Sunday, December 21, 2003
some fan mail has come in, which was forwarded to both women. Edwin Torres sent something that i feel the need to share:
I haven't read this yet but look forward to it! I enjoyed
your special issue on Carol, and I think women bring a
sensibility to what's considered avant-garde which men sort
of run over with a 16-wheeler...men just have louder voices
so they might be heard first, but women make works that have
lasting power...there I said it!
am wondering what others would respond to this statement by Torres? i wrote back and told him about something i found myself in the middle of on the WOM-PO LIST when Alicia Ostriker was asking if there were men who felt a debt to women poets. my list began with Cid Corman, who always sited Lorine Niedecker as an inspiration. Jonathan Williams considers Mina Loy a powerful influence. Ron Silliman always talks about the importance of Barbara Guest. but then i got tired of talking about these other men, and mentioned my own list of names of women poets.
just when i was about to send the post off to the listserv i realized that ALL the names mentioned would be considered part of the avant-garde (i'm taking Kaia Sand's lead from her BANJO conversation when she talks about her feelings about the difference between "experimental" and "avant-garde"). so i added to the post this observation, that it's in the fringe writing where women seem to have much more room, and much more acceptance.
well, the back channel of vitriol i received after that was unexpected. this really touched a nerve, using the opportunity to SLAM anyone and anything considered avant-garde. but my point was that, for the most part, the women poets on the WOM-PO LIST tend toward the mainstream poetry, where the roadblocks met are really institutional in nature, old school. i told a few of them my experience this summer, having the rare opportunity to hang out with poet Mark Levine in Iowa. i asked him who his favorite poets were. the list was a dozen or so names, all male. when i asked, "what about Jorie Graham?" knowing that he had worked with her, and he piped-up, "OH, of course, Jorie!" but he needed to be prompted.
am i saying that ALL men studying in Iowa (for instance) are going to only site men as influence and/or inspiration? no, of course not. they have their Louise Glucks, etc. (by the way, i happen to like much of Gluck's later work, most especially her remarkable book ARARAT. i also like--to the amusement of some friends--Mary Oliver. she's great, so fuck off!)
am i saying that ALL the men on the Buffalo List (for instance) would site women as influence and/or inspiration? no, of course not. but i DO believe that women have much more room in such an environment, and frankly, have had. Stein, Loy, and many other women have made the landscape of the avant-garde a place where they can create and push the poetry forward without having to ask (at least too often) the question Alicia Ostriker had to ask on the WOM-PO LIST.
i hope the generalizations i have made here will spur discussion.