Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Women Poetry Bloggers Speak Up/ Out Against PW Article

Craig Teicher wrote an interesting article in Publishers Weekly recently about poetry and the blogosphere. Two poets, Reb Livingston and Shanna Compton, have since written good responses asking why the article doesn't mention more women bloggers. Their points are well-made, and as you might expect, a debate has ensued (see their April 12 posts). Aside from one female reader's seemingly unsound attack on Livingston, the debate is interesting and for the most part, above the belt. But is the PW article another example of Bloom-like exclusions from the male club? Brenda: I don't think that a poet (like Livingston) who has work coming out in the next Best American Poetry (along with the awesome Bao Phi) is too worried about not being mentioned in the article. Maybe she just has a good point. Some things need to be said.


Pris said...

I've seen a lot of discussions of this sort recently, ie the lower number of female poets in publications, too. Journal editors, however, say that's because they have so few females submitting. That certainly isn't true for blogs, though. I see as many females blogging as I do males. My feeling on this issue is, let's face it...women just aren't up there on the equality ladder yet and I don't know when that's going to happen. Can we imagine a woman for President and a predominantly female congress, for example??

Lee Herrick said...

There is, definitely, a long way to go. I think it has to do with who's in the positions of power, as you say, in the White House, Congress, etc. Last year, I was looking into the glass ceiling numbers with regard to the most wealthy Americans. Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, etc. top the list, and of the top 100, according to Forbes 500, only 17 were women (and many of those are heirs of the Walmart fortune).

As for a female president, I think it might happen in our lifetime. I think Hillary might run.

Reb and Shanna have been very respectful in their contentions, I think. I was also witness to some of the ugliness/very personal attacks on a female poet friend of mine recently on the web so I'm wary of how vicious people can be online.

barbara jane said...

hi lee,

another coupla places in blogosphere having good discussion re: gender and blog is at josh corey's and jessica smith's

some things:

(1) a comment left at jessica's is re: the way women behave and speak in public spaces, and that women do indeed and necessarily behave and speak differently than men do in public spaces due to public backlash, assault, reprisal etc. we know, based upon recent experiences, this is true, when women put their voices and owrk out there, when women's literary work is attacked, how vicious and personal and LOW these attacks are. which brings me to:

(2) women who do write and speak critically in public spaces are many times dismissed and attacked, precisely because they are speaking and writing critically, and their work is garnering public attention, generating critical discourse. it's much more societally accepted for women to voice softness, frivolity, and private domestic-realm issues while the big boys handle the public sphere, garner recognition there.

which is not to say i am deriding or dismissing women who blog about homelife, family life. this is just to say that i as a woman author and blogger, that my colleagues who engage in the public spheres, in intelligent discourse on poetics, on issues of literary, asian am, and/or f/pil am community and politics, would like to do so without being cyber-stalked by lunatics, viciously and wantonly attacked for our youth and appearances, reduced to disembodied body parts, name-called and cat-called.

finally (this is so long, i know), re: as pris writes and disputes, "Journal editors, however, say that's because they have so few females submitting."

yeah, this is totally untrue.

Lee Herrick said...

barbara, it's understandable but depressing that women writers in general face similar biases that women in other public spheres face---in most institutions where racism is inherent, sexism is as well---corporate, medical, educational, legal. with regard to literature and literary criticism, the same old rules apply. how many women are considered part of the american literary canon? not many, that's for sure.

pris is right, though, that there are just as many female bloggers as there are males. my guess is that there are just as many female poets and novelists as there are males as well. but when you get to decision makers, heads of publishing companines or the parent company who owns that publishing company, the numbers of women dwindle.

another thought: teicher's article, despite the ripples, should not be the end-all. i usually (try to) stay out of blog-disputes because anonymity (or at the very least, a great physical separation) encourages beligerence, in my opinion, and i don't like debating with people i cannot see, hear, or in certains terms, know. i see enough toxicity and politics in my own workplace, so i sure don't want/need any more here, which i view as an escape of sorts. so, you are 110% right (and this kind of my point)---one should be able to blog (much less write in any forum) freely, without the vicious attacks on race, gender, youth, appearance, etc (too often masquerading as legitimate or well-thought out criticism of the work).

another thought---some of this reminds me of the heat alice walker took after writing the color purple in the 80s and her book about it all, the same river twice. i also think it's important to honor reclamation projects such as the one(s) that helped shine light on zora neale hurston, for example, and a lot of the translations by linh dinh and others. lastly, i think it's important (as i think you know full well) to create and support small presses, in the hopes that somehow things expand---one big book from a little press, one little press giving voice to a lot of otherwise unheard of writers: case in point, the literary magazine i founded about 10 years ago, in the grove, publishes people from the central valley (fresno, modesto, sacramento, etc). the first book i published was by gillian wegener, who remains one of my favorite poets. now that i think about it, i am going to count how many women i have listed on the homepage as contributors as opposed to men. maybe i'll have to change the names to better represent. this response is all over the place, i know...but:

lastly, i saw that kay ryan was named chancellor of the academy of american poets. that seems encouraging, though all i have to go on is her great article in a recent issue of poetry about her ambivalence/fear toward awp. i imagine when women's voices gather, the impact could/would be significant.

