Postcard is an edited and continuously up-dated section of brief comment received on work in recent issues of HOW2, as well as excerpts from letters circulating privately among writers/readers and with HOW2 editors/writers. Your postcards and excerpted letter exchanges on literary questions appropriate to this journal's focus are welcomed. Please send to Kathleen Fraser <email@example.com>
--from Jeff Hamilton
Authority IN language: fugitive or facticity
Thanks to How2 for Elizabeth Savage's fine article on the connections between Laura Riding and Joan Retallack. Savage is particularly generous for her understanding of how Riding's poetry prefigures Retallack's "poethics"--a term I take to have been coined in the Sixties by poet-cultural critics of a Jeffersonian/democratic bent concerned over agribusiness centralization. In Riding's case, this "centralized authority" (which Savage praises Retallack's "poethical practice" for "abandoning") was language itself, except Riding saw language itself as radically decentralized by literary tradition, as long as that tradition could be used--read, and if necessary destroyed, or "culled"--to understand how the authority IN language was apart from writing: always fugitive from a language's facticity. Savage keenly shows how Riding's feminism was a tool in undermining that (often fetishized) literary tradition; but, in keeping with Retallack's appropriation of the term "poethics," I'd return Savage's "feminism" to its 1960s ethos as a movement in the vanguard of the enlightenment, for that's how Riding (following Whitman) understood it, probably even after she repudiated the term. This would rejoin traditions in a way perhaps Juliana Spahr could approve, even as it might challenge "the radicality of any poem" that does things to words.
--from Suzie Rodriguez
New Natalie Barney website
I was delighted to discover How2 -- and, in particular, the current issue with content about Natalie Barney. I've spent the past four years researching and writing a new Barney biography, and have within the last week or 10 days put up a website that contains fairly comprehensive information about NCB, her books, and some of her friends. My site is so new that it's not even listed with search engines yet: www.natalie-barney.com. I'll be keeping my eye out for your upcoming issues. Good luck with your venture.
--from Carla Harryman
The delusions of "exemplarity"
Dear Kathleen, That it's been noticed in the how/2 context that some "experimental" strategies may seem to lack "innovative necessity," is useful. It will I suspect help some writers think about their own education and influence. To be a good writer one must keep learning. Where this learning comes from, the sources, life experience, books, etc., is up for grabs. As you know I am an advocate for people to read across genres, but I am adamantly against prescriptions of any kind as far as art practice is concerned. I find the formulations related to the phrase "returning to" (e.g. dailiness or the poet as an example) to be problematic in this regard. I think these are reflections of aesthetic bias, not demands that can be made on others. This reflects my bias: the writer must be able to find what she is doing absolutely compelling, so compelling that her work can develop over a very long period of time, and the work/project itself and the writer herself has to be able to reflect critically on her writing and on the context in which she writes--in the long run. But she also most feel free to fall all over herself, stop, and go and contradict her first plans. Dailiness, philosophy, feminism, ethnicity, linguistics, politics, class, literariness, anti-literariness, conceptualism, musicality, objectivism, orality, naturalism etc. are constructs present to be used affirmatively, spontaneously, or criticallly, but no rubric determines the fact of engaged writing per se. To understand good writing, whatever that may be for a given writer, one must enter it quite fully.
I would like to point out a couple of problems with the notion of the "exemplary life" in respect to feminist thinking--even if it does seem kinda like old hat. As long as women remain care givers, the kind of exemplarity proposed excludes them. Of course, we all are politically and potentially caregivers--men and women. And thus, exemplarity is thrown out the window, because when people are responsible for children and others, their ideals and desires and impulses are compromised because one is often enough helping another person gain a footing in a world that is somewhat incompatible with one's own beliefs. The interesting liminality of late 20th c. literary innovations sometimes seems to arise from such understandings.
