Saturday, December 21, 2013

Publishing Poetry Need Not Be The Swimsuit Competition

It has seemed to me that I probably read more women poets then men. I thought I would explore that possibility by pulling a random sampling of poetry books from my library bookshelves. Nothing scientific about this sampling... I reached without looking and pulled. If it was a book about the craft of poetry or a critical review I sat it aside and continued until I had 10 books. I carried them to my desk and went through them to determine the gender of the author. The results were 4 men and 6 women. Actually I might have thought it would be more lopsided in favor of women but I guess I was pleasantly convinced that as a reader of the poetry arts, I'm probably  more balanced then I thought.

In case you are wondering, the titles and authors are as follows:

  1. Atlas by Katrina Vandenberg
  2. Wolf Watching by Ted Hughes
  3. On Days Like These - Dan Quisenberry
  4. Factory of Tears - Valzhyna Mort
  5. Small Knots - Kelli Russell Agodon
  6. Conamara Blues - John O'Donohue
  7. Nine Horses - Billy Collins
  8. The Seven Ages - Louise Gluck
  9. Forms of Intercession - Jane Pupek
  10. View With A Grain of Sand - Wislawa Szymbroska

Because in many instances I have multiple titles by the same author I was pleased that none of the random pickings resulted in more then one book by the same author. 

So the point of all this? I read Kelli Agodon's blog post today - Support Women Poets: No More Measuring Bathing Suits.   Kelli's piece centers around thoughts on discussions that have transpired as a result of  this article from the New York Daily News. Two comments made by men are as follows... "Does one write better with fewer clothes on?" To which another replies, "That's the first thing I thought of..."

I saw nothing wrong with the attire any of these women were wearing. Even so, they were photo shoots. Nothing suggests any of these women look like these photos pulling a late night witting session amid papers strewn about an a half full cup of now cold coffee. I could only hope no one would judge me on what I might look like at 1:00 a.m. working at my laptop. If Larry and Mitch ( presuming these are their real names) were the subjects of a news article would they show up disheveled? Would the photo journalist have gone with such pictures?  

It's pretty obvious that in the publishing world there are many hurtles that women writers have to overcome to get taken seriously.Any number of publication statistics will  on an increasing basis bear this out.

Larry and Mitch may have just been trying to be cute, I have no way of knowing. Still their words underscore a very real issue for women in many areas not just writing. That issue is being taken seriously. 

I've read many women writers who bring incredible power and voice to their work in poetry.  We are not a gender blind society any more then we are color blind. Sadly, there are avenues that greatly ignore many women poets. I think the same can be true of many older poets. Sure there are the Ashbery and Merwins, but there were not always older. I'm talking about older writers there are newer to writing but already past their prime. Ashbery and Merwin made names for themselves while they were still quite young. It's hard for a fifty or sixty year old poet that has only been writing a few years to maneuver the publishing landscape as well. 

But Agodon makes a valid point that some critics of women writers will find whatever avenue to discredit them that  they can. Too slutty, not attractive. If you don't like their work talk about  where you find it falls short. People, it's about the writing! I can't imagine many men who could stand to undergo the scrutiny many women go through over their appearance.  

I suppose over the years I've become a bit of a male feminist. I have 3 daughters, I wonder how that happened? But feminism isn't  radical. Not really. It's about sensibility. 

I love poetry. Well written poetry. Poetry that makes me thinks. That moves my inner core. I like it  regardless of the gender of the poet. I know many people don't like lists. But maybe I should do another  post on some of the poets that caught my fancy during 2013. I promise it would include men and women. 


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