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Gender, (Race), & Poetry (Part 2): Numbers & Unnumbered Trouble

By Craig Santos Perez

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some of you may be familiar with ‘NUMBERS TROUBLE,’ the essay by juliana spahr & stephanie young, published in the chicago review (2007), in response to jennifer ashton’s ill-conceived essay ‘our bodies, our poems.’ (you can read the spahr/young essay, ashton’s clumsy response, and a statistical report complied by joshua kotin & robert baird here). a major strand of the discussion involved gender equity in usamerican anthologies, literary journals, small presses, and prizes/awards.

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the publication of ‘numbers trouble’ and the ensuing blog discussion created an important moment for editors and publishers to take a long, ethical look at our publishing practices. i was a new editor/publisher at the time and decided (with bated breath) to do an accounting of the press I co-founded, Achiote Press (tho i took it one step further and counted the ethnic breakdown as well–which remains an ‘unnumbered trouble’ in the discourse). in a blogpost dating back to 2007, i wrote (go below to find out):

after 6 chapbooks (which included 14 writers): 7 women / 7 men. 12 ethnic writers / 2 white writers. and please dont start claiming reverse discrimination because we HAVE published 2 token white writers. plus, some of my best friends in high school were white. truthfully, white people just don’t submit to us! i query so many of them and they just dont submit! i really dont understand it! and i’m not just going to publish substandard white writers to fill a gap for some abstract notion of equality! i publish only the best work! i’m not going to lower my aesthetic standards just to include white writers! white writers need to rise up to my aesthetic! okay i’ll stop…editors say the funniest shit.

wow, i’ve changed so much in the last 3 years since i wrote that ;)

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i was happy to see a recent discussion (just a few months ago) about numbers trouble in relation to independent, online publishing (thanks, again, to jessica smith for linking to this). H-ngm-n Journal, edited by Nate Pritts, did his own counting in a post titled “sex ratio”:

#8 :: 54 contributors, 14 female for a total content of 26%
#7 :: 46 contributors, 16 female for a total content of 35%
#6 :: 45 contributors, 17 female for a total content of 38%

[...] And deeper still I took a look at the H_NGM_N submissions still to read through, sitting on my computer. 67 total of which 25 were female for a total of 37%. So I’m left with questions. I too am disheartened but, in a non-scientific scientific way, the magazine is adequately representing what’s submitted to it. How do I raise the number of submissions from females? Is this, in some ways, silly?

there are 52 comments that follow nate’s post–and the thread is truly fascinating–def worth reading thru. i will only highlight a few things then ask some questions.

reb livingston, a truly wise editor/poet/blogger, writes:

One reason you’re not receiving a ton of submissions from women poets is because your magazine has established a track record of publishing a majority of men poets. There’s a lot of places for me to submit to, I’m running my own magazine and press and raising a child. Like most women writers, I’m juggling many things and I have to use my time wisely. One of the ways I do that is by sending my work to places that I perceive as receptive to both my work and me.

QUESTIONS: does the gender inequity of certain journals discourage you from submitting there? does the gender of the editor influence your decision to submit? in terms of contests: if the judge is of the opposite sex, does that discourage you from submitting? with the proliferation of woman-only journals, do women poets find male-edited journals irrelevant?

reb goes on to describe her own difficulty bringing in more writers of color to her online journal NO TELL MOTEL:

Early on with No Tell Motel I noticed that the magazine wasn’t receiving as many submissions by writers of color that I had hoped for. The question was, is it a concern for me that my magazine was lacking work from substantial communities of writers? It was. I didn’t see it as my magazine needing to do other writers favors by reaching out to them, but it seemed to me that my magazine had serious deficiencies as it was. Having so few poets of color was a big loss for NTM. NTM receives very many submissions, so it wasn’t a dearth of good work to choose from, but the potential that the magazine would become very narrow. So while I only solicit work from a handful of poets each year, the majority of those are poets of color. I believe by doing so it has given the signal that NTM is receptive — I now receive more unsolicited work by writers of color than I had been before (although still not nearly as much as I’d like, so I continue to invite poets to send). Nothing would distress me more if NTM came to be considered a “white poet magazine.” It all comes down to what do you want your magazine to be?

thank you, reb, for bringing ethnicity into the discussion. personally, i think reb has found a wonderful way to diversify her journal.

QUESTIONS: if you are an editor/publisher, have you had similar difficulties getting work from certain segments of the writing community? what have you done to change your publishing practices? what has/hasn’t worked?

for writers of color: how do you decide where to submit? do ethnic inequities (or the perception of ‘white poet magazines’) prevent you from submitting to certain places?

danielle pafunda, editor of La Petite Zine, also comments on the dynamics of a white editor trying to ‘attend to the racial imbalance’:

It is a complicated paradoxical position. When one is the editor, or some such agent of authority, and one is working from a more privileged subjectivity than the hoped for contributors, one is always already a bit in the wrong…when I, as White editor, attend to the racial imbalance in my journal, I’m in tricky territory. [...] It is good of me to try to correct that balance, but it is maybe not so good of me to occupy the position of power in the relationship between editor and writer of color. It is good of me to solicit suggestions on how to publish more writers of color, but it is also probably going to insult writers of color, making them somehow responsible for my failure to account for white privilege. These things are simultaneously true. Or so I feel. We open ourselves to unnerving critique in these efforts,which I don’t like, ’cause it frustrates me & hurts my feelings, but too bad me…I want to alter the dynamics of oppression, and sadly that costs more than hanging out in the status quo. And no matter how decently I behave, my Whiteness is always an unfair advantage, and that is a much easier discomfort to bear than to be the writer of color staring down a sea of White journals.