Polemic (retro though it may seem): The American anxiety about literary collectivity is similar to the American cold-war anxiety about socialist anonymity. The only thing that is of interest to me in respect to this question is HOW TO GET OUT OF IT and THINK DIFFERENTLY, i.e. to try to imagine a world that is not simply a conventional projection of fantasies of heroic and famous individuals in the forms of: authors (insofar as authorship, including conceptions of authorsŐ lives as heroic or examplary replaces engaged reading and thinking and facilitates publishing limitations related to market interests), movie stars (insofar as the possibility in film and dramatic mediums are profoundly limited by star systems), important world leaders (insofar as it is corporations and the interests of international capital that control them), and bad guys (insofar as this category is occupied by the interests of corporations and international capital by and large). A first step in such a critique is to attack these dualities. Another is to "read" literature, the world, theory, politics critically, passionately, and specifically.
It seems to me that we writers, thinkers, and folks in general are experiencing the new world order and are in a state of shock. It is a delusional world (for "Americans"--U.S. citizens) where those of us who are on one side living the good life cannot find our way over to the other side and vice versa. There is less and less real abutment of the haves and have nots. It is terrifying--because knowledge is diminished when contact between groups disappears. To what extent might this be the cause among women "innovative" writers?
Last night I went to a play by Detroit poet/playwright Ron Allen. He is an African-American social critic, spiritualist, and recovering addict. His playwriting is entirely radical. It is non-narrative and conceptual. It demonstrates the affective realms of delusional states that are tied like slaves to "gritty reality." All this gets released to a transformed elsewhere. His desire is to change the consciousness of his audience through the poetry of his drama. He makes plays in the tradition of jazz from Coltrane to Albert Ayler and in the tradition of theater of Beckett and Ionesco. Like he says "there arenÔt many black guys like me around or if there are I donŐt know them." His works are profoundly androgynous and he is anti-patriarchal to the core. I admire his spirituality and his radical expressivity but I don't identify my art with his all that much. The terms are very different Thank god for difference.
from Holly Iglesias,
"a trap, a new wasteland"
My YES and thanks to Eileen Callahan's postcard of May 28. I won't repeat her musings because her concerns about experiment and body merit re-reading many times in her own words.
They relate to my responses to recent exchanges in postcards (KF/LR/KF): I think the many of us are tired of talking, talking, talking about it and want to write it; write we, write me. To manifest and digest and play and flail and heave and be. To put thought back in our gut, let the head take a ride on the spine and not always lead the parts. This talking, talking, talking; this formulating is old, tired. We know it, as walls, as structure-building; as void of content. My teeth aching each time I hear that experimental writing means absent the lyric, absent the person, the self a construct.
I get it. Ya; enough. Each moment is new. The proliferation of forums, of panels and tenure-bait publishing, the long for The Form/ manifest-o whether of stutters and stammer fragment or of declarative sentences feels a trap, a new wasteland. I am of course glad for the work done (centuries of women's work, not only recent decades' worth); for the brisk air released by that work to step boldly out and loud.
Each moment is new, the past persistent. Can we not be grateful and use the opened spaces without having to be Echo forever? We know this model and it is tired.
from Nada Gordon,
"Sculpting new epistimological territories from the actual lived life "
i am taking the liberty of sending along a poem i wrote that addresses what fanny howe called "the stench of reality that used to cling to certain works/words... the actual human, lived life of the poet." it is a determined attempt to write a "domestic poem" to continue the narrative of my real-life love story (i moved from japan to brooklyn last year after an extended epistolary romance which convinced me once and for all of "the efficacy of poetry" as intersubjective bridge)....but also a meditation on "the poetics of untidiness". i am sending it to you [kathleen] because you are named in it and because it is an actual poetic response to some of the issues you and fanny were discussing.
