Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Weekend Read: Julie Sheehan

Sham Pantoum

I believe in freedom. And so, I believe
In freedom. I believe in the policy
Of freedom. Police freedom, I

Believe, is the course to victory.
Political freedom to believe
I believe in. Freedom, I believe,

Is polite. I believe I said
Of freedom (Police!), freedom I
Believe is the course. To Victory,

Political freedom to believe.
In freedom I believe in. The policy
Is polite I believe. I said
I believe in freedom, and so I believe.

SQ: I love what John Ashbery has to say about the pantoum: 
"...the pantoum or the sestina, which we all use occasionally, are forms which take the poem really out of the hands of the poet in attempting to satisfy the constraints that are the trademark of these forms. Therefore one can allow one’s unconscious mind to go about forming the poem in a way that is even more effective than what the Surrealists practice, called "unconscious writing," which I don’t think ever gets that far from consciousness." 
Does that resonate for you?

JS: I am too cautious to say "resonate," when it comes to Ashbery. He has that way of getting you nodding along, only to feel like a fool afterwards. For example, "which we all use occasionally" is a lot to slip into a dependent clause. I can feel him waving his hand vaguely in my direction. I'm half-invited to join that "all," but the fact is, I've only written one sestina in my whole life--a modified one called "Malted Barley"--and this is my first ever pantoum. I think both of these forms (even Bishop's "Sestina," adored the world over) are doomed to failure, and so I've avoided them whenever possible. I only used them when I had to. In neither case do I think it was because I sought to practice "unconscious writing." Rather, the extreme rigidity of especially the pantoum fit with what I had to say about political discourse: that it is utterly conventional, a cut and paste job rather than an exchange or development of ideas, and that we are entrapped in this discourse, and that we routinely mistake "idea-words" for the ideas themselves.

SQ: The pantoum seems a wonderfully archaic form, and to see it turned here to political uses, is a surprise. Why this form? Why not a villanelle, for example?

JS: A villanelle might work, but pantoums are even more slavish in their repetition, and not beautiful, at least to me. Their recycling is relentless, all invention drained after the first stanza, leaving in Ashbery's case the unconscious but in mine the voice of George Bush, whose political strategy was to live the pantoum. As one of his advisors said in the days after his re-election, "We live in a culture of assertion. Facts don't matter." That is exactly the kind of culture a pantoum creates: assertion upon assertion upon assertion, with the individuality of facts bleached out through repetition. Villanelles, on the other hand, have that middle line with its independent rhyme scheme and relative independence of thought. They have two moving parts, the refrains and those middle lines, and represent to me the dynamic between departing from--if only temporarily--and returning to the object of obsession. Pantoums stay in the repetition, blind and static.

SQ: I was rereading THAW the other day and as usual I find your formal engagements completely surprising and always playful. Thinking too of the "Hot Little Sonnet," and wondering if the fact of a poem's pleasure quotient being high is an essential part of the writing process for you.

JS: Absolutely, I'm definitely pro-pleasure. Writing is sensual to me; I pant for the texture and scent of words. Again, a form like the sonnet or the villanelle is too sensual for the job of "Sham Pantoum," out of which I tried to keep all chewy language, leaving those empty, abstract buzzwords. Please don't find them beautiful!

SQ: I know Marie Ponsot has been important to you. Can you talk briefly about how you met and what she offered to you as a poet mentor?

JS: Her first act was to introduce me to Anne Bradstreet in a seminar she taught at Columbia, when I was in graduate school. That got my attention. And if you've read her work, you know that Marie is very attuned to the pleasure quotient of both poetic form and individual words, so there has been that aesthetic affinity, at least from my point of view. But what you don't know from reading her work is how generous she is with her wisdom, which is vast but sits easy on her tiny frame. She shepherded my first book into print at the same time that I started teaching composition courses as an adjunct. Another Ponsot accolyte turned me on to her and Rosemary Deen's pedagogy for essay writing (check out Beat Not the Poor Desk for yourself!). I tap her all the time for everything from classroom advice and reading suggestions to parenting advice and gardening tips.

SQ: How would you describe they way you intersect form, historical poetics, and contemporary?

JS: I see form as a technology, like the pencil. And just as an artist might sketch with a pencil on Wednesday, but on Thursday scan a photograph and manipulate it in her computer, a poet might pick up a form one day and the next, not. I think Marie Ponsot writes that way; I know I do. I'm no purist about received form, either. Forms are sturdy and malleable--you can customize them, much as Mona Van Duyn has the sonnet, or Marie Ponsot, for that matter. WIth enough theoretical torque, you might be able to attach political meaning to a poet's use of form--that it's essentially conservative--but to me that's sort of like saying you are conservative to use a door, another technology that's been around a long time but still has its uses. The politically right-leaning connotations also don't make sense in light of how many formalists are gay men--e.g., Alfred Corn, Richard Howard--who don't have much incentive to leap onto the conservative bandwagon.

I also think most "free" verse is pretty highly structured. I was shocked upon first reading Ferlinghetti's Coney Island of the Mind at how many formal elements it used. I wasn't expecting that. And from the point of view of a person interested in "what shapes a bright container can contain," to use Roethke's line, the Spoken Word movement is very exciting. These poets are deeply engaged in form (and, again, hardly a bastion of conservative thought); there's no telling what they'll make of received forms like the pantoum or sonnet once they get interested, and they will. We're in for a treat.

SQ: How elastic do you see form? What is the most surprising use of form you have encountered?

