Sunday, December 21, 2003

on Women Poets 

for those of you who haven't seen the latest issue of BANJO: Poets Talking, which features a conversation between poets Carol Mirakove and Kaia Sand, PLEASE do! it's one of those vital talks we can all find ourselves inside, taking new routes for our growing World Views.

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.


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