QUESTIONS: what do other white editors and writers of color have to say about this? with the proliferation of ethnic-organized journals, do ethnic writers still even care about getting published in historically white journals? how can we all work together to improve our publishing practices in terms of race & gender equity?

now, we’ve heard from a white male editor and two white female editors–i am also curious to hear from editors of color out there? what has been your experience in terms of creating ethnic/gender equity?

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as always, i will share my own thoughts and opinions in the comments. i look forward to continuing our discussion.

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Comments (74)

  • On January 27, 2010 at 4:06 pm Francisco Aragón wrote:

    Hi Craig:

    Thanks for this post. I really appreciated reading reb’s and danielle’s comments. It says to me that this is something (under-representation of writers of color) that they have thought about, and that is the first and perhaps most important step. I have the impression that many editors don’t have this issue on their radar and just repeat the mantra that they publish the best work they receive. But I love Reb’s approach of reaching out.

    One of the issues I have struggled with and mostly failed at (as editor of Momotombo Press) was the gross gender imbalance of our list. When I started Momotombo Press ten years ago, I was guilty of not really even thinking about this. I was reaching out to poets whose work I liked (Paul Martinez Pompa, Kevin Gonzalez, Steven Cordova), and then I came across, and fell in love with, for example, the work of Brenda Cardenas, and she became a Momotombo Press author. Michelle Otero came on board thanks to Richard Yanez. But it wasn’t something (gender balance) that I thought about and that was a big shortcoming.

    But I’m trying to be more sensitive on this issue now. For starters, Momotombo Press is now edited by Maria Melendez, and the only desire I communicated to her is that she only acquire titles by women, for the foreseeable future. More recently, when the Poetry Foundation asked no Latina poets to weigh in (or I should say did not publish) on the “poetry event of the decade” question, I decided to poll some 15 Latina poets myself and we came up with some great answers. Though even then (not unlike Danielle’s sentiment), I felt a bit uneasy (as a male) being the one doing the soliciting (as opposed to a Latina poet just doing it).

    One of Letras Latinas’ next gestures is curating an all female group reading of Latina poets for next Fall’s Flor y Canto Festival at USC. And the first visiting Latino poet-in-residence at the next Cave Canem retreat will be a woman. In short, there’s always room for improvement in being more mindful of these things.

    The problem, I think, is that among many editors and curators this is simply something that does NOT register, let alone perceived as a problem that needs addressing. But thankfully there are editors like Reb and Danielle who have taken the first and second step. Steps I’m trying to take myself, on the question of gender.

    As for the organization that hosts this blog, I’m still hopeful that one day its flagship journal will shatter one particular ceiling and publish its first a review of a book by a Latino or Latina poet. I’ve been waiting, what, since 2003…

    • On January 28, 2010 at 5:50 pm csperez wrote:

      hey francisco,

      thx for your honesty here. yeah, i appreciate reb & danielle’s & nate’s efforts as well–three journals i hope folks will submit to & support.

      i’m excited to see the work that maria chooses–brenda’s book is just amazing. and i’m excited about all the upcoming projects featuring latinas!

      well, hopefully these kinds of discussions will continue to raise awareness.

      cheers,
      c

  • On January 27, 2010 at 4:29 pm Bobby wrote:

    Here’s more links to the debate around “Numbers Trouble,” including links to the original discussions on Harriet: http://www.digitalemunction.com/2007/11/04/poetry-and-gender-following-numbers-trouble/

    I’m interested why you think Ashton’s essay and response were “ill-conceived” and “clumsy.” There are good and serious reasons to object to her arguments, and I sympathize with some of them. But after watching the “NT” episode unfold, I feel pretty safe venturing that anyone who thinks either side of the debate worthy of a sniping dismissal doesn’t really appreciate what’s at stake.

    • On January 27, 2010 at 7:46 pm csperez wrote:

      @ bobby: thanks for the useful link.

      you’re right, i didnt need to snipe so dismissively–my apologies. fwiw, i think spahr/young devastatingly show how shallowly conceived ashton’s original essay was. i found ashton’s response clumsy because i feel she fumbles around with the critiques against her essay, never really tackling them directly. but hey, that’s just a subjective reading from someone who doesn’t really appreciate what’s at stake.

      peace,
      c

      • On January 27, 2010 at 10:32 pm john sakkis wrote:

        craig,

        was with you for the first part of your response until you flippantly threw it away with

        “that’s just a subjective reading from someone who doesn’t really appreciate what’s at stake.”

        i get the sarcasm but it comes off bizarre in light of the sincerity that presides it…

        • On January 28, 2010 at 12:37 am csperez wrote:

          hey john, you are right. i def dont want to lose readers like you, esp when i was being sincere. gonna try to rein in my sarcasm–as you mention, sincerity is much more important. i am such a sarcastic person that i need to be reminded every now and then. thanks for that!

          c

  • On January 27, 2010 at 4:30 pm j. Michael Martinez wrote:

    This is a fantastic post Craig and some very important questions! I want to speak toward the publication of ethnic (particularly Latina/o) writers: I think it is very important to analyze and think about the historical aesthetic foundations of contemporary US American poetries. When I look at the advent of US literary Modernism (forebear of ‘innovation’ in US poetries), I see inequity: Ezra Pound criticized William Carlos Williams (of Puerto Rican descent) for not being ‘American’ enough to articulate a unique American poetic. Ezra Pound, in a letter quoted by Williams in the introduction to Kora in Hell, states:

    And America? What the h—ll do you a blooming foreigner know about the place. Your pere only penetrated the edge, and you’ve never been west of Upper Darby, or the Maunchunk switchbacks.
    Would H., with the swirl of the prairie wind in her underwear, or the Virile Sandburg recognize you, an effete easterner as a REAL American? INCONCEIVALBE!!
    My dear boy you have never felt the woop of the PEEaries. You have never seen the projecting and the protuberant Mts. of the Sierra Nevada. WOT can you know of the country?
    You have the naïve credulity of a Co. Clare emigrant. But I (der grosse Ich) have the virus, the bacillus of the land in my blood for nearly three bleating centuries. . . .I was very glad to see your wholly incoherent un-American poems in the L.R. . . . (Imaginations 11).