don't you find it odd that autobiography (a la new rae armantrout or recent fanny howe) is now seen as a bold move against a two-dimensional "bland, abstract" - -but very "accomplished" -- backdrop? There are so many taboos now and that's why the writing of our time sounds so "good" (that is to say, "clean"-- as how in japanese the word "clean" also means "beautiful") -- declamatory gesture, direct address, physicality, dithyramb, the lyrical urge, speech and song all having been consigned to the marginalizable "minority" world of the slam. as if it is impossible to make new paradigms or sculpt new epistemological territories from these modus operandi. seems to me there's official verse culture and then official verse culture II. the "experimental" surface has its own list of requirements: white space, filmic borrowings, fragmentation, anti-discursiveness--devices, all of them, without intrinsic value positive or negative. there are other devices to remember and resuscitate, are there not?
i send this not so much in the hopes you'll publish it in how2 ... but just as evidence that there is some writing redolent of reality currently being produced out of the welter of possible forms. it would stick out sorely, i guess, in the elegant and sometimes precious world of the institutionalized avant-garde. and that is why fanny thinks it is "gone."
(editor's note: see Nada's web site)
from Arpine Grenier
"like Schroedinger's cat does (to Schroedinger)"
Cynthia Hogue, whose creativity seems to honor poetry in more ways than one, has just introduced me to your electronic journal--How2--a timely, classy, fractal, female turbulence I shall be looking forward to for many years, I hope. That is a difficult proposition at times when the democratization of matter and the resulting expansion of capitalism into the personal domain continue to attenuate the distraction of the self into a reality that propagates purple instead of green, absorbing the yellow (light) vs. (just cause) red.
The danger lies in sliding into the restorative, the self-referential, the how-bu-how state of feeding pleasure vs. the flux of desire. How to ever ever how this unappropriative, non-gender related female turbulence into appropriation without dismissing enthalpy or replacing entropy with stark and often barren pools of information, is a living hunger after the good and the real, we, living, sustain. This losing proposition is where doubt stems from, a reaction to the loss we as humans have incurred (an occurrence).
No doubt here, therefore. Ever to emanate the horizontal wisdom of a matriarchy (not in contrast to but collaboration with the vertical or the patriarchal), to apply the feminine as life's (fluid) currency through the pluralities of voice and culture, working with what we have, modulating as we orient the turbulent into a smooth space where it simultaneously emanates and looks at itself doing so. This is where the magic of How2 lies--a magic that is always reconfiguring, not unlike that of DNA, regrouping to differentiate.
As thought relates to language after the fact--like Schroedinger's cat does (to Schroedinger)--let's ab it (thought), as in ab-solve. Let us maintain this journal in the same manner we maintain a PBS station, for a community's sake. No rules or quotas here, only the ethical collective of oriental simultaneity and occidental individualism, seeking the chaos sustaining the world of languages, where one and its absence are forced to stay, where logocentric thought is circumvented through derivatives of the past such that the new occurs. There can be no prediction even under the maximum conditions of control. Magic--that's something else. Let's help How2 maintain the magic of its present stance--that of a possibility, a curatorial possibility--for poetry.
June 12, 2000
from Marina Morbiducci
"Agenda: hidden or manifest?"
I'm reacting with interest to the "send me something drawen / on paper" piece by Aife Murray (How2, n.3) where once again Emily Dickinson's poetic urgency emerges and engages us powerfully, even if by way of "ephemera" or "pantry writing".
While reading the essay, it mingled with an issue I'm presently involved with, the one of CENSURA & CENSURE [Censorship and Censures], the focus of a recent seminar at University of Pescara, Italy, June 6-7. Referring to those original manuscripts "jotted on the backs of recipes, on used envelopes and brown paper bags," Murray draws a parallel to the "hybrids"--I'm using this critical term with a degree of reluctance--where Dickinson is mixing "her writing with postage stamps, flowers, pine needles... illustrations from her books and popular magazines".
