Saturday, October 22, 2011

Cathy Wagner recommends The Wide Road

Cathy Wagner recommends The Wide Road

"An enviably intellectually-fecund friendship set itself the important work of trying to think and write sex, collaboratively, as women. I wish I’d had this book years ago. “We eroticize our earthly situations and conditions and likewise they eroticize us…Our vagina accommodates the proverbial railway station it has sometimes been compared to. To be enormous is a wish that comes over us in our hot desperation. Then, miraculously, everything on earth swells to our proportions.” Yup that’s how it works. Crazy smart and crazy sexy."

Friday, October 21, 2011

Our Material Lives: A New Feminism by Caroline Crumpacker

On September 13th, 2011, at the first event of Belladonna*'s 2011 reading series - Our Material Lives: Feminism and Poetry at Various Ages - Caroline Crumpacker read the following statement concerning the revolutionary and poetic nature of women voices. She underlines the connectivity of female work and community to a radical re-understanding of ourselves as viable subjects in our culture, ripe for effecting political and social change.


I’d like to begin by thanking Rachel, Krystal, Emily and Belladonna* for putting together this panel and asking me to be part of it. I do believe that opening and creating meaningful conversation and asking women to speak is a juicy, feminist, generative act and these conversations carry a great hope and great potential.

I am reminded that when CR groups were inaugurated in the 1970s, they sought to subvert the marginalization of women’s voices from a dominating discourse by insuring that each woman present had an inviolable place in an ongoing conversation. My mother was part of a CR group when I was a girl. Clearly a source of libidinal pleasure, intellectual stimulation, social standing and political necessity, this group played a significant role in the rhythms of our household. Later on in my life, memories of this group informed my bedazzled first encounters with writers including Helen Cixous and Laura Mulvey.

The mechanics of taking part in (inherently masculinist) cultural conversation.
The mechanics of taking apart (inherently masculinist) cultural conversation.

Alison Bechdel in her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For famously inaugurated the 3 rules for cinema worth watching
1. Does it have at least two women in it?
2. Who (at some point) talk to each other?
3. About something besides a man?

Think about it. It could apply to literature, TV, radio, our living room. It never goes out of style. There has always been something radical about respectfully listening to women.

Nina Powers cites Kant, from Anthropology, on the dangers of ‘loquacity’ in women: “In lunatic asylums [women’s] lively power of imagination inserts so much into what they are relating that no one grasps what they actually wanted to say.”

Yes, one ponders what situation of intellectual curiosity Kant assigned to that chilly ‘no one’. But it’s the ‘What they actually wanted to say’ that sticks with me. We don’t know what so many women really wanted or want to say. An unbearable loss. Revolutions forfeit. Reforms abandoned. Lives of quiet or loquacious desperation. And no one can grasp them.

If I can assign a coherent reason to the specifically feminist register within which I write poetry at the age of forty-seven, with a full-time job a seven year-old daughter a dependent parent and a life that generally tends to overwhelm, it’s toward what they actually wanted to say, what we actually want to say, what I actually want to say. Which has very little representation.

From another epic another history. From the missing narrative. From the multitude of narratives. Missing. From the chronicles. For another telling for other recitations.
-- Theresa Hak Kyung Cha

There is unfathomable promise in the unlistened to, in the readership Harryette Mullen strives for, the daughters of illiterate women, in the words of the hysterical and the tongue-tied (both of which I am with frequency).

Last year, Eileen Myles wrote about ‘an exercise’ she has before presenting or writing her work – she tries to imagine herself “deeply loved”. As even radical male artists like Pier Paolo Passolini were loved (and hated):

“How did he do it—make such amazing work and stand up so boldly as a queer and a Marxist in a Catholic country in the face of so much hate. I have one clear answer. He was loved. Pasolini’s mother was wild about him.…A mother loves her son. And so does a country. And that is much to count on. So I try to conjure that for myself particularly when I’m writing or saying something that seems both vulnerable and important so I don’t have to be defending myself so hard. I try and act like its mine. The culture. That I’m its beloved son. It’s not an impossible conceit. But it’s hard. Because a woman, reflexively, often feels unloved.”

Or IS unloved. It is a timeless radical act to perform Eileen Myles’ ‘exercise’ of imagining that this culture is ours –all of ours. This exercise incorporates gender, sexuality, class, race, culture, ability and disability. Speaking/writing/thinking from a platform in which we are all a beloved son, if you will, offers a kaleidoscopicly shattering analytical lens through which to understand what is happening to us and within us.