JS: I've already suggested that form is adaptable. One of the most surprising uses I've seen lately is in Douglas Kearney's work. He's an L.A.-based poet with Spoken Word roots and a visual arts background--the full package. His second collection, The Black Automaton, came out last year from Fence Books. In that and in his first book, Fear, Some (Red Hen Press) he performs radical experiments on the refrain, that most ancient of poetic technologies.
Julie Sheehan’s three poetry collections are Bar Book: Poems & Otherwise, Orient Point and Thaw. Her honors include a Whiting Writers’ Award, NYFA Fellowship, the Elizabeth Matchett Stover Award from Southwest Review, the Robert H. Winner prize from Poetry Society of America, the Barnard Women Poets Prize and, from Paris Review, the Bernard F. Conners prize. Her poems have appeared in many magazines and anthologies. She teaches in the MFA program at Stony Brook Southampton.

And just for fun--a video interpretation of John Ashbery's "Pantoum" no idea who or where it comes from.

Friday, February 25, 2011

On Reviewing: rob mclennan

LH: What do you think the purpose of a review is? If you also write about books on a blog, why? What does blogging let you do differently?

rm: Well, coming late to the conversation (as Babstock said of himself, as well), I’m uncertain as to what I could add that hasn’t already been said. I’d say the purpose of a review is to open up or continue a conversation; to critically discuss the merits of a new work against the author’s previous works, the author’s own goals and influences (stated or not), and then against the surrounding culture of other writing, immediate and otherwise. I’ve always held to what Robert Kroetsch said about books being a conversation, and there are certainly those I’ve read (and written) that have attempted to further a number of ongoing threads. Since starting to review back in 1993, I have tried hard to approach a review starting from what the author is attempting to do, and how well they are doing it, well before any question of whether or not I “like” the material. Opinion pieces have little place in reviewing; who cares? It only matters if one cares about your opinion, and most of the time, people only do with thoughtful consideration.

Blogging allows me to spend more time crafting reviews, essays and interviews and less time trying to figure out where to send them. A blog post can, obviously, live further, wider and longer than print journal pieces, furthering over email, Facebook and Twitter, yet hold to a different standard: there's so much online that your blog has to be worth coming to.

Recently, a journal informed me that a review they accepted in 2008 has finally seen print. Last week I received a rejection email from another journal that’s been sitting nine months on a poetry review. It becomes difficult to see the point, simply having to either publish the review myself, send out again to another journal and be seen as a historical piece, or abandon altogether.

Not that I am against historical pieces, having written many myself. There was a review I posted a while back of an early 1990s collection of short fiction by Jean McKay, an author I would very much like to know what happened to. But, to paraphrase that line Meredith Quartermain borrowed for their website, The News, writing to be the news that stays news. And that means staying as current as possible.

I've often considered, if we don't understand the writing that has come before, how can we legitimately keep making more?

LH: If you write reviews, how would you describe your approach, or method? Do you offer or engage in exegesis, theoretical, academic, reader response, close, contextual or evaluative readings? If you don’t write but read reviews, what aspects of reviewing do you notice?

rm: I work very hard to understand a book on its own terms first, before moving out into the world. What is happening? Why does this book exist? What is it adding to the madness of books that already exist? I remember seeing a chapbook of sonnets a few years back, horrified at the idea that if the author loves sonnets so much, how could he excuse a collection of such poor quality? And then my favourite, seeing a bad knock-off of poetry that already exists, had the writer only bothered to read further and more fully into the world. Each new work should be adding to what already exists, and not simply repeating.

For those reviews that hold attention and simply won't let go, they often turn into longer essays, and can take months to finish. I think it too eight months each for pieces I wrote on Jon Paul Fiorentino, Barry McKinnon and Phil Hall. Each were book reviews that just got bigger.

LH: What do you think makes for a successful review? Is there an aspect, a stylistic choice, or perspective that necessarily produces a more significant document?

rm: Not specifically, apart from the reviewer’s own attempt to simply engage the work on its own terms, and in a respectful way, even if they think (and say) the work is terrible. I’d rather hear someone thoughtfully and respectfully take a book apart than have hollow praise. What does it all mean, otherwise? There are worthy things to say and see in any work, and if the reviewer needs to take it apart, then engage at a deeper level. Don’t like it? Explain why, and make it bulletproof. So many reviews are needlessly cruel and petty, and no author deserves that, especially from peers.

This is why I find so many of the angry young formalists so frustrating, having learned so poorly from John Metcalf. Saying a work is great because it’s like the work of someone other is a false premise. The beauty of Metcalf essays is that you could always disagree, but not necessarily argue. Why can’t the angry young formalists argue their cases better?

Great essays and reviews should change the reader's thinking through argument, not bludgeoning.

LH: When you review, do you focus on a particular text (poem, story), the book at hand, the author’s body of work? Do you think this choice of focus influences criticism, or your own criticism, and if so, how?

rm: For a review of a particular book, I focus on the specific book, first and foremost. Usually I like to highlight individual pieces as either particular favourites or as backing up my arguments (or both). I’m always disappointed when space doesn’t allow for such. Sometimes the work does speak best for itself.

LH: If you also write non-critical work, how different is the way you approach reviewing or critical writing to the way you approach your own “creative” writing?

rm: I try to keep my writing moving, to be informed by different structures, sounds, rhythms and subject matter. I’m far harder on my own work by furthering critically than I would have been five or ten years ago, which I suppose is what all serious writers are supposed to be doing.

