GGP at the 22nd Annual Poets House Showcase

Last June, Gazing Grain Press had the honor of being featured in the 22nd Annual Poets House Showcase in New York. The event is a free exhibit of all the new poetry texts published in the United States in one year, and represents more than 700 university, commercial, and independent presses. This year’s event included more than 3,000 poetry texts, including books, chapbooks, broadsides, criticism, anthologies, artist’s books, and multimedia works.

Co-editor Alyse Knorr attended the event and had the pleasure of admiring Meg Day’s book, We Can’t Read This, on display alongside many other outstanding titles.

Many of the presses included on our Feminist Resources Page were featured at the Showcase, including Alice James Books, A Midsummer Night’s Press, Arktoi, Bloof Books, Brick Books, Carolina Wren Press, dancing girl press, Finishing Line Press, Gival Press, Kelsey Street Press, Kore Press, Mayapple Press, Nightboat Books, Persea Books, Perugia Press, Post-Apollo Press, Red Hen Press, Sibling Rivalry, and Switchback.

For a full list of the presses and books included at the Showcase, click here.

2014-06-26 18.11.02

 

 

 

Co-editor Alyse Knorr with Meg Day's book, We Can't Read This (2013)

Co-editor Alyse Knorr with Meg Day’s book, We Can’t Read This (2013)

2014-06-26 18.11.10

Come #femsummer with Gazing Grain Press!

Earlier this #femsummer, the editors at Gazing Grain Press tweeted and shared on Facebook their top picks for a feminist summer reading list—and a few of our friends and followers chimed in with theirs as well! Here’s the list; curl up in your favorite shady spot and read on, because there’s still time this summer to make it a #femsummer!

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, recommended by GGP co-editor Liz

Women’s rights evaporate in this dystopia, where women able to bear children are made scarce by a toxic chemical spill. Those who are able to carry a pregnancy to term are held hostage by their very fertility, imprisoned in a domestic ritual of emotionless sex, subservience to men and to the Eyes who are always watching. Atwood’s page-turner is narrated by a woman whose memories of the past, when women held jobs, owned property, and made their own choices in love, haunt her as she tries to make sense of the present.

Windowboxing: A Dance with Saints in Three Acts by Kirsten Kaschock, recommended by GGP co-editor Mack

This beautiful poetry chapbook from Bloof Books is a rallying cry for thinking outside the box about gender identity and gender normativity. The Small Press Book Review notes that Kaschock’s collection “celebrates women who define themselves variously, and refuse to be domesticated through gender labels and stereotypes.” Don’t let the minimalist cover art fool you; the pages inside are electric and full of surprises.

Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina Garcia, recommended by GGP co-editor Catee

A finalist for the National Book Award, Garcia’s prose has been compared to the likes of Chekhov and Marquez. Dreaming in Cuban weaves together three generations of strong-willed women, love letters never mailed, the dynamics of the Cuban Revolution, and the strains of diaspora to tell a story about the destructive tensions of class status, politics, and geography.

Balloon Pop Outlaw Black by Patricia Lockwood, recommended by GGP co-editor Kathy

The debut poetry collection from Patricia Lockwood is a philosophical investigation of the physical world and its fleeting stability. What are we made of? How are we defined? “What is Popeye?” Enter the strange world of Balloon Pop Outlaw Black to seek out the answers for yourself.

Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals by Patricia Lockwood, recommended by GGP Facebook friend Leah Welborn

Lockwood’s most recent collection, Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals, has garnered rave reviews and earned Lockwood two mentions on this #femsummer reading list. Lockwood’s poem “Rape Joke” took social media by storm, and it is just one of many poems in this dynamic collection that challenge sexual norms and our senses of ourselves.

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, recommended by GGP co-editor Sarah

The chapter in Genesis about the rape of Dinah, daughter of Jacob, offers few details about Dinah herself. “Her total silence cried out for explanation,” Diamant said in an interview with Ms. Magazine, “so I decided to imagine one.” Thus The Red Tent is narrated in Dinah’s voice, and offers a glimpse of what her life might have been like. In a world where childbirth and menstruation are what brings women together under the “red tent,” it is the power of storytelling and ritual that binds them together.

