill tensions between the sexes, ever going to get produced until women speak through their own bodies, their own senses and perceptions, through their own experiences of existence, and, ultimately, through their own organically grown prosodic measures? Muriel Rukeyser was right when she said that, in the masque of poetry, the masks we wear, women and men, need to be newly created. Marge Piercy was also right when she declared that there is an order of experience wholly feminine. It took me awhile to get what she meant when she said the moon is always female. She didn’t mean the lunar-centric experience is in the possession of women only. She just meant there is an order of experience having nothing to do with andro-centric values. (Much is made of solar type heroes and with scant attention given to the lunar type.) So again. How is this undergrowth, as it were, of experience ever going to get expressed until women poets speak to themselves and of themselves through themselves? As an aside when a certain sort of woman poet speaks, and keeping to her own rules of procedure, I for one feel as if the earth herself is speaking to me.

    My apologies for the length of this post, but I have one more model to draw on. I have an essay in which I demonstrated, at least to my own satisfaction, that the first Muses were real women living in historical times. They were initially priestesses of a certain fertility cult devoted to seasonal renewal and the evidence indicates they were active in the Greek world until at least the 7th C BCE. Before they were Muses they were the Maneads (wild women comfortably running with wolves, so to speak), they were the nurses to Zeus, they were the keepers of certain offices, they were the dancers in certain rites, they were the chorus we can still encounter in Greek tragedy, and theirs was the tradition on which Sappho drew. Only through an Apollonian orientation did they become the rather pallid inspiration of men poets, what amounted to a diminishment of their roles through domination. And here again it seems to me that the original offices of the Muses had nothing to do with a man’s experience of the world and everything to do with that of women in a certain religious frame of mind.

    So you see? There is ample precedent for the pose(s) your thinking looks to strike. And, in the end, isn’t that what all poetry does? Strike a certain ritualized pose?

    Terreson

  • On June 27, 2009 at 12:59 pm Terreson wrote:

    I forgot. I wanted to give a Wiki link to Riane Eisler.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Riane_Eisler

    Terreson

  • On June 27, 2009 at 1:41 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

    Annie, your writing is grand as always, deeply informed and outreaching.

    Without arguing that men are the new women, as men’s roles have been changing, some of our male preoccupations change as well. Since her birth almost 16 months ago, I’ve been writing a series of hendecayllabic poems addressed to my granddaughter, Tesla Rose. She lives across town from me; I spend many poet-hours carrying her on long walks as she picks up words, and retrieving balls as she learns to walk. Grandparenting is the best, may you all live long enough to enjoy it. We’ll see what y’all think when it seems time to post one of these poems.

    Apropos of your use of the term “poetess,” Alta (no last name, pioneer feminist poet, who ran Shameless Hussy Press for years and is one of my co-grandparents), wrote circa 1969:

    poetess
    actress
    negress
    jewess
    tigris
    euphrates

  • On June 27, 2009 at 5:29 pm Annie Finch wrote:

    The “expense” is political, not psychological–normally people in that position are simply unconscious or ignorant of the context in which the price is paid (as in my Bollingen example).

  • On June 27, 2009 at 5:40 pm Annie Finch wrote:

    The Heraklion, Crete, museum, packed with Minoan artifacts, is arguably the most mind-blowing place I’ve ever been. It is like being on another planet. The aestehtics are utterly unlike anything else, and then you realize it’s because this is the only great museum that was not created under patriarchy. .

    Terreson, I’d say you’ve pretty much got where I’m coming from. I’m so glad you mention Eisler’s ideas here; I like her work a lot. And I’d very much like to see your essay on the Muses, if you’re willing to send it.

  • On June 27, 2009 at 6:18 pm Desmond Swords wrote:

    THE GENEUTRAL S/HE: A NEW WAY OF DE-GENDERIZING POETIC DISCOURSE.

    This is an unashamedly lengthy post, as i do not view this as a social network site, but a continuation of my formal studies which ended in 2004 and as an independant scholar who has only known e learning, i feel i need not apologise for using the net in this adult manner.

    The post contains no satire or smart-assery, but picks up on Terreson’s comment on Eisler, because this theory of a 50/50 Poetic is something which all my learning has led to and this post is merely my latest try at clarifying what is essentially one of the central planks to a Phd equivalent of my own bardic brand which culminates at grade seven ollamh (poetry professor), which i have another 4 years to go before finding out if i got there or not.

    ~

    Terreson’s citing of Riane Eisler’s neologism “gylany”, as the name for a 50/50 Poetic in which men and women are accorded a precise equality, drawn from her investigations into Minoan civilization — is exactly where my own eight year studies have led to. That God is not He, but s/he.

    It may be useful to lay out a timeline before i set off, for ease of understanding for the Reader.

    GENERAL TIMELINE I: SYNOPSIS:

    Minoan civilisation Crete – 2700 – 1500 BC Gaia the only goddess

    Mycenaean culture Greece – 1600 -1100 BC

    Bronze Age Collapse/Iron Age 1200 – 800 BC

    Hesiod Bringer of Appollo Elevates He, usurps Gaia.

    GENERAL TIMELINE II: DETAIL

    2700 BC – 1500 BC, Minoan civilisation

    ..centred on Crete, was a Gaia only goddess worshipping cthonic Earth-Mother peacable trading culture:

    ~

    Mycenaean civilisation on mainland Greece 1600 – 1100 BC

    This culture supplanted the more peacable Minoan civilization after the eruption of the island of Thera (present day Santorini) 100km from Crete, around 1500 BC in one of the largest volcanic eruptions in the history of civilization, spewing 60 cubic kilometers of material into the atmosphere

    ~

    Greek Dark Ages: 1200 BC –800 BC

    (approxiamtely: 50 or 100 years either way).

    After the iron age technology came into being around 1300 BC, it was directed into the manufacture of weaponary and military cultures founded on a warrior-caste became the norm. Every city between Troy and Gaza was violently destroyed between 1206 BC and 1150 BC (the age in which the Iliad is occurs) – after the rise of the (then) new, Iron Age technology which began around 1300 BC in Turkey and Bulgaria. Total economic meltdown as the long-distant trading empires exploded into war, chaos reigned, massive revolts due to economic instability and a retreat into smaller, less sophisticated settlements that eventually led to the rise of the Greek Polis system.

    This is called the Bronze Age Collapse

    Some of these empires had been in existence for thousands of years — the Egyptian Empire in Syria and Canaan for example, along with the Hittite Empire in Anatolia and Syria, and this collapse has been described by some historians as the worst human calamity ever, surpassing the Fall of Rome for the chaos it brought.

    Gaia was supplanted by the new Male gods of Appollo and Zeus, reflecting the shift from 50/50 equality to hard, tough butch machoism, worship goes into the only God this time had, She Mother Earth becomes He, and the old s/he days of Minoan civilization, just a memory.

    ~

    Minoan civilization ran from 2700 BC to 1450’ish BC on Crete and was a trading civilization which grew to become a massive peacable empire and peaked around 1700 BC. It traded all over the Levante, from Turkey in the East, North Africa, Egypt and to Spain the West. A very sophisticated set up.

    Minoan civilization was in the age of Gaia, the sole deity of Minoan Greece. The archeological evidence of statuary and frescoe, shows nothing that can be construed as a male deity, only female figures (of goddesses and/or priestesses), which is understandable in the absence of a warrior caste, in a civilization reliant on long distant trading.

    Zeus and Appollo, the third generation of gods, had not been born (invented) yet, because they came after the Greek Bronze Age Collapse when the warrior cultures became the norm and culminates in the eremenos erastae relationships of Aristotlean-Socratic-Platonic love-pedastry, what Robert Graves terms *intellectual homesexuality*, the arrogance of Man to think the Creator-God-Goddess is He and not s/he.
    ~

    As it currently stands, the 8C BC oral poet Hesiod‘s 1022 line creation myth poem – Theogony (trans. seed of the gods) is his 8C BC version of Greek myth, on which the entire 500 yr old modern English poetic tradition is founded and currently rests. Our knowledge of the lineage of the (Greek) gods, the whole myth system, rests on this one poem.

    Greek letters re-appear in the 6-7C BC and Hesiod was the first to get written down. In his day, there was no writing, and hadn’t been since the collapse, so naturally, instead of having documents that record History, it’s all word of mouth and mish mash from one gen to the next, and in this world of uncertainty, 1000 years is an eternity.

    Hesiod has two poems, Works and Days and Theogony, on which the English language Poetic found itself in Tudor England.

