'Already free'

Russia’s new feminist poetry has so fully arrived in the US as to be featured in Time magazine, but that interest from a mainstream publication does not mean that this remarkable work is anodyne or safe. This work can be fierce, hilarious, tender, and sexy. It stretches the boundaries of the poetic, not least when the poets ironically ask, as Stanislava Mogileva puts it in her “Song,” whether the poetry is sufficiently feminist, sufficiently activist, or too personal, too simple, too frivolous, too intense.

New sentimentalism

When viewed as acts of intimacy, reading and writing put “one on the edge of an outside of whatever one figures oneself already to be” — a claim that prompts the poet-scholar Julie Carr to conclude, in the final line of Someone Shot My Book (2018), that “all writing is epistolary.” All poems, then, are as if written in the manner of Emily Dickinson, “on the paper she used to wrap flowers in, or sent in letters.” All poems are addressed to a dear. Indeed, for Carr, “writing is almost always grounded in intimacy, and when it’s not, it begins to lose energy.”[1]

On being 'ill'-informed

Illness is not a metaphor. — Susan Sontag

Illness is a kind of knowledge. — Anonymous 


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

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

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

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

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

 "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

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