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Gender, publishing, and Poetry magazine

By Christian Wiman

Here at Poetry we were all interested in “The Count” that VIDA recently produced. Interested, but not especially surprised. The count shows—with pretty devastating consistency—that women are under-represented in all of the major literary magazines, including Poetry (though Poetry fares much better than the others).

This didn’t surprise us because the issues that VIDA are raising have long been of concern to us. The disparity is something I first noticed seven years ago when I commissioned Averill Curdy to write an essay wondering where all the women poetry critics were. Subsequent issues contained responses from well-known women poet-critics of another generation . The aim was to provoke a conversation, first of all, but more importantly to get more women writing in the back pages of the magazine. More recently, senior editor Don Share participated in a roundtable on gender and publishing sponsored by VIDA.

It’s taken a while, but a shift has occurred. As the VIDA stats themselves reveal, half of our reviewers are now women, and last year we actually reviewed more books by women than by men. Daisy Fried, Ange Mlinko, Abigail Deutsch, A. E. Stallings, Beverly Bie Brahic—all are and will continue to be regular reviewers for Poetry. We will also continue to feature long prose pieces by women poets like Anna Kamienska (April) and Susan Howe (September), as well as long poems by poets such as Carolyn Forche (February, April) and Averill Curdy (April).

Still, the poetry numbers are unequal, and troublesome to us. One difficulty is that we receive many more submissions from men: the last count, done last year, was 65% men and 35% women. Why this might be is a source of endless speculation around here—is Poetry thought of as partial to men? do fewer women poets submit their work to magazines in general?—but we don’t have any good answers.

Even with that ratio of submitters, though, our content is usually more equally distributed between women and men than the VIDA figures suggest—if you count the pages rather than simply the names. (For instance, from January through April of this year, we have sixty-six pages devoted to women’s poetry, seventy-six to men’s.) This is where the VIDA survey oversimplifies things somewhat, at least with respect to Poetry: We might have ten poems by ten men in one issue and one twenty-page poem by a woman. Who is getting more attention in that instance? The main point we’re trying to make is that we are very conscious of the distribution between men and women poets, but we think more in terms of space devoted to the work rather than simply a tally of names.

Still, it’s not equal, and it ought to be. The VIDA results seem to us a useful and necessary warning. For our part, we’re going to begin trying even harder.


Posted in Uncategorized on Tuesday, February 8th, 2011 by Christian Wiman.