feminism

On being 'ill'-informed

H.D.'s late modernist poetics (of) d'espère

Image of H.D. above originally published in 'Tendencies in Modern American Poetry' by Amy Lowell, 1917; accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

In The H.D. Book, Robert Duncan aptly terms the work that H.D. produced during and after World War II a poetics of “testimony.”[1] In the last twenty years of her life, she experimented with new hybrid forms in both poetry and prose, writing major innovative works that bore witness to the public and shared trauma of World War II and responded to the ensuing rise of the Cold War. At the same time, she was increasingly chronicling the very private trauma of variously disabling conditions following the war, the significance of which she came to explore for the rest of her life.[2

On being ill-informed: H.D.’s late modernist poetics (of) d’espère

Cynthia Hogue

Illness is not a metaphor. — Susan Sontag

Illness is a kind of knowledge. — Anonymous 

I

Running into capitalism: John Ashbery's 'Girls on the Run'

Henry Darger, from 'In the Realms of the Unreal.'

If we push the uncritical romantic views of the outsider artist aside, it’s difficult not to read Henry Darger’s In the Realms of the Unreal as embodying the dynamics of an abuse narrative. His epic uses multiple mediums: newspaper clippings, stenciled drawings, watercolor paintings, and narrative fiction to depict a child slave rebellion against their Glandelinian overlords. The heroines of Darger’s allegory of Christian martyrdom are the Vivian girls, rendered by the author in a range of disturbing, one-dimensional fashions: the girls are shown, by turns, adventuring through idyllic, Edwardian landscapes, and falling prey to the grotesqueries of absolute violence, hanged in a field or strangled. Notable is that Darger often draws male genitalia on the little girls, a fact overlooked by many as mere curiosity. John Ashbery encountered Darger’s work in the 1990s and this encounter inspired the corresponding long poem, Girls on the Run. In Darger’s simplistic world, the girls are unquestionably moral and good and the author gives them no room to deviate from their characterization, which feels particularly misogynistic.

If we push the uncritical romantic views of the outsider artist aside, it’s difficult not to read Henry Darger’s In the Realms of the Unreal as embodying the dynamics of an abuse narrative. His epic uses multiple mediums: newspaper clippings, stenciled drawings, watercolor paintings, and narrative fiction to depict a child slave rebellion against their Glandelinian overlords.

This familiarity with wrong meanings puzzles one

"Weather Warning" by Tom Lee. CC NC-BY. Brighton seafront as shot from the pier.
"Weather Warning" by Tom Lee. CC NC-BY. Brighton seafront as shot from the pier.

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.

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers

“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.

Perfect contempt

“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).

Unregulated glamor

On Carrie Lorig's 'The Pulp vs. the Throne'

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.

That unnoticed & that necessary

On the reproductive labor of self-effacement

Inscription inside my copy of Tell Me A Riddle

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: On the monstrous feminine

Henry Fuseli The Three Witches 1783
Henry Fuseli The Three Witches 1783

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

Toward an embodied critique

A review of Louis Bury's 'Exercises in Criticism'

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.

Motley attire

A review of Anne Boyer's 'Garments Against Women'

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.

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