To me, more than the result of "household technologies" or "ephemera," this "pantry writing" is the unavoidable creative outcome of an existence like Dickinson's, poetic to the core. The urge for poetry never stops nor drains in her hands. Contrary to the avoidance of domestic work in favour of writing, I envision an opposite sequence in the case of Dickinson: while she's making poetry, she may also be doing the housework: that is the right hierarchical succession of events in her kitchen. It is a matter of different priorities, so that if the usual--canonically manifest and universally accepted --agenda for a woman poet is to sneak away from housekeeping to poetry writing, the hidden is exactly the opposite. Dickinson candidly manipulates those "scraps" or "ephemera" as an indirect and concealed form of self-censure, just to allow herself more time--the whole time--for what she really lives for. Everybody knows what a jelly label is for: the practice of poetry might eventually transform it into a manuscript. But its manifest function remains that of sticking the name of the flavour on a jar. The label like the backs of recipes, used envelopes, brown paper bags, etc.-- as expression of diverted self-censure--gives form to a hidden agenda. Once again, Dickinson's world revolves around different axes--"controcorrente"--and the hidden becomes manifest, because the roles are turned upside down, surpassing any voluntary, indirect, diagonal hybrid or technological act of "censura"-i.e., to use the CENSURA is to incorporate it.
Whereas censure normally acts, and results, in terms of absence, here it is disguised, germinating in the language of deviance that is poetry. Even in the midst of domestic chores.
Marina Morbiducci, University of Pescara (Italy)
from Eileen Callahan
"the tang and hardness of rough anglo-saxon"
I have been reading the correspondence with Fanny Howe etc re: the perfect poems/noon-light/earth stink and the aesethic ----and I was reminded of the idea of "the dirt clinging to the root" in poetry now being absent from the more valorized of the "experimental" poetries.
Quite recently there was a huge gathering of Irish poets/prose writers in San Francisco--a blow-out extravaganza sponsored by teh Irish Government and the Irish Counsel General, City of SF, Guiness Beer, Aer Lingus mostly: the kicker was that the list was drawn up pretty much by a very bright, energenic Irish guy by the name of Eddie STack--they went along with his recommendations, and his recommendation were great.
I was only able to go to one evening's worth, but what an evening: I went for the poets, but the prose writers were the real surprise, as I didn't know a one of them before I went and afterwards, found myself wanting to only read contemporary Irish prose for a good long while. The folks that read are the "tip" of the iceberg, it would seem: I'm sure there's a HOST of others that stand behind them, tons of them, some in little presses, I would think, since, to make this list, I'm sure they all met a criteria of a number of books published and a certain reputation. Even so, even so . .
.the difference seemed telling.
As I was listening to the work, I was struck by that quality of language that Fanny Howe spoke about: the grit and dailiness, the presence, the particulars, of a life lived. The work itself was wonderfully inventive and involuted and full of marvelous making and marvels in the making: resonance of the particulars, with the tang and hardness of rough anglo-saxon having set itself, syllable by syllable, inside another language and come out the better for it. The best of the lot were in top form, telling the tale in what I thought were ways that moved beyond the predictable, yet kept the narrative firmly rooted--not experimental, by any means, but just damned good writing--and in that, a pleasure to hear its resonance.
I was reminded for several days after that of how much loss I feel when that grit is missing and instead seems to read like a perfect allegiance to intellectual elegance. I LOVE the experiments with language, and god knows I don't want to come down on the side of RETREAT--or dumbness--but what about all the other stuff? What about the ordinary? What about the body? What about passion? What about something--and here, I confess, I don't know WHAT to call it, or what to say, and NO, I do NOT mean a conservative return to Old School Poetics --just this question, that comes up most especially in the face of this FLOOD of work from Ireland, so rooted in land rather than in MIND: what about the body?
A long walk down a cold corridor of intellectual precision is a lot of how I take the last number of years of experimental poety : with the exception of a handful of folks. . . WHAT is the poem, beyond mind?
