Follow Harriet on Twitter

About Harriet


Women’s Work: The Poetic Justice Forum

By Annie Finch


My poetry trip to the U.K. this winter was marked, among many wonderful experiences, by something more sobering: a string of stories poured out to me by women poets about gender imbalance and discrimination in prizes and book and journal publishing at the top levels of the British poetry world. While I am a natural idealist and would prefer to spend most of my time sitting under a pine tree writing and reading, sometimes a situation cries out inescapably for action. Starker than similar accounts I’ve heard in the U.S., yet all too familiar, these tales inspired me to address my longstanding frustraion at the stagnation in po-biz. As Eva Salzman points out in the introduction to her cross-Atlantic poetry anthology Women’s Work: Modern Women Poets Writing in English, it is still true that “the baggage attached to ‘woman poet’—poetess or not—is more like a lead weight.”

Salzman’s introduction cites legions of statistics from the tables of contents of recent anthologies (“ 101 Oxford Book of Contemporary Verse: 3 women/37 men, Sonnets ed. Don Paterson: 13 women/87 men,” and a couple dozen more), as well as quotes from recent reviews and books of criticism proving thoroughly her point that it still holds true that, to quote James Fenton on Plath: “like it or not, there was something masculine in the archetype of poet, with which it was difficult for a woman to come to terms.” (in an amusing imaginative exercise, Salzman puts herself in the place of a male poet feeling belittled by being included in an anthology of male poets, and visualizes “the long-awaited publication of Men Poets of the Twentieth Century).

Salzman points out that even with “the fairer acknowledgment” of the most enlightened and most recent anthologies, nevertheless almost all of them “hit the proverbial glass ceiling, with women poets comprising roughly a third of the total.” I was reminded of this statistic when I read in the paper the other morning about a commencement address given by Geena Davis at a college in Maine last week. Speaking on the topic of gender and film, Davis pointed out that on kids’ TV shows, the gender representation is now holding steady at 3 male characters for every 1 female character. That ratio will be familiar to anyone who has the habit of counting names in tables of contents of prestigious literary journals and anthologies (see the Harriet discussion on Numbers Trouble)—and I recall they also match up with the amount of time that men on average report that women can participate in a conversation before it feels like they are “talking too much,” according to Deborah Tannen’s book You Just Don’t Understand: Men and Women in Conversation.

My own concern with these ratios is not so much with the proportions themselves—after all, men have the momentum of having published poetry for centuries longer than women, and to focus on the numerical difference between a third and a half, however frustrating and annoying that situation on a personal level, might seem akin to hollow bean-counting—but with what these numbers imply about the prevailing climate of poetics. And that prevailing climate affects not a third, but a hundred, percent of the poetry world. The fact that the ratio holds women so firmly a safe distance below the one-half mark and refuses to budge, in spite of the astronomical increase in the numbers of women (more than half the population to begin with) who are writing and publishing poetry today, implies that something more than mere numbers is at stake. I believe that what is at stake is the very existence of a context in which it is possible to explore the full possibility of alternative poetic voices. (Of course, all kinds of diverse poetic voices are eventually implicated in this discussion, but a long-growing body of sociological and psychological theory shows women as the primordial “other” and even now, as Salzman reminds us, “statistics [in a New York Times survey on hiring] showed that, consistently, people can overlook race more readily than gender.”)

There may not be such a thing as “women’s poetry.” But, as long as women’s voices are capped at a third of poetic discourse, we will never really know if there is or not. The overall climate of criticism, canon-formation, publication, and recognition is defined by the majority poetic. As Germaine Greer puts it, “the blokes like the girls best when they write like the blokes, and extra-specially when they write about girls the way the blokes do. It suits the male poet to believe that neither sex I specifically intended because it encourages him I his view that his specificity is actually universality. The woman poet who knowingly places this game is not so much a ventriloquist as a ventriloquist’s dummy.” Until we have the courage to create space for a fluid dynamic of parity between women’s and men’s voices in the general consciousness and in the poetry world specifically, we will all of us—women and men poets alike—be to some extent ventriloquist’s dummies.

To create a space where conversation about these issues can flourish across the English-writing world, U.K. poet Jane Holland and I have collaborated in creating the Poetic Justice discussion forum. An accompanying Poetic Justice website with further information and links to resources will be mounted soon. (If you know of articles, websites, blog discussions, and other information and resources that should be linked to Poetic Justice, please let me know here or by email to my website.). Here’s the link to the Poetic Justice forum:

To join the Poetic Justice Discussion, please log on at http://z3.invisionfree.com/Poetic_Justice/index.php?act=idx

Comments (92)

  • On June 5, 2009 at 11:07 am Don Share wrote:

    Readers might be interested in Germaine Greer’s recent take on Carol Anne Duffy:


  • On June 5, 2009 at 11:20 am Richard Jeffrey Newman wrote:

    I pasted the link into my browser and got a message that the document doesn’t exist. Just thought you’d like to know.

  • On June 5, 2009 at 11:26 am Desmond Swords wrote:

    The second edition of Horizon which Holland edits, has 8 poets and 20 man poets.

  • On June 5, 2009 at 11:42 am Annie Finch wrote:

    Thanks for posting this, Don– don’t you love the bit about the green hat?

    Desmond, Salzman points out that women editors are certainly not blameless here. It’s not about that. It’s more about the overall climate, not to mention which poets one has been expoeed to and is familiar with, which affects women and men because of education and simple availability (the self-fulfilling cycle of publication leading to familiarity leading to publication). (anecdotally, however, I will say that I find my own work is solicited more often by women journal editors, and accepted disproprtionately more by women journal editors. Oddly, this does not apply to anthologies, where far more men than women solicit my poems-(my guess is that may be because far more men than women still edit anthologies?)

    Anyway, Desmond, hopefully Jane Holland will be here on Harriet to comment on the intriguing fact that you’ve pointed out.

    I know gender and poetics has sometimes been a hotbutton issue in my posts on Harriet, for example the Plath post and the Women poets and Mentorship post, but I hope we all know each other well enough now that we can stay calm and still have a good, respectful, and on-topic discussion.

    cheers and love to all,

  • On June 5, 2009 at 12:56 pm thomas brady wrote:

    My take on this:

    The cad factor. Many poets (especially the ones who are ambitious and start movements and write manifestos) are cads. Men get away with being cads far more than women do.

    Which leads to the manifesto factor. Manifestos, or schools tend to be founded by cads/crackpots, i.e., men. Men create manifestos and women generally do not, the exception being ‘feminist manifestos’ which just pigeonhole women even more. Poetry is rife with schools; men tend to be responsible for these schools.

    Women critics tend to be happy nurturing male poets and their schools.

    Manifesto-ism tends to require a social rupture of some kind, disorganization of the senses, eccentric behavior, radical politics, and women with a lot of money are usually the ones equipped to go that way.

    Edna Millay was wild, rebellious, a great poet, yet STILL did not get respect because she never signed on to any (modernist) SCHOOL.

    Has anyone checked out how popular comedy TV shows treat women? They are stupid, slutty, catty, and hopeless almost without exception. Check out ‘The New Adventures of Old Christine’ sometime. There’s a couple of rich bitches on that show who are so unbelievably nasty to Christine (Julia Dreyfuss) that any man so insulted would simply punch them out, but as a woman, the character Christine just smiles–and takes it.

    ‘Boys will be boys’ is the rule in popular culture, and it certainly applies to poetry, as well.

    The terrific problem of course, is that the very act of complaining about it (as I am doing) only reinforces the stereotypes themselves.

    The only solution, I think, is to ridicule all poetry manifestos and bring true Criticism to the male (and female) poets.


  • On June 5, 2009 at 1:05 pm Don Share wrote:

    Speaking of manifestos – by women as well as by men – see this piece (what a coinkydink!) in the June Poetry:


  • On June 5, 2009 at 2:18 pm Desmond Swords wrote:

    Whilst greatly respecting what the second and third wavers have achieved, I have noticed that the younger poets of both genders coming through now, no longer have the same gender concerns of their seniors.

    There’s an excellent force for good in poetry called Claire Askew who works in Edinburgh, 22, recentWriting MA graduate, already teaching and running a site called One Night Stanzas in which her enthusiasm oozes.

    She has a first collection out, is winning prizes and inspiring her peers not by discussing theory, but by the simple act of doing and demonstrating how the young poets today, are not in the least intimidated by the old bores network.

    She is publishing poets from all over the world, and seems to embody a new poetic spirit of online DIY in Britain, which doesn’t feel itself inferior to the London axis where all the old men networks trapped in the sexist bubble are.

    Askew has a thriving enterprise on this site, selling merchandise, publishing poets and generally embracing the new technologies in a way we old squares cannot because our thinking is so wedded to the idea that poetic gravity can be bestowed only by dead-wood technology.

    I noticed this shift in thinking when at college from 2001 – 4 studying a Writing and Drama BA, as a mature student aged 35 – 38.

    Most of my colleagues on the course were confident intelligent young women, who were of a generation to have benefited from the strides made by the senior gender activists and had little in the way of feeling there was an imbalance to address.

    I suppose the third wavers, having had to fight for equality in the dark old days of sexist practice, are a bit like the old socialists after the fall of Communism – and their younger colleagues of the same gender having gained parity, see themselves as part of the gender neutral generation, or Geneutral, where s/he rather than
    He is the correct shorthand which fosters the spirit of gender equality.

    Online today means we can be anyone, the old days of being defined by gender, thankfully over for the younger poets for whom the battles of yore seem quaint and not a part fot their experience. Post-Obama, the whole world changed, all of a sudden.

    I suppose their is a market for selling books which engage in this debate, lucrative as well if one assumes the natural constituency spending on the books, are drawn from the financially powerful middle-aged baby boomers of post world war 2 who are interested in all this historical stuff. But not the younger market i think.

    One supposes there’s a potential to make a fair bit of money for the canny women like Greer who market themselves up as a primary brand-name purporting to represent 50% of us.

    I coined the neolgism geneutral, after reading Dublin based writer Suzan Abrams who wrote a very eloquent piece on gender neutrality, on a blog called Acacciatura owned by a person committed to equality and respect, particularly amongst the sisters.

    I view gender neutrality as an elevation and an extension of the human consciousness and certainly, a new age step towards a universal human advancement.

    I view gender neutrality as separate from the human spirit, yet not alienated by it. I view the embrace of such a subject for an individual as the said person’s everyday conscious mind being shoved up a ladder of ideologies by the ambitious and more secretive subconsciousness spirit that rests within.

    The fact that one can stay comfortable with identity and sexuality and still probe further discourses for communication without betraying a protected privacy, is what offers extraordinary and exciting challenges. It is what devoids the mind of any limitation and makes even the golden rule of positive thinking look like ‘child’s play’.

    Gender neutrality in my mind especially with web identity also satisfies the aesthetics for the crafting of a flawless personality; the apt intelligence that shadows an anonymous poster from never having to let on. The power then lies solely in the hands of the said anonymous poster, and in the time when he/she decides if ever on a revelation. It speaks of a skilled personal control, but one that remains progressive in its constant journey for perfection. It is not damaging.

    This of course, has to be a studied cultivated art.

    Ex- Femail magazine Editor, fashion journalist, travel writer and poet Abrams has two excellent interviews on her site, with Farah Damji and Leela Soma, which are worth a read.

  • On June 5, 2009 at 2:39 pm Jane Holland wrote:

    Desmond, I deplore the inbalance between the genders in the second edition of Horizon – though amongst the fiction, articles, and reviews we had rather more women represented, you might like to note. However, it should be known that I did solicit work from a number of writers who either did not respond or felt unable to send work at that time, and the inbalance between the genders amongst those who sent unsolicited work – more men than women, I’m sad to say – was therefore reflected in the work accepted. I do not accept women more often than men on account of their gender, I am happy to say. As the editor at Horizon, I accept work on account of its quality, and gender at that stage is not something I particularly take into account.

    Delightful to see though, Desmond, that you have managed not to mention Amergin even once in your usual lengthy post above. Refreshing, indeed. My congratulations on your restraint.

    Those writers thinking of submitting work to the next issue of Horizon, by the way, should be aware that we now have a dedicated Fiction Editor in well-known Irish writer, Nuala Ni Chonchuir, and a highly talented Reviews Editor in George Ttoouli, Warwick University, England. It will be interesting to see whether their appointments make any difference in the gender balance overall.

    I thoroughly recommend all writers interested in gender to become a member at Poetic Justice, co-founded by myself and Annie Finch. The rules for those planning to join in the discussions are very simple and clearly displayed in the forum area.

  • On June 5, 2009 at 2:50 pm Jane Holland wrote:

    Richard, the link works just fine for me – though it would be good to have it as clickable. I wonder if it’s a browser problem?

    The Poetic Justice website itself will be up and running soon, and interested parties should be able to click straight through from there. Watch this blog for an update on when that happens.

  • On June 5, 2009 at 3:04 pm Don Share wrote:

    The link is now clickable!

  • On June 5, 2009 at 3:29 pm Desmond Swords wrote:

    You missed out the fadas in Nuala’s surname Ms Holland.

    Nuala Ní Chonchúir

    I hope if i submit anything to the Coventry editor Ttoouli he gets back to me. The last time i wrote to him when he was at the Poetry School, calling for poets to engage in online appraisals for people paying the School for an opinion on their work, he wrote a very short note saying he would get back to me, and never did.

  • On June 5, 2009 at 4:53 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Thanks for that link, Don.

    Interesting article.

    Archambeau says there are two basic causes of manifesto-ism:

    1. Attention seeking

    Competition for attention–gained by the manifesto–flourishes when poets have no source of income.

    The proof of this, according to Archambeau, is that the early 20th century, when aristocratic patronage and book sales were scant, and the university had not yet become a source of income for the poet, was the golden age of the manifesto.

