Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Post-Millenial Feminist Poetry
I read with enjoyment and interest the forum on feminist poets (curated by Danielle Pafunda) that went up in segments over at Delirious Hem last week, including work from the following writers:
K. Lorraine Graham
While the writers featured are at different stages in their careers, there was certainly emphasis in the forum on a new generation of feminist poets, especially if one means by generation not age as such but sharing a time period in which one is beginning to publish and have one’s work become more known, a period in which some level of shared problems is inevitable. The poems and essays and poem-essays raised many interesting questions for me, of which I’m mentioning here only the most obvious:
1) The problem of theory and practice. Theory, while at its best always related to the rest of the world, also develops as its own semi-autonomous discourse and often requires (even demands) that the world catch up. Feminist theory, like other theoretical discourses, builds and changes based on contemporary responses to its own past.
Practice, on the other hand, can move only in relation to the world’s pace. While some things about the social condition of women (which?) have changed since earlier generations of feminist discourse, other things have changed more slowly if it all (which?). I was intrigued by the different ways these writers highlighted tensions between theory and practice and how those affect both attempts to move forward as well as respond to the present.
2) The arriving at (feminist) consciousness narrative. A fact of being human: nobody’s born knowing anything. So learning to be a feminist requires those moments of experience and recognition when one discovers why it matters, and every writer who becomes invested in feminism has to have such moments.
And yet, of course, the fact that everyone has to have them means that there’s now quite a history of narratives regarding the arrival at feminist consciousness. Intriguing to see these writers consider their own individual stories and what those stories do or don’t add to the history of such stories. My story is never just mine, of course, since it’s always about an encounter between me and the world I’m living in at that time, and the world I’m living in at that time is always different (but also similar) to other worlds at other places and times.
3) The role of articulating a poetics as such. Feminism is of course fundamentally a cultural practice. It’s possible to be a feminist without being a poet or an artist at all, obviously. So is there a specific relation between feminism and the actual practice of writing lines of poetry (or other kinds of writing) in this or that way? If feminism can be not simply a cultural theory but also a poetics, how does that poetics look as an actual practice of how to write? And how are the questions of how to write and what to write about connected?
4) Feminism as interconnectivity, as a focal point for multiple commitments, convictions, and explorations. Artistic ones: poetry, fiction, visual art, dance, music. Social and activist ones: environmental concerns and animal rights; lesbian, gay, and transgender politics; local activism and global perspectives. Even, as Gina Myers asserts, humanism: not the outdated white guy universalist rationalist humanism that helped get us into this mess but an attempt to re-imagine and re-work our involvements with others of all sorts.
Finally, though, and with no criticism of the forum intended (one can only do so much at once, obviously), what the discussion made me think also of was all the women writers informed by feminism whose work I’ve come to know in recent years and who might have been part of a larger gathering. Although generational lines are always worth blurring, I’m thinking mainly here of writers who were first significantly publishing poetry in this current decade and who are adding new elements to the history of feminism. Some of these writers have published several books in recent years, or just one, or should have published one by now but haven’t, for whatever reason. Some of them haven’t been publishing long at all. Some are more aesthetically challenging than others—obviously, since my bias runs in those directions, those are the writers I’m more likely to know about.
The list, of course, is also marked by the limits of my own experience and knowledge. Some of these writers you might know well, and some you might not know at all. And obviously you can mention some that I don’t know about (and ones that I did but am just forgetting to mention, an inevitable problem of list-making), so please help me add to the list.
Latasha Nevada Diggs
Jennifer K. Dick
Jeanine Hall Gailey
Barbara Jane Reyes
Does a list like this really have much value? Who knows. Nonetheless, it has been fascinating for me to think again about how alive and well feminist poetry still is as it brings new concerns into relationship with many of its ongoing ones. A conference featuring many of these writers, or an anthology that published pieces by them, might very well give a large-scale picture of how feminist poetry has been changing in the first decade of this century, what problems it has been taking up and what new directions it has been exploring.