    Pound asks, “And American?” What is an American subject? What is an American language? In the letter Pound asserts himself as an authority on American subjectivity and agency. What Pound does not explicitly assert is that his conception of the American voice is the voice of migration itself, of imperialist beginnings: the feminization of Williams in the letter as an effete Easterner, an emigrant just recently arrived, who cannot begin to be a ‘REAL’ American is defined against a “real” American, Pound, that has three centuries of manifest destiny, Western expansion and the swirl of the prairie wind coiling in his virile blood.
    And America? If Pound’s masculine America begins with the conquest and colonization of the Americas, the indigenous peoples who occupied the Americas prior to the conquest are pre-American and feminized.

    I don’t want to say that Pound is the voice of US literary modernism as there are plural modernities, rather, I would like to question the historical imagination of US literary modernism as it has traces of imperialism and inequity that may still branch out and vein through contemporary conceptions in poetics today; what is ‘quality’ in poetry if that aesthetic standard stems from exclusionary foundations?

    William, William Carlos. Imaginations. New Directions. NY, NY. 1971.

    • On January 27, 2010 at 6:24 pm Adam Strauss wrote:

      I am glad people have and are continuing to create more space for subject-positions which have and continue to be under-represented; however, I wish that it would become wayyyyyyyyyyyyyy less acceptable for editors to actually exclude poems from the getgo because the contributor is a man, white, etc; why can’t a journal with an emphasis on “women’s writing” just have a policy that that’s the focus, but that if there are pieces which interestingly engage with the core interests, then is there a good enough reason not to give those submissions a go? I bet Achiote Press would recieve more “white” submissions if it was a wee bit clearer that unsolicited “white” submissions are in fact welcomed. I think I may find this issue particularly irritating because much of my poetry is overtly engaged with feminisms and critical discourse on race, and so there are venues in which I’d love to be in so the poems can hopefully have interesting dialectics happening, but no: I’m a man socialized as white (I feel like I genetically am probably something other than purity de blanc: when it’s not all that rare for people to not think I’m anglo/european it doesn’t seem crazy to conclude this!). Maybe The Georgia Review (or whatever established journal) is actually licking its chops regarding my poems, but I very much doubt it. I guess this could seem reactionary, but I think that’s itself too knee-jerk: I don’t think Calalloo need publish conservative southern-nostalgia pieces,. that there must be a quota; but let’s say a white woman writes an amazingly interesting serial poem trying to converse with Jay Wright’s The Double Invention Of Komo–well wouldn’t the aforementioned journal be a sensible place to try and submit to?

      I hope all’s well with everyone

      Adam Strauss

      • On January 27, 2010 at 9:42 pm Matt wrote:

        it’s hard for me to think of that as “exclusion” when there’s never a pretense of “inclusion” in the first place.

        what i mean is, if a person has an idea to start an all-women magazine, all that has happened is that the number of places for women to publish has increased. it does *not* mean that the number of places men have to publish has *decreased*, see? no one is losing out or being excluded. no loss occurs at all in the creation of a magazine. i think this is pretty easy to understand, yeah?

        • On January 28, 2010 at 3:22 pm Jessica Smith wrote:

          I actually only send work to magazines that solicit it (and sometimes not even to those). It’s very efficient, and then you can be pretty sure that the magazine actually wants your work.

          • On January 28, 2010 at 5:56 pm csperez wrote:

            @ adam: i do sympathize with what you are saying here…as a man myself i too would like my work to engage with women centered journals. one way i’ve done this is that i’ve submitted reviews of woman authored books to woman centered journals (like how2).

            but matt’s right–new woman centered journals dont mean fewer chances for us.

            @ jessica: i wish more journals would solicit my work!

            c

            • On January 31, 2010 at 4:50 pm adam strauss wrote:

              I, with my primary response, did not mean to imply I feel cheated of venues to publish: I agree with ya’ll there; my point is that it seems too bad that certain journals seem very sensible locations for certain types of work and it’s sad to me that a-priori editorial practice makes for a scenario/clime in which the potential for exciting dynamics may be, almost ironically, squelched (tho of course these venues do create/increase interesting energies or, at-least, at best they do, so it is very true good things occur with this practice!). I find it interesting that, to my knowledge, homosexuality has not, regarding our contemporary moment, created a homosexual only journal–or does the James White Review still–very quietly–exist?

              I hope all’s well with you-all!

    • On January 27, 2010 at 9:02 pm Henry Gould wrote:

      Granted. Pound is rather well known for his ethnic allegiances. But let’s remember the context : this is a letter to a friend & sometime-ally. Pound is not just bragging about his imperial destinations : he’s also being sentimental about all the stuff he left behind himself. There is a great deal of American experience – I mean just simple visual been-there appreciation – which Pound forsook for his European jaunt. I imagine sometimes he was just homesick (not a Poundian theme – except his whole Cantos is about “nostos”, or going home).

      Pound & Lorca, Pound & Vallejo… interesting impossibilities.

      • On January 28, 2010 at 5:56 pm csperez wrote:

        ethnic allegiances? nice euphemism.

        • On January 29, 2010 at 8:16 pm Henry Gould wrote:

          Do you think I was defending him with that? We could use a little more irony & euphemism in writing.

