FORUMWelcome to FORUM, an on-going discussion site focused on one particular question per issue as posed by a revolving guest editor who will select responses from invited contributions. Other readers are invited to reply with their written views of the announced FORUM question; those views will be considered for publication in this section and may be e.mailed to managing editor Jo Ann Wasserman, firstname.lastname@example.org, who will forward them to the next issue's guest editor. FORUM remarks will, in most cases, be excerpted if included and will be chosen with an eye for introducing new points-of-view that have not yet been expressed.
Kathleen Fraser posed the first FORUM question:
"In 1983, there was clearly a need for women poets to take responsibility for bringing attention to the neglected pursuit and development of innovative poetic practice followed in both modernist and contemporary writing by women. HOW(ever) was born out of that need. Is a gender-specific journal, edited by women and focused on works of modernist and current innovation, still relevant? If so, why? If not, what problems do you see and what alternatives would you propose?"
Members of HOW2's Editorial Advisory Board were invited to respond electronically to this question. The dialogue that follows is an edited selection of comments from each of the responses, in the order received.
I think its a good idea--even given the dangers and fears of "re-enforcing the gender gap." What I find in my reading of criticism with regard to "language-centered writing" is still a predominance of talk about male experimentalists and an occasional call upon women who are then treated (a) as if not different at all from their male counterparts or (b) read in a very superficial manner as displaying traces of women's writing. "A room of one's own" might still be a good starting point for an informed engagement in the structuring of the "house" (to stay with the metaphor) of American experimental writing. What I would always stress is that--no matter what we wish and how far we have gotten in our efforts of mutual respect--gender does make (and will go on making) a difference. I often feel that the resentment against separate venues of women's writing is based on the assumptions that this separation is centered on the belief that women are and write NATURALLY differently from men--which, I believe is not the issue. The important issue for creating a separate forum for women's writing is that women are CULTURALLY different--they are represented, seen, appealed to, constructed (add to this list!) differently (also and very much so in experimental writing). It is a cultural issue, not one depending on the choice or treatment of women in a particular community which might be more or less patronizing and/or understanding. These cultural problems constitute a major subject of experimental women's writing (also true in the writing of women who prefer not to be separated from their male colleagues). I think it makes sense to have publications which concentrate on this issue in writing.
BIO: Kornelia Freitag is an assistant professor for American literature at the University of Potsdam, Germany. She is working on a book-length project on U.S. Women's Experimental Poetry and Cultural Criticism. She has published articles on contemporary American writing including a recent essay on Art Spiegelman's MAUS.
Freitag makes a good point that I too find gets easily overlooked, or forgotten. That is about the cultural positioning of women, the difference in their positioning--even their socialization. Too often, when I hear arguments that we've gotten beyond gendered issues, or that attention to gender widens the gender gap, it seems simply an elegant way of eluding the issues altogether. But I also don't think it should be forgotten that the "moment" in which HOW(ever) came of age was a moment dominated (at least in feminist circles) by the consolidation of all women into that symbolic category of (white) woman. One of the aspects that makes HOW2 most appealing is that it would have the chance to be a forum for and of differences--the ways women variously culturally positioned enact or inscribe difference(s). If it seems to white women that white men still dominate the discourse, I cannot help but think that it seems to women of color and lesbians that white, heterosexual women still dominate feminist venues. We need an active forum to build more dialogue among us all, to extend the thinking of the past two decades. Re: a room of one's own: why not rooms of our own among other rooms? Rooms have doors. Why should anyone suppose our rooms' doors are closed rather than opened, with concourse and discourse expanding between the rooms? We can see this project as part of the house (so to speak) of "poetry."
BIO: Cynthia Hogue teaches modern American literature at Bucknell University and directs The Stadler Poetry Center. Her recently published book, SCHEMING WOMEN, is reviewed in this issue.
