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Canadian Web Project Offers Responses to Interface of Gender and Critical Reception

By Harriet Staff

Over at Jacket2, we hear that a new web project has been launched (and there’s a pie chart!):

CWILA—Canadian Women in the Literary Arts—which offers a range of research on and responses to (including excellent interviews) the current interface of gender and critical reception. The work of over 70 Canadian women poets, novelists and scholars, at the core of the project are a series of colourful graphs and pie charts—the results of extensive research—that show just how slanted reviewing presently is in the country, in terms of how many more male-authored books receive critical attention than female-authored books (the total number of books published by men and women are remarkably equal).

Stephen Collis writes:

I mentioned, in my last post, that I’m of a generation of poets and critics who benefitted from second wave feminism. Crucial instructors in university were feminists. The poets I would list among my key influences include as many women as men, with possibly no poets more important to me (different as they are) than Phyllis Webb and Susan Howe. Key “contemporaries”—poets I’ve also learned from, and whom I see my own work as unfolding amongst in crucial ways—include (just sticking with a selection of Canadians for now) Lisa Robertson, Lissa Wolsak, Rachel Zolf, Sina Queyras, Oana Avasilichioaei, Rita Wong, Larissa Lai, Cecily Nicholson and Christine Leclerc. All are poets I have written on, reviewed, or taught in the classroom.

I’m only noting this because I think it’s fairly typical: any male poet/critic now would list the work of numerous female poets amongst their key, shaping influences. But then—why the CWILA numbers? Why the continued slant towards male-authored books under review? My answer will only be partial, and will only focus on, for lack of a better term, the “avant-garde,” the workings of which I’m most familiar with.

I have, I’m sorry to say, seen male poets, in editorial and curatorial positions, reject work by women based upon what they claimed were “purely aesthetic” grounds. That is, the work was deemed “not interesting,” formally “too conventional.” No one likes to admit it, but it’s there—“innovative work” is too often, not to mention inaccurately, gendered “male,” and narrowly defined.


Posted in Poetry News on Monday, June 25th, 2012 by Harriet Staff.