The Trees The Trees by Heather Christle, recommended by GGP co-editor Kate

“This is the fairy-tale refanged,” warns the Kenyon Review of Christle’s Believer Award–winning collection. That chill in the air comes from the carefully, deliberate disjointing of Christle’s meticulous prose as it hesitates, staggers, and gasps across the page. These surreal poems thrive on the tensions of both form and subject, the latter a tight-rope walk between the whimsies of imagination and the realities of survival.

Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, recommended by GGP co-editor Alyse

A staple on any feminist reading list, this classic recounts a single day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, in which the emotional suffering of a young WWI veteran with PTSD (though of course it wasn’t called that then) contrasts and overlaps with Clarissa Dalloway’s own strained considerations of her marriage, her life, and the privilege of her social status.

In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens by Alice Walker, recommended by GGP Facebook friend Sarah Winn

Better known for her poetry and novels, this collection of nonfiction pieces by Alice Walker is just as piercing and insightful. Her essays investigate and illuminate other writers like Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Flannery O’Connor as well as aspects of her own personal life, including a disfiguring childhood injury. Whether she is writing about racism, womanhood, or the events that shape us, Walker is noted for prose that is “thoughtful, intelligent, [and] resonant.”

Incarnadine by Mary Szybist, recommended by GGP Facebook friend Leah Welborn

An imprint of Graywolf Press, Incarnadine is winner of the 2013 National Book Award for Poetry, among many other accolades. From the National Book Foundation review: Through the lens of an iconic moment, the Annunciation of an unsettling angel to a bodily young woman, Szybist describes the confusion and even terror of moments in which our longing for the spiritual may also be a longing for what is most fundamentally alien to us. In a world where we are so often asked to choose sides, to believe or not believe, to embrace or reject, Incarnadine offers lyrical and brilliantly inventive alternatives.”

 

Still have some room on your #femsummer reading list? We couldn’t resist listing these, too:

  • A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf, recommended by GGP co-editor Alyse
  • The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, recommended by GGP co-editor Lisa
  • The poetry of Muriel Rukeyser, recommended by GGP co-editor Mack, who advises: “There are used copies and affordable collections readily available.”
  • The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin, recommended by GGP co-editor Liz

 

A Conversation with Dreamer-Teacher-Poet Leah Umansky

Sarah Marcus: While you were on your book tour for Don Dreams and I Dream (Kattywompus Press, 2014), I had the pleasure of reading with you in Atlanta, GA where you began telling me about the COUPLET Reading Series in NYC that you host and curate. Please tell us how and why this series came to be and how you view its role and importance within the NYC (and greater) literary community.

Leah Umansky: Yes, and we had such a good time together! Thanks for asking about COUPLET. I’m really proud of it. It’s one of those things that I never saw myself doing. I’m not truly an extrovert. I can be shy and quiet, but this was something that I became passionate about. Poets in NYC are a dime a dozen. I hate to say that, but it’s true. Well, the same goes for reading series – there are a ton. We’re entering our 4th year in September, and I’m pretty excited about that, but it started because way back in probably 2008 or 2009, I had a really difficult time joining a reading of any kind. I thought my MFA in poetry, from Sarah Lawrence College, would’ve helped, but it didn’t. It did nothing. I had some journal publications under my belt, but not yet a full-length collection. I literally had curators of other series tell me that without a book, they couldn’t let me read. I was sort of humiliated and disgusted at the same time. I thought, well how can an emerging writer, without a book get him or herself out there if they aren’t given a place to start? That’s how COUPLET started – originally, as a reading series for both new poets, emerging poets, and established poets. We’ve had some really great readers over the years, (a wide spectrum), and I actually keep a spreadsheet with an active list of poets in waiting who have inquired about reading for COUPLET.

With that said, I knew it needed an edge, and around the same time, I befriended a Carlos Rey Sebastian on Facebook (DJ Ceremony) who specializes in some of my favorite music (britpop, new wave, glam rock), and we started to collaborate. We feature 4-5 readers and between readers and after our reading, DJ Ceremony plays a set. It’s a coupling of two of my passions: poetry and music.