I remember the question that was raised at the panel hosted by How(2) at the SF Art Institute: is experimental poetry (as practiced currently) a kind of hostage of the Academy? A hostage of theory-based poetics? I think the question was asked as: Why is it necessary to have to know theory in order to read this poetry? What kind of poetry IS that? And what does it mean for the working class poets/writers? What does that say about the implicit politics/culture of this current brand of "modernism"?
Is H2 any longer needed? Viable? In synch with the times?
(An exchange between Kathleen Fraser and Linda Russo)
excerpt from KF to LR, 4/30/00:
I said when I began preparing for H2 (Fall/1998), that I'd try to create a "template" for this sort of writing conversation and give everything to it for two years and then see if it seemed a necessary proposition and, if so, whether several younger women--active participants in contemporary thinking and writing--had any interest in taking-up the editing job. So far this hasn't happened. But even if it ends after a short run of two years and four numbers, H2 will have provided a model of something that may be needed (and/or may no longer be needed...or never was needed, at this particular moment in history). I truly don't know. But I do see that not very many women are taking advantage of the open space to write in whatever way they wish to about the innovative work that captures them...at least not as many as I'd imagined. I'm quite ready to look at that question....
LR to KF, 5/10/00
I've been thinking about your recent comment that "Even if it ends after a short run of two years and four numbers, H2 will have provided a model of something that may be needed (and/or may no longer be needed...or never was needed at this particular moment in history). I truly don't know. But I do see that not very many women are taking advantage of the open space to write in whatever way they wish about innovative work that captures them."
I'm interested in how *this* moment in history differs from 1983, when How(ever) started appearing and building a space, in terms of what women need, and whether "they" now formulate their needs as women, as a category--issues that are coming up in contemporary feminist theory as well. I can't rightly say "we" in that previous sentence. "Women" are definitely a "they" that I approach, but am not at all times "of." Related to that, there's the issue of articulation--what gets articulated among women/between women, and how? where? Does it makes sense to categorize these articulations as "women's"?
How2 can offer space for particularization--does that conflict with its desire to represent a group? Poetry is still very local by nature, but the web is very global; it's placeless in a disconcerting way: you're in Rome (at the moment), Jo Ann's in S.F., How2 website is "at" Bucknell, and then there are particular guest-editors....The silence is perhaps a sign of not knowing how to approach that identity, or that new articulation. New language, is brewing (I hope--but so soon on the heels of the last new one?!). I don't have any answers, just some thoughts.
--KF to LR, 5/15/00
re. your questions: I have experienced through you/your almost visceral struggle--one of the most profoundly troubled of any of the women connected seriously to the H2 project--a tension and resistance to and worry about being too closely identified with a journal focused on women's innovative writing ...yet engaging fiercely with the issues that continue to haunt and be primary irritants and stumbling blocks for most women in the writing community--the kind of struggle we privilege in these pages. I think this push-pull is where the crux of the dilemma lies. So...
...is it about the next new re-configuring of political consciousness (correctness?), a wanting NOT to be perceived of as part of the dated, negative separatist model--even when H2--& earlier, HOW(ever)--was "never" interested in that stance & did, in fact, get its start as a resistance to that simplistic position? What has led you/others to believe that H2 wants to represent a "group"?
My sole interest in reviving HOW(ever) was three-fold: 1/ to make a space where a more particularized range and number of writers--socially-constituted as "women" due, at least in part, to their gender--would begin to articulate their reading experiences of innovative contemporary and modernist works; 2/ to create discretely different sections of the journal that would invite--rather than negate--as many kinds of in/formal, reflective, collaborative, dialogic response as was proposed while including, as well, recognizably formal critical writings; 3/to open up this sort of network electronically--& thus internationally--to younger writers, scholars, students by making available often privileged information through creating a bulletin board of public conferences; a list of women-edited English language journals and books; and a place for an informal "postcard" exchange among readers.
...Is it wanting to be seen as literarily "sexy," such usage still encountered among those who generally do not find the fierce subtleties of this theoretical moving-target "sexy"?