          • On January 29, 2010 at 8:42 pm csperez wrote:

            oh no not at all defending, henry–i just never heard it put that way before! i like irony better ;)

            c

    • On February 3, 2010 at 10:22 am Joelle Biele wrote:

      Thanks for the excerpt from the letter–

  • On January 27, 2010 at 4:43 pm Peter Greene wrote:

    Wow, all I can say is, i’m glad I’m wearing just a writer’s hat and not an editor’s visor too. What a lot of things to think about, thunk i.
    PG

  • On January 27, 2010 at 6:32 pm Adam Strauss wrote:

    Ok, I just went to Achiote’s website and am gonna revise an earlier statement: it’s not really clear that the press wants unsolicited submissions, period, as I didn’t ever see the word submissions, just a link indicating what the press is hoping to put forth. I am not trying to frown at you Craig! I’m guessing it’s many times more time consuming to encourage unsolicted work, and dealing with what’s solicited alone is I have no doubt already time consuming!

    Adam Strauss

  • On January 27, 2010 at 7:42 pm csperez wrote:

    @ adam: i have more to say about the substance of your post, but for the moment just wanted to clarify your comments about Achiote Press. first, i wasnt really complaining that achiote press doesnt receive submissions by white writers–i was just parodying what many editors were saying during the numbers trouble debate (tho they were talking about women–and yes editors actually said those things).

    if you go to the ‘about’ page on the achiote press website (here: http://www.achiotepress.com/about.htm), you will read:

    “We are not currently reading manuscripts. Please query if you would like us to consider your poetry or your artwork for a future issue.”

    we receive many queries (which often turn into submissions) from a diversity of poets.

    thanks,
    c

  • On January 27, 2010 at 9:42 pm Michael Robbins wrote:

    Ashton’s response is far from clumsy. But no one is allowed to demur from the inanities of identity politics. My favorite passage on the unfortunate phenomenon remains Zizek, in interview: http://books.google.com/books?id=ExMYKdVRjHIC&pg=PA144&dq=zizek+%22agenda+of+cultural%22&cd=1#v=onepage&q=&f=false

    • On January 28, 2010 at 5:59 pm csperez wrote:

      wow michael, that passage from zizek is beyond clumsy. it’s a complete misreading of cultural studies. thanks for pointing to it.

      • On January 29, 2010 at 12:30 pm Michael Robbins wrote:

        Yes, Craig, it’s rather obvious that you have a lot invested in believing that. Oh well.

        • On January 29, 2010 at 2:19 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

          Zizek says (he actually says it), in the passage linked to, that sexual harassment and homophobia are strictly problems of the “upper-middle classes.”

          I’ve felt for a while that Zizek is something like the Ann Coulter of the academic theory circuit: a gift-of-gab charlatan with an expert hand on the shock-value joystick. And so much of it’s become such Infantile Disorder Marxism 101. That so many grad students and profs who claim to be on the “left” still take him at all seriously is very bizarre. And sad!

          • On January 29, 2010 at 3:18 pm Jordan wrote:

            Since when are you anti-charlatan, Kent.

          • On January 29, 2010 at 3:50 pm pam lu wrote:

            O to be a happy proletariat, free from the chains of harassment!

          • On January 29, 2010 at 5:21 pm Brian McKnight wrote:

            Kent, I’d hate to correct you (of all people), but no where does he actually say that sexual harassment is “strictly” a problem of the upper-middle classes. He identifies sexual harassment and other issues as being “the problems of the American upper-middle classes.” He does not limit it to only affecting the upper-middle class; he simply identifies it as being their problem in considerations of cultural studies. Your reading unfairly paints him as contending that only those in the upper-middle class suffer from sexual harassment.

            • On January 29, 2010 at 8:07 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

              Brian, OK. Take out “strictly” and replace with “really” or “in the main,” or something of the sort.

              It’s still a wacked-out statement, don’t you think?

              I remember when I was in the Socialist Workers Party (for many years, many years ago), the Maoists of the RCP used to argue that it was distracting and divisive to agitate for anti-racist policies in the trade unions. Zizek would have been too loony even for them.

              Are you the well-known singer Brian McKnight?

  • On January 27, 2010 at 10:54 pm Sheryl Luna wrote:

    Hi Craig,
    Good to see you here. I’m also glad to read Francisco’s post about the inclusion of Latina voices and want to thank him for including such voices.

    Things are gradually changing due to presses like Achiote and Momotombo. Even a decade ago, outside Arte Publico and Bilingual Press very few presses were publishing Latinos.

    • On January 28, 2010 at 6:01 pm csperez wrote:

      hey sheryl,

      thx for your kind words! yeah, it felt like the last decade was an exciting time for latino/a publishing. and more to come indeed!

      c

  • On January 28, 2010 at 3:09 am Vivek Narayanan wrote:

    I’ve also had a lot of thoughts on that Numbers Trouble essay since it came out, which I plan to develop in a couple of months. But the gist of my question is this:

    1) Does subjectivity, ie., what the world looks like when you walk around in a given body, a given life trajectory, a given context, shape a writer’s aesthetics and form in subtle, oblique, non-deterministic, but nevertheless profound ways? I’d say yes, of course it does, that’s the very reason to be inclusive in literature. You want to have the whole, the composite picture.

    2) Are editors truly *aesthetically* and formally open, in addition to just wishing a more “diverse”-looking contributor’s list for their journal? Or is it that they want people of colour or women who write in exactly the same way, the same style as all their other preferred contributors, just say with a dab of local colour or a bit of appropriate politics inserted here and there?

    I help to edit Almost Island, an international journal interested in the new, and in subjectivity, and I find myself asking these questions a lot because, for instance, “experimental” can mean completely different things in different national contexts.

    • On January 28, 2010 at 3:10 pm Jessica Smith wrote:

      I like how you put this, Vivek:

      “Does subjectivity, ie., what the world looks like when you walk around in a given body, a given life trajectory, a given context, shape a writer’s aesthetics and form in subtle, oblique, non-deterministic, but nevertheless profound ways? I’d say yes, of course it does, that’s the very reason to be inclusive in literature. You want to have the whole, the composite picture.”