SM: Your new Men Men inspired chapbook, Don Dreams, and I Dream, has received a lot of awesome press recently. You
also write about the popular HBO Series, Game of Thrones, and you are finishing up your third book this summer. How do you think your writing has evolved or changed over the course of these projects? What messages do you hope your reader walks away with?

LU: I am my own publicist, so thanks for saying that! I’m really proud of how well Don Dreams and I Dream has been received, as well as those Game of Thrones that were published in Poetry Magazine. It’s been surprising, to say the least, especially with the way social media has played a part.

Yes, I’m currently putting together my third book, which will be a full-length collection of poetry. Some of the Mad Men poems and GoT poems will be in there, but moreover, it’s a collection that focuses on gender, society, storytelling and power.

I think we are always evolving as writers, especially as poets. I remember when I finished writing my first book of poems, Domestic Uncertainties, and wrote my way through my divorce, it felt like I was done. What else would I write about? I felt like that was it for me. Then, little by little, as I started to play around with social media and found myself writing about society, online dating, really just our life in the 21st century. Then, Game of Thrones came into my life.

I resisted at first. I thought it was too violent for me, but I was drawn to Ned Stark and, in time, Khaleesi. Ned embodied the ideals of manhood to me – of what a good man is. I started writing about gender, and while I caught up with GoT on HBO, I found myself pausing and taking notes. Language is a big part of my writing, and as a poet, I’m sort of obsessed with wordplay, with making up words and with the way words make up images.

Over the years, I’ve become more focused on honing in on my language. I’m a big annotator of books I teach, and books I read for fun. Gorgeous sentences always grab me. I’ve taken notice of some of the greats, like poets T.S Eliot and John Berryman, poets that I never really studied in school because I was so drawn to the confessional poets I fell in love with. What they do with compound words, and strong verbs is really something. I think that’s what is so compelling about television in 2014 – there are a lot of writers behind the scenes. I remember when I read in The Paris Review that Matthew Weiner was a poet in high school and college, it just made sense to me. It’s why Don Draper is so compelling to me. He’s got such great language, and like my obsession with the Starks in Game of Thrones, I see the good inside him. He’s trying. He has a lot to give.

SM: You are a staff writer for Luna Luna Magazine, and you also write for Tin House.  As a feminist, what role do you see these publications having on the current literary landscape? How do you think inclusivity factors into (or doesn’t factor into) this equation?

LU: I think we talked about being Feminists in Atlanta, didn’t we? As a feminist, a label I’m happy to have, I think both of these publications are doing great things in the lit world, especially with poetry.

As a writer for Luna Luna, I’m happy to say that I write mostly about “the writing life.” It’s been a rewarding experience, thanks to social media, to receive feedback from other poets and writers in response to essays I’ve written about rejection, about submitting poems and manuscripts, and about being your own advocate. I think it’s important as a female poet to create community. Too often, in the past year or so, have I read that Editors of certain journals say that “they want to publish more women, but women don’t submit to their journals,” or that they’ve noticed that, “men are more likely to re-submit after a rejection, but women are not.” I find that just appalling. I’m not afraid. Re-submit! Just do it.

In terms of Tin House, I’ve been very lucky to have a great editor (Lance Cleland) who supports my writing and the choices I’ve made. I typically focus on the new work of female poets I admire and am grateful that Tin House has given me a platform where I can expose new poetry to the masses. I’m presently working on an interview with Matthea Harvey in support of her upcoming book, out this year by Graywolf Press: If The Tabloids Are True What Are You?

SM: How does being a middle school/high school teacher and being a poet inform your writing life?

LU: I love that I have both of these dynamic roles in my life. I love being a teacher. It’s one of the hardest jobs in the world, but also a very rewarding one. I’m lucky that my passion relates to my career. I had a 10th grade student once joke around that my “real life” was being a poet, and I laughed and said that he wasn’t really right. I sort of just balance it out.

I’ve had parts of class discussion enter my mind when I sit down to write a poem. I’ve had poems that are influenced by texts like Animal Farm and A Doll’s House.