First of all, I would like to say that one of my major motivations in supporting a gender specific magazine for experimental writing is that HOW(ever) was such an important and interesting project, and I would simply love to fuel energy into its electronic revival.
To create a magazine for experimental writing by women (mostly for women also?) is a political rather than an aesthetic decision that I think--together with Kornelia and Cynthia--is still legitimate for many reasons. Although for many women writers associated with "language writing," gender does seem to be an issue, their work certainly presses more in the direction of transgressing or questioning traditional gender stereotypes or boundaries. Of course we don't live in the seventies anymore and we have, meanwhile, witnessed and profited from the production of a complex body of theoretical and historiographical writing on gender issues. Nevertheless many of the most basic problems raised even by liberal feminism in the early seventies have not been solved, and part of the culture shock for a European living in the US is realizing how fundamental the rupture between the sexes is in this country and how strongly and, at times, subtly it is reinforced. Of course this permeates all kinds of cultural institutions and certainly the publishing business.
There are a variety of functions I can think of for HOW2. For young writers, it could be a temporarily sheltered space, a place to learn to speak up, a place to turn to in submitting their work, and a place to look for literary prefigurations. For all writers involved, it could be a communicative and a communal space, certainly also an experimental space. Publishing in a magazine for experimental women writers creates community; even recontextualizing one's own writing in such a context might bring out aspects previously not emphasized. The virtual medium allows dialogicity to a very high degree, and I would hope that contributors would attempt to make use of these possibilities and experiment with the medium.
HOW2 would also be an archival space. I was just reading what Derrida has to say about archives and patriarchal power and that reminded me how important it is to disturb, disperse and distribute this control. HOW(ever) has been--among other things--a wonderful archive of women's experimental writing.
BIO: Hannah Mockel-Rieke has taught at the Free University, Berlin and the Johann Wolfgang Goethe Universitat, Frankfurt. Mockel-Rieke's recent publications include "Media and Cultural Memory", Amerikastudien/American Studien. 43.1.1998, and "Entgrenztes Subjekt - Liminaler Korper: Cyborgs und Ihre Beziehung zur Korperkultur in der amerikanischen Popularkultur der Gegenwart" in: Harald Wenzel Die Amerikanisierung des Meidenalltags. Campus, 1998. Mockel-Rieke has translated the work of many women poets including Rosmarie Waldrop's, Die Reproduktion der Gefuhle (The Reproduction of Profiles) and Susan Howe's, Der Prager Fenstersturz (The Defenestration of Prague; Excerpts).
I would reinforce many of the comments made by Freitag, Hogue and Mockel-Rieke. Only this week in the latest issue of Angel Exhaust, a British experimental poetry journal, there is an editorial bemoaning the lack of women poets in its endeavors, and blaming it on the male bar culture. The Internet discussion list for British and Irish poets is also bemoaning the fact that it too is male-dominated. It often seems impossible to make any breakthrough in these arenas, and that we have to start from somewhere else, from a woman's room. I am currently working on an e-mail collaboration with Elizabeth James, and like Hannah I find this virtual medium does encourage dialogicity. As a way of overcoming geographical and even human distances it can work better than phone or letter. I have found this with male poets, too, but not to the same extent.
The success of virtual collaboration has to do with a desire for dialogue and in our care for each other, which does not preclude argument! As Cynthia reminds us, our differences and degrees of oppression should not be forgotten. I have been reading the collection of writings from Tessera, the Canadian journal of women's writing, as well as Ann Vickery's talk on collaboration, and both emphasize that the differences between women should not be eluded. We do need to recognize that there are many rooms that women inhabit in the house of poetry, but we should also remember that most of these are in the attic or the basement.
BIO: Frances Presley lives in London. Her most recent publications are Linocut (Oasis, 1997) and Hula Hoop (Other Press, 1993). 'Private Writings' will appear shortly from Maquette. She is currently working on a collaboration with the poet Elizabeth James.