      As for editors, I think it depends on individual editors and the magazine (its mission, its prestige, its format, its contributors, whether it needs to make a profit). If a magazine needs to make a profit, it will go for “names” over aesthetics/quality (at least that seems to happen; see Elisa’s blog); if it has multiple editors there may be a watering-down as well. Since I’m the only editor of FOURSQUARE and its subscribers pay for its production, I am in the fortunate position of being able to choose what I like. I think FOURSQUARE is pretty aesthetically diverse, despite my own aesthetic preferences. I wouldn’t really make any sweeping comments about poetry magazines’ editorial practices in general because there are so many factors that go into the editing process. Also, magazines are a reflection of the rest of the poetry world; there seem to be more upper-class white males in poetry than other races/sexes/classes– which doesn’t mean those people are actually writing better poetry or that there actually *are* more of them, just that that’s who seem to promote themselves and get their work out there. Which is what inspired my first post– I know there are tons of female poets out there producing quality work and they don’t seem to be well-represented. The reasons why are complex and many.

      • On January 28, 2010 at 3:29 pm Wendy Babiak wrote:

        I confess I do not submit very often. Even the word is heinous: submit. Like we women haven’t had to do that often enough.

        • On January 29, 2010 at 1:38 pm EKSwitaj wrote:

          There is a much better word that can be use for it: contribute.

          • On January 29, 2010 at 2:48 pm Matt wrote:

            well, you’re only a contributor if your submission is accepted….

          • On January 29, 2010 at 3:17 pm Wendy Babiak wrote:

            I have contributed…and with a fairly nice submission/contribution ratio, as well. I admit at first I’ve loathed the rejections so much it gave me pause. They don’t really bother me anymore…I don’t take them personally.

            I don’t think men enjoy rejection any more than women, though with their ability to hit on women they haven’t actually received any come-hither signals from, I suppose they’re probably more used to it than we, so perhaps that explains, at least in part, why women aren’t sending work in at the rate that men are.

            Another thing that kept me from submitting (and still makes me hesitate), was that the first poem I had published in a national journal was printed with the last stanza indented, when I had not written (or submitted it) that way. It looked like it was going to tip over backwards. Horrible (relatively speaking, of course). Editors should be mindful of the work we entrust them with, and take a little care.

            I didn’t submit anything anywhere for three or so years following that. I’m hoping, once we’re settled into our new home, to send out several submissions on a regular basis, and keep up a rhythm, something I’ve never managed. I don’t think I’ll EVER send out my work in the torrents I’ve heard some folks overwhelm journals with. It just doesn’t seem considerate.

            • On January 29, 2010 at 8:49 pm csperez wrote:

              hey wendy,

              thanks for your thoughtful & honest comment here and on my last post. always great.

              wow, pretty shocking that a national magazine would make such a mistake.

              i would prob agree with your sentiment–i am pretty used to rejection at this point–in life & in poetry ;)

              good luck with the move!

              • On February 5, 2010 at 2:03 pm Wendy Babiak wrote:

                Thanks for the luck…it worked!

    • On January 28, 2010 at 6:21 pm csperez wrote:

      hey vivek,

      i enjoyed almost island when it came out! glad you are sharing your thoughts here.

      1) i agree. i’d add that a writer can also shape their subjectivity & aesthetics in turn.

      2) i think some editors are truly open in terms of aesthetics, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, etc. but some are not. and some dont even think about it.

      c

    • On January 29, 2010 at 1:40 pm EKSwitaj wrote:

      Thanks for this. I think that point two is absolutely crucial.

  • On January 28, 2010 at 12:49 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

    As a (white, male) poet and a translator of contemporary Latin American poets, I wear a double hat when I send stuff out. It’s easier in general to get my translations published than my own poems, not just because a plurality of writers in Mexico and Uruguay write more good poems than I do on my lonesome, but because publishing a Jorge Fernández Granados, an Alberto Blanco, an Elsa Cross, an Eduardo Milán, represents exciting — and probably fundable — ethnic and aesthetic diversity for any magazine which is otherwise up to here with mostly (white, male) poets whose work has been predictably homogenized in MFA workshops.

  • On January 28, 2010 at 2:20 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    Ah, yes, Translation! Let us not forget about translation in discussions of this kind…

    Incidentally, John Oliver Simon is one of the numerous fine translators for an anthology of Uruguayan poetry I’m in process of co-editing, with the brilliant poet and critic Roberto Echavarren.

    In Uruguay, as well (where Lautreamont, Laforgue, and Supervielle were born!), the poetic canon is dominated by women–perhaps to a greater degree than in any other nation.

    Kent

    • On January 28, 2010 at 2:40 pm Jessica Smith wrote:

      Fascinating, Kent. I look forward to seeing that Anthology.

      Also, if you’re in touch with living female Uruguayan poets, we could arrange an issue of FOURSQUARE to feature four of them and perhaps a Uruguayan artist, which would then also point readers to the anthology. Let me know if you would like to take this up.

  • On January 28, 2010 at 2:50 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    Jessica,

    Absolutely, and thanks for the invitation.

    A majority of the poets in the anthology are women (as are the translators), and it would be very difficult to *choose* which four. I will have to do so by drawing from a hat…

    My email: kent.johnson@highland.edu

    If you would write me so I have your email, and then we can be in touch.

    Thanks for your interest!

    • On January 28, 2010 at 6:03 pm csperez wrote:

      @ kent: def let’s not forget about translation!