    2. The desire to reform a central or dominant style

    In the early 20th century, according to T.S. Eliot, poets had nowhere to go after Swinburne, and thus the explosion of manifestos to create new avenues of poetic awareness. Now, however, according to Archambeau, we have many styles: Pinsky’s discursiveness, Hall’s formalism, Rich’s identity politics, Ashbery’s elliptical verse, Bernstein’s experimentalism. We now have plenty of variety.

    I agree with this up to a point, but there are some holes in Archambeau’s theory.

    First: not all manifestos arise simply from ‘attention seeking.’

    Second: and here Archambeau misses a very crucial point: even though we may not take manifestos seriously anymore, we are very much living IN THEIR WAKE. Various modernist manifestos succeeded in every possible way, and they STILL need debunking, but how are we do so within Archambeau’s smug complacency?

    Third: wealthy patrons were all over poets and their manifestos in the early 20th century.

    And finally, there actually was no central or dominant style that needed reforming in the early 20th century.

    Archambeau is, without realizing it, swallowing the modernist manifesto.

    If we look at this calmly and sensibly, we see there were myriad styles available to poets in the period right before Modernism arrived: Browning, Tennyson, Whitman, Swinburne, Shelley, Whittier, Arnold, Kipling, Service, Poe, as well as Haiku, (which enjoyed a rage in 1906) just to mention a few styles off the top of my head. These—all in the air when Pound and Eliot decided a great change was needed– actually show more iconic distinction than the styles of our day: Pinsky, Hall, and Dove, for instance, and the jury is still out whether some of modernism’s more bizarre ongoing experiments are legitimate at all.

    I think Archambeau is finally unaware of how his blithe attitude derives from the fact that he is living and breathing the result of successful (if crackpot) Modernist manifesto-ism–which sprung from reasons different from those he has formulated.


  • On June 5, 2009 at 7:16 pm A. Leahy wrote:

    You might be interested in my recent essay in Legacy:

    “Is Women’s Poetry Passe?: A Call for Conversation”

    As you can see, it’s available through Project Muse (through most university libraries). If anyone wants the PDF, contact me at leahy@chapman.edu.

    I wrote the article in part as a response (extension) to the conversation in Poetry . The statistics are certainly revealing and can help us form important questions, but merely evening out the statistics (or eliminating the terminology) without considering the larger issues isn’t the answer. What struck me most when I read that piece in Poetry was that, though great strides have been made, it sounded a lot like the conversation when I was an undergraduate in my women’s studies courses–more than twenty years ago.

  • On June 6, 2009 at 8:13 am Annie FInch wrote:

    Desmond, thanks for mentioning Askew’s project. Gender neutrality seems to me also a worthy aim (and if genuine gender differences reveal themselves in the pursuit of it, that doesn’t change the value of aiming for neutrality). And perhaps for Askew’s generation, as you imply, the aim may already be well in sight.

    However, having thought about the topic for decades, I have my doubts that achieving true gender neutrality will be quite such an instant and invisible process. As A. Leahy points out, there is a circling on the treadmill quality to much of the conversation about gender balance (that seems to be a quality of glass ceilings–they force people to go in circles just underneath them). For example, I assume everyone noticed the gender irony in Thomas’s lists of the “many styles” available to poets now, as reported by Archambeau: “In the early 20th century, according to T.S. Eliot, poets had nowhere to go after Swinburne, and thus the explosion of manifestos to create new avenues of poetic awareness. Now, however, according to Archambeau, we have many styles: Pinsky’s discursiveness, Hall’s formalism, Rich’s identity politics, Ashbery’s elliptical verse, Bernstein’s experimentalism”. . . .and also in Thomas’s own list of the “myriad styles available to poets in the period right before Modernism arrived: Browning, Tennyson, Whitman, Swinburne, Shelley, Whittier, Arnold, Kipling, Service, Poe, as well as Haiku, (which enjoyed a rage in 1906) just to mention a few styles off the top of my head.”

    The irony, of course (and I can only assume that Thomas was aware of this irony, given the context of this particular post), is that the sole female model in either of Thomas’s lists of “many” and “myriad” styles is the one who is said to embody “identity politics.” And sad though it is, it is a pretty accurate representation of the generally shared inherited poetic landscape nowadays in which white males have defined the aesthetic choices.

    It would be nice if we could go from “identity politics” to “gender neutrality” in one easy step, as one would like to think Askew is doing, but context matters. So, there is actual work and change that needs to be done, for all of us, in order to create a new context in which actual gender-equality can be possible. A first step would be to look at what a full range of women poets are actually writing (not just those who fit into the current boxes (both, yes, male-defined) of “identity politics” and “gender neutrality.” A second step then would be to look back at the poetry of previous centuries and reexamine patterns of influence and tradition through a gender-balanced lens (consciously trying to avoid the sexist lenses through which our current ideas of those traditions were originally formed). New models of poetics might then be developed based on such reexaminations. I’ve done a bit of work like this on my own, reexamining the actual poetics of selfhood and metaphor underlying some of the ideas about sentimentality that have plagued the reception of much women’s poetry of past centuries. All this rereading is fascinating work and I think female and male readers could find a lot of enjoyment and illumination in it.

    I think about Martin’s recent post on what women poets have to offer, and all this seems even more important.

    Of course, the Poetic Justice site isn’t about any of this—it’s strictly an activist site where people can raise consciousness about fairness issues in the down-and-dirty world of po-biz.

  • On June 6, 2009 at 8:30 am Eva Salzman wrote:

    Good to see this issue getting an airing and to see men concerned with it. Thanks Annie, Jane!

    I was interested to see discussion of cads and manifestos, ringing bells. This latter subject is touched on in my Introduction too and in recent appreciation I just did on Michael Donaghy for Poetry London, on occasion of publication of his Collected and essays, about the “merits of unbelonging”, very much in an Lowell/Bishop and American iconoclastic tradition: not wanting to belong to any club that would have you as a member.

    A recent letter to Poetry Review in London addressing issues of gender breakdown there has just come to my attention. Hope it makes it into next issue. The writer and signatories should steel themselves against attacks. That journal is now edited by a woman by the way.

  • On June 6, 2009 at 10:44 am Desmond Swords wrote:

    I think you make very valid points Annie.

    But what is gender equality?

    If it is just Woman behaving the same as Man traditionally has to get what He wants – (by instilling fear) then that is not gender equality but a continuation of inequality and highly dangerous.

    And worse than now, because there will be utterley ruthless (man-like) women claiming they are striving for equality behaving as they do, not because they are pulling every stroke in the book to get what they want (like Man has traditionally done things), for personal gain – but because they are a beacon of Hope, fairness, equality and the role-model for (younger) sisters, who will be fearful and thinking – oh this is equality then, being scared of both men and women equally.

    This was at the heart of the Padel hoo ha i think.

    She attempted to adopt the position of a Woman concerned about other (younger) women (some of the most intelligent and confident on the planet) and my own take on it was that this position was manufactured in the same way politicians kiss babies is.

    Now, don’t get me wrong, i have witnessed Padel lecture and she is far better than most of the male bores i have experienced, warm, witty, welcoming – and could do the Oxford job standing on her head – but it was clear looking at the videos of her at Hay when she resigned, that she had the appearance of someone who was main concern in all this was not some sisterhood act but personal gain.

    There was the rabbit in headlights look of someone whose real motives had been exposed.

    In the long run, i think it will make her a better poet (and person) than she already is, as poetic gravity needs two things to attain the density of an ollamh (poetry professor) Joy and Sorrow.

    At the mo, it’s been all joy for this talented woman, and now she has had a sudden jolt in the opposite direction, she will fly even higher than she would if her career arc had ascended without any real blips.

    This could well be the making of her.


    Who immediately springs to mind, (apart from Ali) is Obama succeeding not by setting out a list of greivances, but by transcending the dirty tricks of his opponents and beating them with brains, which is not dependant on our gender.

    There was a lot of talk about how first and second generation activists like Jessie Jackson, could never have got elected because of a mindset the History that made them who they are – had created in them.

    Obama, having little in the way of the extreme and genuinely appalling unfairness the constituency of people who Amiri Baraka and Jessie Jackson represent did — his mind was able to rise above because of a combination of events which amount up to History and Fate.

    This is an interesting point to consider from a poetic perspective, because in the essential sense, our life is nothing but a poem, which in Irish is the word dán, which is defined:

    poetry, gift-talent-vocation, fate-destiny (“a wo/man can’t drown whose dán’s to be hanged”)

  • On June 6, 2009 at 11:56 am Roddy Lumsden wrote:

    Hello Annie – you start this piece by making claims of “gender imbalance and discrimination in prizes and book and journal publishing at the top levels of the British poetry world”, however you show no evidence of this in your article.

    I don’t doubt that there is sexism in society and in specific situations such as US kids’ TV – but that in no way justifies such a blanket slur on the British poetry world about which I’d assume you’d admit you know relatively little. A little research might well have been warranted before making such accusations based on hearsay. You might have looked, for example, at why there are more male editors than women in UK poetry publishing or why female Eric Gregory awards winners now outnumber male ones two to one, when the opposite was true in the 80s…

    In wider discussions on this issue over here, only a small number of women poets appear to believe in widespread and institutional sexism in UK and Irish poetry at this time (I realise that it was a serious and shameful issue in even recent decades) and two of those are the women you have mentioned in your article, yet it seems that Jane (see above) and Eva (note the gender ratios during her time as a PBS Selector) both also struggle to break past the ‘third’ barrier when in positions of some power.

    Eva is quite right to point out the now unthinkable lack of women in anthologies of the past, but the anthologies she (and you) quote reflect that past – Paterson’s anthology selects from seven centuries of sonnet writing – can he be blamed for the fact that far fewer women wrote and published in most of that time frame?

    Numerical disparity in the past was down to more complex reasons than presumed or active sexism, though it was undoubtedly the major factor. Now, however, numerical disparity can not always be equated with sexism: is sexism at work in the Gregory numbers, in American Hybrid (see below), in a prize shortlist where (as was the case recently) a predominantly female judging panel selects a predominantly male shortlist? These are complex issues – they demand and deserve attention.

    Here is some more ‘hollow bean counting’ for you, with regard to pertinent anthologies – ones which select from contemporary work:

    First the two most recent major American ones:

    American Hybrid – 44 women, 31 men
    Legitimate Dangers – 41 women, 44 men

    My own forthcoming anthology Identity Parade, a UK/I equivalent of Legitimate Dangers has 44 women, 41 men. The recent City State anthology of London poets has 11 women, 15 men and Bloodaxe’s new younger poets anthology has 11 women and 10 men. Also, women now publish more books of poetry here than men.

  • On June 6, 2009 at 12:00 pm thomas brady wrote:

    It goes without saying that we shouldn’t be ignorant of history, because we live in a world created by our predecessors. I’d be a fool to ignore the Brits and their issues, because even though I’m an American, my world was fashioned by Britain, who have generally dictated poetic taste, and a lot of other stuff. The Kennedys married into British royalty, etc etc. London has been teaching Washington how to run an Empire for years…

    We can’t escape Shakespeare, the Romantics and the Moderns any more than we can escape who our mum and dad were.

    If we understand how poetic reputations are made, we’ll be less likely to worship false idols and be able to live in a more independent spirit of our own. Some people need to worship idols, however, otherwise they’ll fall into cynicism or despair, so I don’t say break all idols–the one idol I’ll always worship is Dame History.

    Having said that, here’s a delightful anecdote which reveals again the Foolish, Ambitious, Male Face of Modernism. This pretty much says it all:

    “Addressing the Bennington girls with a speech he’d already delievered to aspiring writers at Yale and Harvard, without making the change in gender necessary for his audience, Dr. Williams [WC Williams] had squeaked at the girls, his voice high with passionate conviction, “If you want to write poetry, you’ve got to be men! You’ve got to be men!” The young women, first puzzled, then resentful, slid deeper and deeper into their seats. “Why are they all so sullen?” Williams, who was used to having women of all ages find him attractive, asked Kenneth [Burke] afterward.”

    –from ‘Poets In Their Youth’ by Eileen Simpson


  • On June 6, 2009 at 12:02 pm Eva Salzman wrote:

    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.

  • On June 6, 2009 at 1:32 pm Desmond Swords wrote:

    I blame Plato, Aristotle and Socrates, the father son and holy ghost triumvirate of oh so clever Pederasty-centric clever fellas whose rants underpin the whole of western Philosophical (and poetic) principles – and who Anglo-German-Hibernian poet Robert Graves, blames for the *intellectual homesexuality* all gangs and cliques regardless of gender, seem to display.

    His charge is directed at Plato for essentially rejecting the 50/50 s/he Myth in place 2000 yrs prior to the 6C BC boys club, in the placid mercantile Bronze Age Minoan civilisation that ran from 2700 to 1450’ish BC on Crete, who Graves states in his patchy masterpiece The White Goddess, and whiki concurs, 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 Poetic according to Bob, is 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…(which) 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.

    Minoan civilisation had no warrior class and traded with Greece (notably Mycenae), Anatolia, Cyprus, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Syria and as far west as Spain. Religious frescoes and statuary depictions of Minoan goddesses and or priestesses, far outnumber those of anything which could be remotley akin to a Minoan god, with the consensus being these represent at least several goddesses including a great fertiltiy Goddess, a Mistress of Animals, the protectress of cities, the household, the harvest, and the underworld, and more. Graves case is that these are all aspects of a single Mother Goddess symbolised by the moon and that the Minoan’s, religious practices centered on the female aspect.