I’ve written essays that play around with form, and that’s something I’m far more aware of in my non-reviewing writing. I wrote an essay on the work of Andrew Suknaski in the form of letters, something he used in his own critical work, and there was something about talking to him with his own structures that I really enjoyed, and possibly took me deeper inside his writing than I otherwise might have been able to go. But an essay is not a review, and a review is not fiction. The goals of each are different, albeit, often, fluid.

A review is not a forum for the reviewer to show off how clever they are. It’s about the work at hand. It’s the same as great editing: the best editor should be invisible inside of a text.

LH: Have you been in a position where you have had to write about a book that you don’t care for, or a book that is coming out of a tradition that you are perhaps opposed to, or resistant to on some level? How do you handle such events? Or how have you noticed others handle these events?

rm: Well, I steer clear of the idea that there are traditions I am “opposed” to. There are certainly those that don’t appeal to me as a reader, and even more than might not appeal to me as a writer (I would hope that my reading scope far outreaches that of my writing). Still, it means that I’m not always specifically versed enough in certain traditions to give qualified, in-depth commentary.

I’m tired of seeing opinion pieces, of seeing book reviews that slag a title simply because the reviewer is using the work as politic, writing a polemic. I'm tired of watching a reviewer hate a work because it's not part of what they like; who cares? So much reviewing feels like “I love clowns, Schindler's List didn't have clowns in it, therefore I hated the film Schindler's List.” It's lazy, small-minded and downright offensive. If you hate what someone is working with and/or attempting, then it doesn’t matter how good the book may or may not be. You’re going to hate it, pure and simple. I’ve always considered it rather sleazy, even abusive, to trash someone else’s work to further your own polemic. Angry reviewer, do you consider your position so weak that you have to tear down the work of others? Weak, man. Seriously.

I was initially very nervous about taking on a review of Stephen Brockwell’s The Real Made Up (ECW Press, 2007) and David McGimpsey’s Sitcom (Coach House Books, 2007), simply because I didn’t feel qualified to discuss credibly their formal edges, their explorations within the structures of the sonnet, for example, and it took me quite a long time to work my way through finishing the piece. Somehow I managed my way through in a way they both seemed to appreciate. Still, if there’s a book I take apart, I try to do so constructively. If I know the author personally, I try to give them a heads up before the review appears, so they can be the first to know, and not one of the last. I never want to embarrass.

Because I'm so rarely asked to do anything by anyone, I have the luxury to not review anything I don't find interesting.

LH: What is the last piece of writing that convinced you to a/ reconsider an author or book you thought you had figured out, or had a final opinion on or b/ made you want to buy the book under review immediately?

rm: When I was second-last in Calgary, Christian Bök talked about Dennis Lee’s poetry collections, Un (Anansi, 2003) and Yesno (Anansi, 2007), two books I was willing to reconsider, simply for the sake of his recommendation. I’ve been years going through his poetry and never understood the appeal, from Civil Elegies and Other Poems (Anansi, 1972), The Gods (M&S, 1979) to Riffs (Brick, 1993) (although I very liked parts of his collection of essays, Body Music). I went back and reconsidered, and found an appreciation I wasn’t open to before, through my own little biases.

Sure, there have been pieces over the years that have caught me re-thinking; that’s essential, isn’t it? But of course no example I can think of, off-hand. A healthy quality when it comes to such subjective forms as art. Too much certainty is always a dangerous thing. What might one see now that they didn’t catch earlier? I’m willing to reconsider, but don't often change my mind, but for the rare example, like those two books of Lee’s (I still don’t care for his other poetry; but so what, right?). Stephen Brockwell and I regularly disagree on poetry, and no matter what he tells me to reconsider (and sometimes I do, and the rare time I end up agreeing with him), I always tell him he’s wrong, because it amuses me.

LH: Is there a quality you are looking for in a review that you haven’t found?

rm:See previous answers. 

LH: Critical work is increasingly unpaid work; will you continue to do this work despite the trend? Do you see this trend reversing, or changing course? rm: I continue because I enjoy being part of the conversation. I enjoy seeing the new works by the dozens of authors I wish I had the attention to follow better, and new titles excite me. I consider reviewing an essential aspect of my writing practice, and the more engaged I am with writing, the better I can improve my own craft. Sadly, I’m used to not getting paid, it would seem. It's been only the past few years I've seen too much money at all for reviewing. Literature isn’t about getting paid, although that sure would be nice. And I do so love that I get books, chapbooks and journals in the mail almost daily. Something I find exhilarating and frustrating, and much of why I continue, is repeatedly being told that I’m the first or even only reviewer for a particular title. I’ve always figured, if I can do this, how hard can it be? But I guess I might have to finally admit, after nearly twenty years down the road, that I might have picked up a skill or two. It’s pretty easy to continue when someone such as Sheila Heti, for example, tells that I’m the first/only reviewer who “gets” her new novel. Is that ego? Possibly. But it’s also highlighting an essential part of why I should continue doing these reviews; that there is so little in the way of broader attention, focusing instead on a small list of titles that become almost overexposed. There is also something about knowing that mine might be one of the few sites that comes up in google searches for Gerry Gilbert, Peter van Toorn, David Phillips, jwcurry, Judith Copithorne, William Hawkins or Maxine Gadd, so it puts a considerable weight of responsibility upon me to make my commentary worthwhile.

Finally, if I don't review it, who will? And that's the saddest commentary of all.