Being a poet informs my job as an English teacher, and as a faculty adviser for the school literary magazine. It also gives me access to such wonderful material that I use to supplement novels and memoirs that I teach. Being both a poet and teacher in Manhattan gives me access to one of my favorite field trips, The Dodge Poetry Festival.

The hardest part of being a poet in 2014, and a teacher, is the internet, but I also think it’s a beautiful thing – that accessibility. I’m proud of my work.

IMG_10681675341090Leah Umansky is a poet, collagist and teacher in New York City. She is the author of the Mad-Men inspired chapbook, Don Dreams and I Dream (Kattywompus Press, 2014) and the full-length collection Domestic Uncertainties (BlazeVOX, 2013). She is the curator and host of the COUPLET Reading Series in NYC and her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in such places as Poetry Magazine, Thrush Poetry Journal, Coconut Poetry, and The Brooklyn Rail. Her #GoT themed poems have been translated into Norwegian by Beijing Trondheim. More at: http://leahumansky.com.

Anne Lesley Selcer Wins 2014 Poetry Chapbook Contest

Gazing Grain Press is pleased to announce that judge Dawn Lundy Martin has selected Anne Lesley Selcer as the winner of our 2014 feminist chapbook contest for poetry/hybrid manuscripts!  Her chapbook from A Book of Poems on Beauty will be published in September. We’ll have a launch and celebratory reading during Fall for the Book on Saturday, September 13.

We are also happy to announce that Dawn Lundy Martin has named Kevin McLellan’s manuscript Before the Door as runner-up. We will publish excerpts from Before the Door as a miniature this year.

Dawn Lundy Martin’s comments on Anne Lesley Selcer’s from A Book of Poems on Beauty:

“A Book of Poems on Beauty by Anne Lesley Selcer challenges the notion that beauty and the feminine have no place in postmodern art as much as it reinvents these notions for contemporary readers. It tells us that “beauty is a particular unit of duration / … each hour a room / is a form of sadness.” These poems are fresh in their negotiations of the aesthetic realm; in it, beauty is not monument, and neither does the female body laze absently on the chaise. Instead, the hot energy of this language pulls us from everything we thought we know about beauty and the feminine, and casts us into journeying investigation in which nothing is reconciled. Selcer’s are the kinds of poems we need to survive this century, to be encouraged to think and enact something new.”

Anne Lesley Selcer recently served as a columnist for SFMoma’s Open Space and has one book, Banlieusard, commissioned by Artspeak gallery. Writing has been anthologized in NW Edge III: the end of realityThe Physics of Context, The Feeling is Mutual: A list of our fucking demands, and most recently in It’s Night in San Francisco, but it’s sunny in Oakland. A chapbook is forthcoming with supersuperette press, and another was published with the Dusie Kollektiv in 2011. Poems have appeared in The Clackamus Review, Dusie, Where Eagles Dare, and in the artist book Aunt Maude’s Scrapbook by Sydney Hermant, and are forthcoming in Fence. Writing on art has been commissioned by galleries Centre A, the Or, the Helen Pitt, and by artists Aurel Schmidt and Abass Ackhavan, and has appeared in Fillip and Doppelganger magazines. In San Francisco, she was a member of the now defunct Nonsite Collective. In Vancouver, she created and curated an interdisciplinary series for poets, researchers, and artists called the Chroma Reading Series. 

from A Book of Poems on Beauty is an ongoing, research based project which has produced poems, essays and video.

McLellan1Kevin McLellan is the author of the chapbooks Shoes on a wire (Split Oak, forthcoming) runner-up for the 2012 Stephen Dunn Prize in Poetry, and Round Trip (Seven Kitchens, 2010), a collaborative series of poems with numerous women poets. He has recent poems in journals including: American Letters & Commentary, Barrow Street, Colorado Review, Kenyon Review Online, Western Humanities Review, wicked alice, Witness, and numerous others. Kevin lives in Cambridge MA, and sometimes teaches poetry workshops at URI.

