I'm in the thick of reading a lot about Susan Howe, which means reading a lot of feminist theories and thinking a lot about "feminist poetry," whatever that means. I've also been re-reading the introduction th Elizabeth A. Frost's new book, which focuses on the Avant Garde women's tradition and how it has been marginalized. Some really interesting and compelling stuff, and completely on topic for the list, which seems to have turned into a discussion on exactly this subject. It brings up a lot of unresolved issues for me, like what kind of work is a poem doing if the reader hasn't a clue what it means? For me, this relates to Howe specifically, and rightfully so. Howe seems to be resisting a "common" reading of her poetry at every turn, masking and remasking, unbuilding and further unbuilding, in an effort to completely obliderate meaning and trajectory. In the book I'm reading of hers, Singularities, she does provide a context, but that's the only framework she allows besides the page itself, the material object on which the text is written. I laughed while I was reading the E. Frost essay about Howe's work, and she tries to do a line-by-line reading of Howe, which completely falls apart by the end of the essay. Why? Not because Frost doesn't know what she's talking about but because Howe's work exists in order to resist such a reading, to elude anything relating to communication or narration and exists instead as fragmented collections of language that creep up through the cracks in history that most of us didn't even know were/are there. This is to say that Howe seems to be doing some admirable work in "Feminist poetry," whatever that is.
On the other hand, I recieved a copy of Calyx: a Journal of Art and Literature by Women which at first glance is doing great things for women in literature by publishing us, but upon closer inspection, like in an actual reading of the journal, I was extremely disappointed (in the poetry, at least, on which I am going to comment). They do a great job, as usual, of representing diverse voices, blah blah blah. Good for them. There are women of all different shaes, sizes, ages, and colors in there. That's admirable, of course. The problem lies in the fact that regardless of color, shape, age, etc. all of these voices sound exactly the same. Every poem has the exact same tone, almost every poem has the same subject. Seven of the seventeen poems open with an image of the sky. There's not a single prose poem, not a single poem that is even close to being experimental at all. The titles tell it all: "Winter Stars," "Under the Sun," "My Angel," you get the picture. A few saving graces include "Ants" and "The Swifts" (the ending, anyway). Otherwise, the poetry in this journal might as well have been written by the same faceless woman with the same timeless experience, writing the same poem that starts with the sky. I'm disappointed, so I wrote this poem in response to this journal, asking for something more in terms of "diversity":
Yet another poem that begins with the sky
Because opening a poem with the sky is the easiest way to open, the interior blank distance mirrored into memory as if time unfolds outward from a vanishing point, which is usually a specific tree or an unnamed star. And then, as to be expected, the sky somehow reminds her of her mother, of a still interior moment that relates only to clouds and porcelain plates, dining room moments that broke too soon. A ridge draws itself as we approach a face, moons are eyes, and so on. By now, I do not care about the sky, how tangled up in memory we all are, how many mothers lie in hospitals and weep because the trees click like maracas when they shake in the breeze in the darkness in the night against the sky. Give me bathrooms and soap-scum, ants, an interlinear palimpsest. Give me a gargantuan zest, something indelicate and phallic, towering over us like Jack’s beanstalk. If it must be a moment, show me how you mount it, how you take it all inside until it shows itself as a filmstrip running through your eyes. The sky, the sky has been done. Give me the red smear glide of every month and tell me why, this time, this very immaculate time, this month is different.