LH: What do you hope to achieve by writing about writing? Do you believe that reviews can actually bring new readers to texts?

rm: I completely do. I’ve worked hard for years to talk about a range of writing on the blog, and take seriously the idea of introducing readers to various corners, whether highlighting Prince George, Calgary, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Ottawa, or what I’ve been learning the past few years about American poetics. For quite a while I’ve been deliberately reviewing non-Calgary works in filling Station and non-east coast works in The Antigonish Review, for example. Spread the word around, so to speak. If I’m going to dig deeper through all of this information, this reading, wouldn’t it be irresponsible of me to not work to try to express what I’ve seen, read, learned?

Conducted over email, November 16-8, 2010. Note: Rob is reading in the Pilot Reading Series this Sunday at 8pm in Montreal at the Sparrow, 5322 St. Laurent.  

Born in Ottawa in 1970, rob mclennan is an Ottawa-based writer, editor and publisher, and author of more than twenty titles of poetry, fiction and non-fiction in Canada, Ireland, England and the United States, with work appearing in over two hundred journals in fourteen countries. He has published a travel book on Ottawa (Ottawa: The Unknown City) and a collection of literary essays (subverting the lyric: essays). More recently, he is the author of a second novel, missing persons (Toronto ON: The Mercury Press, 2009), and two forthcoming poetry collections—kate street (Chicago Il: Moira, 2010) and Glengarry (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 2011)—as well as the recent wild horses (Edmonton AB: University of Alberta Press, 2010). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books (with Jennifer Mulligan), The Garneau Review (, seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics ( and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater ( He spent the 2007-8 academic year as writer in residence at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, and blogs regularly at

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Gatekeepers and the Glass Ceiling, Notes Toward an Essay on The Count

“The gatekeepers of literary culture—at least at magazines—are still primarily male.” If these gatekeepers are showing a gender bias, there’s not much room to make it up later.
Let's make something very clear: no one wants to have these conversations. Particularly women. Or particularly whoever is outside of these gates. They are a bother. They detract from one's work. One's important work. They make the person doing the banging on the door seem shrill. They remind the person doing the pointing that they are outside. They affirm to those being barked at that they are inside. They allow the object of the complaint to indulge in that slightly hurt, eye brow raising gesture that is reflected in the eyes of their loyal affirmers. I can see the editors of the LRB and NYRB etc., swiping the nattering voices away with a rolled up copy of their weighty and important rags... Don't bother us with your petulance. We have important reviews of important books to attend to. We are keeping culture alive single-handedly.

And no doubt they do, and in their way, they are. Though arguably, not in a good way.

On several occasions I have taken the time to point out statistics here, and I've tried, in a humorous way, to back away from always being one who points such things out. I would rather not be pointing out the obvious. I would rather not be slotted into the handy compartment of "feminist writer," which basically means that the same publications mentioned in the recent count, and any other editor remotely interested in the "best" books, ever has to deal with me (or anyone who complains) in a serious way because as a feminist, and a woman writer I have identified myself to the Men Concerned Only With Important Thinkers as one to be quickly ferreted out of any given conversation.

I would rather be doing my work. I would rather be writing essays. I would rather be developing my prose style. I would rather be reading intelligent, lengthy essays by women who have been commissioned or are being acknowledged in some way for their thinking. And their writing.

I dislike the fact of women always having to hammer these points home. And having their voices in special "women issues" or "women's literary journals" (read, the issues no serious male thinker ever has to read.). I am tired of the divisiveness. I'm tired of what is important being unconsciously "what I'm familiar with." I'm tired of not having women's voices in the mix because they don't write sentences in the same (or proper) manner. Or they don't engage in evaluative criticism. Or they don't use military terms. Or they don't want to set up the field and knock each competitor down as they progress through their essay. Or they don't adequately regurgitate enough other criticism or theory or the "Important Ones." I don't want special treatment, I want something that reflects a more accurate slice of contemporary thinking. I don't want a women's review of books, I want a woman assigning reviews at the LRB or NYRB or the NY Times, or here in Canada, because let's face it we are no better. In short, I want a woman directing the traffic flow.


So, what to do now?

I am extremely indebted to Amy King and Vida (illustration above) for providing us with very compelling, visual, evidence of the situation as it is. I shared these numbers with a fiction writing class last week, and after they picked themselves up off the floor, it started a great discussion...and that is important. Over at the Rumpus Net there's an ongoing conversation. Various magazines have responded. The TLS with shocking ignorance it seems to me. Tin House with a little more class and smart observations. Eileen Myles at The Awl, and more recently, Sugar, who advises women to write like a motherfucker. Good advice. 

What is important work? What is a circle jerk? When do these things overlap? Discuss.

Discussion is good. Laughing is excellent. But not only that. I'm sorry, I'm tired of complaining. I'm tired of processing. I want results. 

So here are a few things to consider. Proactively.

Seriously. If you are a major literary journal purporting to speak to an entire field, don't bother with the special issue. If you're planning this, don't. Also don't bother with the Asian issue, or the Writers of Colour issue, or the new Muslim writers issue either. That's fine for smaller literary journals. And it's essential for introducing us to new work, but these volumes often get lopped off. They are too easily cast aside. And as a serious, national or international journal you are right to take the books you discuss seriously. So, if you're serious about looking to review and discuss the best, most important writing, then learn to look for the best, most important writing being published, not just what you know to be good in your small circle. Good writing is often not right under your nose, and it often does NOT look remarkably similar to your tastes, your life, or the last book you read. It might not reflect your experience at all. You might, look as long as you like, not see yourself represented there very well, if at all. It might even, shockingly, make you rethink what you think good or important is. You might even discover a new voice and bring readers to it...