We are also pleased to recognize the following outstanding manuscripts:

Finalists

Kristin Abraham, Swallow Your Archetype
Erin M. Bertram, from The Vanishing of Camille Claudel
Emma Bolden, A Portrait of the Female Body in Dead Metaphors
Jill Darling, Hannah Ensor, & Laura Wetherington, you are Travolta tight pants tight
Sara Renee Marshall, If I Pull Marigold Apart From a Flower
Billie R. Tadros, inter: burial places
Carolyn Williams-Noren, Small Animals

Semi-finalists

Sharon Charde, Incendiary
Colleen Coyne, Meryl DePasquale, Opal C McCarthy, & Molly Sutton Kiefer, Kept Ghosts: A Choral Aubade
j divina erickson, DSMonsters: A Field Guide
Declan Gould, Creating a Chain Reacting and Dis-figuring
Tanya Paperny, Short-Shorts
Becca Shaw Glaser, Fragile Selves Baking a Cake as Big as the Empire State Building
Naomi Tarle, Letters and Songs from a City

Feminism, Culture, and Poetry with Luna Luna Editor, Lisa Marie Basile

Sarah Marcus: You are the editor-in-chief at Luna Luna Magazine, which is self described as “a diary of ideas and a place for dialogue.” From your website, it seems as though that this publication encourages a wide range of views and opinions. Although you “do not tolerate sexism, misandry, homophobia, ageism, racism, sizeism, religism, classism or transphobia in comments or in our published work,” you do allow articles from authors and comments from people who openly disagree and may have controversial stances on a variety of issues. How was Luna Luna Magazine founded, and how do you view its role and importance within the greater feminist and literary community?

Lisa Marie Basile: When I started Luna Luna I wanted to create a conversation. We are almost entirely run by women, and that is something I’m very proud of and want to continue. We of course allow voices from everyone, but I have never published anything I consider problematic or hateful.

I allow a very specific level of autonomy with regard to our contributors and staff writers; our disclaimer very clearly says that while we may not all agree with one another, we allow conversation and opinion. I want people to be able to discuss race, society, gender, sexuality and lifestyle in an open way. I will say, though, that I’ve never, ever published anyone who I felt was harmful to the public dialogue. We do publish comments to our articles that may be in opposition to our ideas (unless they’re blatantly rude or disgusting) and even then, sometimes (rarely), comment moderation slips through the cracks.

We do this because it gives our readers a chance to discuss the issue and it gives our writers the opportunity to provide a teaching moment. If I feel that there is ever a exploitative comment or if a commenter gets out of hand I’ll certainly discuss with the author and editors. I firmly believe in the discussion of differing opinions for the health of all – to an extent. We want to provide a platform for idea, and even confession of flawed idea, but I would not allow hate speech. We haven’t even come close, and if we had, our editorial staff would have had a very detailed discussion about it.

As far as feminism is concerned, our feminism is innate. We provide feminism in action. We are written by (mostly) women. We feature, spotlight and promote women. We actively seek diverse opinions on feminist issues, and we actively take a stance against everyday sexism. No opinion or delivery will be perfect for everyone, but we certainly try to at least get people talking about issues that affect them. We’ve had a lot of interaction with (either through content share or cross-promotion) other feminist organizations and magazines, and we’re really proud of that.

I’m not comfortable with labels but I will say our writers are gay, straight, bisexual, transgender, asexual, religious, atheist, parents, soon-to-be parents and those who don’t want children. We have writers of almost every race, socioeconomic background, and size and we’re determined to welcome people from every path of life.

In the end, we want to offer opinion of lifestyle, culture and the arts – and we welcome writing in those areas through a variety of lenses.

SM: You are also a co-editor & co-curator at DIORAMA: Poetry/Shape/Sound, the NYC editor of The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, and the editor at Patasola Press. Can you please tell us a little bit about each of these projects and about the experience of being an editor for so many different, interesting projects?

LMB: I am inundated, but luckily these projects don’t all come to life at once. Patasola Press is a small press. I publish a handful of chapbooks or books per year and have found it very difficult to do any more than a few.  My goal here is to publish beautiful words, because I love the authors I work with.