When I think about the need for a gender-specific website for innovative writing, I go back in time to my first encounter with HOW(ever) in its print form. As a graduate student (late 80s), I discovered in this slender publication a wealth of material on and by women and, just as significantly, I was given important tools for thinking about and altering my reading practices. Now in 1999, HOW2 will continue to investigate relations among gender, language, and poetics not just as a critical exercise but as a way of understanding how we read and what our reading practices have to do with our (diverse) social and cultural positions, our political agencies, and our opportunities for creative/critical intersections.
Clearly, for me, the feminist work performed by HOW(ever) has been of primary importance, both in practical and in theoretical realms. A journal focused exclusively on women demands that we think continually about the implications of gender in relation to publication practices, to contemporary theory, to poetic traditions, to social history, to processes of writing and reading, to communities of readers. An obscuring of these relations has produced, in the past, obviously masculine-centered readings of innovative writing in this century, whether intentionally or not. Even the inclusion of women does not necessarily reshape the paradigms that continue to evolve in considerations of "experimental"/modernist/ innovative poetries; lineages, histories, and reading practices need to continue to be explored in ways attentive to gendered dynamics affecting them. HOW2 can be instrumental in helping to (re)shape both a history and a future for women's/feminist experimental writing through encouraging new work while exploring the intellectual, poetic, and material contexts attending the cultural labor of women writing innovatively in this moment, in this century.
BIO: Linda A. Kinnahan teaches literature and feminist studies at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh where she lives with her husband and daughter. She has published recent articles on twentieth-century American and British poets, including: Kathleen Fraser, Denise Riley, Carol Ann Duffy, Wendy Mulford, and Geraldine Monk. Interested in relationships between modernist and contemporary poets, she is currently completing work on a book on women's experimental poetry and economics that will consider Mina Loy, Marianne Moore, and a range of recent poets.
Since the completion of HOW(ever)'s first series, gender has not ceased to be an issue for many women writing--nor is ethnicity, sexual orientation or economics, which will continue to be articulated differently through what has been said or left unspoken in the past.
What has shifted and what engages me at this juncture is the site of reading. Previously, HOW(ever) was available in print, on paper, distributed by mail to hundreds of readers. The current HOW2 exchanges will be available to anyone on the planet who has access to the Internet and perhaps keys in "women," "writing," or "innovative."
At the same time, since the first HOW(ever), distribution of printed matter--as opposed to cyber texts--is imploding, gasping for air. Several independent distributors such as Segue have folded; independent bookstores are swallowed up like tiny minnows, and the shelf life of books themselves becomes increasingly short. Barnes & Noble is trying to buy up Ingram, the largest book distributor in the country. Amazon.com is now as big as CBS. This paradoxical explosion and implosion of the sites of reading is what comes to mind when I consider the relevance of a gender specific web site.
What happens if increasingly diverse work by women is available, but no one can find it?
Current antitrust struggles between Microsoft and Netscape demonstrate that the issue is not only who is engaged or present in the market, but who controls or directs the finding of what is available. A navigator is required as in the case of HOW2, one that is multiplex, interactive, acute.
There is no way I can count on Microsoft or AOL to open to the sites of new writing I need to encounter. HOW2, then, can be envisioned as a site that confronts the chaos of free-market hyperbole--where being gender-specific is a device that enables us to select, direct, pay attention--toward inclusion.
BIO: Meredith Stricker lives on the Pacific Coast near Monterey and works in the fields of visual arts and poetry. Her new work will appear in the Spring 99 issue of Conjunctions and is featured on their website.
The question arises, do we encourage women to clamor in the male way, in the culture of male dominance that we are accustomed to, where shouting the loudest the oftenest obtains the most heed, or do we try to develop a style of community and interpersonal relations different from that culture of hierarchical dominance?
