Poetry News

A WORLD OF MIRRORS: Cecilia Corrigan Reviews I'll Drown My Book: Conceptual Writing by Women

By Harriet Staff

last year at marienbad

At Jacket2, a long-awaited review from Cecilia Corrigan on I'll Drown My Book: Conceptual Writing by Women (Les Figues Press 2012). Corrigan makes some distinctions: "...[T]he reader seeking a clearer definition of this movement will find herself mystified, as the paradigm that governs the works in this slippery, recalcitrant volume is that of discursion rather than commonality. Each contributor is given space, following her piece, to define her relationship to the Conceptualism in question. . . ." Corrigan goes on to explain the structure of the book, noting its cyclical, fragmented nature: "[R]esistance to an 'easy read' is legible as a feminist gesture. The discourse has no center, and this is admirable, but don’t start the party yet." More on the gesturing:

...Vanessa Place, in her afterword, writes, “do I consider all the work within this anthology to be conceptual writing? Yes and, more naturally, no.” Here perhaps she gives us an answer as to the question of how to read this volume, and the answer is neither, or, whichever. The one whose job it is to make sense, according to Place, is the reader, “who is the thinker who is the village explainer, given that this one is also the village.”

The question remains as to why the categories of Conceptual and female writers need overlap. In her introduction, Caroline Bergvall makes a compelling case for the two as linked due to the “existential dilemma” of female writers being inextricably linked to the impulse towards Conceptual writing in the late twentieth century. Beginning with a consideration of Kathy Acker’s practice (the negation of her own voice through plagiarism), Bergvall writes that this literary mode is “a way out of a societal status quo that must silence or symptomatize the female, minoritarian or differential writer.” She points to the feminine-conceptual connection, arguing that “conceptual methods paired with psychoanalytic and specifically feminine investigations have provided an ideal combination to seek out the somatic, cognitive and symbolic bases for language and gender development.” Whether or not we believe the argument that gender fundamentally influences the way we experience and use language, the idea is certainly an appealing way to understand this book’s chaotic, unwieldy energy.

The anthology frequently explains itself as an ameliorative action against a history of exclusion. . . .

Yet Corrigan goes on to write that many of the included works don't actually fit the anthology's brand, noting the odd exclusions of writers like Divya Victor, Trisha Low, Holly Melgard, and Kristen Gallagher. These lapses are not all bad, though:

The lack of editorial restriction allows the fissures to show in an anthology ostensibly meant to portray a unified front, and these fissures let the book communicate more about the state of the avant-garde, and about writing as women, than a polished nonexpressive text ever could. The poet Kim Rosenfield has one of the last entries in the volume. In her statement on conceptualism, she writes: “IT IS A WORLD OF MIRRORS. IT IS A USELESS AND OBSCURING FICTION THAT THERE IS A WORLD.”

Read the full review at Jacket2. "What is ultimately fascinating about this anthology is the enigmatic way in which it fails."

Originally Published: February 13th, 2014