I hadn’t planned for this commentary to coincide with the Sussex Poetry Festival, the chief criterion in my dashed-off email to Jessica nearly a year ago being that I put it off until later. But here we are talking about irritation, and anyone who’s been involved in planning a poetry festival knows about that.
At Sussex our union is in a labor dispute with management over eroding real pay against increased workloads, the wage gap for women, and casualization (again: gendered). Basically, although no one has said this, it is a dispute over the “feminization of labor,” the fact that it is now considered not only okay but natural to treat all workers the way it was always considered natural to treat female workers (underpaid, precarious, competition-based, smile required).
We are working to rule (a bad strategy in the summer; we should do it during term-time when our research time is destroyed anyway) and there was some question as to whether we should hold the festival at all.
“The fatal problem with poetry: poems,” says Ben Lerner (32). What he means by this is that each actually existing poem stands a monument to the unrealizability of the utopian hope that we call “poetry.”
Lerner has some interesting things to say about poetry and its relationship to work, the desire and the worry that writing poetry not be work. Poetry is utopian insofar as it seems to offer an alternative to “getting and spending,” an order of work that is also seamlessly a way of leaning and loafing at one’s ease; hence the defenses. That very utopian possibility also seems a monstrous indifference to the brutalities of being constrained to sell one’s labor in order to live; hence the denunciations.
“I, too, dislike it.” It’s the title of Mia You’s new book from 1913 Press; it’s also the opening gambit in Ben Lerner’s recent book The Hatred of Poetry, a book that takes Moore’s gesture of self-distrust as emblematic of poetry itself, an art “defined for millenia...[by] a rhythm of denunciation and defense” (10).
Last week I was walking through the UC Berkeley campus with a friend who is a birth/care worker. We were on our way to hear Bernadette Mayer read — “our grand-auntie,” we said. We were talking about aspirations, the work my friend aspires to most, and my friend was speaking about helping women decide when and how they want to give birth. She was telling me about all sorts of care methods that I, at thirty years old, knew nothing about.
One thing I really admire about women is that we’re able to put up with a lot of shit while still smiling. That takes a lot of discipline and strength. But we all have our limits, and sometimes we have to learn how to tell the shit to fuck off. Tillie Olsen’s 1978 book on Silences keeps coming up in conversation lately. The chapters explore various kinds of silences in literature, with references to Rebecca Harding Davis, Thomas Hardy, Willa Cather, Jean Toomer, Charles Baudelaire. Olsen’s book argues how a writer’s circumstances, as produced by society’s delineations of race, class and gender, can stifle creative expression.
One thing I really admire about women is that we’re able to put up with a lot of shit while still smiling. That takes a lot of discipline and strength. But we all have our limits, and sometimes we have to learn how to tell the shit to fuck off.
Tillie Olsen’s 1978 book on Silences keeps coming up in conversation lately. The chapters explore various kinds of silences in literature, with references to Rebecca Harding Davis, Thomas Hardy, Willa Cather, Jean Toomer, Charles Baudelaire. Olsen’s book argues how a writer’s circumstances, as produced by society’s delineations of race, class and gender, can stifle creative expression. Silences is best-known for its attention to gender. A consecutive sequence of chapters bear the titles: “The Damnation of Women,” “The Angel in the House,” “Freeing the Essential Angel,” and “Wives Mothers Enablers.”
Are you a mother? Do you know a mother? Are you the child of a mother? Then you should probably read this book.
Tania De Rozario is an artist, writer and curator interested in issues of gender and sexuality, representations of women in Horror, and art as activism. Her practice hovers on the intersections between text and image, and her work has been showcased in London, Spain, Amsterdam, Singapore, New York and San Francisco. Tania is the author of Tender Delirium(Math Paper Press | 2013), which was shortlisted for the 2014 Singapore Literature Prize, the winner of the 2011 NAC-SPH Golden Point Award for English Poetry, and recipient of the NAC Arts Creation Fund for her literary memoir, And The Walls Come Crumbling Down.
"Does one named woman communicating with another named woman still count as a positive on the Bechdel test if one woman is not actually human?" - Tania De Rozario
Early this spring, I perched on top of a table (it was the only space left) to hear Fred Moten talk about “Blackness and Poetry.” The room was teeming with poets, critics, academics, and students. At the end of the talk, a question about the contemporary “mania” or “fetish for rule-based constraint-based poetry in a lot of poetry circles” was asked. More specifically, Nada Gordon wanted to know what this contemporary mania for rules might be a symptom of.
If someone asked me how I would envision a garment against women, it would not be too difficult for me to respond. I would suggest something steel and hidebound, an I-beam with little to offer the imagination. It might be a dark cesspool of factory life, much as Marx would have written about in the nineteenth century. It might be a hairshirt or a black mirror that promises no future. In one sense, Anne Boyer’s Garments Against Women captures this, but in another sense, it is a book that talks with a sense of hope about what the world could be.
In a post-riot-grrrl world, it’s hard for those of us who were too young for the theoretical debates of the eighties to understand the amount of collective cognitive labor that was required to move us from feminism’s second wave to its third. We easily take for granted the radical cultural shifts that had to take place for Kathleen Hanna’s emergence on stage with the word ‘slut’ written on her belly to be seen as a populist punk feminist act, until we are kindly reminded otherwise.
Sometime around late August/early September, I had lunch with one of the young women writers I see often in New York. She told me she had recently been to a reading in Philadelphia where Holly Melgard had, as she described, “performed childbirth, not actual childbirth, obviously, but just like made noises like she was in labor, and it was really loud, and people were really upset by it.” This performance apparently caused a great reaction. A number of people were furious, some felt insulted; why would some young girl who has never had a baby do something like that? That's what it seemed to boil down to, according to my friend.
Well, only Holly Melgard can answer that. But let's not pretend the WHY question is really just about explanation. Discussion about a controversial choice made by an artist opens up opportunities for all kinds of analysis. And with the sharp increase in people choosing to not bear children, emotions on this issue seem to be running high in our culture. From what I'd heard, Melgard landed herself squarely in the middle of it when she performed in Philly.