    We know Minoan civilisation ran from 2700 – 1500BC, and had no warrior class, entirely mercantile and based on peacable trading. There is evidence to suggest, there was matrilineal succession of monarchs, in a a Faith based society such peacable socities engender – that ran nearly three times as long the Mycenaean (Achaens in the Iliad) culture that displaced it, 50 years after Thera (Santorini) blew up in one of the most spectacular volcanic explosions in recorded history, around 1500BC.

    So, we have an original Bronze Age Minoan Poetic and civilization based on peacable trading, that Graves reckons ran right back to the Old Stone age and got corrupted in 1500BC due to the new Iron technology that resulted in a proliferation of superior war-implements the Greek mainland Male-dominated war-Faith Mycenaean culture embodied when their clever sexist leaders thought – why Trade with a bunch of wusses who worship a Mother-goddess, when we the Man-god worshipper can just take it by force and not pay a cent?

    Clever or what? – in the very short term, but as what happened in the long term, the whole ancient Bronze Age trading empires of the Levant, collapsed over a period of 6 – 700 years from 2500 – 800 BC (or so) when writing re-appears with Hesiod, who is living in a post-armageddon Greek world just coming out of the Greek Dark Ages which ran 1100 – 900 BC, at the height of the madness of centuries of war and in the time the Iliad is set.


    As it currently stands, the 8C BC oral poet Hesiod’s 1022 line creation myth poem – Theogony (trans. seed of the gods) is an 8C version of Greek myth on which the entire 500 yr old modern English poetic tradition is founded and currently rests.

    One of Hesiod’s other (of three extant) works: Works and Days, is an 800 verse poem detailing five Ages of Man; which began with:

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

    Man and gods lived in peace and harmony and it was all smiles and happy, maybe the trace memory of Minoan times 1000 years before Hesiod when all was peace and trade?

    2 – Silver Age – in the age of Zeus, who had overthrown Cronus who had overthrown his own father Uranus. Humans in this time lived 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.

    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 – when the Iliad is set, a few centuries prior to Hesiod and not corresponding to any metal. There are noble heroes and demi-gods who fought at Thebes and Troy and on death went to Elysium. These will have been Hesiods great great great great grandparents

    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 confused and if so, could Graves be right, that the Golden age of Hesiod is Minoan civilisation a 1000 years before Hesiod – who, not havin wiki, with writing stopped when the bronze age collapsed into an iron age proliferation of brand new more kill-effective implements, coinciding with the swift destruction of all Egyptian, Hittite and Mycenaean cities, including Troy at the time of the Iliad — drew his hand out into the Cosmos and made the rational pattern to explain things, as he did?


    So, before all this Man-centric pedastry stuff, which like Bardy’s workshop poet-academic theory, amounts to centuries in which we have been trained and have had it as normal that, for example, God is a He, rather than a s/he, and the ass licking of the biggest tough guy is mirrored in how we get on in the usual poetic scheme of things, by building empires with stables of poets we organise into armies who fight in the battle of the books, doing tyhe biodding of the clever leader-general-editor-publishers who have a right gas acting as gods?


    Once we get past the Socrates Palto Aristotle rubicon we can see that the last 2000 years have all benn a bit of a con, because prior to this, in the 150,000 year history of us as sapient humankind, the little tip we have for known History, the gods above might all be wetting themselves laughing at his, pointing and saying – look at them, arguing over equility between men and women when the real thing is not he and she but s/he – geneutral, dead easy, all of us as a poet are Mind first and man or woman after, surely?

    If a man or woman is treating you appallingly, beat them with your Mind, not by arguing who got the biggest slice of the pie as regards reputation built on who says what, where you appear, rich poets moaning over their lot. Ignoring totally the invisible bores without any high placed champions who are getting treated unfairly, like Janet Kenny on Eratosphere – who has been posting there eight years and fell victim to real unfairness by the ego-mad mods for no reason other than being an eloquent artist.

    She lives in the outback of Australia and is an opera singer and poet who has sung with the best in the world, a real genuine artist. She is not a big name, but all on eratosphere think she is great and can’t work out why she got banned, but as these chat gaffes are based on fear, hence no one taking it to the max.

  • On June 6, 2009 at 2:21 pm Terreson wrote:

    Annie Finch, I’ve read your starter post. And I have read the ensueing discussion, if not as fully. Perhaps I suffer from a short attention span. But I confess that when the long-hand post goes off-topic, or when the verbiage strikes me as amplifying on itself for the sake of amplification only, my internal systems start shutting down.

    Here is my immediate response to both topic and issue(s): incredulity. All these generations later, by my reckoning we are going into the fourth, and the discussion is still taking place because it is still relevant. Doesn’t this circumstance leave anyone else shaking their head slightly? I am looking at all the antholgies of womens poetry I’ve collected over the years. American, British, world, Spanish, Japanese. And I know precisely why I have these collections and anthologies exclusively devoted to women poets. I want to know their universals. I want to know what they say to me, just me. My slightly mythopoeic conviction is that a woman poet can better tell me what the planet is thinking and feeling and sensing than can a man poet. Call it my own little Gaia complex. But I would challenge anyone to disabuse me of my quaint notions.

    I think of all the anthologies I have my favorite is still Florence Howe’s “No More Masks.” The title taken from Muriel Rukeyser’s famous 1968 poem, “The Poem as Mask,” in which Orpheus himself declares: “No more masks! No more mythologies!” First time I read it I kind of got drunk, experienced a bit of vertigo. Man! That was twenty years ago. It was when I knew why I read specifically women poets: just looking for something men poets do not give me, or rarely the way Rilke does. And Lorca.

    And here is what may blow me the way the most. We are not talking about the world of law, politics, or business. We are talking about the world of poetry. It is all very demoralizing.

    I may get my hand slapped for this, which is okay. But by now into a fourth generation of the same table talk, were I a woman poet I would be tempted by the final solution. Let’s borrow from Tolkein and call it the Ent solution. I would walk away, disengage, boycott the scene and then create my own. That is exactly what I would do. And I would follow the Rukeyser lead. I might even do what my mother did when she was a young woman. I would make seven concurrent dates and go out with the one who showed the most interest. In effect, I would make the boys come to me and on my own terms. Just an outlandish proposal I suppose.


  • On June 6, 2009 at 10:56 pm thomas brady wrote:

    “Once we get past the Socrates Plato Aristotle rubicon we can see that the last 2000 years have all benn a bit of a con, because prior to this, in the 150,000 year history of us as sapient humankind, the little tip we have for known History, the gods above might all be wetting themselves laughing at his, pointing and saying – look at them, arguing over equility between men and women when the real thing is not he and she but s/he – geneutral, dead easy, all of us as a poet are Mind first and man or woman after, surely?”

    Oh, Des: ‘the last 2000 years have all been a bit of a con….?’

    I’ll take Plato/Socrates/Aristotle, the basis of science, philosophy, drama, comedy, politics, and poetry. You can have Robert Graves and his silly ‘white goddess theory.

    ‘Geneutral?’ Clever term, old boy, but I’m afraid it’s not that simple. Man, woman…it’s all very complicated, I’m afraid…

    And now you’ve been ‘snipped’ by a ‘ranty woman.’ Why did you join that club in the first place? Surely you knew there’d be trouble.

    Why don’t you do what I do? Stay in one place for awhile; establish yourself and let them come to you. Christopher and I like you. You’ll be happy here.

    Have a seat.

    Let me buy you a drink.


  • On June 6, 2009 at 11:12 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    As were all in this together, I’ll let you into how Monday Love used to snip.

    Just scroll down to the bottom of this page for a shock!


    (I wish I knew how to embed a URL on a blog…)

  • On June 7, 2009 at 1:24 am Annie Finch wrote:

    Eva, great to ese you here. Roddy, beyond mentioning that I had been treated to some recent hair raising anecdotes, debating whether or not, or to what extent, gender inequities exist, either UK or US poetry, was not my main goal in this post. Eva’s introduction already cites plenty of statistics.

    My point is not about blaming anyone for the current situation, and certainly not blaming men; in fact, anyone who knows my writings on women’s poetry, in particular the essay called “How to Create a Poetic Tradition,” knows that I hold women very responsible, particularly for not paying enough critical attention to whatever female traditions influence them.

    Desmond, it’s funny how differently we interpret the Padel video clip. You say “it was clear looking at the videos of her at Hay when she resigned, that she had the appearance of someone who was main concern in all this was not some sisterhood act but personal gain.” I agree about the deer in headlights look, but to me it was the all-too-familiar look of a woman cornered into feeling she has no choice but to apologize to the patriarchy and retreat.

    Terreson, I love your proposal. I like to think I may be among those already embarked on that route.

  • On June 7, 2009 at 1:58 am Desmond Swords wrote:

    Yes Annie, i fully agree, but the only Patriarchy which exists (same as Matriarchy) is in the Mind of the individual.

    If the essence of Patriarchy is viewed by an individual as something based on fear, acting devious, pulling every stroke in the book and if all else fails, just take or exclude on one’s brute personal power – then perhaps that’s the sort fo behaviour the old bores network engenders not only in men, but women.

    My own take is that Padel was just a bit silly and all the chattering classes (not least of all other women) played their not inconsiderable part in fanning the flames of faux outrage and gossip, straight faced whilst having a great time enjoying seeing one of their same-gender colleagues in letters, squirm and wriggle in the heat of focus, laughably titled Public, when all the public were interested in was a row – because that’s what people want from the American Idol generation, unreal binaries Good v Bad This v That, with few interested in the complex human Truth which demands greater intelligence than Sarah Palin’s wood pile and a longer attention span than a gnat.

    It wasn’t Patriarchy which demanded a sacrifice but hysterical mis-informed public opinion, which amounts to a few choice bores with the skill at appearing concerned about such trivialities.

    It’s a job and the only prestige one believes it carries is down to the individual Mind, which is the same whether man or woman, essentially i think.

  • On June 7, 2009 at 2:46 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    And I’m christopher@homprang.com.

    My wife Homprang says to me, “How can a man with so many degrees be so stupid?” She left school at 11.

    In Thailand women have virtually no marital rights or protection. The police will not intervene in a domestic dispute even if the wife is in there battered and crying, even if the roughhouse spills out onto the street. Rape law still says if the victim is not the wife, and infidelity is only grounds for divorce for a man, and all he’s asked for is just suspicion of that. A woman has to prove in court that her husband has said in public that some other woman is his wife, a feat virtually impossible to accomplish.

    Although polygamy has been against civil law for many years, any man who can afford it has more than one wife. The first one is called the “mia luang,” the golden wife, and socially always has precedence over the “mia noi,” the little or “minor” wife. It’s not uncommon for the whole menage to live together under the same roof, but boy it’s hell for everybody, including the man. Indeed, it’s the single common denominator in all the Thai soap operas, it’s such high drama (they’re genius!).

    The daughters do all the work with the mother. Even while at school the girls get up early to cook and clean the house. When everything is ready the father and sons drag themselves out of bed to gobble, and then get showered and dressed while the girls clean up the mess. Then they all go to school together.

    Girls stay home to be virgins at marriage and boys get escorted to the brothel at 14 by their fathers. Consequently, girls finish school, boys don’t. This has caused a major imbalance in the educated community in Thailand, over 70% of the students at university being female. As a result most of my Thai female friends are unmarried, and I’m talking about my friends in their 40s and up. Professionals.

    My wife was available to marry me at 38 because she had already said no to her father when he arranged a marriage for her at only 23rd, a huge embarrassment for him and obstacle to her finding anyone else in her culture. The whole village came out to look at me when I went to her parents to ask for permission. Poor guy, they all thought. What would happen to a man who had said no to her father?

    And Annie, I’m really not off topic, I’m not just doing a riff at your expense. Because the fact is that Thailand is at the same time the most feminized society I have ever lived in. Women have all the significant power, create all the social imperatives, and even dominate the very notion of what it is to be free. I always used to ask my Thai students, “Who’s in charge at home?”—and never once did I have any answer but the mother.

    “And who do you go to for advice?”

    And who do you go to for money?” I was amazed to find out that all Thai men give every penny every month to their wives, and have to ask for money even when they want to go out drinking—which 90% of the time includes a whole lot of other activities you don’t even want to think about. Or to gamble.

    The final proof of this very bizarre pudding, where women have no power and yet have it all: a significant number of boys in their teens decide they’d rather be girls and dress up like them for the rest of their lives. They’re all beautiful and have almost no body hair, so it’s not hard. Also the women are very welcoming, recognizing only too well that it would be hell to be a man—so powerless, so small, so undeveloped!


  • On June 7, 2009 at 3:56 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    “Nature has given women so much power that the law has very wisely given them little.”

    Of course I don’t mean what Dr Johnson meant by that——of course I don’t mean we should just accept the old status quo and get on with it. It’s just that it was, and still very much is, a conspiracy between men and women, ways to settle things as well as ways to make love and to fight.

    Jane Holland and Demond Swords is a classic: Desmond, you argue like a woman and Jane you win like a man!


  • On June 7, 2009 at 4:56 am Eva Salzman wrote:

    I posted an excerpt from Intro to Women’s Work on Eratosphere, with samples of some pretty shocking anthology figures and so maybe don’t need to post here.

    I must say I find it hard to read the long personal history of resentment you’re posting here, Desmond. What happens is that the discussion gets hijacked. In the end, and as before, the real issues are never seriously addressed: by men and women as they should be, and so the status quo carries on undisturbed.

    Frankly, and as Annie knows, I hesitated joining in here, as I know how it goes elsewhere. For what it’s worth (and Walcott was my teacher at Columbia) Ruth behaved badly too. Twice she had the chance to say a genuine sorry for lying, mitigating this with the strength of her feelings about what women poets – or students aiming to be serious writers – have to contend with, and she bottled out both times. Had she spoken in this way, despite the lies, i’d have a lot more respect for her. But knowing very well the English ethos, she played the game both ways, and lost.