...Is it a maternal urge not to leave out (behind) the guys you know and love and believe to be consciously working on behalf of women too? [This absence is not required by H2.]
...Is it the conviction that gender issues should not be mixed in with literary production and publishing? That to really be in the avant-garde, one should steer away from any kind of gender distinctions and put one's best energies into the most happening, power-centered journals where this is not part of the question?
I don't know. And I don't think there is a right or wrong answer. But I do think the two desires--one's ambition to be in the forefront, to be taken seriously, as well as to be free to genuinely sort through the thorniest feminist-inflected questions--often come to logger-heads. I wonder if this is inevitable, in the way humans tend to believe that war--or versions of it--is an inevitable biological/cultural phenomenon in men's lives??
Questions for questions....
from Catherine Kasper
Barbara Guest Special Issue Reminder
Essays (MLA style) for the special issue of Women's Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal are due June 1, 2000. As previously announced, the issue will focus on Barbara Guest, her place in the literary canon and her relationship to the visual arts. Artists are also encouraged to submit slides (please enclose SASE if you want your submission returned.) Submissions should be sent to: Catherine Kasper, Assistant Professor, University of Texas at San Antonio, Division of ECPC, 6900 North Loop 1604 West, San Antonio, TX 78249-0643. Questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org
from Margaret Butterfield
Constellations or poetry fragments? The "silentjudges" are us!
I've recently come "on-line" and, naturally, How2 is one of the first sites I chose to visit. Reading your correspondence with Fanny Howe in Postcards I feel the desire to respond--something also about the apparent informality of the format that suits my compositional predilections.
Yes, we are all in a field looking up intuiting/anticipating the vast blaze of noon, but it is still night and what we see are pin pricks of insight/light which, like constellations, appear to be pressed against a convex sky under which we labor to identify a convergence of meaning--a narrative. And if the narrative seems fragmented, it may be only the vast distances that absorb or deflect it, hence, the necessity of so many stories/ story-tellers?
As one travels outward from our relative gravitational center one finds the stars, or ideas, that make up each constellation are farther apart in three--[or more]dimensional space than previously perceived; stretching the space between recognizable landmarks, but not necessarily diminishing their truthfulness or usefulness. As poets-- that is, persona of the quest and personality of the quester--we are both particle and wave. Each particle being the consciousness of a particular moment--the poem--through a particular consciousness-- the poet. All of us together a wave; confluence and momentum, arcing toward...an aesthetic? intentional evolution? serendipitous perfection?
The life of the poet has always been important in determining the direction s/he will take [responsibility for]. Even if that direction seems to be one of irrationality [or irresponsibility]; the black holes will have been mapped, as real as, though not so sublime as, the emergent nebulae.
As for the [silent] judges-- they are us! By what criteria shall we judge? For me it isn't so much whether my poetry is remembered (by whom?, who will be left if what we do isn't enough?) --though one wants, to be included in the conversation that seems to have been going on for several millennium between all those beings past and present who have contributed to one's own sensibility and to one's cultural heritage--as it is to have it be an activating principle NOW; at one level for stimulating an appreciation of what is, at another for questioning whatis, and what may be...
The Anxiety & hidden agenda of Cyberspace/a response to forum 3
Whenever there is a discussion of cyberspace it makes me anxious, because it seems to me that people mistakenly believe it to be independent of the military industrial complex and its' agenda.
Cyberspace is not only a "mental" space, it is overwhelmingly physical; taking a vast array of technical devices to configure, it requires toxic pollutants in its production of hardware, as well as literally creating an electronic shield that encompasses the earth. It is the disingenuousness of government and corporate powers to define this massive colonization as cyberspace. cyberspace n. the notional environment in which electronic communication occurs. (notional adj. hypothetical, imaginary, speculative.)What is being supplanted is imagination itself.