    My theory is that what the Golden Age 8C BC poet Hesiod lays out as the first in his Five Ages of Man (the five being Gold, Silver, Bronze, Heroic and Iron) in the 800 verse poem Works and Days, is the trace-memory of Minoan Greece 1000 years before Hesiod was alive, when Minoan civilization was at the height of its flourishing, peacably trading with the other Bronzge Age Empires of the Levant from Turkey in the East, North Africa Egypt and to Spain in the West.

    Hesiod places this Golden Age during the rule of Cronus, youngest of the 12 Titans, who was the son of Mother-Earth Gaia and the parthenogenitically birthed Sky Father-son-husband, Uranus. Mens spirit’s in this age, lived on as daemons who could help out the living.

    Gaia in my theory, is the sole deity of Minoan Greece, as the archeological evidence shows nothing that can be construed as a male deity, which is understandable in the absence of a warrior caste, in a civilization reliant on trading. This came later when the hard men and their pedastry took over, elevating Man to be the only intellignce, which is actually a sign of how dumb they were, even Socrates and his two fawns Aristotle and Plato, products of their time, conditioned by History, if they were around 1000 years earlier they would have thought diffently, more s/he than He.

    My theory concurs with the fundamental argument in Robert Grave’s book, White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, which is that the concept of God as a He is a relatively recent concept, which arose in the Iron age, when there was a quantum leap on the Bronze Age technology that preceded it, and one which caused the collapse of ancient Gaia-centric matralineal Bronze Age trading civilizations all over the Levant, as the new iron technology was put to military use.

    But before i get to the nub, there is also an interesting piece of evidence from Hebrew Masoretic Text (Old Testament) which supports the s/he theory.

    ~

    The tetragrammaton, (from the Greek τετραγράμματον, meaning [word of] four letters’ (tetra “four” + gramma (gen. grammatos) “letter”)refers to

    יהוה

    …four Hebrew consantants read right to left and the name used in the Hebrew Masoretic Text to refer to the deity of the Israelites.

    YHWH in English, it is variously rendered as “Yahweh” or “Jehovah”.

    A New York based Rabbi and spiritual leader of Pleasantville Community Synagogue, who is Torah biblical scholar of 20 years standing, Mark Sameth – wrote a very interesting article last year which appears in the Reform Judaism magazine (at link).

    His thesis is that the four vowel ineffable name of God in the Jewish tradition, which it has long been speculated is pronounced Yud–Hay–Vov–Hay – Jehovah.

    Sameth explains that when the tetragrammaton is read in reverse, left to right:

    “Hay Vov Hay Yud. These two syllables, Hay Vov and Hay Yud, can be vocalized as the sound equivalents of the Hebrew pronouns *hu* and *hi* – which are rendered in English as *he* and *she* respectively. Combining them together, Hay Vov and Hay Yud become He-She.

    He-She, I believe, is the long-unpronounceable Name of God! This secret has been hiding in plain sight for all these years, for it explicitly states in the Torah: God created the earth-creature in God’s own image, male and female.

    Needless to say, the notion of an androgynous God creating essentially androgynous human beings has profound implications. Long ago the Zohar, the book of Jewish mysticism par excellence, declared, “It is incumbent on a man to ever be male and female”—a strange statement especially in the 13th century. But recently our society has begun to show signs of being able to understand, and willing to accept, this message.

    It makes sense, that God is not a He or a She, but s/he, the 50/50 poetic Eisler, Graves, Terreson and myself have been led to thinking sounds about logical.

    ~

    As stated, Bronze Age Minoan civilization ran for around 1200 years from 2700 BC to 1450’ish BC on Crete, and (as Wikipedia informs us) had a:

    ..religion focused on female deities, with females officiating. The statues of priestesses in Minoan culture and frescoes showing men and women participating in the same sports, lead some archaeologists to believe that men and women held equal social status. Inheritance is thought to have been matrilineal..

    Thus the purest 50/50 Poetic which Graves states was a:

    …magical language bound up with popular religious ceremonies in honour of the Moon-goddess, or Muse, some of them dating to the Old Stone Age…remains the language of true poetry – in the modern nostalgic sense of the unimprovable original, not a synthetic substitute. The language was tampered withy in late Minoan times by invaders from Central Asia (warrior-centric Mycenaean culture of the Dorian Invasion) who began to substitute patrilinear for matrilinear institutions and remodelled or falsified the myths to justify social changes.

    ~

    Graves was one of the foremost creative minds of the 20C – won a scholarship to St John’s College Oxford where he studied classics, fought in the Great War for four years — was a prominent translator of Classical Latin and Ancient Greek texts, author of historical novels such as I, Claudius, King Jesus, The Golden Fleece, and Count Belisarius and wrote 140 books.

    Thank you for reading if you got this far.

    What is interesting about Hesiods five ages, is the fourth Heroic Age, which is clearly out of synch with the other four. He begins with the Golden Age, which i reckon is the trace memory of pre-Iron Age Minoan culture 1000 years before Hesiod, when it was peacable and stable, like USA in the golden age of the 50’s when they had to make up an enemy, but in effect it was a Golden Age of consumerism and the American Dream.

    Hesiod’s

    2 – Silver Age is set in the age of Zeus, who had overthrown Cronus who had overthrown his own father Uranus.

    Humans in this time lived a 100 years as children and a short span as adults who spent that time fighting with each other. Human spirits in this age, became blessed spirits of the underworld. Basically, it is getting a bit worse, say Mycenaean culture around 1250 BC.

    3 – Bronze Age. Men were hard and war their passion, everything forged in bronze, including houses, but undone by their violent ways, their spirits remained unamed, dwelling in a “dank house of Hades”.

    4 – The Heroic Age – not corresponding to any metal. Noble heroes. and demi-gods who fought at Thebes and Troy and on death went to Elysium.

    This is the interesting part, the age of the Iliad, only a few generations before Hesiod was alive, so it was his kith and kin, the near relatives and wholly out of synch with the general decline from Silver to Bronze Age, why? This is a one of Age, because the next Age Hesiod lays out in Works and Days, is:

    5 – Iron Age. Hesiods time, a rubbish life for humans, kids don’t respect their parents, no decency, immoralty patracide, brother killing brother and “there will be no help against evil.”

    I dunno, but was Hesiod tellin porkies? if so, could Eisler, Graves Terreson, and indeed my own theory iself, be right?

    That the Golden age of Hesiod is his trace memory of Minoan civilisation a 1000 years before? Remember, Hesiod did not havin wiki, writing stopped when the Bronze Age collapsed into the iron age proliferation of kill-effective implements, coinciding with the swift destruction of all Egyptian, Hittite and Mycenaean cities, including Troy at the time of the Iliad.

    Thanks very much, s/he of the Tuatha Dé Danann led me to this really, as Greek Myth is secondary to the study of the myth system of Ireland which is a very compact Poetic system which ran till 1700 AD, and which contains the real secrets and keys to understanding how Poetry can be used to make you rich in spirit.

  • On June 27, 2009 at 7:40 pm Rachel wrote:

    Some of the comments in this thread put me in mind of W. S. Merwin’s comments last night on Bill Moyers Journal. Merwin read his poem “The Song of the Trolley” which ends:

    “and the notes that once rose
    out of the throats of women
    from cold mountain villages
    at the fringe of the forest
    calling over the melting
    snow to the spirits asleep
    in the green heart of the woods
    Wake now it is time again”

    He then went on to say:

    “That actually is a strange song that I heard in Macedonia. Some young women come and remake that sound. There was a wonderful living musicologist who was going through the oldest manuscripts and notations of music he could find. And he found these notations that someone had made in these mountain villages of this singing without words that women did until fairly recently. In these mountain villages in the very early spring, before they went out to pick herbs and things that were coming through the snow.

    And the women would go out — it was like something between a coyote and a yodel. These strange guttural but very lyrical notes that the women–and you’ve got these three women stand up and start making these sounds. And it just makes your flesh crawl it’s so beautiful. It’s so beautiful. But it’s like no music you ever heard. And they’re calling to the spirits, saying, ‘Wake up. Wake up. Spring is here. Now, let us come freely into the forest.'”

    http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/06262009/transcript1.html

  • On June 28, 2009 at 4:13 pm Terreson wrote:

    Fun post, Rachel. Leave it to Merwin to say something essential. And the story rings true. I came upon a scene of a similar order high in Andalucia’s Sierra Nevada mt. range. The year could have been the year it was and the time-stamp could have been 2,000 years ago. And those village women dressed in black at a crossroads whose dirt was hard packed by generations of habitation. Just a still point.