      @ kent & jessica: i totally want to buy that issue of foursquare if it works out. jessica, please let me know if/when it’s published and i will promote it here–as i’m sure others here will want to know about it–

      c

  • On January 28, 2010 at 3:34 pm Hugh Behm-Steinberg wrote:

    I’ve written about this topic at Delirious Lapel — http://deliriouslapel.blogspot.com/2009/10/squareplumbtrue-by-hugh-behm-steinberg.html.

    I agree with Vivek’s observations, especially his second point. There’s a narrative of how we get into publishing: that there’s all this great work we love, that no one else is publishing, so I’m going to start a journal to publish all this great work. The idea that the journal is a mirror of the sensibility of the editor, and then it just becomes a mirror. You publish the people just like you, or people who travel in the same circles as you, or that you wish would travel in the same circles as you (or that you’d like to date, which is when things get creepy).

    It’s bit like the argument for form — if you don’t have rules in place, you wind up doing the same thing over and over again. So as an editor I use quotas (half the writers we publish at Eleven Eleven have to be women), there’s a four issue lag before I’ll consider work from the same writer, and I limit the number of personal friends I hit up for work. I do this because it forces me outside of what’s comfortable, and that helps me to become a better editor.

    That said, I think gender is even more of a challenge with prose, especially when we draw work from the slush pile. My students at Eleven Eleven, men AND women (my staffs tend to run 60-40 female to male) are drawn to what I call Recovery Narratives, the basic plots of which are “I got really messed up and then I did a bunch of really messed up shit.” These stories tend to be written by men, but my students are drawn to them because they mirror the act of learning how to write, the sense of crossing a threshold where anything is possible and everything is permitted.

    The other gendered genre that fills our slush pile are character driven, domestic, detail and observation based relationship pieces, mostly written by women, and my students pass on virtually every single one of them, largely because they perceive them as boring, but also because they stand for the dull slog aspect of being a writer, of focusing on the little details, of all the aggravating (k)nits of craft.

    The end result is our fiction submissions tilt 65-35 female to male, but our second drawer runs 80-20 male to female and then I have to yell at them.

    I wonder if there are similar gender patterns/ correspondences in poetry slush piles.

    Hugh

  • On January 28, 2010 at 5:15 pm Chloe Joan Lopez wrote:

    J. Michael Martinez has zeroed in on something surprisingly true and deep that has gone unexamined with regard to the relationship between Latino/a poetics and the sway that Modernism still holds. I’m not sure I could characterize it very well without a lot more thought about it, but it resonates deeply.

    As a writer, I don’t find it useful to prejudge journals by their overt aesthetic or masthead, because my work is weird enough that I can’t begin to guess where it might fit. I do, however, prefer to submit to contests where the judging is blind, because the weirdness of my work requires openness, and I am wary of the preconceived filters notions of ethnicity or gender can bring. Even when the work is clearly informed by those perspectives, which it often is.

    Poems code themselves for an expected audience. They can’t help it. Some poems address themselves to audiences made up of members of one or more of the categories “male,” “straight,” “white,” “upper-class,” “able-bodied,” etc., and even all of the above. Nothing wrong with that. But when a journal is made up only of poems whose addressed audiences appear to be all of the above without even the awareness of the audiences left out, as if the point of poetry is to be auditioning for an imagined jury of Eliot, Pound, and Stevens, that’s when I start to get turned off. The minority/majority status of the poets themselves doesn’t matter. This suggests another avenue for editors: publishing work that is more clued into this dynamic, regardless of who it’s by, rather than an approach that can veer into tokenism. That’s a subtle thing, though.

    Last thing: of course I want to get published in prestigious historically white journals. With prestige comes power (and readers), and who doesn’t want some of that?

    • On January 29, 2010 at 1:42 am Vivek Narayanan wrote:

      I think Chloe’s point is a fascinating one and absolutely right on, a great place to begin further investigation. What is the implicit (not declared) shape of the community being addressed by a journal and/or its writers? If women and people of colour etc. don’t submit to a given journal it may just be that it’s a club they’re not too interested in joining.

      One question, though, Chloe, can judgement ever be truly blind?

      • On January 29, 2010 at 6:17 pm Chloe Joan Lopez wrote:

        @Vivek: well, as I said, any astute reader of my work who wants to infer my background will be able to do so, even when I’m not engaging it explicitly. So, psychologically, then, I don’t rely on anonymous readings to avoid inevitable bias on that basis.

        So I guess I would say, no, anonymous readings are never really truly unbiased. I’m not even sure that is an ideal to be aspired to. What I hope to get out of an anonymous reading is an openness to what the poem actually says, including its Latina-ness, before anyone can have a reflexive reaction to a name ending in Z. I don’t know if that’s a reasonable hope.

        Dang it, I changed to “anonymous reading” because it occurs to me that this use of “blind” is problematic.

  • On January 28, 2010 at 5:53 pm Francisco Aragón wrote:

    Thanks for your astute comments, Chloe. I am a long time admirer of your work and, from my perspective, it embodies why I think the most interesting and unpredictable work in Latino/a poetry is being written by women. It’s taken me a while to come to this view, but that’s where I’m at, as reader, right now.

  • On January 28, 2010 at 5:57 pm Francisco Aragón wrote:

    For those interested in Chloe’s work, it can be found in QUODLIBET, published in 2009 by New Michigan Press, which is based in Tucson.

    http//newmichiganpress.com/nmp

    • On January 30, 2010 at 4:22 pm Chloe Joan Lopez wrote:

      Wow, Francisco, thanks for the kind words.

