comcom dotdot

Modernist Studies Association Seminar
on Modern & Contemporary Women Poets

by Elisabeth Frost


The word I keep returning to is dialogue. It was a focus not just of this unusually informal and informed gathering but also of our inquiries into the work of women poets spanning the century. Modernism and its legacies; the construction of tradition; ambivalence toward precursors; jockeying for position in (or out of?) the canon -- as we talked about the back-and-forth of influence and lineage, I couldnít help thinking that the very label "modernism" -- not to mention the elusive "postmodernism" -- had little meaning. That I was more interested in this model of on-going discussion, of deliberately unfinished business, of feminist inquiry across the expected lines of category and canon. In conversations like this one.

As a rule conferences involve lots of speaking, lots of listening, and little dialogue.

Were we actually doing this?

And then too there were the anxieties over my anxieties. First of all, about loosening the grip (stranglehold?) of academese on my writing and thinking. What would happen if this kind of dialogue were incorporated into my critical prose? How would the conventions of what I have been trained to do fundamentally alter in the nether-spaces of what I still see as bizarre new means of sending and obtaining information -- this web, this journal?

A friend declares, "I will go to my grave knowing nothing about this comcom dotdot, and Iím just fine."

Novelty, lack of closure -- dialogue. Anxiety over, rejection of, the things embraced by the alternative feminist traditions I embrace. I havenít worked this through, but that is probably appropriate. After all, one of the most important insights of our discussion was that expanding, but not reifying, the canon, the conversation, the dialogue, is crucial. And, as Kathleen Fraser puts it, feeling "familied" among other women poets and critics, past and present, who are enmeshed in dialogue, who want to connect, who are willing to experiment. With such forums. With such forms and languages. As com. As dot.

BIO: Elisabeth Frost is an Assistant Professor of English at Fordham University. She has published articles on modern and contemporary poets, including an essay in the volume Mina Loy: Woman and Poet, as well as essays on Gertrude Stein, Wallace Stevens, Harryette Mullen, and Leslie Scalapino in Genders, Postmodern Culture, Womenís Studies, and The Wallace Stevens Journal. Her interview with Leslie Scalapino appeared in Contemporary Literature in Spring 1996. Her own poetry has been published in Poetry, The Denver Quarterly, Boulevard, The New England Review, Shenandoah, and other periodicals. She is currently completing a book entitled The Feminist Avant-Garde in American Poetry.


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