    Terreson

  • On June 28, 2009 at 8:53 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    Took me awhile to get my mind round that last one, Desmond. I’ve got most of the essential texts you mention, most notably The White Goddess, right here on my shelves in Chiang Mai, but I can hardly claim to have read them. Indeed, for me they are the silent companions of another life or level that hold up the continuity of things while I sleep. I thank them for that and would never be without them. Which is plenty.

    Like my icons. We have Buddhist shrines and spirit houses all over the place where I live and I prop my icons up among the images–as long as I keep, for example, my Christos Acheiropoietosjust a little below the Buddha, and more or less on the same level as the Shiva, Ganesha and Hanuman my contributions are welcome, and our housekeeper feeds my pantheon everyday along with all the others between 8 and 8.30 am, tiny little bowls of food, fruit and clear cool water, so they’re well looked after.

    I have a very good friend here, an American from a Mennonite background who was born to Christian missionary parents in Laos, and spoke Laotian as a child even with his parents. Laos and Thailand were the same Kingdom before the colonial powers created the national boundaries, a disaster as always, and the most important of all the Buddha images in the region, the Luang Prabang, was shifted back and forth between Chiang Mai and the eponymous city of Luang Prabang in Laos on the Mekong. So you could say my friend grew up a Thai speaking Thai. He went on to study Hebrew, and is now a Baptist missionary. When I knew him he was teaching Thai students the Old Testament in Hebrew at a Chiang Mai Seminary—in Thai. From San Diego!

    The really important thing about my friend is that he’s convinced all the things Desmond is talking about, and of course even earlier in human development, are just attempts to understand, and sometimes cover up, the visits of the gods from outer space. He’s no Chariots of the Gods dabbler either, he’s a scholar with all the languages, intellectual training and textual apparatus. But what’s really important about him is that he never talks about those visits, never even mentions them, including for example the minor detail that he believes there are many gods even in the Judaeo/Christian/Islamic evolution. And everyday he functions without any apparent strain as a simple Baptist minister minding a very simple flock—at the moment he has an Aboriginal parish in Australia, speaking of the visits of the gods!

    When it comes to truth, I insist there is only poetry to go on, so I read Terreson’s eloquent plea for Riane Eisler’s Gylany side by side with Desmond Swords’ invocation of the “s/he of the Tuatha Dé Danann” with no problem at all. I don’t pretend to understand much about either of them, and freely admit I have no background in any of it as well, nor want to, but I also know that the books on my shelves along with the gods on my altars are all I have to go on, and that’s enough. I don’t believe any of it, of course, yet know that I would be dead if I dismissed one word of it or threw any of it away.

    Finally, I want to go back to what Desmond said at the very beginning of that last long post, which I think is extremely important to hear said so passionately and so entirely without pretension. Indeed, I would say that that’s what we’re doing on Harriet, a bit extreme in this particular example, but nevertheless a very good position paper on our e-learning bardic school:

    “This is an unashamedly lengthy post, as i do not view this as a social network site, but a continuation of my formal studies which ended in 2004 and as an independant scholar who has only known e-learning, i feel i need not apologise for using the net in this adult manner.

    The post contains no satire or smart-assery, but picks up on Terreson’s comment on Eisler, because this theory of a 50/50 Poetic is something which all my learning has led to and this post is merely my latest try at clarifying what is essentially one of the central planks to a Phd equivalent of my own bardic brand which culminates at grade seven ollamh (poetry professor), which i have another 4 years to go before finding out if i got there or not.

    Our school called Harriet!

    Christopher

  • On June 28, 2009 at 9:25 pm thomas brady wrote:

    OK, this is getting weird.

    No one is doing a favor to women by identifying them with the moon.

    Immersing ourselves in science and factual history are how we improve and progress, not through mythology.

    Laura Riding and Robert Graves, both associated with the reactionary Fugitives, expressed ideas that on a good day can only be described as nutty, in their “Survey of Modernist Poetry” (1927)

    “Rhyme, meter, and metaphor were incidental to poetry; what ultimately mattered was that the presence of each word be justified by its definition. To illustrate these principles, ‘A Survey’ demonstrated a method of close textual analysis that influenced the New Criticism.” –Joyce Wexler, ‘Laura Riding’s Pursuit of Truth’

    Graves and Riding were part of the erudite con that became the New Criticism.

    “what ultimately mattered was that the presence of each word be justified by its definition. Rhyme, meter, and metaphor were incidental to poetry…” CRA-ZEE

    I trust neither Graves, nor Merwin, who worked with Graves and studied at Princeton with Tate and Blackmur and was awarded the Yale Younger by Auden; this is the Modernist Men’s Club, remember? I’m suspicious that Merwin doesn’t provide any evidence for his ‘girls screeching to make the snow melt.’ Where is evidence for this singing, this music, which he says is so “beautiful?” I think Merwin is simply enjoying putting women back into this mythological nature fantasy for his own perverse enjoyment. I think Merwin should go punctuate his poems.

    Graves is a classic case of a person with a messed-up personal life spoutingreligion. Because it’s a Goddess religion instead of a God religion or a witch religion or a demon religion doesn’t make it any more sane or trustworthy.

    Graves, who fought for the Empire in World War I, was good friends with T.E. Lawrence, the British Imperialist.

    Desmond, you’re doing great work, but it’s simply not true that Hesiod is the father of 500 years of modern English poetry. Plato towers over Hesiod in the tradition, as philosopher, cosmolgist and scientist. Dante, Shakespeare, Swift, Shelley, Poe are children of Socrates and Aristotle, not Hesiod. Corrupt societies can still create great philosophers and poets, and it’s simplistic to characterize civilizations generally as female/peaceful or male/warlike. You could probably make a case, however for Hesiod fathering the Moderns, the Fugitives and the New Critics.

  • On June 28, 2009 at 9:33 pm Terreson wrote:

    Yes, Desmond Swords. We pretty much read the script the same. I don’t believe this is too far off Annie Finch’s topic. About your mention of Robert Graves. He has a lesser known, slight, futuristic novel he called “When the North Wind Blows.” So post-industrial, androcentric civilization has finally collapsed. The world is in disorder. All the experts are brought together, the civil engineers, philosophers, anthropologists, historians, sociologists. Their job is to go back through the historical record and find a model for a civilization that works. Eventually they agree that history’s one balanced civilization (perhaps because it is gylanic)was what flourished on the island of Crete in the time frame you mention. And so such a society is created, a kind of colony amidst the disorder. It is protected by the surrounding chaos by some mysterious power or magic not dissimilar to what protected the island of Avalon for so long.

    Back in the present our poet-hero goes to sleep one night with his wife. Maybe her name is Beryl. In the morning he wakes up and finds he has been transported to this future time and place that is Minoan like. He is expected. He is taken in by a clan, a kind of totem society. He is loved by a powerful woman (maybe she is a witch). He falls in love with a young girl (maybe she is his anima). And he encounters a woman he knows from his own time, the sight of whom scares the Tom T. Hall out of him (maybe she is Laura Riding). Always these threes. He also meets a poet and discovers something interesting about this new society. Because paper is such a highly prized commodity poets can only write, rewrite and write their poems on clay tablets. Only after a council has approved of the poem can it be committed to paper, which happens rarely.

    It turns out he has been brought forward in time for a reason. It also turns out that it is the White Goddess who is responsible for his transport. She has a mission for him. She is not pleased with a certain stasis that comes to prevail through out the island colony. Our poet hero’s job is to cause mischief. Just before the story ends the north wind blows and all hell breaks loose. With story’s end he is back in his bed with his wife and they hear a knock on the door. It is the young girl. Fun stuff.

    Terreson

  • On June 28, 2009 at 10:08 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    T.E.Lawrence the WHAT???
    Don’t you dare reply, Tom, or the fallout will bury not only this thread but the whole of Harriet!
    Let’s wait until that subject comes up in an article.

  • On June 28, 2009 at 10:11 pm Ellen Moody wrote:

    I didn’t know “women’s poetry” as a phrase was being erased. So I am heartened Annie is standing up or out in cyberspace for it. As far as I can tell it seems to me men’s poetry should be called that for in lots of older anthologies, it’s 90% poems by men so they should be called mostly or nearly all men’s poetry (or plays, or whatever) anthology.