I curate content from writers in the NY area for The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, which is on break right now. I also teach a class for their workshops. DIORAMA is a poetry and performance event that incorporates the idea of musicality in poetry and live music into one intimate, vulnerable event where the reader and the audience isn’t separated by podium and harsh light. We’re very interested evocation and reading style and sound – how sound affects the listener’s experience. We host this event (myself and co-curate Alyssa Morhart-Goldstein, who runs SOUND Lit Mag, the associated journal of contemporary musico-poetics) every few months. We’re like a live action lit-journal; we select poets and their poems for the event. We also pair them with musicians who set their poems to music. It’s amazing.

I love to support writers and do beautiful things. I’m probably stretched too thin (no, I am), but I work best when busy. I am just lucky to be around the best people.

SM: I am so excited that your first full-length book, APOCRYPHAL, is due out this summer from Noctuary Press. Can you give us a synopsis of this work and tell us what inspired you to write these poems?

LMB: Thank you!!! I am so excited, too. It’s a weird, almost anti-climactic feeling; sort of like a death and a birth at once. I am already well-past the experience of those poems and I moved through a lot when writing it. Now it feels like a world I vaguely remember in a dream, but it’s still a world I know as home.

APOCRYPHAL is sort of set in three parts: a genesis, a world of secrets (apocrypha) and a paradise. For me, these “parts” are fluid; they’re from dreams and realities and half-remembered memories and secrets. Sometimes I don’t know which are which, but I use form and lineation to explore this. The book examines the woman’s relationship to sex and desire and being desired, but I think I try to subvert what we’ve been taught to “be” and “perform” and “look like.” I wanted to create a world that was as superficial and dramatic and broken as I felt and was taught when I was younger, insecure, and frightened. A lot of it deals with my father, who left when I was young and has always been a figure of relative mythology to me: how we talk about fathers, how we let them influence us, how we let them “define” men  – these are all topics I encounter. It’s written from not only my perspective but a sort of omnipotent camera. It pulls from my life as an Italian-American in a religious family, and from life on the beach and in cars and from the younger me who connected sex with validation. It’s my way of consoling my younger, more sunless self.

SM: What are you working on next?

LMB: I’m working on a book of fiction-it details the extreme side of friendship: obsession, co-dependence, ownership, lust and manipulation. I’m frightened of how natural it feels. But I’m excited for it to exist.

lmbLisa Marie Basile in a NYC-based poet. She is also the author of the chapbooks Andalucia (The Poetry Society of NY) and triste (Dancing Girl Press) and the forthcoming full-length APOCRYPHAL. She is the founding editor of Luna Luna, a diary of art, sex and culture, curator for the musicopoetics performance salon, Diorama and the NY editor and a writing instructor for The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review. A graduate of The New School’s MFA program, she has been named a top contemporary NYC poet to read by several publications. She tweets at @lisamariebasile and works as a writer.

 

Conversation with Meg Day

This year, we released our second chapbook, Meg Day’s We Can’t Read This. Judge Cathy Park Hong called the book “a how-to on re-imagining the body and language when one is denied the instruments of voice and hearing.” Meg generously agreed to speak with us about her book, feminism, and poetics.

