Friday, September 24, 2004

It's An Old Discussion . . .

. . . for me at least. As an undergrad in the early 90's the whole women in poetry topic had always been been presented front and center in my education to the point of where I tired of it. By the time I got to grad school in the late 90's I was more interested in catching up on the classics and filling in what I perceived to be major holes in my reading (something I'll probably be doing for the rest of my life. For instance, I've read nothing by this Zukofsky guy). I never felt like women didn't belong or contribute to poetry or that it had much bearing on me or what I could do. The fact that in the past women were shut out seems to be part of history and what can I do about that? Well, I can study and learn from it but I don't necessarily identify with it. I definitely don't feel like it's something I have to break free of and prove myself from.

At Bennington there was a woman in my class, my age who had a very different view. She said the only female poets she studied both as an undergrad and as a masters (literature) student were Elizabeth Bishop and Marianne Moore (um, not even Plath, Sexton, Stein or Dickinson?). She was desperate to discover women writers. So maybe my undergraduate experience was more unique that I thought.

In general, I tend to lean towards reading male writers. A quick scan and estimate of my bookshelves are approx. 60% male. When I think of who are my favorite poets, a lot more men pop into my head than women. I'm neither ashamed nor proud of this -- it's just the way it is. I've always believed I identified with writers' works, not so much them or their lives.

So imagine my surprise after editing No Tell Motel for such a short time and discovering my editorial tastes have been decidedly female. So far, of all the poets we've published or scheduled to publish, 67% are women. Someone suggested that perhaps it was because our girlie pink design discouraged men from submitting and attracted the ladies, but that doesn't seem to be the case either. As of today, 55% of our submissions were sent by men.

My initial response was one of concern. I didn't want people to think we were (gasp) women-centric. I thought about it a little longer and decided that my fears were silly. There are plenty of journals that regularly publish issues that are 60-80% male with no apologies or explanations so why should we feel the need to? I've heard male editors ruminate on their male-heavy journals and ask should they be publishing more women and my only response is publish what you love. As a woman, I'd be insulted if I discovered the only reason an editor picked my work was because of what I was, not because they believed in the poem.

Molly and I publish the work we love and begrudgingly pass on a lot of pieces we like. If the truth is that for years I have been denying to myself that I do indeed think with my vag, well that's just something I need to accept on my own terms. I'm not at that point. We feel strongly about the poems we're publishing and think most of our readers will too. Vag or no vag.

As for more dudes publishing books and winning contests, I'm just guessing here, but I have a feeling a lot more men are submitting to those things. I have no stats to back that statement up, just an anecdotal observation among my peers. A lot of my female poet friends simply don't submit, or submit very rarely.

Whatever the reason is, I don't spend too much time worrying about the fairness or equity of the system. I'm just plodding along, writing, reading, submitting, trying to place my damn manuscripts. If I'm 80 and still bookless, that's when I'll spend my days damning you piggish white men keeping me down with your mathematical equations and Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issues.


At 10:19 PM, Blogger Laura Carter said...

Way to go, Reb. Makes sense to me. (Are we in the same generation? I think so....)

And to think, I almost disguised myself as Lawrence when I submitted to you guys!

Looking forward to it.

With hope.

At 11:17 PM, Blogger Reb said...

I think I have a few years on you, but yeah, close enough.

And I hope the above post doesn't discourage men from submitting to No Tell. I love men, really, I'm married to one. Some of my best friends are men. :)

I only brought it up because it's one example of women poets exceling. Honestly I was surprised when scheduling poets and realized how many women we selected. It may not always be that way, but for the moment . . .

At 7:16 PM, Blogger Daniel Nester said...

I have male parts. Just so ya know!

At 10:10 PM, Blogger Reb said...

Yeah, I think I saw some evidence of that on your blog a few months ago, albeit squashed evidence.

At 12:19 PM, Blogger Daniel Nester said...

No, that was Shafer's squashed evidence. I can pass along images of mine, if you wish.

I have the same thought as well with Unpleasant Event Schedule and the McSweeney's Sestinas section. I always fear, as I put it crudely, of having a "sausage party," a term I used to use for parties where there are no girls. "Yo," I'd say to my fellow single guys, "let's get outta this sausage party."

At 2:06 PM, Blogger Reb said...

I LOVE sausage parties! I used to always throw them in college where the male to female ratio was 7:3. Damn, those were the days.


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