    I thought I’d say here I gave up writing “foremother poet” postings on Wompo a few weeks ago now. They took time I felt I no longer had, and I felt that I had done enough. I had covered all the famous women poets in English I knew and a lot of the unfamous ones I liked. There was hardly ever any response on list even if continually over the weeks there’d be now and again a thank you or so offlist. It dismayed me when the thanks was based on the poet’s having the same nationality as the thanker.

    The final blow or straw though was someone on list getting on and saying in effect women’s poetry was inferior and other poisonous remarks, someone saying onlist they were , and then when I agreed onlist two people defending this person on the grounds her postins as “provocative.” No discussion at all on what was meant by that, why it was a good thing; to me a kind of coward’s way. Since then I’ve been told onlist what a great reviewer this woman is — I wonder to myself if she has some power I don’t know about.

    I commend you, Annie, for continuing.

    E.M.

  • On June 28, 2009 at 10:11 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    Also don’t you dare make the case for Hesiod you just mentioned!

  • On June 29, 2009 at 12:16 am Desmond Swords wrote:

    Hello Tom.

    The point i was trying to make was confined to Graves general theory that the Minoan poetic was in a time before the Bronze Age Collapse and the myth was still at the Gaia stage. The Hesiod point is that he was the first to codify Greek myth in Theogony, and this is the root-source text laying out the linage of the gods, who all sprung from Gaia, after centuries of war, and so Appollo and Zeus become the focus of worship. Militarism and a cult of the Male, supplant trading and a cult of the Feminine, which it has been speculated was in place prior to the Iron age which happened 1200 BC and after which civilizations thousands of years old collapsed into centuries of war, writing is lost and when it reappears, Greek myth has changed and there isn’t just a cult of cthonic Gaia-like fertility goddeses one associates with peacable and stable trading cultures, but her grandsons who mirror the exploits of the military men who had took over from the businessmen.

    I agree with you that Plato and his gang are incredibly intelligent, but the elephant in the room is, they were hostage to history, they worshipped Man rather than humanity.

    This is just my take, specualtive learning, Graves, i think you are too hard on him, because for all his faults, he was an artist who wrote 140 books and had a brain to equal anyone else who has ever lived. Don’t get me wrong, i am not a huge fan of his poetry, but i know i am never gonna write 140 books and the guy had one hell of an imagination, and if you read his memoir, Goodbye to All That, you have to respect someone who did 4 years at the frontline in WW1 and reached the other side, or not. I do, but as i say, horses for courses, i couldn’t care less about Graves, just that i think the general principle of his theory, that Minoan civilization had a 50/50 poetic, has legs.

    ~

    I have not red that book Terreson, it sounds fascinating.

    ~

    Yeah, woodie, e learning, that’s what it’s all about, blather and blather and hopefully stumble on summat worthwhile.

    This portal is about the most high profile and probably most widely read amongst the deeper thinkers, so we have a great shop window to show off and learn. A whole new way and totally democratic because anyone can say anything they want. It will be interesting to see how it pans out in the coming years.

  • On June 29, 2009 at 1:05 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    O.K., “blather and blather and hopefully stumble on summat worthwhile,” that probably is it. But I sincerely hope that each one of us on Harriet tries his or her best to make the next post an improvement over the last one. Because of course it’s a struggle to do more than just trot out what we already know, but we’re poets, and we know that what we learn is what, after a lengthy and intolerable struggle, we manage to say. Poetry is learning, after all, on a very steep curve.

    I’d like each and every post to be judged on that basis—however pithy or prolix, exploratory or exhortatory, funny or rude.

    Christopher

  • On June 29, 2009 at 3:00 am Eva Salzman wrote:

    While finding all this discussion fascinating, I’m still concerned how the notion of women’s poetry – and the woman as the “moon” sort of thinking, to use shorthand – neatly plays into a continuing segregation of gender, and reinforces the gender hierarchy, as discussed in Women’s Work, especially since there is little thought paid to gender in male poets, especially in case of those mentioned here. In this way is reinforced the implicit status quo as such, and politicizes the responses in an unacceptable way.

    Like many women poets, I’m not interested in women’s poetry as such, and don’t write it. To reiterate these terms largely within groups of the already converted can mean interesting conversation, as here, but I fear that we circle around and return to the same place. Many poets will simply ignore conversations on this subject and indeed I speak frankly about the limits of my interest in it. What matters to me are poems, good poems on this or any subject, and poems are not good simply because they’re on this subject, as perhaps we’d all agree.

    Vicki Bertram, whom I cite in Introduction to WW, describes how even the critical books careful to cover women’s poetry, do so in a way that is limiting and reinforces the status quo. She cites one book being scrupulously fair by including a section about women’ poets….whose theme is always their gender. The section on men poets includes those writing about politics, society, everything. And so it goes.

    Regardless, thanks Annie and so many interesting ideas.

  • On June 29, 2009 at 3:47 am Margo Berdeshevsky wrote:

    Here, I’ll agree with you, Eva. Still wondering if any (at all) heirarchy–benefits.But this discussion has been so rich.

    And the weekend has been rich with further examples for me. I returned to my deep appreciation for Merwin, as no gender poet at all, but a voice that sings so well to my ear. Period. The Merwin/Moyer interviews are treasures:

    http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/06262009/watch.html

    http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/06262009/watch2.html

    the 2nd one, especially.

    (Tom Brady, just because you write a good poem invoking your goddess of the meadow does not mean you have to be competitive in discounting Merwin’s women, voices, inspirations. Poor taste, I say.Don’t like the punctuation? Open thine ear.)

    More– if we’re going to go on about whose poetry or words of any stripe are whose: here is a small Parisian set piece.

    I went yesterday to a gathering of French literati. There was Yasmina Khadera, “(pen name of an Algerian author, Mohammed Moulessehoul, once an officer in the Algerian army, who adopted a woman’s pseudonym to avoid military censorship. Despite the publication of many successful novels in Algeria, Moulessehoul only revealed his true identity in 2001 after leaving the army and going into exile and seclusion in France. Anonymity was the only way for him to survive and avoid censorship during the Algerian Civil War. In 2004, Newsweek acclaimed him as “one of the rare writers capable of giving a meaning to the violence in Algeria today.” Here’s the good part: the name he chose as pseudonym, he said, is his wife’s. So, in their house, there are two “Yasminas.” If someone telephones for that name, they reply, which one?

    And, there was, also, Ghislaine Dunant, a well respected auteur–whose early erotic novel, “Brazen,” is a description of sexuality seen through the eyes of a man, written by a woman. (She assured me that being a woman in her personal life, was, of course, vital, essential — but as a writer, she put away any definitions. Name and birth date, she said. That’s it. Then she emended: birth date is a problem also–it makes one generational. )

    Finally, when I asked the group of gathered French writers if this kind of switching of identities was unusual, a chorus responded, writers and audience, to say, not at all, not in France.

    Is our gender-ing, then, more anglophone? I pause over my cafe au lait.

    Ah, Annie, hoping for more of that fourth land–& for your expanded thought on the contemporary rhapsodic. My truer, after all, as you helped me to remember, aestehtic.)

    margo

  • On June 29, 2009 at 4:30 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    I’m so pleased you’ve come back, Eva!

    We worked so hard on the thread named after your book, “Women’s Work, Modern Women Poets Writing in English,” and of course looked at your cover every time we entered to follow the discussion.

    I was very struck when you wrote way back on June 6th on that thread:

    “It is interesting to see how, yet again, in this area of discussion, the central focus becomes the legitimacy of the issue and of course those who dare speak out about it.

    I am very interested in theories about the need to make manifestos. It seems to me that the best, or most interesting poets, aren’t much interested in manifestos. That this is more academic construct, a way of corralling the imaginative spirit into something more manageable, and something quite apart from the poems which speak for themselves.”

    So yet again a manifesto has reared it’s head (I didn’t say ugly!) in this present thread, but the interesting thing about Annie’s decision to come out and declare herself a “Woman Poet” is that she has made it clear that it was a.) a provisional decision and b.), Not this, Not this, Not This! She gives herself the breathing space to try out the position, in other words, to experiment with it, simply because, as she was at some pains to explain, she finds the position friendly and conducive to her work—at least for the moment. And I admire that.

    Also in this thread we did manage to avoid the pitfall of getting stuck in “the legitimacy of the issue,” one example being my own cry of outrage when I felt Margo was pigeon-holing Desmond and myself as male=talkers right at the start. Yes, I was oversensitive and no, she didn’t mean that at all–as she was very quick to reassure me. And that particular beast never raised its ugly (truly this time!) head ever again.

    Even when we went off track.