I've mentioned this elsewhere, and I say it again. We need something of a  Bechdel-like test for literary conversations and criticism. These casual conversations reveal a good deal about an editorial point of view. My guess is that the editors of the LRB, NYRB, etc., can go a long while before mentioning a woman writer. If an editor can go for a stretch of time, or a few thousand words in an editorial, without ever referencing a female writer, or a text by a woman, or a female critic, it probably reflects a/ what he reads and b/ who he will publish/review.

If you aren't speaking with women, you aren't thinking of them, you aren't reviewing them, you aren't supporting them.  Call him on it.

I don't think that any one solution will solve the problem. Not by any means. It's complicated, and reflects deeply entrenched reading habits. I think a multi-pronged approach is in order, and mentoring is one of those prongs. Role-modeling is the most effective mentorship to my mind. It's cliche perhaps, but being the change you want is a great start. (In other words, don't remain silent, do comment publicly and where it matters, do push discussions in interesting ways, don't get cornered into defensive positions, take risks, think big.)

But more practically, how about creating a forum for women? How about nurturing female public intellectuals. What about something like a Susan Sontag Award for an essay by a woman. This would identify, yearly, women writing and thinking at the top of their game (if you can't already see them....). We have so many great academic writers--but what of the role of the public thinker? I think we need to support women's critical voices in a more public, humanities based context. I think we need to point out the brilliant writers and make the TLS and the LRB and NYRB etc., come knocking on their door.

Laugh baby. In the face of the worst of it, keep your humour. Every time a woman loses sleep over this stuff an angel gets the clap...or something like that. Think Sarah Silverman. Think Tina Fey (Crazy in Hollywood means a woman who keeps talking after you don't want to fuck her...), Rebecca Solnit. Hell, think Stephen Fry, but maybe not Rob Delany (though I don't know, if a woman had a package like that she could get reviewed...).

There are women's salons in Toronto and Vancouver, that I know of. Likely more elsewhere. What are we discussing there? I hope among other things it's the art of pitching, presenting, being public, not just how to manage the interior life of a writer (not that this isn't also important). As Tin House  pointed out, men pitch. Men bang on the door. For my wee blog I find that men are constantly pitching me, constantly contacting me with ideas and feedback. Women on the other hand, I have to contact, and then contact again and again and again. I have to coerce, I have to affirm, I have to spend a lot of time. I don't mind it in general because it's important to me, but it's exhausting. And why is this? You say you want change, and you are silent? Why is this?

Aim squarely at the canon ladies. Do not be polite. Reverence will get you nowhere fast. There is a reason the first three Lisa Robertson books took on Virgil. I know, I know, you can't take on this stuff because you don't have classical training, etc. Women and the notion of Mastery is an essay I would like to read from Anne Carson, and another from Lisa Robertson, and another from Vanessa Place, and Rae Armantrout, or Rebecca Solnit, or Lydia Davis (or someone else? please recommend). In other words: aim high. Dangle if you will, fail trying, but don't settle.

--Sina Queyras, Montreal

Update: thanks again Vida. This time for the comprehensive list of responses to the issue:

Articles on The Count

1.)  The Lack of Female Bylines in Magazines Is Old News - Katha Pollitt @ Slate

2.)  Being Female -- Eileen Myles @ The Awl

3.)   How To Publish Women Writers: A Letter to Publishers about the VIDA Count -- Annie Finch @ Her Circle

4.) 'Numbers don't lie': Addressing the gender gap in literary publishing -- Jessa Crispin @ PBS

5.) On breaking the literary glass ceiling -- Jessa Crispin and Michael Schaub @ PBS

6.) Why There's Gender Bias in Media-and What We Can Do About It -- Margot Magowan @ MS. Magazine

7.) Women in Publishing: What's the Real Story? -- Kjerstin Johnson @ Bitch Magazine

8.) Women Get Published and Reviewed Less Than Men in Big Magazines, Say Red-and-Blue Pie Charts -- Jim Behrle @ The Hairpin

9.) Bitches Be Trippin' -- Roxane Gay @ HTML Giant

10.)  The Sorry State Of Women At Top Magazines -- Anna North @ Jezebel

11.)  Gender, publishing, and Poetry magazine -- Christian Wiman @ Poetry Foundation

12.)  VIDA: The Count Roundup @ The Rumpus

13.)  Why It Matters That Fewer Women Are Published in Literary Magazines -- Robin Romm @ Double X

14.)  Women at Work -- Meghan O'Rourke @ Slate

15.)  The Numbers Speak For Themselves @ Women and Hollywood

16.) Do četiri puta manje tekstova žena! -- BROJKE NE LAŽU @ Kultura (in Croatian)

17.) Submitting Work: A Woman's Problem? -- Becky Tuch @ Beyond the Margins

18.)  On Gender, Numbers, & Submissions -- Rob @ Tin House

19.)  A Literary Glass Ceiling? --  Ruth Franklin @ The New Republic

20.) Research shows male writers still dominate books world -- Benedicte Page @ The Guardian

21.) Gender Balance and Book Reviewing: A New Survey Renews The Debate -- Patricia Cohen @ New York Times Arts Beat

22.) Tickets to an Awesome Future Are Free: Gender, Literature, and VIDA’s Count -- Carolyn Zaikowski

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Scientific Instruments in Holbein's Ambassadors: A Re-Examination via Vanessa Place