The arts have always been expressed by what I like to call the scaffolding of imagination. Where does one go when one views a painting? listens to music? reads a book? One inhabits the imagination; trusting a scaffolding the artist has built in order to venture into a new realm. If the art is lively enough it continues to exist in the viewer's, listener's, reader's imagination; in the cultural imagination; becoming, in effect, inhabitable.
This is not the same as virtual reality. virtual reality n. an image or environment generated by computer software with which a user can interact realistically. As writers and poets we should be aware that as language changes so does human consciousness, and vice versa. I believe we are responsible for directing some of those changes (the idea of conscious evolution--whose consciousness?). When technicians' terms invade popular vernacular they are inventing a future, not the only one possible, but one which dominates if left unquestioned.
Anyway, it's a complicated subject, which is exactly why I'd >like to return to it for further discussion.
Record your own poems/theatrical collaborations
We saw your How2 e-mail address on www.poetrykit.org/ezines.htm. We have just put a web site together that allows you to record. Books and Shakespeare over the Net.
We have also just recently implemented the ability to record poetry over the Internet.
It's free, innovative and hopefully fun.
We are especially looking for some female voices for the classic book "The Age of Innocence". The first book to be recorded over the Internet.
We need writers like you to help us make our site a success, and have some fun in the process. It's easy to do. Just install "Shakespeare.exe" or "Age of Innocence.exe" or "Poetry.exe", and begin reading.
Get your friends together and record a complete play, or select parts recorded by others and assemble your own unique play.
Also let people really hear your poetry.
We believe we are the first to attempt this.
To learn all about what we are doing go to: http://www.hearbooksnow.com
from Elizabeth Robinson to K.F.
"the proliferation of perfect poems"
I have been preoccupied with your exchange with Fanny [Howe] since I first read it a couple of weeks ago. The image that sticks with me is of the 'proliferation of perfect poems'. I too have noticed and enjoyed the abundance of accomplished writing coming from women. Yet I'm a bit uneasy with the relation of that perfection to daily life. Is there room for the unevenness of trying out a new process, form, or imagery in one's writing. For example, I recall David Buuck's powerful use, a few years ago, of stuttering in one of his poems. What most compels/irritates me in my quotidian existence are the struggles, rough edges, inconsistencies: i.e., it's exactly that it's not perfect, though with life as with writing, there would be little engagement if one didn't seek for a more satisfactory version. Can we therefore invite the versions to proliferate and perhaps de-emphasize the perfections?
Recently a friend said to me, in reference to another writer, "She thinks of writing as her job, and she takes it very seriously." My initial reaction was one of admiration that this poet is so focussed and committed. It's truly a good thing that there are people who have that to offer in their work and as part of our writing community. At the same time, I feel there's a subtle pressure on us as poets (and specifically as women poets) to legitimize ourselves as writers by >evincing a singlemindedness that might shut out other vital, if >fragmenting or distracting parts of our lives.
I unabashedly want to be a good writer and want to have my work read. AND I agree with Fanny that how we live our lives is important, though I hesitate to be more specific than that. Poets such as Sara Menafee or Lisa Houston come to mind as people who are perhaps not so widely read, but whose involvements with community do bring a lively aroma of reality to their work. I guess what I'm seeking is a critical consideration of how we live, respond, move in and out of community and communities. As you said, it is important to read and respond to the work of less appreciated writers. And can we make our "reading" more inclusive still? I believe it would also be helpful to embrace the inconsistencies, the tentative ventures, the struggles that inform our lives broadly and in written form. Not that the perfect poems previously mentioned are static by any means, but I suspect that our interactions with them would be more engaging if we let them breathe in a field that bears the blur and scuffmarks of daily struggle.
I hope that doesn't sound too, I don't know, hrumphy. Your conversation really grabbed me.