Reb said...

Barbara, those of us who write a fair bit about the personal and domestic have our stalkers and viscious attackers too. Of course, I don't consider homelife soft of small picture (and I understand you're not necessarily saying that -- but how it is generally perceived). Sometimes being a woman and having an opinion is all that's needed to spark outrage. It doesn't even have to be an outrageous opinion.

Thanks for bringing this up here, Lee.

Lee Herrick said...

hey, thanks for your comment, reb. your statement struck me---"Sometimes being a woman and having an opinion is all that's needed to spark outrage. It doesn't even have to be an outrageous opinion." I wonder what will change this, if anything? I'm sure it's more complicated than numbers and representation, but I believe that "firsts" make some (even tiny) difference.

For example, i think i read somewhere that katie couric is the first woman to anchor (alone) a major news network evening broadcast. So up until now it's been Tom, Dan, and Peter. We associate (in our "leap to wrong conclusions" inability to think critically) this with (caucasian) men as the fact-bearers, the truth-tellers, the ones in the know. another discussion on a good blog on gender on race ( has brought up another related (but different) subject, the male dominated field of television game shows. think of the hosts---wink martindale, chuck woolery, pat sajak, alex trebek, regis philbin, monte hall, the kissing dude on family feud, howie mandel...etc. only two women came to mind, the woman who replaced regis and the woman who hosted 'the weakest link.' inconsequential? maybe. but it's also one of many, many areas where men (caucasian) hold the mic, give the facts, banter about their opinions, and dish out the money.

i'm just speculating on the problem. i will say that new "firsts" will help---perhaps a female president, more visible female political pundits even, etc. who knows?

Reb said...

I love that kissing guy on Family Feud!

Maybe I can talk about game shows and not come off as crying victim or having a personal agenda.

In terms of game shows, a common quality game show host possess is charm (what the viewers perceive as charming, obviously). The weakest link host made big headlines because she wasn't "charming" but provocative and then once all the hubbub ended about the "mouthy rude foreigner" -- viewership plummeted and she was replaced by "charming" Regis and viewers reacted better. Women are considered charming too (perhaps Couric is considered charming -- that seems to be a necessary trait for a network anchor as well) -- but it's a tighter rope -- if a woman is too charming she might be flirting and that can be taken as kind of sexual.

Regarding my response to the article, I don't consider anything I said as provocative. I don't think I even expressed outrage. In fact, pointing out that I thought the article forgot something important and voicing disappointment -- well, that seems gentle. So when its described as an "attack" or an "agenda" or "playing the victim" -- I don't know any other way to respond but "how?" Maybe the answer is simply I expressed an opinion on something that make people uncomfortable -- and I felt uncomfortable doing it too -- so I'm not just talking men.

I'm charming too! And if I could get away with kissing strangers (of my choosing, of course), I would.

J.B. Rowell said...

This is the first place I've seen an intelligent and sane two-way discussion on this issue. Men and women actually listening to each other - so thank you Pris, Lee, Barbara, and Reb. Especially you, Reb. You haven't backed down even when personally attacked and hit below the belt - or maybe above the belt? Ouch. The argument about the WAY men and women discuss poetry playing into who was included in the article has given me much thought (i.e. men zero in, take apart, and draw sides while women look at the whole, combine other ideas like the social and domestic, and include). This male way has created the dominant structure that is accepted and more legit. Hmmmm. Maybe men and women's brains do work differently in this way on some levels, and we need to work to create a new structure that views the female as legit too. But, then again, I have seen plenty of women po-bloggers who are players within the existing structure who were just plain ole overlooked.

Lee Herrick said...

reb, you have me rethinking my thoughts on couric's appointment. i like your analogy of the rope and how it gets tighter.

jb, thank you very much for your comments here. you've made me think even more about the subject and its causes (and implications). i'll try to post more when i get home (just a quick note here before we get on the road for the four hour drive home).

J.B. Rowell said...

Thanks Lee, I put you on my blogroll if that's ok, I love your blog. Have a safe drive.

pam said...

I have nothing substantial to add except to echo Julia's comment that it's great to see this discussion here. Illustrating the point that it's not just women who are concerned (should be concerned) about feminism.

Lee Herrick said...

no sweat, julia. i appreciate the link.

pam, i imagine we share a belief that these discussions need to be held more frequently and more widely, indeed.

Julie Carter said...

I'm coming at this whole controversy very very very very late, so I just want to say that as a woman, I guess I'm a little used to having or feigning a sort of diffidence to male opinions, so it doesn't surprise me when I bring those behaviors, still so inadvertently, into the blogworld. My early internet experiences showed me that being outspoken earned me death threats from poetry group hangers on. One guy went so far as to start calling my workplace. I'm dense sometimes, but I can learn from that experience and start to keep my head down.

You know, that's the most depressing thing I've written in years.

Lee Herrick said...

i hear you, julie. makes good sense.