The Scientific Instruments in Holbein’s Ambassadors: A Re-Examination
Vision is ordered according to a mode that may generally be called the function of images. Anamorphosis is a distorted projection or perspective requiring the viewer to use special devices or occupy a specific vantage point to reconstitute the image. "Ana - morphosis" comes from the Greek words meaning "formed again. A supranuclear gaze palsy is an inability to look in a particular direction as a result of cerebral impairment. There is a loss of the voluntary aspect of eye movements, but, as the brainstem is still intact, all the reflex conjugate eye movements are normal. The general assumption has been that these discrepancies are intentional, lending support to an interpretation of the painting as an allegorical commentary on the religious and political events in Europe in the 1530s. Unfortunately most descriptions of the scientific instruments have been flawed because they rely too heavily on inadequate secondary literature. This picture is simply what any picture is, a trap for the gaze.
-Vanessa Place, Los Angeles


Vanessa Place killed poetry. – anon. via Twitter
Vanessa Place writes poetry, prose and art criticism; she is also a criminal lawyer and co-director of Les Figues Press.
Her most recent work is available in French as Exposé des Faits, and in English as Statement of Facts.
Of Vanessa Place and Robert Fitterman’s Notes on Conceptualisms, Mary Kelly said, “I learned more about the impact of conceptualism on artists and writers than I had from reading so-called canonical works on the subject.”
Kenneth Goldsmith has called Vanessa Place’s work “arguably the most challenging, complex and controversial literature being written today.”
 Vanessa Place n’est pas une femme banale. Avocate à Los Angeles, critique d’art, écrivain…les photographies la montrent les bras tatoués, toute de noir vêtue comme une rockeuse. Son premier opus traduit en français (et son sixième ouvrage) : Exposé des faits ressemble à son auteur : il est étrange et fort. Parfois la littérature expérimentale est purifiante. – Stephanie Hochet
Vanessa Place's performances, whose rigour, control and deep invention showed her near perfect mastery of / slavery to deliberate and conscious poetic performance/utterance, a frighteningly terminal position. – Peter Philpott
Vanessa Place is writing terminal poetry. – Rae Armantrout

Monday, February 21, 2011

From the Office for Soft Architecture's Department of Appliance Lore

Stupendous favourite film Nathalie Granger:

and part 2:

a key scene w the very young Depardieu, Jeanne Moreau, Lucia Bosé, shot in Duras' country house.
--Lisa Robertson, Vancouver

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Weekend Read: Nada Gordon


To come open or fly
apart suddenly or
violently, especially
from internal pressure.
The sky erupts. Cities
darken, food spoils
and homes fall silent.
Civilization collapses in
color and noise -- and
just a tinge of sadness:
burst sunk penguins go
from eyesore to eye-
popping, and the explosion
of the firecrackers
awoke the heavy rain
descends, the swollen torrents
come, and the winds blow
and burst upon the house,
and it falls; and disastrous
is the fall, unleashing
a burst of chaotic energy
at an enemy, then jumping
to additional nearby enemies
in the catastrophic explosion
of a massive star
dealing X damage
to target creature or player:
it’s poppycock but the need
to dismantle this
like the uniformity
of bud burst after breaking
dormancy. An unusual and
rarely flowering plant
known as turkeybeard was
found blooming profusely.
How made a homemade chastity belt?
Irish multi coloured glass vases.
Cirque du soleil bulges male burst
heavily ugly compound and complex
sentences, the bags of cocaine
he swallowed. Can you burst
a breast cyst? What happens if
a cyst bursts in your mouth?
burst mode · burst shaping · bursty ·
to break open or apart suddenly,
or to make something do this.
The old participle bursten
is nearly obsolete... as,
to burst from a prison;
the heart bursts with grief.

The Womenflowers.

There are beautiful women, less
beautiful. They are seduced by the
poet and taken. From there
they either appear in the house
or they will be laid in secret.
There are sweet like the
younger pretend and animal-like
women like the menopausal wo-
men look. The woes belong just
to the deceived. And the gloaming just
to the woeful snowy gloaming.

The Fakery

The fakery is great, in it are
two women, one for white bread and
one for nonwhite bread. The pussy
will in each case be felched by the
male faker, for the rele-
vent masquerade with the local no.
from one to eleven. Masquerade one are
the two women, two and three are the
boy, four the boy and five
also boy. Six, seven the boy,
eight, nine, ten the boy and eleven
the boy, because it is all about the boy.
In the morning at half past nine
the blog is published then it comes
out and is laid out to bleed on the


Not everyone has scruples
some scruples are dishonest
or inoperative. So it is with you.
The philosopher says everyone has
scruples. Your scruples are
especially for cheating. The scruples
consist of the upper self and the
lower self, the goat and the
thinker. Of the ethics in the upper self
and also in the lower self. Half of the
self also belongs to the crotch. As well as
both of the testicles and the index fin-
ger when one has stuck it into the ass of
one’s slut.


SQ: You are one of the original flarfists, Nada, and as such have gone through the many arguments for, against, and in contrast, particularly to the concepualists. Are you still a flarf poet? Is there a post-flarf identity?

NG: Kasey had an interesting post on Limetree once about what exactly constitutes a Flarf poet. He posited a few possibilities: someone who is a member of the official Flarf listserv; someone who uses ostensibly “Flarf” techniques (such as “sought poetry” or “Google-sculpting”) ; someone who writes “Flarfily” (e.g. with joie de vivre and obnoxiousness). I suppose by any of these measures I am still a Flarfist, yes, although I don’t by donning that appellation mean to espouse any sort of poetic dogma whatsoever. I am certainly still a Flarfist in the way that Ringo Starr will always be a Beatle; it’s a historical category, in a way.