    However, it is equally clear that her mistakes are regarded generally and by press as far worse than the Walcott’s. Apart from presenting his history as smears, when in fact there is a proven record events (relevant if he’s dealing with students) there is also the general ignoring of women students, as I saw firsthand, unless it is for purpose of smarmy flirting. I say this, having derived a lot from his classes (putting aside the feeling if intimidationa and offense, and just gathering what I could) but this doesn’t change the seriousness of my points, and the clearly biased way this whole issue was presented: her wrongs presented as far worse than his, of concern to women students. He was presented as having walked away with dignity, when in fact he just declined to put himself in situation where he might have to respond to serious matters.

  • On June 7, 2009 at 5:23 am Desmond Swords wrote:


    Well Chris, growing up the only brother with four sisters, i suppose that’s as close as it gets for a male to be reared female.

    Three older, one younger, the eldest five years, then four then two and four years younger.

    My essential memory is one of silence and listening to elder sisters talk, talk, talk and telling me what to do, the eldest especially, now a mother of two girls and a boy living in Rome, very clever and arty, first in the family to go to university, studied architecture and obsessed with astrology and fortune tellers.

    son keep the faith

    she said prayerfully

    such nice poems you wrote for our paper

    Much of the talk between them was the future, and i spent all my childhood listening, rarely speaking, taking a cue from the ones who knew, and at 13 in the summer holidays, much to my resistance, being prepared by my father for the long hard road of labour ahead, being taken round building sites where he was working as a contractor and slowly, slowly, standing, watching, fetching carrying and my first wage packet age 14 or so, i will never forget the sense of what must be done, the right thing for the *lads* on site, being sent down the road to fill the other men’s flasks up from the cafe, which cost about half my wages. But there was no getting out of it. This was Real life for the som of an Irish grafter who was digging holes in the road himself at 14.

    “The poem that I wrote on the plane had appeared that week in some of the..newspapers. She had it between the pages of her little book…..sat next to me at the counter.”

    And the irony, my mother always explaining why i had to go out with my dad and get stuck in to hard physical labour, doing the extension on the house, hefting heaving and generally *you’re not here to think* *don’t employ you for your mind* do as you’re told, pass that, and generally the most comprehensive training a poet can get. To start at the very bottom with a shovel and after a few years – grand job, loved it, one of the lads who could pick and dig and generally take it all in.

    *It’s alright for girls, they can just get married and rely on their husbands* – was mother’s reason, and the cosmic joke, all my sisters successful career women and me, digging holes in the road, building, hammering, sawing, measuring out the grid, polishing the Live skills, a tool-belt pro by 23, what d’yer wunt, tell me and i’ll make it with these two bare hands and a brain, Mister. now, pay me my money, give me what’s due for the mterial Reality this man fixed and which you, clever person, cannot do because…because the Future was all mapped out..

    “…stopped and parked near a line
    of Harley Davidson hogs….

    a leather jacketed gang…sitting
    at tables near the window with

    their girlfriends…”

    You can’t bullshit the earth out the ground, i used to think when seeing other lazy workers sat on their arse for a living, never thinking twenty years later i’d be the same.

    And that’s good for the artist, to have had a full life and reality enough outside of intellectualism and thinking, as most people do not reach the depths and heights of cerebral enquiry we do.

    Teachers? Accountants? Lawyers? Doctors? – do me a favor, i thought, all without the dignity of the common honest grafter who can lay two lorry loads of tarmac in the day with a tight nit mob of real grafters.

    And listening to the talk, excited gabble of the sisters after the latest visit to a mystic who told them about the man in white, something to do with the sea – he might live near the sea, or have a job involving something to do with the sea, she said after reading the cards, gazing into glass, looking at the leaves, prophesying what will come, as the cash changes hands – who’d have thought a future can be ours by the power of thought alone – that the hawk of Achill who swirls above us all, was here inside all along..

    And he was from by the sea, and he did wear white, once, so money well spent, the echos of chattering sybyls on the sacred precinct, at the Deserted Village, of the memories stored and told, transmitted from from lip to ear, never forget, never forget what they did – whisper the ghosts within, the dead who make me be, a great grandmother slung on the roads of Bohola, a great aunt left for dead by drunken laughing tans of a noble empire, and me not Irish the war goddess cries.

    Louisiana leaves, rubies
    dying on a blank horizon, rich pitiless
    silence, burst reflection, angry

    water and the heron bag, alphabet
    clears a silk and violet pond.

    Here blood rise from the source of Seigas, spiritual Tuatha Dé Danann, all there in the Lebor Gabála Érenn, Book of the Takings of another race – wound

    round objects of place, people starving
    between subjective rock and rolling
    back and forth against a wall behind

    the eye behind a hand behind the man
    behind flames in Plato’s cave casting

    until we are gone, that names a light
    we shall form wholly ghost and glare out
    in sun poured onto a page,

    pond to heron calls

    who’ll move the mountain of dirt in a month with the shovel – who has done, will do again, fearing only a Morrigan and not the orange box sophists all tinsel and flap pretenders with hollow foundations – no ancient Memory

    our own mind a realm of comfort
    old man river and john o dreams,
    unmeasured art and sidhe moving

    unborn within, co-ordinates at twilight speed,
    cracked and spreading plangent lavender lilac


    dusk hand-stretched in disarray
    standing at a roadside banquet
    half-veiled, harmlessly commanding
    place, lining paintings of the intellect

    time and faded stone lips
    no short cut bauble to an Upper
    West side – songs to keep us
    from buckling on a long slog home
    to straight triple A Crown Mister

    weighted by the stars, prophecy
    in the poems, simple, direct,
    written unbent to unite us all

    immigrant chained to slave, masters
    people he fought, all in single combat,
    a fair fighting man listening, quiet
    for a moment to come

    for Freedom to call

    “..at the table
    when company comes”

    America singin of being reborn
    master no more Muhammad’s clay
    truth and style, victor, pretty boy

    wise talker, an ordinary sense we
    you, them, me, us, all one White
    wrong thinking winner, this one soul

    sharing an all Ali Spirit
    Ali syntax

    Sinking Spring farm, a two room
    shack in Kentucky where Abraham
    taught himself to read and poet Ali,

    was born.

    “This was not the first time Ronnie and I had entered a *whites only* place, just the first time as *home grown* Negroes.

    Once for Halloween, we had a seamstress make us a couple of African turbans and flowing gowns. We used them for months, to masquerade down town. We would speak “foreign” English and talk to each other in a fast home made language to get ourselves admitted to “white only” places as foreigners.”

    What color is silence?

  • On June 7, 2009 at 6:26 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    I have a monograph printed in Galway containing an old photograph of boys in a schoolyard c. 1900 in Connemara. The younger ones are wearing skirts–and the caption reads “wearing skirts to disguise themselves from the faeries.”

    There’s a similar photo of Jean Paul Sartre at the same age, the only difference is he’s not barefoot and his skirts are of lace. That’s why Sartre never quite got the fundamentals sorted out either, like Stalin–a pathetic disgrace! But then again, that’s why he’s so great

    Your sisters seem to have done the same for you, Desmond–which is why you’re a poet, don’t get it and, of course, never lose face!

  • On June 7, 2009 at 7:44 am Desmond Swords wrote:

    Funny you should say that as i was reading somewhere that’s exactly what happened: dressing boys as girls to stop them being abducted by the faeries, which are the Tuatha Dé Danann, (peoples of the goddess Danu) the fifth and penultimate race of gods (as documented in Lebor Gabála Érenn – Book of the Takings of Ireland) who were descended from Nemed, (the third person to take it) and arrived on Beltaine (May 1) 1477 BC, according to 17C Historian Seathrún Céitinn (Geoffrey Keating) and 1897 BC if you go by the (early) 17C Annals of the Four Masters.

    They took the island from the Fir Bolg at the First Battle of Moytura on the Plain of Pillars – Cong, County Mayo – because after negotiations with the resident Fir Bolg holders broke down a few months after arriving, lead by Nuada their leader, their was a big set piece in which all sorts of magical violence occured.

    They came in three hundred ships from the four northern cities of Falias, Gorias, Murias and Finias, bringing with them the Fál stone (Lia Fáil), the Stone of Destiny which is at Tara, which cries out when any rightful King steps on it.

    From Gorias an implement no fight was ever sustained against, or against the man who held it – the Spear of Lugh, the Celtic Zeus, Skilled in Many Arts, Sword Shouter, boy-wonder champion who was half this race (by Cian) and half Formorian by his mother, the daughter of Balor One Eye, like a laser it killed just by looking at the foe.

    Lugh lead his father’s people into battle against his mothers, at the Second Battle of Moytura at Lough Arrow in County Sligo twenty years after the first and the druidic prophecy of Balor dying at the hand of his grandson, came true as the sling-shot powered at light speed, caved grandad’s Evil eye into the back of his head.

    From Murias came the Cauldron of the Dagda, who was the Patriarch of the race, and this huge pot, never went empty, always full of grub.

    From Finias the Sword of Núadu, who lost his arm in the first battle of Moytura and got it replaced by a silver one made by the smith Dian Cecht, and later, a flesh and blood one by his son Miach, which dad killed him for, because he was jealous his lad could go one better on the mending stakes.

    They held the island for 190 years, with seven kings ruling up to 1287 BC, by Geoff’s reckoning and 197 years till 1700 according to clerics Mícheál Ó Cléirigh, Peregrine O’Clery, Fergus O’Mulconry and Peregrine O’Duignan, who were the quartet of the Four Masters.

    They got displaced by the Milesians, who after beating them in battle at Teltown in county Meath, banished the Tuatha Dé Danann underground, where they became the sidhe, or faeries and to this day, still live in a sort of parrallel Reality, unseen, the veil lifted now and again at liminal moments, like Samhain Eve when the spirits of the dead can cross over into the live realm.

    There have been lots of sightings of the sidhe. My own relative for example Gerald the Third (Poet) Earl of Desmond from 1358 – 98, instrumental in getting the Hiberno Norman aristocracy changing their speech from French to Gaelic, made Lord Chief Justice of Ireland in 1367 – was a galeic shapeshifter who wed the local Munster earth and faery goddess, Áine and his most famous poem:

    Mairg adeir olc ris na mnáibh” – Speak not ill of womenkind (translation):

    Speak not ill of womenkind
    ‘Tis no wisdom if you do,
    You that fault with women find
    I would not be praised of you.

    Sweetly speaking, witty clear
    Tribe most lovely to my mind,
    Blame of women I hate to hear
    Speak not ill of womenkind.

    Bloody treason, murderous act
    Not by women were designed.
    Bells o’erthrown nor churches sacked
    Speak not ill of womenkind.

    Bishop, King upon his throne,
    Primate skilled to loose and bind
    Sprung of women every one
    Speak not ill of womenkind.

    For a brave young fellow
    Hearts of women oft have pined,
    Who would dare their love to wrong?
    Speak not ill of womenkind.

    Paunchy greybeards never more
    Hope to please a woman’s mind,
    Poor young Chieftains they adore
    Speak not ill of womenkind.

    Gerald went missing all of a sudden and lives now beneath Lough Gur in Limerick, and one day will re-appear to ride a silver shod steed and rule once more the 500,000 acres that Liz Tudor nicked off the family, turning us all ditch diggers for four hundred years, with nothing but a faery force to keep us believing.


    Yeats for example, had total faith in them – as strong as AE and J believe we need to talk openly and honestly about the gender-quota imbalance on the pie chart proving a bias in favour of man poets, which is not on.

    They work just as hard, learn just as much, are just as talented and when faery uncle Gerald and aunty Áine appears, i’m gonna complain to ’em in an effort to get them to use their otherworldly power to help reward the most deserving poets, with the bursaries, sinecures and private and public funding and publishing monies – the guerdons they deserve for all their hard work and life long committment to Poetry, doing it not for themselves, but others, for YOU, for the US who is just in awe of their genius.

    lots of (virtual) hugs

    Deasmhuman O Suaird – (amatuer faery magnet)

  • On June 7, 2009 at 8:30 am Eva Salzman wrote:

    I wonder if anyone is planning to address the topic again?! Hastily abandoned before it even started!

  • On June 7, 2009 at 10:22 am Margo Berdeshevsky wrote:

    thanks jane, verbosity is rather apparent when one reads the women hereabouts keeping it short. I don’t honestly like ascribing poetic qualities to gender – but, the pudding speaks & speaks & speaks.

  • On June 7, 2009 at 10:36 am Don Share wrote:

    May I suggest that people skip past comments (or commenters) that annoy them, rather than changing channels? A discussion is only as good (or as bad) as those who participate in it, and counterbalancing what you object to is better than walking away from what could be a useful conversation or being drawn into a dispute. This is just my personal opinion, nothing official…

  • On June 7, 2009 at 11:04 am Eva Salzman wrote:

    Am I missing something? Where IS the conversation?!

  • On June 7, 2009 at 12:53 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Harriet should only have two rules:

    1. No personal threats (insults are okay…and fun).

    2. Posts should be limited to a maximum of six-thousand paragraphs.

    “brevity is the soul of wit.”, eh, guys?

  • On June 7, 2009 at 1:41 pm Terreson wrote:

    I too should like to get back to the issues presented by Annie Finch’s starter post. As maybe I’ve indicated I have been out of the professional pub circuit for a long time. And so I should like to have information concerning the problem of gender bias in the professional poetry scene. To be specific, what are the experiences of bias women poets here have endured? What are the magazines, and other publishing mediums, responsible for continuing the problem(s)? Who are the editors? Who are the teachers? What are the schools that, perhaps with a wink and a nod, have sanctioned Walcott-like behavior? And does anyone have numbers? I am not questioning that the problem persists. I am just looking for concrete information, even if anecdotal. I am here to learn.

    By the way, Eva Salzman, I’ve thought much the same when you say: “However, it is equally clear that her mistakes are regarded generally and by press as far worse than the Walcott’s.” All too predictable.