"Opening the doors...of haunted houses"
Since I came back from the U.S., I have been thinking about ways of making poetry more accessible to people outside the academic circles. After the New Modernisms conference was over I went to Bethlehem (PA.) both to visit H.D.'s grave and meet some scholars from Moravian seminary where I intend to go back in order to learn more about Moravian rituals and religious philosophy and work on the connections between H.D.'s poetry and Moravianism. When I talked to people about the reason for my visit to Bethlehem, I saw that most of them hadn't even heard HD's name. I think we must work much harder in order to make people more aware of her and other poets' work. I believe that poetry is self-making and what people of our age need is a new self. Jung declares : ' A work of art is produced that may be called a message to a generation of men.' We are carriers of the message and must attempt to increase the number of hearers by creating a new medium (a new language) to reach people who can form a new self by reading poems, thereby discovering their common heritage and opening the doors of their own haunted houses.
So the question of language is a very important issue and I would like to see people discuss it.
"Does it matter?"
from letter exchange between Fanny Howe & Kathleen Fraser ]
I just feel that generally there is something about poetry now that is bigger than any particular person--women poets especially. There are so many of us, and more and more and more, and each one as intelligent and concentrated as the one before, so that there is this feeling of a huge field with lots of women standing in it, looking out at the sky, wondering together when the noon light will follow on her or her or her. There are no judges.
....The frightening fact is, we don't know what all this intelligence means. It won't be known until all of us are gone. What is really being said? What is the subject of all this work? Does it matter?
I think it does matter because it's part of the history of intelligence, but unfortunately we can't be the ones who know. And I think people get really upset by being left out, or misunderstood, because of this fundamental unknowingness. Maybe we will all be understood only en masse, and not as individuals, as in the past. . . . And maybe life itself will rear its ugly head in the end, and how each of us lived will actually be important, not just how we wrote, and there will be some sudden heroic poets who laid down their life for it, and for life itself, who will explain its meaning--to those who come after.
I 've continued to be haunted by your description of all of us standing in the field, waiting for some noonlight to find us, some recognition by the non-existent judge/s. And then--in mental space-- I place this image next to the proposed division of labor recently expressed by a prominent scholar that "poets should stick to writing poetry and critics should write the criticism"....
Somewhere in this dynamic there is both the absence and presence of "the judge" figure who seems to represent--at least for many women poets--the internalized symbolic as well as the actual operating dynamic of "sit & wait," with its enemy adjuncts and undermining maxims that "excellence will win out" and "the talented will find their readership"... (scouted while waiting tables in the studio lunchroom).
It is not that one does n't deeply appreciate the brilliant scholarship--both traditional and exploratory-- currently available, but that beyond those few figures repeatedly read as exemplars are all the other women standing in the field.
It is the perception of how this subtle reinforcement works--i.e., "few will be chosen" (by the few others doing the choosing)--that should provide the spirited impetus for more women poets & scholars to begin writing about the under-appreciated, non-reviewed works that excite them to further writing and reading as thinking individuals. For this reason, How2 encourages/ incites active resistance to the depressing and self-limiting conclusion that there is only ONE useful (official? rational? authoritative? properly trained?) way to think and write about work being produced--in this case, by women writing outside the establishment mainstream.
The issue that at present really presses on me is that of the proliferation of perfect poems coming out of everywhere. It is as if a certain level of education, mixed with a certain amount of time to think, produces a certain kind of construction in language--about which one could have no complaints at all!
What I am getting at is the feeling that it is time for life itself to matter again. That is, the life of the poet. This isn't something that you can dictate or deliver, but I feel that it will begin to happen on its own, a kind of storm from under, the way hip hop blasted its way up and through all the obstacles. Now I am not even sure exactly what I am after, but I know I am amazed by the wonderful poems women (in particular) are writing, and feel the intelligence as an act of freedom in itself.
But I also wonder what happened to the stench of reality that used to cling to certain works/words. Gone! So it is partially an aesthetic response I am talking about, but also one about the actual human, lived life of the poet. We used to know something of that, and care about its content.