The Flarf group has primarily been marked by vigorous conviviality and the unbridled joy of a hootenanny. This makes it unique, I believe, among contemporary poetry movements. There have been very few sour moments in the interactions of its participants. Now that Gary and I have split there seems to be a pall over the group; that Utopia has now crumbled somewhat, although the list still exists, and now and then we still hoot and holler… but for me personally, the breakup does mark a kind of movement into a post-Flarf era. I don’t know if the others feel like that. It might be interesting to ask them.

It’s crucial to remember, though, that we were all poets before Flarf and will all remain poets after, assuming we are in an “after” phase now. I think we all (except two) will remain bonded in some interpersonal way, as well. This is not the same, though, as having some kind of unified poetic identity. I think we’ve all been pretty distinct in our styles and concerns all along, really. Perhaps now is the time for our idiosyncrasies to become even more defined and extreme: Kasey will become more hilariously formalist, Sharon brassier, Rodney more elegant, Drew more deadpan, I more baroque (apologies to all those I’ve left off here)? Saying this, I don’t mean to determine the future. Who knows where our peregrinations will bring us? I could turn around tomorrow and find I’ve become the quietest of the quietists, although I sort of doubt it.

SQ: I heard you speaking about the amazing Sharon Mesmer on Poem Talk and you reminded me of the relationship between lyric poetry and flarf. It's deep, it's complicated, it's messy, but it's there. Is flarf the post confessional lyric poetry of our time?

NG: Well, if I think of the pre-Flarf or non-Flarf poetry of several in the group, I notice immediately a tenacious (almost nostalgic) attachment to the lyric mode (against what was a predominantly anti-lyric mood in inventive poetry at the time the Flarflist started). I’m thinking here of Drew, Jordan, Sharon, Rodney, Ben, Edwin, myself, and Gary (in Swoon), especially. It’s almost as if Flarf emerged partly as an explosion of repressed lyricism that was avant-garde-ishly self-justifying in that it used the mask of appropriation to say what the murkiest parts of our selves wanted to say. But you know, we could get into a long exegetical discussion about what “lyric” really means. I started having a conversation like that with Dana Ward, and we finally realized at the end of it that we didn’t really mean by “lyric” what other people meant by “lyric,” and that really we were just talking about “poetry.” As to whether or not Flarf is post-confessional, I guess that would depend on the poem and the poet. I write a lot of poems that I suppose are Flarf (i.e. they are appropriated, sculpted, etc.) that are absolutely confessional. The aim of these poems isn’t hilarity, it’s pathos – but they may be so pathetic that they are hilarious as well, I don’t know. Then again, Steve McLaughlin told me my poems are different from other Flarfists’ in that mine are “more emotional,” so I don’t know, maybe this isn’t true for others. But I do think there’s an element of lyricism in nearly all Flarf poems, because they are “voiced” in ways that many (more abstract, or more distanced) contemporary poems are not, although the Flarf voices are usually multiple, and repurposed. If they are lyric, they are not what is usually meant by lyric, that is certain, but they are vivid and sensationalistic, and in that, they vibrate, as strings do, which brings us back to “lyre.”

Nada Gordon is the author of Folly, V. Imp, Are Not Our Lowing Heifers Sleeker than Night-Swollen Mushrooms?, foriegnn bodie, Swoon, and Scented Rushes. A founding member of the Flarf Collective, she practices poetry, song, dance, dressmaking, and image manipulation as deep entertainment. She blogs at ulutate.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


(Part 1)
by Jon Cotner and Andy Fitch

Thoreau, from his essay, "Walking":
I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks, who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering; which word is beautifully derived "from idle people who roved about the country, in the middle ages, and asked charity, under pretence of going à la sainte terre—to the holy land, till the children exclaimed, "There goes a sainte-terrer, a saunterer—a holy-lander. They who never go to the holy land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds, but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean. Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre, without land or a home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere.

During the first walk, through Central Park, Bruce Chatwin's work In Patagonia is briefly referred to, and this feels natural, as throughout I was thinking of both the Walks and the Talks as two attempts or versions at a kind of citified rendering of the Indigenous Australian poem-maps that are the central topic of Chatwin's book The Songlines:
Aboriginal Creation myths tell of the legendary totemic beings who had wandered over the continent in the Dreamtime, singing out the name of everything that crossed their path—birds, animals, plants, rocks, waterholes—and so singing the world into existence.

[...] To get to grips with the concept of the Dreamtime, he said, you had to understand it as an Aboriginal equivalent of the first two chapters of Genesis—with one significant difference. In Genesis, God first created the 'living things' and then fashioned Father Adam from clay. Here in Australia, the Ancestors created themselves from clay, hundred and thousands of them, one for each totemic species.

[...] He went on to explain how each totemic ancestor, while travelling through the country, was thought to have scattered a trail of words and musical notes along the line of his footprints, and how these Dreaming-tracks lay over the land as 'ways' of communication between the most far-flung tribes.

'A song,' he said, ' was both map and direction-finder. Providing you knew the song, you could always find your way across country.'

[...] By singing the world into existence, he said, the Ancestors had been poets in the original sense of poesis, meaning 'creation'.

[...] The man who who went on 'Walkabout' was making a ritual journey. He trod in the footsteps of his Ancestor. He sang the Ancestor's stanzas without changing a word or note—and so recreated the Creation.

Tangential to this, but in the tradition of Cotner & Fitch's project, can we read Debord's The Naked City as a cosmopolitan configuration of a Songline, one in which Baudelaire is positioned somewhere in the totemic ancestry?