  • On June 7, 2009 at 2:34 pm Eva Salzman wrote:

    The anthologies with the imbalances I mention are, well, all of them. Go and look. The figures are listed in Women’s Work, if you are interested and I hope you are.

    I am speaking more of UK ones, it is true. And the leading literary journals: the numbers are consistently skewed. Unless of course women are just worse poets!

    I’m not sure what is meant by nod-and-wink of universities or how it has been implied that any would operate in this way. Who said anything that implied they were complicit?

    I certainly am not going going to names! However, there was a recent letter to Poetry Review challening not only lack of criticism, but the women always being reviewed by women, apart from usual skewed balance of included poets. You could also ask other women poets their experiences and see they say. My opinions arise from many long years as a self-employed poet and writer, and from the published poets around me.

  • On June 7, 2009 at 4:45 pm Terreson wrote:

    Thank you, Eva Salzman.

    You say: “I’m not sure what is meant by nod-and-wink of universities or how it has been implied that any would operate in this way. Who said anything that implied they were complicit?”

    At least on the strength of anecdotal information it seems possible, possibly likely, Derek Walcott has enjoyed a rather long teaching career while pressing women students in the unsavory fashion, all the while getting a wink and a nod from his employers. It was in this spirit that I intended my question.

    You also say: “You could also ask other women poets their experiences and see they say.” In fact, this is the point of my post.

    Finally you say: “My opinions arise from many long years as a self-employed poet and writer, and from the published poets around me.” And I say good on ya. You are clearly more successful at getting published than I am.


  • On June 7, 2009 at 6:15 pm thomas brady wrote:

    I think Desmond and Christopher have both made a cogent point on gender:

    Gender is, especially in poor countries and working class settings, very much a role, an obligation, an expectation, a responsibility.

    We can look at it this way: gender is a product of NATURE; it is a kind of ant colony division of labor which has been imposed on all of us, and, in many ways it afflicts everyone. The whole idea of gender itself oppresses all of us. At least this is one way of looking at it.

    Where Christopher lives, a man can have more than one wife. But some men think: I don’t want to have more than one wife. Or, I don’t want a wife at all!

    Testosterone is a natural thing. Men did not get together and invent testosterone.

    The male gender is not a conspiracy of men.

    Men who behave as the ‘ant colony’ wishes them to behave surely cannot be blamed for anything; in fact, they should be pitied in many cases.

    Abusive behavior is not a gender crime, per se. Gender roles can be abused, certainly, but the key word here is ‘abuse,’ not ‘gender.’

    The reason I give the Modernists a hard time for being a Men’s club is that modernity implies a certain relaxing of traditional gender roles, and I just don’t think the Modernists, despite their name, were progressive; I think they were basically reactionary con men–I don’t hate them because they were men; their ‘men’s club’ nature is just one of many indications that their ‘modernity’ was a fraud.

    The good is finally my criterion. I love Millay because she was good, not because she was a woman.

  • On June 7, 2009 at 9:20 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    There’s a tendency in all such discussions to take sides, yet in most really interesting fields of enquiry there aren’t sides really, just personalities and persuasions. Gender certainly falls into that category. Wow.

    One of the signs of any really good discussion is that it turns out to be about something we’ve never thought of before, like the elephant’s eye when before we’ve just had hold of an ear or the genitals. (An elephant’s eye is one of the wonders of God’s creation!)

    Perhaps I’m one of the male participants that has sounded like the pudding that speaks, but go back and look at the metaphor. The proof is not in the size or the looks or even in the shelf-life of what we cook but in the nourishment. Also a pudding is not necessarily a delicate nouvelle cuisine dessert, but a rough main course–a whole haggis or a steak-and-kidney affair.

    Finally, I don’t think Desmond is doing verbosity when he writes too much, because he still makes every word count. He’s just too gifted, and as writers we should be more understanding of that, it’s such a curse!


  • On June 7, 2009 at 9:22 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    My last post went up out of order. It should have followed Margo Berdeshevsky’s. Sorry.

  • On June 7, 2009 at 11:13 pm James (Bore) wrote:

    Regarding the letter to Poetry Review mentioned by Eva Salzburg – I should like to cite one recent-ish, positive example of a new female critical contribution to this most mainstream of magazines. Charlotte Newman reviewed new poetry from Australia – including Les Murray’s ‘The Biplane Houses’ – in Vol.97 No 1 (“Beauty and Risk”). This was her first critical publication, and at the time she was second year undergraduate. 2000 words on poets of a high mainstrem profile (all men, as it happens). She got this opportunity on the basis of writing to the Editor asking whether she might be involved in the magazine with a view to reviewing. Her work was read and considered good enough.
    Of course it isn’t always this easy, and this is hardly an adequate redress of any imbalance, but isn’t this an instance that should be acknowledged and lauded?

    If more aspirant poets – male or female – were willing to try this unselfish means of making a name with editors (many of whom have enormous piles of review copies), would we see more new critical work and greater diversity of reviews, I wonder?

  • On June 8, 2009 at 2:35 am Terreson wrote:

    Oh, its time for a bit of levity. And I am sure I will get slammed for this, which is fine. Margo Berdeshevsky says: “thanks jane, verbosity is rather apparent when one reads the women hereabouts keeping it short. I don’t honestly like ascribing poetic qualities to gender – but, the pudding speaks & speaks & speaks.”

    Now when have women poets ever been at a loss for words? Like, hello? Okay, so E. Dickinson wrote elliptically and short. Only she did it one thousand seven hundred and seventy five times in less than twenty years.


  • On June 8, 2009 at 3:13 am Margo Berdeshevsky wrote:

    No, not a loss for words, for women poets, Terreson. As I said, “I don’t honestly like ascribing poetic qualities to gender -” It is the poem that determines its length and/or longevity. Punto.

    That was not the point of my quip. But when it comes to conversation, yes, the proof is in the pudding. Complicated meal,steak and kidney, light froth and levity-meriting –or just mounds of food. Verbosity is no soul of wit or even wonderful – it’s filibuster. As Jane and Eva asked where the subject was disappearing, it seemed apt to speak of speaking and speaking and speaking. There’s ample evidence.

    Conversation may/might spiral, grow, tho the initial question raised into spiral–seemed again to hit its skull on the glass ceiling. To me, the issue need not be either quota or career– I like Thomas’ words, “The good is finally my criterion.” But the good can be impeded. By glass, by words, by bullets magic & otherwise, by blindness, or by verbosity. It can also be aided. By good editors. By more open doorways.Even by silence.

  • On June 8, 2009 at 4:26 am Desmond Swords wrote:

    Thanks very much Chris, you are the first person to have honestly acknoweldged (in print), in those terms, a genuine gift on my part, in my eight years of writing.

    Not that i write for praise from others of course, but it is rewarding on a purely shallow level of selfish interest, away from the gender equality activist side of my practice.

    In this respect i am with the women who feel at the bottom of the pile suffering the worst of the mysogyny, but that’s a whole different thread.

    thank you very very much. Your own stuff has given me the gen a thousand bores ranting on any number of matters could never do.


    I am trying to get my head round the various premises underpinning this article.

    My first reading is that the article articulates how there is unfair under-representation of women in anthologies, excluded by an insidious old bores network, due to plain ancient-fashioned female-stereotypes in the heads of the men who get to decide what gets published – in the traditional submit-accept-reject model of how poetry comes to life in books which give the author commercial opportunities needed to disseminate their poems and prose whilst (hopefully) generating an income. Or at least returning a profit.

    So, this take on Annie’s piece and the subsequent talk it has generated here and elsehwere, is that the Poetic Justice argument goes:

    Poetry has been traditionally associated with being man’s work and it is men who have all the publishing power in the traditional model (submit-accept-reject) and occupy the majority of plum roles as prize givers, doling out public art-subsidies and generally, making for the imbalanced presence on vehicles which enable a mass publishing of antholgies in the traditional model – hence the need for Change?

    Now, i cannot overstate that i fully and sincerely agree with all this being inherently unfair and terrible not only for women, but the men who also suffer because of the prejudice and smugness of these men, and i have met plenty of the men Annie over at the Poetic Justice site has listed a few examples of:

    “…a young woman poet on an important prize committee, told by the other two commitee members, older white men (who were old friends), that they had agreed, in her absence, that half of the twelve finalists (a number that included all but one of the women who had made finalist status) did not deserve serious consideration.

    A young woman poet, again on a committee of three with two older white men, this time editing a major anthology—told me she was continually “ganged up on” (in her words), forced to leave poems by women that she admired and proposed to include out of the book because, in the words of the two men, “their poetry just isn’t good enough.” (this was in the U.S. btw).

    There are many other stories I could tell…including personal ones, such as the powerful editor who told me my poetry needed to be “colder, harder, and rougher.”


    Now, there are various ways of approaching this problem which clearly needs addresssing – of men being sexist and because of their numbers at the top level, automatically prioritizing their opinion over their female co-judges and colleagues about who gets cash or in a book.

    However, the one elephant in the room here, is that the world has moved on. And i don’t mean in terms of the old bores network being sexist, but in terms of the Publishing paradigm, which has undergone the biggest revolution since Caxton.

    Now, anyone can publish a book, whereas before it took a lot of money/influence, which effectively meant the only game in town was a submit-accept-reject model, which is the model the Poetic Justice project is seeking to redress?

    The figures and concern is about *poetry at the top* level, which they view as happening in the editorial spaces and boardrooms of places which Faber and Faber is the most potent symbol of: obviously?

    And in this respect, their concerns are fully valid.


    Although an extreme analogy perhaps, it dilineates the essential general point of how i have interpreted their take on this issue.

    What the Poetic Justice manifesto seems to be saying is not unlike saying, that the psychology motoring the men’s Minds who treat women inferior intellectually and ceatively, and who control the old submit-accept-reject models of publishing — is drawn (essentially) from the same unacceptable pool of male-consciousness on which mysogynistic institutions like Playboy Mansions are founded, for example.

    So, in this analogy, in order for a poet who is a women to get on, we (myself as an honorary sister) have to conform to a male-stereotype of the Female, or our work languish unbroadcast, unpublished unsold and most importantly, (surely?) unread.

    As i read it, Annie and Eva advocate trying to redress the imbalance by going into the traditionally mysogynistic institutions and chaning it from the inside out, rather than set up a brand new model and paradigm?


    Eva’s figures are fact.

    Poetry written by women traditionally, has been under-represented for many reasons, which effectively, unless we devote a hundred years to figuring it out enough to be able to explain it, amounts to what can most easily (and only?) be termed: History.

    There are a number of ways at going at at this. For women (and men) to spend our efforts redressing the sexist Man-project that has already happened and gone, which from my own model of (greaco-roman-western) History (constructed by reading), began in earnest around 1500 BC with the Iron Age.

    Prior to that, there is evidence that the societies of the Levant were far more democratic in relation to gender and there was 50/50 equality, which Minoan culture is the beacon and symbol of.

    With the rise of new iron technologies which were primarily focussed into developing weapons of war, a whole (and very chronologically long) swathe of human History ended.

    By reverse engineering the evidence in the Myth system of Greece, we can create an argument which posits that the earlier 50/50 state when men and women lived in peacable trading civilizations, and in the absence of a predominate warrior caste, there was a Gaia-like Mother-earth as the sole God, reflecting the gender balance.

    This changed as the war culture took over and other gods were invented which got elevated into a pantheon of gods in which Appollo and Zeus embody the Male-project of getting what you want by brute force, and which resulted in the Pederastic project most overtly known of in 6C BC Greek institutions.

    All those men together, fighting and what not, over the centuries, the practice of an erastes and eromenos hooking up so the older man could instruct his teenager in the ways of love and war – symbolises the shift into how men viewed themselves as being more important than women, and resulted in the *intellectual homosexuality* Robert Graves coined and speaks of in his White Goddess.

    In this model, men flatter men to get on, which is exactly the Poetic Justice position on how things work in the old submit-accept-reject model of publishing. So in this analogy, the erastes are the old male publishers who see a hot young prospect and groom him for success, not unlike the eromenos were by the sugar daddies.


    So, in this rendering, with 3500 years of mysogynist History to put right, where do we start redressing the balance?

    It is a daunting task, discovering every twist and turn of the unrecorded history of writers and poets who were women and making sure they are accorded their fair due.

    The task cannot be done in any real sense perhaps, (goes on theory) because the publishing models prior to Caxton, where all scribal and far, far removed from any analogue of contemporary writing life.

    So, there we have it, the redress really can only go back five hundred years, which is a far easier job.


    However, my own thinking on this is, there’s a very relevent elephant in the room.

    The new (self) Publishing model, which makes the old submit-accept-reject model redundant.

    This is why (perhaps?) younger writers who are women (and men), are not politicized in the way of their seniors who have spent a fair whack at the coal face having to put up with the sexist discrimination – because the old model of submit-accept-reject, is not forming and conditioning our relationship with publishing.

    There is an argument to be made, that in thirty years from now, when the last of the third wavers are Doris Lessing’s or Elizabeth Windsor’s mother’s age shortly before she died — the whole submit-accept-reject model we are directing our energies to changing, will have been redundant for a couple of decades, and with the whole publishing topography bearing little trace of the imbalance. Not due to the efforts of the people trying to change an inherently flawed model from within, but because a whole new model has replaced it.

    The model of write, send it to the publisher, pay the fee and that’s our book in the shops with all the others.

    Democracy, 50/50 fairness, no more false buffers, anyone who wants, can publish what they write.


    The only thing that will not have changed, is the names on the perches and argument over who wrote the best poetry of any given generation now gone. That cannot be changed, all the figures presented by Salzman E. will not go away in thirty years.