1. How would you define your view of feminism?

I’m so glad you started with the easy question—ha! I just finished teaching a condensed summer section of Gender & Social Change at the University of Utah. I wasn’t so much surprised that the course marked many students’ first encounter with feminism; instead, I was floored that so many of them had such rich and, truthfully, strange preconceptions about what feminism includes (we started at the hairy lesbian stereotype, moved quickly to bestiality, and didn’t stop for a long, long while, even at liberal CIA offshoots infiltrating daycares in the Midwest). What I’m witnessing more and more in my classroom is that capital-f Feminism—the popularized (mis)understanding of “equal opportunity,” really—is regarded with the deepest and most sincere, absolute fear. I thought for a long time that folks were uninterested in engaging with feminism because it required a forfeit of power. I certainly still believe that to be the case, but I am also beginning to understand the newer generation of young folks—whether they live on a coast or not, whether they arrive in a college classroom or not—to be just really, genuinely afraid of what happens if their world gets turned upside down the way (even very essentializing, “safe,” mild versions of) feminism demands it must. I’ve personally struggled with calling myself a feminist for plenty of years because of its lack of intersectionality—if feminism doesn’t include all women (cis-women, trans*-women, every woman) or, really, all people; if it doesn’t prioritize the power inequalities among communities of color, folks with different ambulatory or accessibility needs, or individuals who don’t fit some hegemonic body norm; and if feminism doesn’t take a long, collective look at the way, historically, (white, socio-economically stable) feminism has actually participated in the further oppression of many, many groups of people (but especially women), then I’m completely uninterested. This push-pull dynamic of Yes, I’m a feminist, but only if… is really difficult to walk through with students who are used to an all-or-nothing agenda of extremes. I don’t believe feminism should be a movement that pushes for equality of women and men unless it is only interested in upholding hegemonic and violent standards rooted in cis-sexism. That kind of movement would (and, admittedly, does) only contribute to maintaining the gender binary and further oppressing every single person who does not fall into cis-sexist, racist, classist, ableist standard put forth in support of state-sanctioned violence and industrial complexes. All of that is to say that teaching constantly defines and redefines my personal feminism, and that feminism is constantly failing, again and again, in increasingly complex ways.

2. What makes a piece of writing “feminist?”

This feels a lot like it should be one of those you know it when you see it kind of things, but I don’t think it necessarily is. I can remember really clearly a conversation with a writing professor during my undergrad and it was easily some of the best advice anyone ever gave me concerning identity and writing. At the time, I was in an experimental writing class—which also coincided with my coming as queer—and I had become really earnestly invested in public art. My professor said, very simply, that I didn’t have to set out to create “something feminist”—that by nature of engaging with feminism and questioning feminism, my feminism was infused in the choices I made while writing. She saved me from a lot of really unnecessarily embarrassing and over-the-top, cliché poems early on. I stopped worrying about broadcasting my politics and got back to dissecting, digesting, and using them in my creative work. She gave me this really necessary kind of permission that I didn’t know I needed, yes, but it also changed the way I read everything from then on. I wasn’t merely looking to see if the main character was female or if a film passed the Bechdel test; instead, I learned to examine the narrative and syntactical choices—the way a particular arc depended on a sexist trope—and discovered how to interrogate the inherent ableism in every plotline in which there is a problem that needs “fixing.” I think making a piece of writing that is truly feminist requires a lot more work than any of us want to admit or, perhaps, invest the necessary time in. It involves a lot of mental gymnastics, I think, and a peaceful, perhaps even resigned dexterity around the very matter-of-fact racist, sexist, classist, homophobic, trans*phobic, and ableist systems we live in and unwittingly enable day in and day out. I don’t know that I achieve that ever, much less on a regular basis. I’m under no illusion that my feminism has somehow “arrived,” so to speak; I know it hasn’t and I think that’s a part of what keeps me writing, too.

3. Who are some of your feminist precursors? Which feminist writers do you admire?

Angela Davis, bell hooks, Laura Hershey, Anne Bradstreet, Audre Lorde, Luce Irigaray, Virginia Woolf, Donna Haraway, Coretta Scott King, Grace Paley, Leila Ahmed, Marina Tsvetaeva, Carson McCullers, May Swenson, Myung Mi Kim, Anna Akhmatova, and Gloria Anzaldua. These are all folks I’m reading frequently, teaching consistently, and learning from again and again.

4. What is the relationship, as you see it, between gender, ability, and feminism? How does poetry fit into this relationship?

This is another really difficult question, mostly because gender, ability, and feminism are so deeply intertwined not only with one another, but also with other intersections of race and class. Because of the medical industrial complex and how we have designed our infrastructure in this country to really maximize inaccessibility, we can’t really talk about ability without also talking about access via class and socioeconomic status—race is not far behind that, nor are the implications of gender. Poetry is the wildcard here and I think perhaps it’s a site of possibility and brainstorming. Because bending rules or breaking them is a part of poetics—and because poetry is a place in which the imagination can really feast on the potential of the blank page or the unspoken word—there is an anticipation, I think, of stumbling into unexpected access points, or solutions, or more accurate representations. How one’s own restrictions play with poetry’s restrictions really exploits creativity in exciting ways. Poetry can illuminate the crack-dwelling quality of so many of our identities that don’t adhere to hegemonic standards, yes, but it also can perform great feats in terms of understanding (and celebrating!) the unpredictability of the body. As many poets and theorists have suggested, the body of the poem is analogous to the body of a person. If we understand that to be true, poetry magnifies access and the prospect of play regarding difference. I don’t think feminism is interested in removing difference, but I do think it’s invested in reconfiguring the power dynamic therein. I could go on for a long time about poetry and power, but that seems like a tangent we don’t have time for.

