We Who Love To Be Astonished: Experimental Women’s Writing and Performance Poetics.

(Ed. Laura Hinton and Cynthia Hogue. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2002.)

Renata Morresi

Women build meaning around clots of silence: when I read De Lauretis’s considerations on women’s creative genealogies and their proximity with silence I realized that she had translated into words what had always been so indefinable and yet substantial to me. Grumi di silenzio. I felt shrinking back to the little horrors of my adolescence. The unsaid / silence. My father saying seduzione for rape, my mother remarking upon my shoes to say “I care” (was it that?), my sister, so impenetrable behind her books, my lies made of fear (of showing myself) and of desire (of inventing myself). Silence was a well-known place then: there I would find rest (there I would count my monsters). An escape from absence, the silence of silence; yet, a very narrow place indeed. The contradiction was poignant: a feeling of confinement roused by the vastness of the unspoken. To force the trap open I started to practice in the detonation of words.

Reading is always a personal experience, but, given the premise, for me reading We Who Love To Be Astonished has also been a private one: an encounter with other workers of words who share an interest in expanding the self beyond the borders and frames imposed by dominant culture.

The areas of interest and practice of the women writers presented in this book are as diverse as the methodologies of the critics who discuss them but the varieties of feminist thought and poetics emerging from the collection have at least one shared concern: subversion. This means that existing ways of knowing are questioned and new poetic practices and new theoretic approaches are investigated. The explorations, indifferent to conventional boundaries between disciplines and genres, turn the page into a stage, where desire and bewilderment are cherished as the vital sources of the possible.

The poets presented in We Who Love To Be Astonished are usually easily marginalized by the dominant culture that erase their contexts and connections and fix them in isolated compartments imposing a fundamentalist view of identity politics, one that represents subjects and communities as monoliths and their members as deaf and blind to any outer contact. The primary goal of the book is to trace the common ground and the contiguities of a number of writers and to promote cross-pollination between them. In addition to this, We Who Love explores the ways in which avant-garde women writers, while resisting to modernist formalism and escapism and avoiding conventional models that may reinforce conventional thinking, try to combine aesthetic experiment with an awareness of their social and political existence. Poets rarely discussed together are here put in conversation with one another: the combination is exciting and encourages new and fruitful exchanges.

The book is organized in five parts: “Formal Thresholds” (on Kathleen Fraser, Rae Armantrout, Alice Notley, Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge), “The Margins of Form” (on Denise Chávez, Harryette Mullen, Rosmarie Waldrop, Joy Harjo, Lyn Hejinian, Kathy Acker), “The Visual Referent / Visual Page” (on Norma Cole, Anne Lauterbach, Fanny Howe, Lyn Hejinian, Susan Howe, Erica Hunt, Alison Saar), “Performative Bodies” (on Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Kathy Acker, Anne Waldman, Tracie Morris, Jayne Cortez) and the afterword, “Draft 48: Being Astonished” by Rachel Blau DuPlessis. At first the titles and order of the chapters might be misleading: they seem to illustrate a development from the abstract to the physical. No such dichotomy takes place. The division is based upon types of experiment, not on mind / body hierarchies: from experiment in the experience of language, the investigation of received traditions and received notions of what is center and what is margin, the re-inscription of patriarchal tradition, to the multiplication of referents, the complexity of interconnections, the explosion of boundaries and the exploration of hybridity.

This is a much-needed work. As the editors themselves observe in the introduction, the threads created in this book will help to re-imagine the role of avant-garde writing, “threads bearing not only formal instruction and cultural history, but also aesthetics practices and political tools.”

Bio: Renata Morresi is PhD candidate in Poetry and Poetics and “cultrice” in Anglo-American Literature at the University of Macerata, Italy. She is working on a doctoral thesis on Nancy Cunard. She has been a visiting scholar at the University of Texas in Austin to consult the Nancy Cunard Papers at the Ransom Center, and visiting student at Durham University, UK, under Diana Collecott’s guidance. Morresi has translated and written on Nancy Cunard, little literary magazines of the ’30s, black American writing of the ’30s and black American poetry in relation to myth.

alerts index

table of contents