The same dynamics that continue to keep most political representation male and most corporate management male (among other things, general undervaluing of care-giving and human welfare) operate in the publishing world. How many times have you picked up a journal and found yet another male sexual fantasy deemed ground-breaking, cutting-edge literature by the editor--fantasy that often demeans women? Recently in Canada, an anthology, The Concrete Forest, was described in the Vancouver Sun as getting back to the gutsy male-tough real Canadian lingo, a clear dig at the outstanding women currently popular in Canada's fiction scene:
"the sentences are blunt and quick. They use the same Dick and Jane syntax many of us use. And if a lot of the stories contain dirty words, well, that's because Canadian males in particular talk like that. Yet amazingly, talk of this kind has rarely appeared in the work of our best-known writers. Where the speech of Canadian men should have been there has just been a hole. Now that hole is being filled. In the terrific prose of Michael Turner's piece from Hard Core Logo, the world his rock 'n rollers inhabit becomes clear right down to its East Hastings sidewalks littered with smashed whisky bottles and soggy pieces of hot-dogs."
This reviewer assumes there is one Canadian male voice--only one can be on top, can be the voice of the nation and that the mere fact that women writers are capturing public attention means that other voices cannot have the attention they deserve--a view that sees the world as limited and too small for everyone. We need forums free from this attitude.
Any social subset may well wish to provide a forum for itself to hold conversations between persons who are similarly situated, whose lexicons involve some shared meaning, conversational forums that are free from dismissal by those who are not similarly situated, but at the same time open to new languages, open to diversity and experimentation.
Gradually we are seeing that masculinity is only one social orientation and macho masculinity is only one subset of that social orientation. There are many masculinities. There are many femininities. Each with a different language. There should be room for all of them....Those who are situated in the feminine gender need a protected space to experiment with ways around this dilemma, to discover ways toward that language of tolerance, that allows new languages and new usages of language to develop.... provided they are not harmful. Mainstream language usage is not politically neutral. It reinforces the idea of one dominating others, reinforces the idea that dominance is normal and right.
HOW2 is a place where we can work on undoing this.
BIO: Meredith Quartermain is the author of Terms of Sale (Meow, 1996) and Abstract Relations (Keefer Street, 1998). She lives in Vancouver and teaches at Capilano College (email@example.com).
The first series of HOW(ever) not only supported innovative poetry by women but made available an informal forum for sharing news and information across regional and national borders. Furthermore, it strove to collapse the theory/praxis divide by encouraging a creativeness and diversity of critique. All three areas still need to be addressed today.
On the first front, there have been a number of journals which have wholly or strongly represented experimental women's poetry since the demise of HOW(ever). Some have even featured valuable critical forums on gender issues, such as the Chain issue on gender and editing, and the earlier Raddle Moon issues on collaboration as a feminist strategy. Yet, there is still a need for an ongoing and sustained series of these kinds of debates.
A space is also required for more informal exchange. As Meredith Stricker points out, the Internet would seem, in many ways, an obvious and convenient space. Editing such space is still a necessary task, as certain discussion lists have shown only too clearly how the virtual duplicates the real in silencing rather than opening access to the marginal. There is also the further problem of negotiating with and convincing an institution of the continuing value of such a project.
On the third front, the discourse of poetry and the discourse of criticism continue to be divided in many recent publications. While the Moving Borders anthology did much in its collective presentation of American women's innovative writing practices, it is an example of how such divisions still structure some feminist poetic projects.
The most pressing issue is to critique what it means to be gender-specific. While I am in favor of a space devoted to women's experimental poetry, I am less easy about what other kinds of restrictions might be imposed on contributions. Are contributors, for example, to be restricted according to gender? What reasons are there for such restrictions and what limitations does this then impose on how gender issues can then be approached? The same question arises for the structure of the editorial board. Lastly, are contributions to be gender-specific, i.e. somehow relating specifically to gender? How is this to be decided? Of course, these are all issues pressing to the definition of feminism itself. I believe it is still valuable to debate such basic issues.