    The Penguin Book of Contemporary Verse edited by Allott K. will still have 5 women and 90 men, and the pie chart for the period up till the last few years, still be the same in a hundred years, because that’s History and cannot be altered.

    What can be altered is the present and future and, as is already the case, women through a combination of men being more aware of the past unfairnesses and mysogyny, combined with new models of publishing, are taking our (as an honorary member) rightful place.

    What would be sad to see, is a lot of senior (in age) women in a big huddle, bemoaning the unfariness inflicted on us by men generally and in publishing specifically, who will all be forgotten, or cast by the generation that comes after them, as the last of a defunct breed.

    It may be contextualised that History and fate, delivered the last of us who suffer publishng discrimination into the world during an immediate change-over period between an ancient (and inherently flawed and sexist) 500 year old publishing model of, submit-accept-reject — and the fairer, democratic model of write-send-publish and sell.

    Our efforts at trying to change the old men who won’t be here in forty years, who are the very final dying spark of the unreconstructed mysogynists – whilst urgent and pressing to us now: in thirty years may be judged to have been a wholly tragic waste of time, because the new model will have established itself.

    There are already self-publihsed authors selling and coming up with no help whatsoever off anyone but themselves. Leela Soma who Suzan Abrams interviews (at the link) and whose website for her book, Twice Born (at the link) broadcasts, is available to buy anywhere in the world with all who can access the web. At Amazon, Barnes and Noble,d Waterstones and Borders.

    I have her book on my table, a beautiful object, exactly the same as Peter Barry’s book Poetry Wars, by Salt – both printed by Lightning Source and utterly the same, coming off the exact same press.

    So, equality is here in the strictest sense of anyone who wants can publish and sell, so the Poetic Justice project (surely?) can only be rasing issues which are outside of Publishing in the strictest sense, and which relate to a lot of old men in wars virtually over, surely?

    Inculsion to antholgies from the past cannot be changed, but the trend now, the latest ones, all have a strict gender balance, if anything tilted towards women. Roddy Lumsden’s for example, has (i think) one or two more women in than men.

    What concerns the Reader more than gender, is the text itself, the poems, the prose, and the danger is, the committed activists may spend all our efforts on soemthing which is over, when we could be pouring them into our own development as poets and bores – the unfruitful energies being expended on something which seems to be gone for good, lead us away from writing excellent Poetry, which only the Reader decides is any good or not, and into moaning.

    In my own defence, i would like to point out that when i organised the Tara Awareness campaign’s benefit night in Dublin, responsible for sourcing eight poets, my first priority was total balance, 50/50 men women and that is exactly how it went.

    Indeed the only problems i encountered, was a few big name women poets after payment.

    (only joking, it was a man poet wanting paying.)

  • On June 8, 2009 at 5:29 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    I appreciate your kind words in thanking me for praising you, Desmond, but you also have to read what I say. I said you’re extravagantly gifted as a writer but cursed by the gift.

    I read every word of the above but I doubt very few people will–which is the curse, and a very great shame.

    You’re not writing on the same planet, Desmond. You’re not breathing the same air!

    A tweet would do better!


  • On June 8, 2009 at 6:13 am Desmond Swords wrote:

    The ancient sexist, submit-accept-reject modelof publishing

    Poetic Justice seeks to redress from within, is redundant.


    In ten years from now, write-send-pay a fee and publish
    be on the self of any shop, purchased online

    will have long replaced the submit-accept-reject model
    ‘n all the talk now be viewed a waste of energy

    because what effected change was not the attitude, but



    A crowd standing at an oil drum, arguing over who gets the gas, one man doling it out for a fortune, in time and cash

    Next to it’s a warehouse full of solar panels and all the leads, all the objects needed to have comfortable life

    almost free energy, the space is empty, our mindset trapped,

    (self) Publishing, Lightning Source, utterly the same book
    as the isbn i bought for £40, as Salt Publishing sell

    60% royalties, less production costs, 12 -15% max one gets
    with submit-accept-reject – do the math.

    two and three times more financially attractive, and none of the Rejection, none of the go away you are rubbish routine.

  • On June 8, 2009 at 6:39 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    (Great–but now you’ve straddled the pan and the fire. Staccato prose, inflated poetry. Not remotely you.)

    O.K, so the result is financially attractive and there’s no rejection.

    What’s missing is the stage where somebody other than yourself is so excited by what you’ve written they want the whole world to know. The bridge, the lights, the fanfare.

    Or do you blow your own horn as well?


  • On June 8, 2009 at 7:09 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    O.K, Desmond, we’ve done that. We’ve got you off their and your own back.

    Now I think the thread ought to be handed back to Annie Finch and Jane Holland and the whole question of women’s work and the Poetic Justice Forum. So why don’t you have another try at expressing what you want to say to them about that?

    Constructively, strikingly, and in not more than 200 words.

    And if you can’t, don’t.


  • On June 8, 2009 at 12:38 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Here’s something poets need to understand: Poetry is underwritten by historical studies.

    The fortunes of poets live or die in judgments made by cross-departmental scholars; it has little to do with which poets win the Pulitzer prize or which poets infest the latest anthologies.

    Poems accepted by a thousand different poetry editors will die at the whim of one historian or one critic (who does not write poetry).

    The irony here is that this was the battle won by Modernist poets: the discursive writing by which Modernism launched itself, and by which the poet-critic heroes made themselves felt in the 20th century—essays by Pound, Eliot, Tate, and Ransom and those of their myriad associates—railed against historians in English Departments who “watered the gardens” of their expertise in various historical eras as ivory-tower historians unqualified to judge actual poems and lay out the mechanics of the composing of poems and explaining how poems actually ‘worked.’ The study of poetry as a branch of history did not include close-reading, or criticism of, poetry–at least this is what men like Tate and Ransom said, and so it was demanded that the colleges create a department where poets—as poets—could exist separately from the historians and the language departments, departments which were also implicitly condemned: Greek, Latin, French, German, Italian, Chinese, etc where the great literature and poems of these languages were studied.

    The learning of poetry (its place in history, its place in the world’s languages) was jettisoned so that Modernists could make the ‘new poetry’ without having to worry about history or languages. Pound made bogus translations; Eliot trashed whole swaths of poetic history with scholarly aplomb; Tate, Pound and Ransom bashed the mere professors of literary history and the coup of the creative writing program was accomplished by Paul Engle (whose Yale Younger had come from a Fugitive poet judge) and the Modernist/Fugitive/New Critical army.

    Thus, between the two World Wars a quieter War was fought, and won, by a band of rebels who pushed poetry out on a tightrope without history and language, armed only with crackpot manifestos and the two mantras: ‘publish-and-praise-your-friends’ and celebrate ‘freedom.’ One of the first children of the Modernist coup was Delmore Schwartz, an instant star who quickly soured on two points: the first point was acute paranoia, for poetry had quickly become a social game, and the second was a translation of Rimbaud which was laughed at because Schwartz didn’t know French. Pound’s children didn’t have to know languages. That was for the old bores in the old literature departments which Modernism had overthrown.

    Modernism succeeded wildly in one area and failed miserably in another. The architects of Modernism itself are assured lasting fame and influence, and those who manage to appear to be riding on Modernism’s wave should likewise do well. But the irony is this: Modernism, whose whole point was to free poets from the obligations of history departments, will live or die as a poetry phenomenon historically; its poetry will ultimately survive as a history or sociology department concern, while those poets today, practicing in the wake of this historical coup, will most likely vanish into obscurity, especially if they have no manifesto or philosophy to keep them afloat.

    Pound, by the sheer force of his personality, will live. The women poets published 50/50 today with men in anthologies will be of little interest to anyone, since poetry, per se, is of no interest to anyone, which is one of the great unspoken decrees of the Modernist victory. The university is financially interested in taking both men and women into its poetry workshops; equality was accomplished by the men (Engle, Ransom, etc) who set up that business model; at least I’m guessing history is going to see it that way. There’s also a chance that Modernism itself will eventually fall into the sea and become the merest footnote to the history of poetry, since its fruits are rather wanting in terms of the art.

  • On June 8, 2009 at 3:17 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

    Geez, the Desmond (and Jane) show. Sorry, I can’t read it.

    My take, from working over time with some very fine kid poets — my students have won four Grand Prizes from River of Words in the last five years — is that the women born 1990 to 2001 have a HUGE jump on the men.

  • On June 8, 2009 at 7:12 pm Gail White wrote:

    I’m obliged to say that I’ve felt much more “discrimination” against me as a formalist poet than as a woman poet, and a TREMENDOUS barrier raised against me as a “light verse” poet. If these roadblocks were removed, I would have no complaints on the score of my sex.

  • On June 8, 2009 at 11:37 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    Thomas Brady says modernist poetry is underwritten by historical studies written by men.

    John Oliver Simon says women born from 1990 to 2001 have a huge jump on the men.

    I agree with both statements, at least I think I do–because I’m never sure of anything I think I know until I say it. If I say it well it’s surely true, if I say it poorly it isn’t.

    After I’ve written it I read it to find out.

    Which is one reason I’m a poet, but also why I started so late!

    And slowness is the crux here, isn’t it? History is always written by men because men always grow up so slowly, always did, always will, and history is the male way of reestablishing things so boys will eventually fit in at some future date.

    In my experience both as a father of 3 girls and a teacher all my life, girls always have a jump on boys, so much so that it’s manifestly unfair. That’s one of the reasons why girls have tended to do more of the work at home, the boys simply don’t know how to do it, and everybody feels sorry for them!

    Honestly. Isn’t that true?

    What girls miss out on is the slow development of boys, so the girls don’t have to try so hard. They’ve got it made by 12, whereas most men are still struggling at 40. As to me, at almost 70 I’m still trying to figure out what I’m going to do when I grow up.


  • On June 9, 2009 at 1:34 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    The other simple fact is that boys grow up more inward than girls.

    Really, contrary to their anatomies they do.

    That’s why it’s so hard to teach teenage boys, you just don’t know who or where they are—why the boys wear funny hats, have hair down over their eyes, slouch, mumble, or pose, strut, build their bodies etc. etc. They’re so out of sight!

    Whereas girls get a proper sense of self so early, without any weights, and why St. Lucian poets get into trouble!

    All of which has huge repercussions for how we all become—and that’s not to be sniffed at either, how we become. Because there are many things feminists want that when they get them ruin them!

    (Life is so much harder than it looks, and is most definitely not about success, at least not success based on any capitalist model!)


  • On June 9, 2009 at 5:32 am Polly Clark wrote:

    Dear Lord, this is scary! Can’t you just bar the people who are crushing this forum with tedious irrelevant detail and aggressive gassing? Otherwise the people whom it actually concerns will just not bother. Let the gassers go and form their own forum, on a subject that actually interests them – themselves for instance. Reading this forum feels like an assault.

  • On June 9, 2009 at 9:13 am Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    How interesting. My post about mysteriously disappearing posts has disappeared. Go figure.

  • On June 9, 2009 at 7:41 pm Roddy Lumsden wrote:

    Agree with what Polly said. The usual blah has allowed the allegations in the original post to go mostly unchallenged.

    Way back there, I posted a polite and informed post which has been ignored. Annie, you say gender inequities in the UK was not your main point in this blog – I don’t agree; it was the impetus and main point of it. I’ve seen people on the internet in the past few days saying things like ‘sounds like the poetry scene in the UK is riddled with sexism’ – it’s not, and this is down to your passing on hearsay – you need to address this. It’s really not a good strategy for you or Harriet to be making these unfounded allegations, which come down to individuals quite quickly.

    You cite Eva’s statistics in her anthology intro (which I’ve read and enjoyed with a few quibbles, sorry Eva!) as evidence – are those statistics, based on anthologies from decades going back to the the 50s, and books which survey poetry over many centuries more telling about the situation now than those I offer above, of recent anthologies from both the US and the UK?

    I know this discussion is more complex than the anthology stats – though they are central to Eva’s case – I look forward to an overdue reply on this from both Annie and Eva.

  • On June 9, 2009 at 11:04 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    “The usual blah has allowed the allegations in the original post to go mostly unchallenged.”

    What thread have you been reading, Roddy? “Blah” yes, for sure, but it certainly hasn’t allowed any of the original “blah” to go unchallenged.

    Have you noticed how the “blah” has stopped altogether? You don’t think that means anything? You don’t think that’s encouraging?


  • On June 9, 2009 at 11:49 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    Poetic justice.

  • On June 10, 2009 at 12:06 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    I didn’t mean that to be a put down at all, it’s just that whatever the topic is on this thread is yet to be seen. Yes, there has been a lot of blah, but the decks are now cleared and waiting for action.

    That’s the most horrible of metaphors, of course–I think the old man-o-war must surely have been the worst place to experience man’s inhumanity to man that has ever been devised. A true cockpit!

    Or man’s inhumanity to woman, how about that, or woman’s to man? Because my own feeling is that “poetic justice” doesn’t necessarily mean what you, Annie Finch, or you, Jane Holland, intend it to mean. “Poetic justice” never clarifies for one thing, but rather takes a certainty, an assumption, a statistic, a fact even, and turns it on its head.

    “Poetic justice” takes the frog and squeezes it to death, i.e. it croaks!

    At least I think that was your message on the “Sadness and Peepers” thread, Jane Holland, but that may just have been poetic justice.

    So Annie and Jane, how could this emperor be clothed with less ambiguous threads? How could we get a glimpse of what he’s really wearing?


  • On June 10, 2009 at 3:19 am Rose Kelleher wrote:

    Annie, don’t you know you’re not supposed to discuss such things? If you so much as make the observation that the numbers appear to be skewed for some reason, and express the least desire for this to change, a thousand enraged men will scream hysterically about “persecution” until you’re not only silenced but stamped into a puddle of goo.

  • On June 10, 2009 at 2:25 pm thomas brady wrote:


    How would Dorothy Parker have put that?