Continue reading

Feminist Resource Spotlight: Lavender Review

by Mary Meriam

Out of my love for lesbian poetry and art, and wish to know more about it, on Gay Pride Day 2010, I launched Lavender Review. For me, the past four years have been an astounding education, international in scope, as I researched and presented the best lesbian poetry and art that I could find (including some poetry and art by non-lesbians that might appeal to a lesbian readership). Every June and December, I release a new issue of my e-zine, free and open to everyone.  

In 2012, I launched a Kickstarter campaign, made a movie, and enlisted an army of friends to make videos saying, in their own creative way, “I Love Lavender Review.” It was loads of fun, and you can watch some of their smart and funny and sexy videos on the Friends page. I interviewed two friends about LR on Ms. Blog and was highly inspired by Eloise Stonborough’s words:

Any art from a marginalized group is first dismissed as necessarily trivial or lesser because it doesn’t value the same ideals as the mainstream. It is only through iteration and resilience that the markers used to keep us out become the elements for which we are prized. That’s why a journal devoted to lesbian poetry and art is vital: it rejects tokenism; it makes visible the common themes between otherwise dissimilar writers and artists; and, most importantly, it shows the range and prowess of those who would otherwise be limited to one feature of their work. 

Yes, I can do iteration and resilience, keep trying and bouncing back. LR is my attempt to give lesbian poetry and art its fair share of attention and devotion.

With this June’s release of Issue 9, I decided, for the time being, to drop my practice of assigning themes to issues, and to let “common themes” emerge naturally. To tap into the lesbian collective unconscious of a group of my most-loved poets and artists, I invited them to contribute a poem or artwork of their choice. Would the poetry and art cohere into a unified issue? Would the poems speak to each other? Would the artworks speak to each other? Would the poetry speak to the art, and the art speak to the poetry? 

The gorgeous, brilliant work in Issue 9 includes new poems by Colleen McKee, Eleanor Lerman, Janice Gould, Judy Grahn, kathryn l. pringle, Nicole Brossard, Risa Denenberg, Rita Mae Reese, Robin Becker, and Suzanne Gardinier; and art by Anne Bentley, Diane Tanchak, Hannah Barrett, Jane Lewis, Jen P. Harris, Jessica Burke, Mady Marie Bourdages, Maura McGurk, Patricia Cronin, and Laura Gilpin.

I’m deeply honored to include a poem by, and selected by, Naomi Replansky, who was born in 1918 and lives in New York (age 96!!!!!!). Replansky has garnered some well-deserved recognition. Her Collected Poems (Godine/Black Sparrow, 2012) won the William Carlos Williams award of the Poetry Society of America and was a finalist for the Poets’ Prize.

In every issue, I publish a page of historial poems by women who loved women. Issue 9 includes poems by Natalie Clifford Barney, Sara Teasdale, Elinor Wylie, Sophie Jewett, and Christina Rossetti. If you would like some context for these poems, read Lillian Faderman’s books about lesbian history and literature.

For her lifelong attention and devotion to lesbian poetry, and her own wonderful poems, Issue 9 is dedicated with love and thanks to Eloise Klein Healy. Here’s an excerpt from her poem “Working Towards Sappho”:

Whatever emerges, a poem
written by a lesbian poet
has a heritage of flame,
and no matter what Sappho was,
any woman who “comes out”
springs from a burned life
as a poem.

There. You just read some lesbian poetry. Read it again. It was made for you.

 

Mary Meriam is the author of Conjuring My Leafy Muse and Girlie Calendar, both from Headmistress Press, a company she co-founded.