    Whereas the other thread, “Women’s Work: the Poetic Justice Forum” went under completely, that was obvious, and I wonder if on reflection you have any observations you’d like to make about how we’ve conducted this one. What’s the difference, and what does that say?

    I’d also like to know what we can do about the anomalies that inevitably arise in the issue, anomalies like the fact that so many women in the U.K. feel they are at a disadvantage when they submit to journals in their own country, for example, even when the current statistics seem to show a much healthier balance. It’s like Don Share coming on and explaining the gender balance in a recent issue of POETRY, and assuring us the balance is actually there while at the same time lamenting the fact that in some areas, the Letters, for example, there are still more men writing in.

    Thanks again for coming,

    Christopher

  • On June 29, 2009 at 4:48 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    Margo.
    Once again I find myself riding shotgun for Tom Brady.

    I remember awhile ago I wrote a little celebration of W.S.Merwin’s poem, “Why Some People Do Not Read Poetry,” which I like enormously, and Tom replying that I read the poem better than Merwin wrote it. What he’s really saying, of course, is that a good reading makes any poem legitimate, and he knows that as well as anyone, and loves a good poem. On the other hand, he has a very good point about No Punctuation as a manifesto item or dildo, and is a master with a stiff scrubbing brush and a broom. But in reality he listens, I feel sure–in my experience with him on five separate sites, foetry.com, pw.org, poets.org, poets.net and here, no baby is ever at risk when he’s dealing with the bathwater!

    Thanks for the video links. I had no idea one could access such material in that way. I’m so looking forward to sitting down with those interviews!

    Christopher

  • On June 29, 2009 at 8:08 am thomas brady wrote:

    OK, Woody. I’ll let the others figure it out, for once…

  • On June 29, 2009 at 2:09 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Desmond,

    Socrates is significant in spite of living in a slave society, not because of it. I consider Plato’s Dialogues the greatest literature ever written—and I don’t know Greek, that’s how good I think they are. How we think is more important than what we think. Anyone can plug in a ‘what’ to impress the right people; the ‘how’ is more crucial.

    It’s nice that Robert Graves published 140 books—though many of those books were different editions/versions of his selected/collected poems. You do have to give Graves credit for serving his country in that hell for four years, and almost dying and all.

    ‘Goodbye To All That’ (1929): I wonder what exactly he was saying goodbye to? Trench warfare—I think everybody was kind of sick of that by then.

    Graves’ book on T.E. Lawrence made a lot of money for him in 1927, allowing him to ‘say goodbye’ to his old life. “Lawrence of Arabia,” was a hero for his campaign against the Turks, British enemy during WW I– and the British and French screwed the Arabs later, anyway.

    Was “All That,” his wife and four children who Graves left for his “muse,” Laura Riding? After Riding, Graves hooked up with his best friend’s wife.

    In 1957, after his Laura Riding episode, another version of “Goodbye To All That” appeared, as Graves said ‘goodbye’ to much of the first edition, including references to Riding, taking back his original “goodbye.”

    If “All That” was academia, Graves says hello, as Poetry Professor at Oxford from 1961 to 1965, advocating, in lectures from that lofty position, the religious enlightenment of hallucigenic mushrooms.

    Graves recounts meeting Aldous Huxley in ‘Goodbye to All That,’ another British Man of Letters who was curious about “magic.”

    Who needs metaphor when you’ve got mushrooms?

    Goodbye to all that.

    I know Margaret Mead was anxious to believe the Samoan society was ideal, and many of us dream of sea breezes, fat melons, and island women peacefully keeping everything together for us; I wish I could believe this and write poetry without punctuation accordingly, but alas, my heart belongs to science, and I cannot.

    Thomas

  • On June 29, 2009 at 8:39 pm Terreson wrote:

    I’ve been thinking about Annie Finch’s post-idea, the meat of it. Today in a bee yard something came to me; something Joseph Campbell said. In paraphrase he said ‘if you want to change (recreate) the world change (recreate) your metaphors.’ Speaking as a Goddess worshipper, this rings true to me. Metaphor is one powerful energy packet.

    Terreson

  • On June 29, 2009 at 11:03 pm Annie Finch wrote:

    Good to see you back, Eva. i guess what I would reply is that there are always people working for change from all sides of an issue–and that’s good, because approaching from one side only can’t make all the change that needs to happen.

    I think I understand how you feel about my claiming the title and stance of “woman poet” (though only provisionally and because it happens to be working for me now, as Christopher explains so well below). I imagine it may be similar to the way I feel, from my pagan, goddess-centered, earth-centered, shamanic spiritual orientation, about those women who are working towards stronger female-centered spirituality from within the Christian church. I used to feel, and sometimes still do, threatened and frustrated by their ability to stay within structures and modes that I would find absolutely stifling. I have felt at times that it is a waste of their energies, and that if they could only lend their energies to my side of things, it would help genuine change come that much faster. But of course, this isn’t true, right? Change needs to happen everywhere, and we are each only responsible for our own part of it. Most of the time now, i’m very glad they’re where they are, taking care of their end of things. That’s how I feel about women poets who hate the category of women poets, too. I’m VERY VERY happy they (you, Ange, etc.) are doing what you’re doing. If all the women in the poetry world thought of themselves as woman poets, or if they all didn’t, I think we’d be in a worse position than we are now. Or, as I heard Elizabeth Alexander say recently, “it’s not a question of Malcolm vs. Martin anymore–we’ve reached a different place.”

    For me, I think that, as Terreson figured out, there is a missing piece of the picture which may help put what I said in this post in context. I think I am basically a religious poet, of the pagan persuasion–or, right now at least, I am that. That is the real center of my revolutionary action. So for me to place myself within the category of “woman poet” may be a choice to accept one restrictive classification in order to gain leverage for the sake of moving and changing restrictions in other areas. Something like that.

    Keep the faith, sister….I am so glad you are there…and I have never even met you.

    love, Annie

  • On June 29, 2009 at 11:21 pm Annie Finch wrote:

    Dear Ellen, Your foremother posts have been a magnificent contribution to wompo and I will make sure they all get onto the Foremothers corner of the wompo site. Thank you so much for the countless hours you put into writing those wonderfully rich and informative and sensitive posts, really irreplaceable, which I know so many people appreciated and will continue to appreciate. You are an astonishingly and reliably good reader of poetry of all centuries (as well as of movies and many other things)–what a rare skill, particularly when combined with the patience and ability to share your insights with an audience as widely varying in backgrounds and education as the wompo list. All this combined with your generous mind, always with energy for new ideas and information, and your unflinching and courageous outspokenness, has added so very very much to wompo in the time you’ve been there. Thank you for all your posts. With Wom-Po moving to a new home under Amy King’s guidance, this may be a natural time to stop the foremothers posts, especially considering that you have in your opinion covered the major women poets. Again, your posts have given everyone a priceless resource, in the archives now and on the website in the future. I know I, for one, will be returning to them for a long time. Just today I was reading Amelia Lanyer and wondered what you would say about her; I assume you posted about her, and I will look it up in the archive…

    With such a huge list as WOM-PO, there are literally a thousand stories and agendas. I know your posts will be much missed. And that the tradition of women’s poetry, far from being erased before it’s even been properly perceived, will start to cohere soon into a body of work that begins to illuminate everyone partaking in it. And you will have contributed significantly to that effort.

    Warmly,
    Annie

  • On June 29, 2009 at 11:42 pm Annie Finch wrote:

    Thank you John!

    A nice bit of poetess lore–wow, the history of that term would make a great dissertation someday. I have a copy of Diane Wakoski’s Motorcycle Nightmares that refers to her as a poetess with a straight face in a blurb on the back!

  • On June 30, 2009 at 1:25 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    Easier said than done, Terreson. Because if you change only the metaphors and not the social structures you just end up with poetry!

    Today I was in a nearby Wat and there was a new sign up right in the middle of the entrance to a particularly beautiful ‘Viharn’ (temple building) that had been in construction for the past 3 years. I had been inside many times to watch the craftsmen at work, and was very sad to see it now closed.

    The sign said “No Lady Allow Enter.”

    I had with me a South African Traditional Healer who had been working with my wife. I was so disappointed for her, and told her how shocked I was, and that sometimes I felt so fed up with the whole Hinayana prejudice against women I didn’t want to visit Wats anymore at all. She reassured me, saying she understood the prohibition completely. She said a woman in her moon cycle was simply too powerful for male spirituality, and that all the women in her community kept themselves away from the shrines of their own freewill when they were in that way. They felt fine about it too because they were fully aware of their power, and knew it was too much.

