Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Food for Thought: Women Who Write Poetry and Poetry Criticism (Roundtable)

I am intimidated by poetry criticism because I've spent most of my adult life reading fiction and sometimes writing about fiction. As I age, I've been reading much more poetry and much more poetry criticism, which, given my relative lack of experience with the forms, has left me formulating (what seem to me to be) dumb questions, and trying like mad to find answers that make sense. One of the things I've thought about consistently is the role gender and sex play in my reading and in the litworld at large.

Nearly all of my favorite poets are women (my favorite fiction writers are almost exclusively male), usually somewhat combative as regards sexual and gender roles, and aggressively intellectual (and is that a complex idea?? that the women I reference would pillory me for as merely another example of sexism?? like, why can't women be aggressive in the same way that men seem so comfortable with without being labelled as shrill or dykey or, well, you get the point? at least that answer's easy enough).

This roundtable discussion at the Best American Poetry blog points me in different directions, both by suggesting poets I'm not familiar with and more importantly, tweaking my insecurities as a poet and reader of criticism by pointing out how much I don't know about my chosen field and its ready complications.

Here are links to the participants: Sina QueyrasElisa GabbertShanna ComptonJuliana SpahrVanessa Place and Danielle Pafunda,moderated by Sandra Simonds. I'm going to tag a number of my favorite poets as well to see if they feel motivated to weigh in.

Sandra Simonds: For years, much was made of the male-dominated blog comment fields. I’m thinking particularly of Ron Silliman’s blog. It seems like currently group-run blogs are very popular—HTML Giant, Montevidayo and the Rumpus immediately come to mind. The comment fields still seem to be the “front lines” of poetry engagement. Are they still as male-dominated in these forums as they were during the “Silliman-era”? If so, can you hypothesize as to why? 
Elisa Gabbert: It really depends on the blog, who runs it and the kind of environment they create. I’ve seen plenty of blogs/websites that create a “safe” atmosphere for women, mostly by being quite obviously by, for, and about women – see The Hairpin or Jezebel. Her Kind, the new VIDA blog, seems to be an attempt to create a similar space for women writers specifically.

The problem here, such as there is one, is that comment fields turn into a middle-school dance, with the girls huddled in one corner and the boys on the other. The “boys” don’t want to read and comment on the “girl” blogs because they’re either not interested or know they’re not supposed to be; the “girls” don’t want to comment on the “boy” blogs because the “boys” do their best to scare them away. The comments on HTML Giant, for example, are still dominated by young men, though the regular crew seems less aggressively aggressive than they used to be. Even on my blog (I’m the only author, I’m a professed feminist, and I am very welcoming to women who comment), I probably get two or three comments from men to every comment I get from a woman.
I’m ambivalent about this reluctance of women to speak. On the one hand, I understand that they don’t want to get caught up in online arguments (it’s easy to fall into a hole and let it ruin your day) or risk being attacked, which is a very real risk. (Identify as a feminist online and you will be called stupid, whiny, boring, irrational, a bitch, a cunt, a dyke, a man-hater; you will be accused of being on PMS and needing to get laid; you may even be outright threatened with assault, rape, or murder.) On the other, if nobody speaks, then people remain ignorant. Speaking up to asshole idiots in comment fields is tough work and often pretty thankless, but I’m so grateful when I see someone else doing that work – it sets an example, it reminds us that everyone and everything doesn’t suck. I’m not always up for it, but when I am, I try to be that person who points out the logical fallacies and (conscious or unconscious) bias in dumb sexist arguments, knowing that someone out there will be silently thanking me.
There’s also, of course, the fact that women on average work more hours than men for less pay, so, a lot of them probably just don’t have time for the Internet, or can’t justify spending their Internet time in such a manner.

The entire discussion,in case you didn't get the first link: http://blog.bestamericanpoetry.com/the_best_american_poetry/2012/08/women-who-write-poetry-criticism-roundtable.html


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