This lens necessarily opposes war and brutality, seeks to distribute wealth and power through acts large and small and ‘speaks truth to power’ while listening to that truth in all the languages and from all the nooks and crannies and under-sides of rocks from which it comes. This lens then reveals as solipsistic the tokenism decoyism narcissism or full-access consumerism that can be confused with feminist power. The feminisms of Elisabeth Badinter of the ‘burkha ban’ of Sarah Palin of ‘Feminists for Life’ of Carrie Bradshaw of Lady Gaga of Maureen Dowd of Condoleeza Rice.

It seems that my generation has a particular vantage point from which to see that the tides are rising. And while I don’t think that all ships will sink equally hard or equally fast, there are enough of us in it together that the feminism Eileen so beautifully describes offers what I see as a best way to think write and speak ourselves to something better. Sometimes the only way to hear is poetically. Whatever that means.

-Caroline Crumpacker

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Poetry Foundation blogs about Belladonna*

The Poetry Foundation's Harriet blog:
Belladonna* reading sparks discussion, manifesto about poets’ material needs.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Our Material Lives: A Working Poet's Manifesto by Ana Božičević

On September 13, 2011, the following statement was read as part of Belladonna*s first event of the season: Our Material Lives, Feminism and Poetry at Various Ages. It was prepared by one of the evening's readers, the amazing Ana Božičević.

Two nights ago, after our latest reading with Uljana Wolf and erica kaufman, we (the audience, the readers) sat in the cozy Dixon Place lounge and discussed our multiple economies--how we survive and make art, jobs for poets, academic jobs, teaching avant-garde poetics in our composition classes, resource sharing, how to better communicate our needs to the community. I think of this manifesto as a resource, a way of re-shaping the way we look at "poet jobs," our work and the work we create.

A Working Poet's Manifesto
Ana Božičević

What does a poem do? Let me rephrase that: what does a poet do? I wake up at 8, let the dogs out, read on the train to Manhattan, work 10-6. After work I take classes or teach, read on the train home, have very late dinner with Amy and fall asleep. Just before I drift, lines start going through my head and so I stir and I write them down. This is usually after midnight. I write them down in the dark.

When I tell people that I work full time and attend grad school and teach, they look at me funny. I don’t remember living another way, though, ever since I emigrated to the US. For a while I tried the broke in Brooklyn thing – eating two bagels a day, feeling heroic in a roachy flat – but I got writer’s block from the hunger and the filth. I did not thrive on punishment. I was not Vallejo. Coming from a country where jobs are at a premium, and having no economic or social support system in the US – as much as capitalism made me retch, electing unemployment felt disingenuous. So I worked.

It’s hard to figure out what kind of work is appropriate for a poet. A few months ago a poet I admire wrote on a blog that a poet should not be a bureaucrat and administrator -- a poet should be a poet, live for the art. Blue collar work was not even mentioned. So, let’s see, regular jobs are unpoetic, but then I read elsewhere that teaching is even worse – academic jobs are somehow deemed “not real,” as though academia were a virtual realm like the internet but counted even less. Staying at home in a different arrangement also doesn’t seem to do a poet good – mom poets are not paid for their work of mothering and often can’t go to readings and travel, poets fortunate enough to have a private income can’t mention it lest they be dubbed trust-fund babies, itinerant poets who move from colony to colony can’t keep a boyfriend or girlfriend to save their lives, poets with government grants are sellouts. Most of you in the room have been pegged as one or the other. Prestige & stigma are doled out in a random system of poet-castes that shift & refract differingly depending on the site you’re reading, the people you’re chatting with.

I listen and I am confused. I eat. What should I eat? I sleep – where? Does it have to be uncomfortable? Can I earn my rent or must I only accept donations, like a fortuneteller? I really don’t like being told what to do, especially by people who are not paying me. Why should a poet be a stranger to any human experience? Maybe it’s only my communist upbringing speaking. All I know is that everything is real and every work counts. Writing counts. Bricklaying counts. Pushing paper typing pouring coffee counts. Mothering counts. Everything counts and everything belongs to a poet, belongs in a poem.

What should a poem do? Auden wrote in lovely flowing lines that Poetry makes nothing happen. Maybe it’s just atomic physics, but nothing looks a whole lot like everything to me from here. How does it make you feel if you switch those two and say that Poetry makes everything happen? Now substitute Poetry for Poet: a poet makes everything happen. Now turn around and look at your friends here – isn’t it funny? It’s completely true: Aphra Behn: a spy, Marianne Moore a library assistant, Diane di Prima and Anne Waldman and Amy King teachers, Vanessa Place an attorney, Hanna Andrews an editor, E. Tracy Grinnell and Rachel Levitsky publishers – poets are making everything happen all over the place. And that means that we also change everything.