    She said that when women stopped understanding their own power they wouldn’t have any anymore, and would end up just like men.

    Christopher

  • On June 30, 2009 at 6:13 am Ellen Moody wrote:

    Thank you so much for that gracious and generous reply. I love your first book on writing poetry so much I keep it near my desk.

    Ellen

  • On June 30, 2009 at 6:46 am Richard Epstein wrote:

    Ms Finch,

    I appreciate the thoughtful reference to my Erato post. When you say you wouldn’t mind a men-only poetry site/magazine, I believe you, of course (though inevitably I have visions of the Little Rascals’ He-Man Woman Haters’ Club); but I am unconvinced that your response would be general or representative. Or that it should be. I am not persuaded that ghetto-izing poets (it is, of course, a loaded description) by gender or race or sexual preference or religion or shoe size or hairstyle is a good thing, either for poets or for readers. A poetry place with a sign over the door which read “No Gurlz Aloud” would be unwelcome; I don’t see why the matter changes just because we substitute “Boyz” for “Gurlz.”

    RHE

  • On June 30, 2009 at 6:55 am Ellen Moody wrote:

    My spirit healed this morning by Annie’s reply, I’ll add this comment here:

    This morning I was reading Adrienne Rich. I think her one of the great poets of the 20th century, and yet outside poetry circles her name is not one which keeps cropping up when people mention the great poets of the century who wrote in English. We get (natch) T. S. Eliot and yes Pound, Wallace Stevens, Lowell, usually a long row of men and a couple of women, say Elizabeth Bishop. What strikes me about her poetry is how much of it avoids (quite deliberately I think) her real life experience and is atypical of women’s poetry, chopped off, like a fragment given an abstract context. To me her best poems are those which don’t do this (to Marianne Moore as a friend, or The Waiting Room or the sonnet, the art of forgetting[pain is it] isn’t hard to master and so on). She reminds me of the great French woman novelist woman who wrote _Abyss_ in her self-erasure (and naturally accepted into the French academcy).

    Rich’s poems all reek of her gender — as do most men’s poems. And I think that’s why, as well as her strongly radical politics, she has been often passed over for prizes and awards she ought to have gotten.

    I said a while back how I had (surprizingly to me, but instructive) found much of the poetry written about movies just awful. Well this morning I found two by her, one to Goddard, the other called Shooting Script. Very great.

    I should say I think the awfulness of movie poetry is not something thought about: it’s that much of it is unashamedly relentlessly masculinist, celebrating macho-male norms and values, for seeing women too.

    Ellen

  • On June 30, 2009 at 5:29 pm Annie Finch wrote:

    Dear Richard, I’m glad to see you here–I was hoping you might come by to respond.

    It sounds like you want there to be only one standard for poetry, one set of aesthetics for all poets. This sounds fair in principle, but in practice, at least with an unbalanced situation like the one we are now still at the tail end of, I think it can and does lead to a situation that maintains the imbalanced power of the dominant group (as I described in my comment about the Bollingen award in response to Michael above). This is natural, because if there is only one set of standards, then the dominant group decides the standards, right?

    I think someone on eratosphere brought up how formalist poets have special magazines, because they write different kinds of poems, and if the dominant (free verse) culture set all the standards, then no formal poems would ever be published. (this was especially true a couple of decades ago, as I remember and you may too–and the only reason it’s better now is because formalists back then got together and started special places (Story Line Press, West Chester Poetry Conference, Eratosphere,etc) where they could publish and develop their art together. I know that my first two books would not have been published by a regular press in the early 1990s–I needed a formalist press to do it. In the same way, young African American poets who felt the dominant culture couldn’t really understand what they were up to and so they weren’t getting understood in writing workshops, and weren’t getting their work published the way they thought they should, can now go to the Cave Canem workshops and learn together. As a result of this kind of organizing, the whole poetry culture is being enriched by wonderful books which are finally being written, workshopped, critiqued, and published where they wouldn’t have been before.

    In this post, I’m saying that the kind of poetry I write (poetry that draws on traditions of women’s poetry that are completely out of style now) is in the same boat. It’s not a mainstream tradition. So, in hopes of getting some of the same benefit as the groups I described above through greater self-awareness of my own identity and traditions and my own aesthetic standsrds, rather than trying to fit the dominant standards that I don’t even want to fit, I am CHOOSING to call myself a woman poet (that’s why my title to this post is slightly tongue-in-cheek).

    I totally agree with you that it would be wrong if all biological women or people of certain race or sexual orientation were only allowed to publish in certain places. But if some people who belong to a particular group choose to gather together so they can understand what they are doing better together, the way formalist poets gather at eratosphere, or African American poets at Cave Canem, let alone if some individuals, such as myself, want to think of themselves and refer to themselves publicly as members of a certain group, certainly it is exactly as unfair to say they shouldn’t.

    I’ll just add that there are two assumptions in your comment that I don’t share about how people in such groups interact with members of other groups. One is that acknowledging that you are different means there is a danger of hating others (but I know you brought in the Little Rascals club as a joke) and one is that members of other groups wouldn’t be allowed in. Instead, I think of Frost’s line “good fences make good neighbors.” To me, having a strong sense of identity and knowing how I am different from others actually helps me get along with them better, and makes me more curious to really get to know them better (this is, by the way, the basic principle of the best book on marriage i’ve ever read, Passionate Marriage by David Schnarch, which I recommend to anyone, single or partnered, gay or straight.)

    To continue with the Little Rascals analogy, the main difference in our attitudes seems to be that you are imagining one club, with everyone competing to get into it, that can only be dominated by one group at a time, and I am imagining many possible clubs, some for one group, some for others, and some shared, however people want to organize themselves, with the intention of working together, not exclusion or domination.

    Riane Eisler, the scholar whom Terreson mentioned in his post, writes that men are often concerned that if women get equal rights, women will turn the tables and dominate men the way men used to dominate women (replacing a patriarchy with a matriarchy). She goes back to the female-led society of ancient Crete to prove that this will never happen. The fact is, when women lead, all over the world, they create a society of partnership and balance between women and men, which Eisler calls “gylandry.” I think this is likely to be what happens when all voices are equally heard.

    Finally, please keep in mind that I was speaking ONLY FOR MYSELF. The point is that I can choose what categories I put myself in. This is the opposite of “ghettoizing,” where the person is forced into a place or category against their will.

    As I wrote in the response to Eva Salzman above, I have total respect for those women who choose not to think of themselves as women poets. I may well be in that category someday. But for now, I want to explore what it means to be a woman poet.

    Thanks again, Richard. I hope this has clarified some of what I meant. I really appreciate your courage and graciousness in dropping in.

  • On July 1, 2009 at 5:28 am Richard Epstein wrote:

    Ms Finch,

    I know you don’t want to protract this unduly. I shall say only that when I publish in formalist journals, it’s because they will take my work. Often I try more catholic outlets first. I am grateful to, say, Lyric for all the support it’s shown me over the years; but less narrowly focused magazines can mean more readers (and better pay). If I wish for one big club of poetry, it’s in some Eliotic sense–not homogeneity, but a better sense of what constitutes successful poems. Great ages of poetry rarely issue from fractured assumptions.

    RHE

  • On July 1, 2009 at 6:20 am Annie Finch wrote:

    Thanks for coming by, Mr. Epstein. I wouldn’t use the word “fractured,” since that implies that something was whole before. The only way that the previous situation might have appeared “whole” up to Eliot’s day was by in essence leaving anyone who was not white, Christian, male, and hetero out of the picture. That makes for a pretty small “whole” for us all to fit into.

    There are other ways to put the idea besides fractured—for example, multiplicity, multivocal, conversation, diversity, quilt, or, my current favorite, “dynamic disequilibrium”—a fertile state of multiplicity and life.

    warm wishes
    Annie

  • On July 1, 2009 at 2:14 pm Fred Moramarco wrote:

    Thank you for this comment Annie. That was exactly the point of our anthology. In Men of Our Time and in The Poetry of Men’s Lives we collected not just “poems by men” but poems in which men deal in some way with their distinctly male experiences.