  • On June 10, 2009 at 2:27 pm thomas brady wrote:

    “Aggressive gassing?”

    Isn’t that how stars are formed?

  • On June 10, 2009 at 7:14 pm Terreson wrote:

    This is the sort of thing I am looking for: stats, facts, figures, numbers. I have a special interest in the Tor House Foundation. Visiting the home and tower Robinson and Una Jeffers built with their own hands would amount to a pilgrimage for me. In the spirit of disclosure I should also point out that I received an honorable mention in one of their annual contests. The contest has been in place since ’01. Each year there is a first place winner and four honorable mentions.

    For ’09: 3 men; 2 women (a woman placing first). The final judge: Diane Thiel.

    For ’08: 2 men (a man placing first); 3 women. The final judge: Robert Pinsky.

    For ’07: 0 men; 5 women (obviously a woman came first). The final judge: Al Young.

    For ’06: 1 man (first place); 4 women. The final judge: Dorianne Lux.

    For ’05: 1 man; 4 women (a woman placing first). The final judge: Naomi Shihab Nye.

    For ’04: 4 men (one in first place); 1 woman. The final judge: Billy Collins.

    For ’03: 4 men (one in first place); 1 woman. The final judge: Pattian Rogers.

    For ’02: 1 man; 4 woman (one in first place). The final judge: John Haines.

    For ’01: 1 man; 4 women (one in first place). The final judge: Jane Hirshfield.

    Nine years makes for a pretty decent data base. Science often works in a significantly smaller range when looking for statistically important trends to tell stories. So what do we get?

    In 9 years we have 16 men placing in the contest and 24 women placing.

    In 9 years we have 4 men placing first and 5 women.

    In 9 years we have 4 men the final judges and 5 women.

    But stats., just like poetry, can lie. So perhaps we should look more closely at the judges for a bias.

    ’09: Thiel’s judging favored the men.

    ’08: Pinsky’s judging favored the women.

    ’07: Young’s judging favored the women. (a shut out for the guys).

    ’06: Lux’s judging favored the women.

    ’05: Nye’s judging favored the women.

    ’04: Collins’ judging favored the men.

    ’03: Rogers’ judging favored the men.

    ’02: Haines’ judging favored the women.

    ’01: Hirshfield’s judging favored the woemn.

    So over the course of 9 years 3 men judges selected more women than men (3 to 1).

    Over the same course 3 women judges selected more women than men (3 to 2.)

    Statistically (quantitatively) I would say no bias-trend is shown towards the male gender. While the trend seems to be in favor of the women selected, once the error factor gets taken into account (maybe a judge was having a bad hair day or was preoccupied, etc.), there is nothing significant here that would stand out on a bar graph. Except that 24 women to 16 men does stand out in the overview. (let me be clear. i am into the facts only. just the facts, ma’am.)

    I don’t know. Maybe Tor House is an exception to the rule, which would be surprising given that Jeffers was a man’s man. Maybe the west (left) coast of America is an exception. Ain’t nobody going to know until somebody starts compiling numbers for the analysis. Poetry Foundation, with its archives presumably going back to 1912, could offer up quite the data base. Year by year by year. And what about other established mediums?


  • On June 11, 2009 at 12:47 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    Jane Holland wrote: “I thoroughly recommend all writers interested in gender to become a member at Poetic Justice, co-founded by myself and Annie Finch.”

    Eva Salzman wrote: “Good to see this issue getting an airing and to see men concerned with it. Thanks Annie, Jane!”

    Roddy Lumsden wrote: “Women now publish more books of poetry here [in the U.K.] than men.”

    Eva Salzman wrote: “I posted an excerpt from Intro to Women’s Work on Eratosphere, with samples of some pretty shocking anthology figures [in the U.K.] and so maybe don’t need to post here.”

    Roddy Lumsden wrote: “I know this discussion is more complex than the anthology stats [in the U.K.] – though they are central to Eva’s case – I look forward to an overdue reply on this from both Annie and Eva.”

    Eva Salzman wrote: “The anthologies with the imbalances I mention are, well, all of them. Go and look”

    Polly Clark wrote: “Dear Lord, this is scary!”

    Rose Kelleher wrote: “Annie, don’t you know you’re not supposed to discuss such things?”

    And that’s what this thread is about, and even if it comes to nought it’s still worth trying. So I say let’s go on.


  • On June 11, 2009 at 2:34 pm thomas brady wrote:


    I’d like to comment quickly on your Tor House numbers:

    The sexism question really transcends statistics, because the bottom line is always elitism; the queen doesn’t care if her slaves are male or female.

    What may matter to the queen, however, is the gender of the next-in-lines.

    And, let’s say instead of a queen, you have five males who are ruling as a gang. Now it gets more complex, especially if the male gang is clinging to, or aspiring to, power, etc. In this case it may very much matter whether their slaves are male or female, or whether the next-in-lines are male or female.

    You see…so it’s not just a counting game. It’s more subtle than that. It isn’t the mere fact or number of gender, per se, which warrants our attention, but rather how power uses gender which should be the object of our study.


  • On June 12, 2009 at 9:31 pm Terreson wrote:

    Well, I am having fun with the numbers game. Poets have been known to pay attention to numbers. Paul Valery did. As did one of the best of the Troubador poets, Arnauld Daniel. The guy from Provence who Dante said was a better poet than he was.

    To date I count 7 women and 12 men posting to this thread. That is 1.7 men for every woman. So what does this say about an issue concerning women poets in the essential way? What does this say about the composition of Poetry Foundation?

    But the stats get worse. The 7 women who have posted have produced 14 posts. The 12 men who have posted have produced 61 posts. That comes to 4.4 posts by men for every woman’s post. This strikes me as disturbing, about women participants, about men participants, and about Poetry Foundation. It actually makes me wonder just how woman friendly is the Foundation.

    Something else disturbs me. Three men posters account for 32 of the 61 man posts, which is half the count of man posts. So that is half the thread dominated by three men.

    Numbers do suggest stories.


  • On June 13, 2009 at 12:31 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    Interesting statistics, Terreson. I’d love to see the same rigor applied to some of the other threads on Harriet. Could be a real eye-opener, though as to what exactly you’d have to tell us.

    I’d say that the real problem in this thread has not been your numbers but the fact that Roddy Lumsden’s major contribution addressed to Annie Finch and Jane Holland on June 6th at 11.56am never got answered. As he was the only expert to come up with the current figures he really deserved better.

    He wrote: “Here is some more ‘hollow bean counting’ for you, with regard to pertinent anthologies – ones which select from contemporary work:

    First the two most recent major American ones:

    American Hybrid – 44 women, 31 men
    Legitimate Dangers – 41 women, 44 men

    My own forthcoming anthology Identity Parade, a UK/I equivalent of Legitimate Dangers has 44 women, 41 men. The recent City State anthology of London poets has 11 women, 15 men and Bloodaxe’s new younger poets anthology has 11 women and 10 men. Also, women now publish more books of poetry here [UK] than men.”

    Roddy Lumsden also wrote: “In wider discussions on this issue over here, only a small number of women poets appear to believe in widespread and institutional sexism in UK and Irish poetry at this time (I realise that it was a serious and shameful issue in even recent decades) and two of those are the women you have mentioned in your article, yet it seems that Jane (see above) and Eva (note the gender ratios during her time as a PBS Selector) both also struggle to break past the ‘third’ barrier when in positions of some power.”

    Another man, O.K, but look what he’s done and is saying.

    What he got back is this from Eva Salzman. the author of the study that had maintained just the opposite: “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.” (June 6th, 12.02)

    Finally, this is what you, Terreson, came up with yourself in response: “I may get my hand slapped for this, which is okay. But by now into a fourth generation of the same table talk, were I a woman poet I would be tempted by the final solution. Let’s borrow from Tolkein and call it the Ent solution. I would walk away, disengage, boycott the scene and then create my own. That is exactly what I would do.”

    It would seem to me that those who didn’t want to consider the actual statistics did just that. One women said in parting, “This is scary,” and the other scolded Annie for having even entered into the discussion at all.

    No, I’m afraid you’ve got yourself a very dead horse that just won’t go galloping.


  • On June 13, 2009 at 7:58 am thomas brady wrote:

    Thanks, Christopher, for making a gallant attempt to ‘see a thread through,’ which I often try to do, but I find others give up, fade away, take their ball home. I know a lot of it is just that they are busy and just get sidetracked by life, which is perfectly understandable.


    As Pope said, ‘a little learning is a dangerous thing…’

    The thing about stats is they ‘suggest stories,’ but the stories they ‘suggest’ could be radically wrong.

    I sometimes feel like I’m talking to a wall here. I sometimes think poets today are in the field because they don’t like to think things through; they are full of inspired prejudices (mild ones) and would rather describe the world than listen to it–I know its a cliche in the poetry world about how important ‘listening’ is, but I wonder how many really do it; and not just ‘listening,’ but thinking through what they’ve heard. I guess that’s my theme: thinking through. Well, I guess it comes down to psychology, too. In Poe’s short story, ‘The Cask of Amontillado,’ in order to get his servants to *leave* the master insists they *remain* while he is away. We oppose other schools and philosophies, we find ‘our own voice’ and stick to one school, rather than embracing all voices and all schools to build a true philosophy. We seal ourselves in, set ourselves apart, like the fools in ‘The Masque of the Red Death.’

    Anyway, the people with the most posts could be those who have had the most coffee; it could have nothing to do with gender, especially since the sample is small.

    Also, there’s a tendency to fault those who have a lot of posts–as if they were somehow unfairly ‘dominating’ a thread, when the very opposite might be the case–those with the most posts are merely ‘following through’ on the discussion, responding to others, showing real interest, instead playing ‘hit and run’ and being cynical, or anti-social.

    You said it’s the hand (the person) behind the gun (the technology) which is most important, and the same, Tere, could be said about the person behind the statistics–the interpretation of the statistics, which might take some a time in terms of number of posts.


  • On June 13, 2009 at 9:43 am Desmond Swords wrote:

    When people start talking about *dominating* threads because of wordcount, it’s a sad day for intelligent discussion.

    Know one is obliged to read anyone else and can scroll past, but in this PC age where anyone can get upset by the amount of text on a screen written by a poetry bore, what does it say about tolerance?

    Here are some more stats, culled from poets on fire where a thread of this name has been trundling on and it soon became apparent, from the very people who work in Poetry UK, that the structure of most poetry organisations, is run by women – who stated it was.

    All these organisations are headed/run by women.

    Apples & Snakes: (UK wide performance body) The Director
    Arc Editor
    Arts Council England: Head of Literature
    Arts Council Regional Literature Officers
    North West
    East: Lucy
    North East
    South West
    South Eastn
    Arvon Foundation
    Booktrust CEO
    Borders (central poetry buyer)

    British Centre for Literary Translation
    British Council Director of Literature

    Chatto Editor
    Creative Arts East
    Faber and Faber
    Foyles (buyer for poetry)
    Free Word centre Director
    New Writing North
    Poetry Book Society
    Poetry Society
    Poetry Translation Centre Director
    Poetry Trust Editor
    Polygon Editor
    The Reading Agency
    Renaissance One Director
    Seren Editor
    South Bank Head of Literature
    Spread the Word Director


    Once it was firmly established that far from men running thngs, Poetry Admistration and the doling out of monies and puyblishing opportunities in the UK was dominated by women, the debate turned to women having confidence in the light of centuries of male domination, which i think may be the more pertinent reality going on here.

  • On June 13, 2009 at 11:30 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    Which the fate of this thread precisely goes to prove.

    If you don’t come back in now, Eva Salzman, Jane Holland, and your new associate Annie Finch (who initiated this thread, of course), you have no one but your selves to blame.

    Men have come a long way in this. We don’t have a problem with you’re running the show at all, and we love what you write. The problem is, do you think there’s a place for us on your planet?

    Thanks, Desmond.


  • On June 13, 2009 at 1:16 pm Terreson wrote:

    Well. There it is. The magi have spoken.


  • On June 13, 2009 at 8:01 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    I just received this e-mail from Annie Finch.

    It meant a lot to me that Annie chose me at the opposite ends of the earth to relay all the way back to you a message that says this thread is alive and well. And that’s what matters, getting at the meaning, not in the final word.


    I am out of town with no email and can’t post on harriet from my blackberry

    Will reply to all on my return

    Please post this message there

    Many thanks


    June 14, 2009 3:57:02 AM GMT+07:00

  • On June 13, 2009 at 8:05 pm michael robbins wrote:

    “I honestly don’t like ascribing negative qualities to x, but I’m going to do so anyway, & then refer to x by a derogatory epithet. That’s just how I roll.”

  • On June 15, 2009 at 11:34 pm Annie FInch wrote:


    As you know, Eva’s introduction cites pages and pages of statistics. I pulled just a couple at random. You may quibble with those particular ones, but I’m surprised that you think sexism is a thing of the past in the UK poetry world. I am no expert at all on the scene—I merely listened to what women there told me about the imbalances in publishing and prizes and about the fact (a pattern also extremely common in the US) that women at the peak of their careers tend to be less recognized than either very old or very young women, who presumably present less of a threat to the male-dominated status quo. So it’s not just a matter of how many women, but of which women are being used to even out the statistics: those who have the potential to build on existing power and influence, or those who have published just one or two books? But even looking at raw statistics, I just doublechecked quickly now on the most famous poetry prize I know of in the UK, the TS Eliot Prize, and the most famous poetry publisher I know of in the UK, Faber & Faber. The TS Eliot Prize has been won 12 times by men and 4 times by women in the last 16 years. As for Faber & Faber, the first page of the poetry portion of their website lists 13 men poets and 1 woman poet (a ratio even more male-heavy than that of the poetry list of the most famous poetry publisher I know of in the US, Farrar Straus and Girous, which publishes 58 men poets and 12 women poets.)