Kornelia Freitag rightly points out that cultural positioning through gender, as much as other identity formations, influence who gets heard and what gets heard and by whom. I would like to explore more contexts (and sliding contexts) of such positioning--how exactly gender is imagined, constructed and contested? Since the first series of HOW(ever) we have seen the arrival of queer theory. Much of queer theory foregrounds the risk that comes in simplifying the sex/gender system and has examined strategies of subverting it. I hope that HOW2 might be willing to engage with the complexities this new field offers--particularly in exploring the gender crossings practiced by many modernist women writers and writers today.
BIO: Ann Vickery lives in Sydney, Australia where she is a Research Fellow at Macquarie University. She is currently researching the role of women poets in Australian modernism. Vickery has published a number of articles focusing on the work of women associated with Language writing, as well as articles on twentieth-century Australian poetry and poetics.
I am a woman who strives to make my identity in North America at the turn of the century. I am a poet and care about language and poetry and women's poetry and many other forms and configurations of discourse. I care about "women's" poetry in a way that seems to be special, favoritist and maybe even elitist because women are still (despite post-feminist rhetoric) defined within patriarchy against the norm of male. This is not to make any argument about men--all men--dominating women, or how "hard" a female academic's life may be. I'm not complaining about my life. I'm complaining about what I'm reading, what I can read and what I want to read, what I need to read. About the readers and writers I can talk to through my own writing. About audience and readership; circulation and marketing; productivity and capitalism.
I'm complaining about everything, but I don't want just to complain--I need to complain: about the world and how it's run. About who's running what and who's in charge of whom. About grammar and who controls it. About language and who is listened to. About the passive voice, and why I avoided agency in the last sentence. I need a literary journal such as HOW2 because HOW(ever) made me pause and ask questions in the first place, because I read intelligent, wonderful, thoughtful, engaged writers and theorists who made me question hierarchies and line-breaks, the avant-garde and pronouns. Because I still need to hear the questions. Because I am a woman about to enter the 21st century and I'm looking for literary companionship, rather than leadership.
BIO: Nicole Markotic is an Assistant Professor at the University of Calgary where she teaches Creative Writing and Contemporary Poetry. Her publications include a novel, Yellow Pages (RDC Press), and a recent book of poetry, Minotaurs & Other Alphabets (Wolsak & Wynn).
I would like to address the issue of accessibility as some ^forum^ responses have left me confused (& perhaps this is just a logistical problem). Meredith Quartermain mentions the need for a "protected space to experiment with ways around this dilemma, to discover ways toward that language of tolerance"--the "behavioral goal" of valencey. Meredith Stricker points out that as a result of HOW2's cyber-situation, its gender-specifity is a "device that enables us to select, direct, pay attention--- toward inclusion." To any web rover who has the right "key/words," HOW2 will reveal herself.
It is with interest that I find this discourse comes back to the issue of attractiveness and protection and at the same time visibility and accessibility. My question is, if anyone can access HOW2, and if HOW2 is (I am making presumptions here) on the other hand accessible as a medium (of display) only to women contributors, is HOW2 at risk of producing so many more (attractive, yes) objects? Of reinforcing a gender-inflected subject/object binarism?
Not to suggest that I see HOW2 as potentially passive--this forum, for example, is sustenance to me at the beginning of another semester of courses (without a single female professor at head). I'm looking forward to HOW2 because it is a place where women will be talking. HOW2 wouldn't be HOW2 if it didn't follow somewhat in the steps of HOW(ever). But at the same time its contributors, like in any written forum, can only be gendered in name and to that extent a forum that proposes to be gender-specific opens itself up to the hacking of a female Yasusada (though maybe he was a she after all?)--that slippery slope of gender mentioned most recently by Ann Vickery (and her questions and comments that get at the heart of what I'm at here). I wonder if, rather than forcing one to comply to the contortions requisite to the positioned as feminine, HOW2 could be an interactive space--let those who have a serious interest in interacting with this discourse do so (for they will get in anyway by putting an "a" at the end of their name).