  • On January 28, 2010 at 5:58 pm w b nutley (note the authorial two initials) wrote:

    people need to realize that this reflects literary studies in general and english lit for that matter (not to mention the fact that there are, I think but may be wrong, simply more white people in the english speaking world).

    but the disconnect that minorities feel regarding the tradition of english poetry and the “Establishment” in american poetry (YES! THERE IS ONE!). and quite frankly, though i am only partially a minority myself, i see sooooo much darn patronizing in lit studies and poetry it is very off-putting. and lastly, as i have repeated to any conversation, barring all the gary snyder and rexroth types, the poetry establishment in america is sooo eurocentric. read the latest “American Hybrid” anthology: nothing but references to french painters and mostly white (a few specks of color sprinkled in). it’s not racial so much as cultural in general. most of this “name-referencing” in poetry is about cultural capital, displaying it, saying “so and so was in paris when they wrote it.. therefore it is good” – and an occasional “so and so was in haiti when they wrote it so we have a moral obligation to publish it… but it isn’t ‘really’ as sophisticated as the one that references eva hesse…”

    • On January 29, 2010 at 9:01 pm csperez wrote:

      hey wb, yes this problem is perhaps even worse in english lit studies. but def publication, institutionalization, & canonization are interrelated and racialized processes.

  • On January 28, 2010 at 6:13 pm csperez wrote:

    @ hugh: thx for sharing a behind the scenes look! this kind of transparency is so helpful.

    i think it’s great that each issue must be gender balanced–it teaches your students an important lesson about editing.

    i also think it’s wonderful that you yell at the students. you should also force them to comment here at harriet (extra credit!)

    i hope other editors, as nate has about h-ngm-n, will speak to slush pile gender patterns.

    peace,
    c

    • On January 29, 2010 at 6:32 pm Bhanu Kapil wrote:

      “c”: Hello! I should love to hear somewhere in the unfolding of our Harriet-related existence (perhaps in one of the upper rooms?) some more about how you edit: your own work and others’. — “b”

      • On January 29, 2010 at 8:58 pm csperez wrote:

        hey bhanu, ok maybe i will do a future post on editing achiote press. i was going to recount for this blogpost but we’ve done like 20 projects since 2007 that i just didnt have the energy.

        but def when i started it was all about soliciting people i knew since there was really no way for me to put a highly visible submission call out there. so i tried to put different writers of different aesthetics together that would create a dynamic energy. kind of vague, i know. but my editing process has been really intuitive.

        have you worked as an editor/publisher?

        c

        • On January 29, 2010 at 11:30 pm Bhanu Kapil wrote:

          I edited an issue of Tarapaulin Sky journal — I was not very good at it at all. Briefly had a chapbook press: ditto. The practical parts of the process were too much. I admire Christian Peet, for example, tremendously. What he does. Renee Gladman and Amber Di Pietra have been two amazing editors for me. Kate Zambreno (?) at Nightboat looked at a section of a forming book, and gave such proprioceptive feedback, I understood my work better afterwards. I understood I was writing something disgusting. An editor, in other words, as someone you do not know very well, but who has taken the time and care to understand the gesture of the book from its root — so that they can visualize, in a sense, a possible future movement you have not yet made. What kind of animal are you as an editor?

          • On January 30, 2010 at 3:06 am csperez wrote:

            maybe i’m a polar bear: cute & endangered ;)

            i love tarpaulin sky. i’ve reviewed a few of their books and they published one of my reviews awhile back. i dont know how christian does it…books, chaps, print journal, and online! crazy. have you read his BIG AMERICAN TRIP? it’s damn cool (i reviewed it last year).

            i know amber! she’s so cool.

            i love what you say about editors. i’ve had that experience with both editors i’ve worked with for my own work. working with them transformed my work in so many ways.

            c

  • On January 28, 2010 at 6:38 pm Mabool wrote:

    We had dinner with the abominable snowman about a year ago. She spoke quite ordinary English although her native language is Spanish.

  • On January 29, 2010 at 1:36 am Peter Greene wrote:

    Head wrench, all this. I grew up where colour was near unknown and exotic – the one black-coloured guy (and he was that really black colour which is so beautiful and seems so impossible when all you’ve ever seen or been is pink) in my school was on every cliques ‘coolest’ list, and the idea of racism simly didn’t really occur much (although I know there were occasional jokes and so forth, so some of the families must have put the race bait too far away from the rat poison and let their kids take it). I know I used to turn purple and orange in large stripes in cold weather (still have NO idea why, really horrible-looking, stopped happening much) and be mocked for that, along with my deformed ‘boobies’ chest and epicanthic-lacking ‘chinese eyes’, but I’ve never really been able to channel adult race-hate and exclusion. Getting over people’s different smells can be tricky, though, that’s for sure. As an adult, I’ve often followed the strange traces of race thought, and as an unstableboy, I’ve even followed and fallen for one or two cluelessly dangerous ideas around these issues (fortunately, enough brain traction to leave those ant-lion holes behind).

    Reading through this, I have the same dreamlike uncomprehension. Even when I lived in the big city and experienced race cliquing and racism in my workplace (3 years at St. Mike’s school cafeteria at U of T – veeeery multicultural workplace, every continent but Antarctica in that kitchen), I kept missing it when it was around me, or worse, putting my foot in it after washing out my mouth with it. Eventually, I learned that people actually believe any of that made-up shit, in fact most people.

    But I still can’t feel it or understand it. It blows me away that people stress on things that are so hurtful and stupid. My co-worker, Toronto friend, and usual first cook at the Sodexho unit there (as my mother said: imagine, a French company serving food like that!), Chiu, grew up in mainland China under Mao, and thinks most of that stuff is for stupid babies. When you’ve seen rivers choked with the bodies of your neighbours, all the same colour, all of whom ratted each other out to the local mad murdering Communist cadre, all killed for hate…you realize that colour is no barrier to idiot evil. Then again, he thinks farm people are horrid and dirty (well, farms ARE dirty). And besides, Mao fixed China. Shudder. Chiu said that 1984 was Mao’s favourite book, and that he was very grateful to George Orwell for all the good ideas about language.