  • On July 1, 2009 at 3:05 pm duane sosseur wrote:

    “Her grace shines sweetly today”

    oh what a beautiful soul and
    her grace shines sweetly all day
    her eyes do sparkle as though
    there’s happiness on the way
    her love does abound in the evening
    and it’s like her to simply say
    my mercy is everlasting
    and her grace shines sweetly today………
    ……………
    “Her grace shines sweetly today”
    by me

    …relates to women poets if you want it to
    ..duane

  • On July 3, 2009 at 1:19 pm Terreson wrote:

    Possibly the exchange has run its course. I only have the weekends and holidays for chasing down things poetic, at least in some depth. I wish I had thought last weekend to reference the book I always end up going to when discussions are about poetry, poetics, even prosody. It is “The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics.” The book never fails me. It carries a fairly lengthy article under the item entry: Feminist Poetics. I wish I could copy the whole of the article to here, the value of which, and for me at least, places in the widest possible, cultural and historical, context not only Annie Finch’s position but much of the ensueing exchange(s).

    To me it is axiomatic that both Feminist Poetics and Feminist Criticism are essential to a widening of aesthetic values. Just as Marxist crit takes issue with aesthetic values defined by a dominant class; and as Deconstructionist crit ultimately takes issue with Western metaphysical attitudes; Feminist crit takes issue with aesthetic values whose absolutes are defined by men. This is key. This is the crux. And so if some poet who is a woman says me to she is looking to explore a certain line of inquiry into aesthetic values she calls women poetry I understand her to mean she is looking to define values based on her own parcel of perceptional experiences, or on what she knows in her body to be true. Nor do I consider her line of inquiry to be limited to her experience of herself only. Rather, and in the end, what she discovers will lend to that desperately needed redefinition of what it means for all of us, for women, men, heteros, gays, blacks, whites, lesbians, hispanics, the disabled, jocks (choose your category), for all of us to redefine what it means to be a human being.

    (As an aside I still don’t understand, never have, why some men find the Feminist critique threatening. I am not saying anyone involved in this discussion does. Just saying I’ve noticed as much over the years on the part of certain reactionaries in influential places. Harold Bloom comes to mind for one. But then I’ve always been a sucker for the greatest love story the world has ever known, that of Abelard and his Heloise. True partnership between two equals, except for maybe that, in the end, the student out-thought the teacher, and had the greater, more passionate conviction in the philosophical ideas they pursued.)

    Again I wish I could somehow give a link to the article. I guess there is reason still for hanging onto the printed page. But here is a paragraph that gives an idea of the Feminist analysis when it comes to poetics. The article’s author is Elaine Showalter.

    ~ Feminist poetics raises questions about gender and genre, or the relationship between sexual identity and poetic form. According to Gilbert and Gubar, ‘verse genres have been even more thoroughly male than fictional ones.’ Epic encodes masculine values of heroism and conquest; the pastoral elegy has functioned as a ‘vocational poem’ signaling ‘admittance of a male novice to the sacred company of poets.’ Women poets have revised and transformed such male genres as the sonnet, the lyric, and the elegy. Furthermore, while women have been missing from the pages of traditional lit.hist. as poets, they have figured prominently as subjects in men’s poetry, represented as angels, whores, or monsters. As poets, they have revised these images as well as male myths describing female figures as Eve, Medusa, Cassandra, Circe, Demeter and Persephone, Ariadne, Penelope, and Eurydice. Even meter or punctuation may be seen as connected to gender. Finch has described iambic pentameter as a ‘patriarchal meter’ representing religion, public opinion, and status, while Dickinson’s hymn stanzas constitute a feminist ‘anti-meter.’ Other critics see the orthography of Dickinson’s poems as efforts to inscribe sexual difference through the use of dashes, both to refuse grammatical hierarchy and subordination and to introduce feminine ambiguities – gaps, wounds, stitches – into the poem. ~

    I am not looking to argue any of the finer points of the quoted paragraph’s thinking. Nor will I. I am only looking to suggest there is a wider, damn near universal context in which any such line of inquiry, be it called womens poetry or womens work, or what have you, should, at least in my view, be placed. Again, the context is both cultural and historical. Maybe I should say herstorical.

    As they say in the art of debate: he who defines the terms controls the argument

    Terreson

  • On July 3, 2009 at 5:30 pm Richard Epstein wrote:

    “Other critics see the orthography of Dickinson’s poems as efforts to inscribe sexual difference through the use of dashes, both to refuse grammatical hierarchy and subordination and to introduce feminine ambiguities – gaps, wounds, stitches – into the poem.”

    If someone had said that Frederick Crews had invented this sentence for a character to utter in Postmodern Pooh, I’d not have batted an eye. It’s only the thought that someone might have meant it which gives me pause. I myself refuse grammatical hierarchy and subordination through the use of glottal stops and yodelling, but never with heavy breathing or Coleridgean pants.

    RHE

  • On July 3, 2009 at 6:22 pm Terreson wrote:

    Richard Epstein says: “I myself refuse grammatical hierarchy and subordination through the use of glottal stops and yodelling, but never with heavy breathing or Coleridgean pants.” Thanks for doing my work for me. This is precisely the kind of reactionary resistance to the wider cultural circumstance that has emerged over the course of the last two hundred years I had in mind.

    Terreson

  • On July 3, 2009 at 7:02 pm William Kammann wrote:

    Imagine…….Imagine the power of the Supreme Court…..does ideology have a gender?

  • On July 3, 2009 at 7:12 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    Do you mean this phenomenon has only emerged just recently, Tere? Could you give some geographical coordinates for that, what cultures you had in mind that actually limit glottal stops and yodelling?

  • On July 3, 2009 at 7:50 pm William Kammann wrote:

    Hesiod wrote down the new cast of characters when he noticed the change.
    It’s said when Gaia was in her mensus she was so powerful she didn’t go anywhere and barely said a word. Just sent out those peaceful traders day after day.
    Let’s scratch out a place for Male Poetry over here and Women’s Verse over there and wonder if we’re stepping on each other’s turf. Was there ever creation without a mess?? Emily at least had the decency to stay home.
    The New Yorker cartoon in the sixties had two upscale women sitting at the bar. “I don’t mind being equal,” she says “as long as I don’t have to give up being superior.” The oracle is androgynous, but the poet??

  • On July 3, 2009 at 9:37 pm Terreson wrote:

    Christopher Woodman says: “Do you mean this phenomenon has only emerged just recently, Tere? Could you give some geographical coordinates for that, what cultures you had in mind that actually limit glottal stops and yodelling?”

    A second time the issues involved get trivialized.

    Terreson

  • On July 3, 2009 at 10:35 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    I don’t know who Richard Epstein is, and I do offer my apologies if I should. Perhaps Richard Epstein has a history of belittling discourses, feminist in particular, but in his statement about glottal stops and yodelling just above, I just heard a joke. And it seemed to me well taken, particularly the Coleridge part.

    You have no idea how ridiculous a dialogue like this sounds from the outside, Tere, from Europe or Asia—but then most fundamentalism sounds ridiculous when you’re not in it. And I’m saying that charitably as someone who lives in a culture where the gods get fed more respectfully and beautifully each morning than the people, where the rice goddess, Mae Pho Sop, is so revered no man can survive even a glimpse of her naked and just to be sure it will still be there in the morning sleep with a pillow between their leg.

    I also say it charitably as someone who lives in a world where democracy is the brunt of many a joke, not to speak of equality.

    Lighten up, I say. Indeed look at what William Kammann posted just above. I googled the name to find out he’s the new director of Poetry Grants at the NEA, so I assume he knows what he’s talking about when he draws our attention to the old New Yorker cartoon with the two ladies sitting at the bar in the Colony Club. “I don’t mind being equal,” one says to the other, “as long as I don’t have to give up being superior.”

    Christopher

  • On July 4, 2009 at 1:38 am Terreson wrote:

    I see that three times now the issue at hand gets trivialized, marginalized. What is it with you boys? What are you afraid of? Are you afraid of women writing poetry? Perhaps you should be.

    Terreson

  • On July 4, 2009 at 2:31 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    It’s a fine line, Tere, and you’re probably right. The trouble is that that cartoon from The New Yorker came up at the same time as Coleridge’s pants and I just felt like being silly.

    I’m sorry.

  • On July 4, 2009 at 5:31 am Richard Epstein wrote:

    The passage I quoted may have wide cultural significance, but it has nothing whatsoever to do with ED’s poetry, which is what’s wrong with it. The poet’s work is used as a pretext, not a subject; the passage is all about the critic, who wants only a springboard to a discussion of herself and a platform for exhibiting ingenuity. No one really believes that the orthography of ED’s poems is an exhibition of wounds and stitches any more than that her initials are an aggressive acronym for Erectile Dysfunction; but such criticism (or so it seems to me) scarcely cares.

    If you really want to honor and understand a poet’s work, you urge the reader to look at it, not you.