Nicole Markotic notes "I find myself responding to the presumed 'attack' of HOW2 being a 'feminist' journal and what, exactly, such an accusation means." I wanted to ask who exactly is presuming the/to "attack"? I admit I feel the "enemy" to be within me. If so, such perhaps means I wish to see a change in what a feminist "space" and feminist boundary-devices might consist of. I too would like HOW2 to be a woman-centered space, but not at the risk of saying who or what is or isn't allowed to test itself out in the discourse of the feminine--that is, who is allowed to position him/her/itself as "feminine" in a space that calls itself "feminist" by contrasting itself to more masculine, more aggressive sites of interaction. I'm sure there are few men who would be actually interested in contributing their thoughts to HOW2, but I too wonder how many will be fearlessly or even fearsomely willing? That, I think, is a question that a forum such as HOW2 can confront. Confronting that question thus is tantamount to "the questioning, through poetic [&/or editorial] methods, of the authoritative structures of our society . . . useful to both men and women... We will have our say, we will have our space, and we will, with our words, protect it. But I for one never qu ite enjoyed the manners in which I have been protected (who's the agent of that verb?) unless my physical well-being were at stake. I urge you to consider the medium and the sort of built-in protection and opportunities (and loopholes) it provides.
BIO: Linda Russo's poems were recently published in Potes & Poets Press New Chapbook Series. Her essay "The 'F' Word in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction: An Account of Women-Edited Small Presses and Journals" is forthcoming in Talisman: A Journal of Contemporary Poetry and Poetics. Russo is a graduate student at SUNY/Buffalo.
Looking back at Kathleen's comments in HOW(ever) & elsewhere, I realized that despite many shifts in the climate of poetry reading/writing, feminist thought, & innovative writing over the last 20 years, the difficulty Kathleen & others experienced persists--finding a "place" among gender-neutral experimental poetry journals & feminists' "common language" poetics. Interest among mainstream publications & among scholars/poets toward experimental writing in general has burgeoned amazingly in recent years--perhaps even to the point of appropriation. But how much of the attention to recent feminist writing concerns experimental writing? What journals represent feminist explorations of innovation in poetry? HOW2 is very much needed and will serve a crucial function for poets & scholars and poet/scholars.
To respond to Cynthia's excellent critique: if "mainstream" feminist thinking has been revolutionized by the on-going need to conceptualize difference, the issue of cultural (and formal) hybridity (the mix, the "mongrel"), in anti-essentialist terms, still needs to be explored--and without fixing narrow parameters on either "theory" (all approaches imply a "theory" or set of assumptions) or "identity" (too often simplified or essentialized). I think this area of exploration can be among HOW2's contributions--to provide a space for questions concerning not just language and gender, but also the workings of our hybrid selves & culture. It seems to me that Ann Vickery's astute point about exploring post-colonial perspectives also speaks to this issue.
BIO: Elisabeth Frost lives in New York City and teaches contemporary poetry at Fordham University. Her article "Ruses of the Lunatic Muse: Harryette Mullen and Lyric Hybridity" appears in the fall 1998 issue of Women's Studies, and "Mina Loy's 'Mongrel' Poetics" is in the new volume Mina Loy: Woman and Poet. She is completing a book manuscript entitled The Feminist Avant-Garde in American Poetry.
A decade later, we find ourselves trying to define a vocabulary for addressing complex issues of class in the formation of an innovative poetics. As Kathy Lou Schultz asked in her Tripwire (N.1, Fall 1998) essay, "What's a working class poetic, and where could I find one?" How do we make present the "absence" of class in discussions of gender and the poetics of innovation? Where are the intersections of race in discussions of class? How are these forces fused on CON-fused?
How do/can we picture/trace working class issues in formally innovative ways? What do the circumstances of literary production -- surrounding writers and the writing produced -- have to do with one another?"
go to this issue's table of contents