    I am touched by the passion with which you are defending the UK poetry scene. Clearly you feel that sexism is unfair and should be ended, or you wouldn’t be defending the scene so much. That’s wonderful. Please don’t feel personally attacked. Nobody is holding you, or any other male, personally responsible for the situation. Centuries of complex factors have led to it, and each of us, female and male, is responsible. Now it’s not a matter of blame, but simply of describing the situation, seeing it clearly, and taking steps, however small, to change it.

  • On June 16, 2009 at 12:04 am Annie FInch wrote:

    Hi everyone,

    I have come back online after my travels to find many many comments on this thread. I am working on some new posts for Harriet so can’t spend a gigantic amount of time here, but want to acknowledge everyone’s lively energy and interest in this topic. Thank you all for your care and concern for fairness, however it has been manifesting. I have specifically addressed Roddy’s points about the UK poetry scene in a reply to his comment above. Here are few more general points:

    The purpose of this post was never to assert or argue whether or not sexism exists in poetry or anywhere else, but simply to announce the founding of the Poetic Justice Forum. The forum is an activist site where those who believe sexism is a concern in the poetry world and would like to do something about it can discuss and work towards effecting change in specific cases.

    I appreciate the efforts of those who have cited various contests or magazines that are predominantly female to show that sexism doesn’t exist in the poetry world. One could play that game back and forth forever, citing particular lists as evidence on one side of the case or the other (and I have done some of that in response to Roddy’s comment). But really, there is no court, and there are no judges. Like global warming, sexism is real in its effects, and action can be taken against it by some even while others are arguing whether it exists. The arguments do not change the vital importance of action for those who feel the reality of the threat.

    Two more specific responses: women running poetry institutions does not automatically mean sexism does not exist. Poetry institutions or groups have often been run by women, for example Harriet Monroe, Amy Lowell, and Sylvia Beach. More often than not, these women have spent much or most of their effort promoting male literary careers. This is not to imply that it’s not a good thing that women are now in many positions of power in the poetry world, but simply to say that women running institutions does not guarantee a righting of the situation. Hard as it may be for men to understand, since men have so much practice and expertise promoting each others’ work, sexism is so insidious a disease that having women in positions of literary power is not necessarily a guarantee of fairness towards literary women. It can help, but enlightened men can help just as much also.

    Finally, whatever particular gender-equal contests or tables of contents one chooses to cite to the contrary, things in the US are not necessarily a lot better than in the UK. As always, what mostly seems to missing is serious critical attention to women poets. Look at the closest example to hand, the Poetry Foundation website itself, just a click away. You will find that the current mainpage of the Poetry Foundation website includes NO articles by or about female poets, but eight articles by eight men, six of them about male poets: Tom Sleigh on Thom Gunn, Josh Weiner on Thom Gunn, Jason Boog on Kenneth Fearing, Robert Polito on Kenneth Fearing, Justin Hopper on Mark Nowak, Franklin Bruno on Langston Hughes, and pieces by Harold Norse and Tao Lin. If the genders were reversed, it would probably be called a special women poets issue, but in the world of a prestigious poetry site male predominance is just business as usual; most of us barely notice. It’s just the way things are, the way they have been for a long time. In fact, in the last few years, I’ve heard women a few decades older than I am remark on a number of occasions that the situation has been backsliding, that things were more balanced in terms of the gender of contributors to high-profile magazines such as the New Yorker in the 1970s than they are now, and that now things look more like they did in the 1950s.

    Looking at Poetry Magazine itself, I’m sure it’s not as bad as in the 1950s, but still there is a consistent male slant in the contributions of poetry, criticism, and letters. The current June 2009 issue includes contributions by 8 men/5 women. Turning to past issues, the May issue had 12 men /4 women, April had 22 /8, March had 15 /8, February 21 / 12, January 19 / 8, and December 2008 had 11 / 7.

    Given that women are probably more than half of those publishing poetry today (certainly more than half of MFA students), clearly something is preventing full representation of women in the site and the magazine. It could be internal/psychological or it could be external/socio-political, or a combination, but something is wrong. The posting climate on Harriet, in which as I think it was Terreson pointed out, half the comments on a thread devoted to women’s poetry (and far more than half on most or all other threads) are from men, is related. It’s not necessarily anyone’s fault, but it’s a fact, and the first step would be for it to be accepted as such. It’s not a matter of blame but of description.

    Rose’s comment was of course sarcastic.

  • On June 16, 2009 at 1:25 am michael robbins wrote:

    >>Like global warming, sexism is real in its effects, and action can be taken against it by some even while others are arguing whether it exists.

    Well, actually, almost no one doubts that either global warming or sexism exists. They argue about its causes. Most scientists believe that global warming has been caused by human action; a vocal minority do not. But that average global temperatures have been increasing for over a century is not really in doubt, nor does environmental science lack for evidence that this is so. Your fallacy is to assume that an alleged underrepresentation of women in, say, a particular magazine were all that needed to be shown in order to prove that men are nefariously conspiring to silence women poets. The inane back-&-forth in the comment thread to this post demonstrates this confusion better than anything else: caricature doesn’t help anyone’s cause (“I just knew the men would show up to shout us down!”). Your posts have grown increasingly cartoonish & two-dimensional, & reveal a singular unwillingness to begin to understand the complexities of gender inequities. In fact, they often reinforce sexist norms of victimology that I’m sure you don’t support.

  • On June 16, 2009 at 1:42 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    Interesting analogy indeed, Michael, because of course global warming is impossible to prove over just a century of observations. Also it doesn’t much matter whether our pollution has caused global warming or not, because the pollution is there anyway spoiling the planet in every single backyard and garden plot, however neatly trimmed and watered. Indeed, the neat trimming and the extra water are as much to blame as the coke cans and butts!

    So you women, get hold of it. Of course you need to fight for your rights, but in doing so like men you have to understand that there’s no getting something without giving something equally precious back.

    Men are perhaps learning that faster than you are, at least if this thread is anything to go by. Read it and tell me if I’m not right on that!


  • On June 16, 2009 at 2:15 pm Annie Finch wrote:

    Michael, I’m very interestd in your view of “the complexities of gender inequities.” Any illumination or elaboration on your ideas of these complexities is welcomed. And I appreciate your recognition that I don’t support a victim picture of the situation. So often, if a woman simply describes the realities of sexism to a mixed audience, she is perceived as playing a victim; in fact, she may be taking a first step towards changing the situation, which is the opposite of being a victim. So I really appreciate that insight on your part.

  • On June 16, 2009 at 5:36 pm Christian Wiman wrote:

    Hi Annie,

    I tend to think in terms of absolute page count rather than numbers of male/female poets. If you’ll look at that June issue you mention, for instance, while it’s true that there are more men than women, I think you’ll also find that the pages (of poetry) are equally distributed between them.

    Still, I don’t dispute the fact that we do sometimes publish more men than women, and I’m never happy about it. The fact is, we get between two to three times more submissions from men than we do from women.

    As for critics, that issue has been well-covered in the magazine already. We wish we had more women critics and are always on the lookout, though we are very proud to have two of the best critics, of any gender, as regulars: Daisy Fried and Ange Mlinko. Both have great pieces upcoming.

    And letters, well, there’s nothing we can do about that proportion — unless more women start writing in!

    Thanks for all your great comments on this site.

  • On June 17, 2009 at 5:32 am Margo Berdeshevsky wrote:

    dear Annie ‘n all,
    check out this link to a review of a 500 woman exhibit at the Pompiudou in Paris. It makes some points & poses some questions that pertain very much to all we’ve had on the table here. See :


    to read this article on Affirmative Art Action.
    I still don’t like ascribing poetic qualities etc. but good to know and consider what’s on the rialto 🙂

    my best,

  • On June 17, 2009 at 5:45 am Margo Berdeshevsky wrote:

    ouff! guess I must watch my quick fingers and spell Pompidou correctly in a letter from Paris .

  • On June 18, 2009 at 8:55 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    We’re petering out here even if there’s still such a lot to do.

    This thread has not been notable for it’s content, and certainly not for its eloquence or wit. On the other hand, I would say that the rough shoving (some of which has been removed) along with all the other on-line contortions that have undermined the drift have perhaps been more revealing than what could have been said anyway. Indeed, who would venture a summing up of this? I mean, what is it? What’s this all about?

    I’ve been following the thread quite carefully, and in coming in and out several times a day I’ve found myself face to face with the cover of Eileen Salzman’s and Amy Wack’s book. Powerful. Women’s Work, Modern Women Poets Writing in English, says the white title boldly rising up against the no-nonsense blue. An arresting manual, information that you need. And then my eye at table level has to deal with yet another blue-stained problem, the kitchen table on which one of those accidents is just about to happen that makes one wonder why human beings have children at all. Because that’s a very angry child, a mean child, a disturbed child even with a side-look at the disaster he’s occasioned yet again–without his fingers being involved at all, mind you, exactly like the basketball or football player who has just committed a deliberate and very dangerous personal foul against a rival player. Like that guilty player the child throws his hands up in the air to prove he didn’t touch anything at all!

    Yes, arresting–it’s a cover you aren’t likely to ignore or forget. But what’s the message? What’s it telling us about women’s work, or how women poets work, or why any woman would want to do such work–or what needs to be done about the problems arising? Or how to discuss them?

    I don’t want to venture an answer on any of that either. I just want all of us to have a look, and next time this comes up remember.

    (Profound–a remarkable book cover.)


  • On June 19, 2009 at 12:45 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    I meant international soccer, of course. I don’t know if there are any personal assaults you’re not allowed to make in American football.

  • On June 19, 2009 at 10:02 am Annie FInch wrote:

    Margo, the Pompidou article sounds great but the link doesn’t work–please re-post it!

    Chris Wiman, I appreciate your commenting, and I’m very glad you are aware and conscious of the situation as regards POETRY. Having edited journals and books myself, I know that men do send contributions in much greater proportion than women. Still, given that fact, how much does any given submission pool mandate an editorial commitment to reflect the pool’s gender (also racial, class, age, aesthetic, etc.) proportions in the finished publication?

    Christopher Woodman, thanks for your remarks on the cover of Eva’s book–I hadn’t really registered the “plot” of the image before. I take it as an ironic commentary on the persistent prevalence of seeing domesticity as women’s work–though in my own household, as I’m sure in many others, dealing with this spilly situation would equally be men’s work!

  • On June 19, 2009 at 12:12 pm Margo Berdeshevsky wrote:

    Dear Annie, sorry that link was problematic– here’s the longer link to the Pompidou article/review:
    (the tiny url works on my ‘puter, but
    for anyone having humbug, try this one:


    the article is called Affirmative Art Action

    this is from the earlier post:
    dear Annie ‘n all,
    check out this link to a review of a 500 woman exhibit at the Pompiudou in Paris. It makes some points & poses some questions that pertain very much to all we’ve had on the table here. See :


  • On June 19, 2009 at 11:06 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    But that’s a serious omission, Annie, not to have registered the “plot” of this painting–which you yourself chose to welcome particpants to the thread and that, way beyond that, Eileen Salzman and Amy Wack chose to introduce their “work.” For it’s a very potent image, and it really does disturb me–the more that I get into it.

    My continual complaint on this thread has been that we were, all of us, unable to register the plot of what we were talking about, that something was going on much deeper than whether or not women writers were getting their fair share of the laurels, in the U.K. or anywhere else.

    Is it irony, really, the choice of this angry painting? Or does it express a level of uncomfortableness and frustration that’s going to make it hard to talk about anything straight, I mean anything at all?

    I feel so sorry for parents in the predicament that is depicted with such ferocity in this painting, and I see them in it everyday where I live on the moon, as you do I’m sure in Maine. But it has more to do with neglect in the family than it has to do with gender, this child’s gesture–and the hard part for women is just that so many of them have to pick up the pieces all alone. But the tragedy is the child, not the father or the mother– who were almost certainly responsible for the monster, and still get away with it, however he howls. Because this child is now angry at the whole world, he’s just anger, that’s all, and he will do anything he can to make even his own life the worst.

    My doctor wife gets a lot of young American mothers with single children and a back-pack full of toys coming here to study herbal medicine with her, health and well-being. The child is often like this, pulling up the flowers for attention, peeing all over the beds for the thrill of the embarrassment she knows it will cause her mother. So why is she doing this? What’s the joy of travelling so far to study health and well-being when you’re sowing neither at home?

    And where is the man? Goodness knows–it’s not really a subject that comes up much when you’re looking so hard for another!

    So there are terrible ambiguities here, as there were on this thread. We’ll keep working on them, all of us—of course we will. But the level of suffering’s the matter.


  • On June 20, 2009 at 4:56 pm Annie Finch wrote:

    Christopher, I feel your seriousness about all this. Perhaps this is not the thread to continue with this conversation. But the conversation can, and I’m sure will, happen elsewhere.

    As for the picture on the book, perhaps Eva (not Eileen) Salzman will come back and talk about why she chose it.

  • On June 20, 2009 at 7:55 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    Thanks, Annie, I agree with you entirely.

    The thread would make a wonderful short story, and like all wonderful short stories it would almost certainly raise more questions than it answers.


  • On June 21, 2009 at 7:01 pm Anonymous wrote:

    To make sense of these numbers, you would have to know what percentage of contest entrants were women. Is it not possible that Tor House receives more entries from women?

  • On June 24, 2009 at 10:34 am thomas brady wrote:

    The illustration for “Women’s Work” (thanks for making that observation, Christopher) says to me that much of ‘women’s work’ is not only taking care of children, but absorbing the violence of males (the spilling child is a boy) and even loving those violent males.

Posted in Uncategorized on Friday, June 5th, 2009 by Annie Finch.