    RHE

  • On July 4, 2009 at 4:44 pm William Kammann wrote:

    ‘m nobody! Who are you?
    Are you nobody, too?
    Then there’s a pair of us — don’t tell!
    They’d banish us, you know.

    How dreary to be somebody!
    How public, like a frog
    To tell your name the livelong day
    To an admiring bog!

    Or is it blog ;-]

  • On July 4, 2009 at 4:49 pm William Kammann wrote:

    That’s DEA Woody!

  • On July 4, 2009 at 5:09 pm William Kammann wrote:

    Annie,
    To maintain that you chose or choose to be a woman poet is a little like a fish saying he chooses to breathe in water, isn’t it? Is kleptomaniac poet a choice? Could you choose to be a late 20th and early 21st Century poet e.g. ? Or do you mean you choose to call yourself a woman poet but may not actually be one? Like Christopher later who asserts that he too is a woman poet? I’m still trying to decide.

  • On July 4, 2009 at 6:39 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    “No one really believes that the orthography of ED’s poems is an exhibition of wounds and stitches any more than that her initials are an aggressive acronym for Erectile Dysfunction;”

    Now THAT’S funny!

  • On July 5, 2009 at 3:19 pm Terreson wrote:

    There he goes again, that GBF, with his great sense of humor. You crack me up, man.

    Terreson

  • On July 6, 2009 at 10:28 pm Annie Finch wrote:

    Hi William,

    Thanks for joining the thread. You’ll see if you go back to the very opening of the post that many women have decided they would not like to be referred to, or think of themselves, as women poets; in fact, that is the context of the post. If you read further you’ll see that in this post, partly because of the great number of women poets who have chosen NOT to write in any way as woman poets, “woman poet” doesn’t refer to being biologically female, but rather to choices I’ve been making as a poet about which poets to choose as influences, which aesthetic decisions to make and which traditions to write in. And of course, the apparent paradox of the title is purposely meant to amuse.

    best,
    Annie

  • On July 7, 2009 at 9:00 am Annie Finch wrote:

    Hmmmm…..I notice an interesting preponderance of the at-one-time-supposedly-generic-pronoun “he” (which, incidentally, is not only not natural, but not even ancient, having had to be forced on the British populace by an Act of Parliament in 1850) coming up in response to this thread. . .

  • On July 7, 2009 at 9:06 am Annie Finch wrote:

    For those who enjoy making fun of the language of literary criticism (a broad, easy, but apparently impervious target for many decades now), you might enjoy David Lehman’s article in a 1987 issue of Partisan Review, which I happened to read this weekend–he has a field day with the term “clitoral hermeneutics,” better fodder than anything in Showalter’s article on Feminist Poetics in the Princeton.

  • On July 7, 2009 at 12:16 pm William Kammann wrote:

    Annie,
    Thanks for your kind reply. I did read the post, but obviously didn’t quite get it. I guess you’re saying that for some reason women have the luxury of deciding what kind of poet to be while men are stuck with just being poets?? The gender specific experiences which form you may be covered over or enhanced in creating your poetic persona. You may bark like a dog, but that bark will not come from the experience of a dog and you may not choose to BE a dog. Perhaps it’s the “underdog” status of women that gives you these extra choices. Since men have traditionally been “top dogs” they didn’t have to agonize as much about their persona. Is that it?? When poets no longer call themselves “woman poets” do they step into a different arena? Are they even playing the same game? Think of Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. When the third battle of the sexes took place and Navratilova played Jimmy Conners, he was allowed only one serve per point and Navratilova was allowed to hit into half the doubles court. Despite this, Connors won 7–5, 6–2. Since we’re talking about poetry, you don’t postulate any gender disadvantage. Or do you? Not “the best woman poet in the world” and the 100th best poet???? You seem to think that your quilting party context is reason enough. Keep sending out those peaceful traders, but don’t forget to read Hesiod. Best to you too.
    Bill

  • On July 7, 2009 at 12:42 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

    Hey Bill,

    This same marker-discussion rears its elephant snout when we come to “minority” poets.

    When I reviewed Juan Felipe Herrera for Poetry Flash in 1987 I saw an interesting distinction that as a Mexican-American, Juan Felipe carries the badge (which can also be read, defensively, as a chip on the shoulder) of being a quote-unquote Chicano Poet, whereas his Mexican compadres Alberto Blanco and David Huerta, whom I reviewed with him, can simply act out in the world as “poets,” focusing largely on aesthetic issues rather than identity.

    Nathalia Toledo, however, who writes bilingually in Zapoteca, for all that she is the daughter of the famous painter Francisco Toledo, gets to carry the baggage of being “una poeta indígena.”

    Ron Silliman argues that there’s no such thing as a “poet” per se, that everybody carries the marker of their lineage. This always struck me as a cover for the general unreadability of the langpo product. I dunno.

    I like Annie’s phrase “dynamic disequilibrium.”

    Probably the visibility of these chips, elephants or baggage have faded just a little over the past two decades. The unwieldiness of the metaphor indicates our persistent discomfort with the Other.

    To say nothing of the women in the room. As is our male privilege.

    Maybe soon we’ll get to a place where we don’t need no steenking badgers. Ya think?

  • On July 7, 2009 at 8:28 pm William Kammann wrote:

    Unless it’s “greatest living” I guess poet should do. After the Hartford firemen it’s only baggage isn’t it? Trunks and all.

  • On July 7, 2009 at 9:38 pm Annie Finch wrote:

    Hi Bill, thanks for the reply. I address this issue at the end of the post, where I say that I would like to see some men define themselves consciously as “men poets,” and that i would be very interested in the kind of poetry that would result. In the comments, I discuss this issue further with Ange Mlinko and refer to an anthology of male poets which Fred Moramorco, the editor, drops by to comment on. I also, I hope, make clear that this is not something that seems a particularly good idea for all men poets, any more than I’d like to see all women poets necessarily think of themselves as such. It’s a matter of choosing your authentic poetic path and whatever sense of eslf inspires that path. Annie

  • On July 8, 2009 at 3:37 pm William Kammann wrote:

    Annie,
    I doubt anyone would deny Emily Dickenson a place in the first rank of American Poets. No qualifiers. What’s she got?

  • On July 8, 2009 at 3:58 pm William Kammann wrote:

    Dickinson
    Lovely Lyric
    All the things we hide in water
    hoping we won’t see them go—
    (forests growing under water
    press against the ones we know)—

    and they might have gone on growing
    and they might now breathe above
    everything I speak of sowing
    (everything I try to love).

  • On July 8, 2009 at 4:15 pm William Kammann wrote:

    Yes, in those days everyone tied his shoes (unless it was a room full of women). Clearly haven’t learned much since. Yes, a fine lyrical talent. Take the story out; what about Stein, hypnotism, healing? Peace before me……. 10 directions. Is there a thread; a mission to tie the corpus together?

  • On July 9, 2009 at 12:26 pm Annie Finch wrote:

    Bill, it’s an honor to have a poem of mine under ED’s name. . .so I’ll take your posting it in that spirit! Re your question, I guess the idea is that writing consciously as a member of a group should not necessarily mean that one will be read only as a member of that group.

    Yes, that that used to be a danger, but readers seem more sophisticated now about issues of identity. Langston Hughes is not only read as a Black poet, even though he often wrote very much with that identity in mind. Crane, Auden, Whitman, H.D., and Bishop are not only read as gay poets (granted, they were not explicitly writing as gay poets to the extent that Hughes was writing as a Black poet); and Eliot is not only read as an Anglican poet, and so on.

    Hopefully, we now have the luxury to be explicit about our identities without being pigeonholed and restricted by them. So I don’t, thank goodness, feel I have to choose between being read as a woman poet and being read as a poet.

  • On July 10, 2009 at 4:44 am Prem Nizar Hameed wrote:

    A writer or a poet, for me, is a writer or a poet
    Never should she/he be categorized by gender
    No matter, if we call them good or bad,
    I assess you are a good poet and writer;
    Exaggeration? No, excited by your lines

    (First letters of each line make “ANNIE”)

  • On July 10, 2009 at 8:38 am Annie Finch wrote:

    peace before me . . . 10 directions sounds like a thread to me . . . ( :

  • On July 10, 2009 at 12:09 pm William Kammann wrote:

    Maybe Lyric Poet would be a more apt and challenging appellation than woman poet. A thread “Why I’m (not) a Lyric Poet” Enjoyed it.
    Bill


Posted in Uncategorized on Wednesday, June 24th, 2009 by Annie Finch.