    Many of the other Chinese workers there were quite racist. In fact, it almost seems that the more a group experiences racial exclusion…naw, that would be tooo screwed up.

    I like positive racism, where you can be proud of historicity and the incongruities of human genetics in times and places removed from one another – without looking to see where the other guy is standing. But you never find it without its shadow.

    Well, hope this was some help. If not, well, I didn’t use too many electrons up, I trust.

    PG

  • On January 29, 2010 at 1:27 pm Nate Pritts wrote:

    H_NGM_N # 9 – 55 contributors. 27 female. 49%

    http://www.h-ngm-n.com/cur_ent-i_sue

    • On January 29, 2010 at 8:51 pm csperez wrote:

      hey nate,

      the new issue looks fantastic…i’m looking forward to sitting down with it! thanks for making this conversation happen.

  • On January 29, 2010 at 1:50 pm Colin Ward wrote:

    Here are some numbers from a similar conversation on Eratosphere:

    David Landrum:

    I looked back through the issues of Lucid Rhythms and found in the issues that have gone on-line:

    August 2007: 11 Men, 14 Women
    December 2007: 17 Men, 6 Women
    April 2008: 15 Men, 11 Women
    August 2008: 21 Men, 10 Women
    December 2008: 16 Men, 9 Women
    April 2009: 15 Men, 14 Women

    Quincy Lehr:

    Well, I can speak to this from a slush-pile reader’s perspective (and Anna crunched the numbers on a Barefoot Muse issue a couple of years back). The disparity is on the submissions end. Looking at the Raintown since 1 May, here are the stats.

    Number of submissions by men: 43
    Number of poems submitted: 155
    Number of poems accepted: 8
    Percentage of submitted poems by men accepted: 5.2%

    Number of submissions by women: 14
    Number of poems submitted: 48
    Number of poems accepted: 3
    Percentage of submitted poems by women accepted: 6.3%

    -o-

  • On January 29, 2010 at 8:53 pm csperez wrote:

    hey colin, thanks for pointing us towards this. that comment thread is pretty interesting & provocative. i would def like to hear more from editors out there about their slush piles.

  • On January 29, 2010 at 9:21 pm csperez wrote:

    @ chloe: i agree, j.michael martinez makes a great point…something that i will examine more closely in a future post.

    and i too prefer to submit to blind judged contests. tho i don’t often like the lack of transparency with some blind contests–esp when those contests only award a very narrow set of poets.

    i also get turned off by journals that seem to have no awareness. and yes the perception of inclusion & tokenism is a subtle, something that i hope to address in another post as well.

    since you mentioned contests, i wanted to re-ask a question in post to everyone reading this:

    does the gender of a contest judge affect your decision to submit?

    i ask again cuz i just received an email from a woman poet who wrote that she never submits to a male-judged contest because she doesnt believe that men can relate to her work.

    do other women or men feel this way about contests?

    • On January 29, 2010 at 9:56 pm Reb wrote:

      I don’t submit to contests, but the gender of an editor makes little difference to me. More male editors have probably published my work, than female. A number of male editors have been very supportive of my work (which is rather feminine in tone and style). It’s not WHO or WHAT the editor is, but the kind of work (and how) the editor publishes. There are plenty of women editors I wouldn’t bother sending to. If I did send to contests and if the judge didn’t have a publishing track record, I’d probably take into consideration the type of work he writes and what poets he keeps in his circle. Also, his reputation as a teacher (if he teaches) and the kinds of reviews and criticism he writes would factor in. If he only reviewed and wrote about male poets, or made claims that poetry should be about “big” (ahem) things outside of oneself, I wouldn’t bother.

    • On January 30, 2010 at 4:44 pm Chloe Joan Lopez wrote:

      I enter every contest I am qualified for that has a prize greater than a certain amount, as long as I can afford it. This is a means of short-circuiting the psychological blocks of sending work out. So I guess for me the answer is no.

      Rationally, I would say that I would want to be as open to the idea that an editor or judge might respond to my work as I want them to be open to the same. That feels a little post-hoc to me.

      Just recently I was short-listed in a contest by a journal that, based on the difference between the my work and the work they had previously published and previous contest winners, I had nearly cut from my list. Over and over again I have heard that you should target your work to like-minded journals, but I sincerely don’t believe that would have been good advice for me to follow. I don’t know if it’s because my work is all over the place stylistically or what.

      It’s not like I haven’t felt written off on account of my ethnicity or gender, or for that matter, by people of one aesthetic camp on account of my sympathies with another. Of course that happens. If I never hear the words “magic realism” again, it will be OK by me. But I’ve found connection where I haven’t expected it also.

      On the other hand, if I had an aesthetic community that I felt had nurtured me, and to which I had loyalty, that might be enough. My approach might be very different. As it is, I’ll take any harbor in the storm.

  • On January 29, 2010 at 9:42 pm Reb wrote:

    Over the past 3 years, No Tell Motel’s slush pile has ranged 45% – 54% women. 54% was our last reading period (in October 2009) and 52% before that (in May 2009). In our 5 1/2 year existence our slush pile has never been less than 40% women (when we first started). Women do send their work out, perhaps they don’t blanket (or scatter) send, but they do send. I believe women are more “selective” where they send their work. After I cull out the initial “WTF submissions” (from poets who clearly never read the journal or have any idea of the type of work we publish), the percentage of submissions by women still under consideration is a lot higher.

  • On January 30, 2010 at 1:28 am Colin Ward wrote:

    does the gender of a contest judge affect your decision to submit?

    No.

    All I ask from contest judges or editors is that they know the difference between diarrhea and diaeresis.

    -o-

    • On January 30, 2010 at 3:02 am csperez wrote:

      that’s hilarious colin! what’s diarrhea?


Posted in Uncategorized on Wednesday, January 27th, 2010 by Craig Santos Perez.