And within this walking, amidst this talking, there is a mode of improvised response, an immediate filtering, a practice of description—a kind of singing?—that I'm reading laterally towards this passage from Bob Perelman's "Language Writing, Literary History":
"Instead of ant wort I saw brat guts." This line is the epigraph to In the American Tree. In a canonical literary history, one addressed to a judging reader, such a phrase would make quite a limited aesthetic object. But as I am interested in non-canonical or anti-canonical sets of literary narratives where literary history is created by writers, I'll give the circumstances of the birth of this line.

Kit Robinson, Steve Benson and I began a writing project almost as soon as we met in San Francisco in 1976. One of us would read from whatever books were handy and two of us would type. These roles would rotate; occasionally, there would be two readers reading simultaneously to one typist. The reader would switch books whenever he felt like it, and ump around within whatever book was open at the time. [...]

This was not automatic writing, automatic listening would be more like it. There was no question of keeping up with the stream of spoken words; one could attempt to attend to them or not. [...]

I don't want to make claims for this process as representative of language writing; no published work that I know of has been written using this method. But I want the extremity of this process, where reading and writing, hearing and producing words were so jammed together, to emblematize an important collaborative element of the beginnings of the language movement. In the above description, I notice that the conventional positions of (modernist) literary competence are reversed: instead of the writer being powerful and the reader struggling to catch up, having to read Dante's Italian, Ovid's Latin, and the Elizabethans in their entirety to be able to read "The Waste Land," in the brat guts literary regime, the reader—or, to avoid confusion, the pronouncer—is the active one and the writer, the typist, the swamped receiver, is reactive, is second in the chain of command, which becomes a chain of suggestion.

It's with this "swamped receiver," the poet as a kind of black body, or the Spicerian antenna, but variations within this category, I plan to next press forward.

Michael Nardone lives in the Northwest Territories.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Silver Car Sessions, Episode 9

Highway poet-hound Sina Queyras sits in the non-lemon for some silvery-red-glossy words about mourning, materiality and bacon.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Weekend Read: Geof Huth "Egg"

How do you know when to let go of a poem? Every now and I come across one of these "eggs" in my own corpus. It looks like a poem, walks like a poem, but there's something not quite on about it. I pull it out, muck about, fondle, consider burning, recycling, but no, it won't go.

If I'm honest, I can see how these pieces are often bridge works, or leaping points. They often illustrate a particular struggle before a break through. The break through work is nowhere to be seen--having come to life and been released. What's left are these hardened, beckoning bits of work that hang around, half formed, distracting us from our forward path.

I see this struggle playing out in students too. Hanging on to a poem long after it has taught them what it will. But it isn't finished, they say. I'm struggling with it. And you want to say,  yes, go, get your head sweaty and scraped. Hammer away, hammer. And you want to say, don't struggle. Put it in a box called "later" and move on.

Or, you can salvage the poem gently, elegantly, the way Geof Huth does upstairs here. Give it a bit of air, and then let it go. Whatever you do, you can not worry so much about it. There are stages of doneness, there are passes at a poem, and there are the jagged bits that become the beginnings, ends, and thoughts laced in more vigorous work.

All work is a tension of worry and release, ponder and chance. You want to claim the moves, but you can't always perfect them. Knowing when to let go is important. As important as understanding that some people have to be dogged with the thing that isn't working so that they can easily, as a break from that important work, sketch out the next thing, which might come easy as breath.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Lisa Robertson on Eva Hesse's Sans II

What makes life worth living?

A question that comes to us all at one point or another. For me, these days, the question is not about "worth" it's about "how can we live" consciously, in our time. SF MoMA thinks that art helps. I agree. Absolutely. Art contextualizes. Art frames. Art offers ways of assessing. Of assembling. Of archiving. Of indexing. Art, and of course I'm seeing all arts not just visual, helps put us in touch with assumptions. Re-introduces us to language. To words. Brings us out of isolation and hands off these philosophical questions from one generation to the next.... I love this project at SF MoMA in which 75 people gave 7.5 minute or less talks about pieces of art...

You can watch Lisa Robertson give her talk, on Eva Hesses Sans II at SF MoMA

Meanwhile there is Bjork. And she is right.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

The Weekend Read: Emma Healey


You exist but don’t get too excited you exist next to Jersey Shore chain bookstores the emergence of the soy latte as a cultural signifier, the word “unlike.” The slow consonance of billboards leading out. Your sulk makes our air taste like teeth and our libraries nasal with stuck fines we all want our roads back so try to be Other to shake it off here: Get a haircut. Resolve. Name your cat Morrissey after Morrissey and a bad day at work, stick your head in the fridge, call up other cities and fall apart when asked to hold. Locate your spine and then teach it new traffic collect lanes brakelights and keep it in clusters. Get complicated. At parties do way too close a reading of white wine corner someone and tell them populous has nothing to do with actual numbers. Get caught leaving a suburban Home Depot with two left taps and an unmatched faucet down your pants. Go on strike. Crush glasses in your sleep with the weight of your citizenry. Get a headache so hard it blooms a whole highway. Weigh your signage compile it and pull in a border; maybe try to let sprawling decide where the signs end for once. Heat your ambitions with every room, blush a new suburb when your airport gets a B+ in Mcleans. Impress yourself. Be at once posessed of knees and unraised; break a bridge for the fuck of it, push dissent with new trash cans and more karaoke bars. Breathe in – stray reciepts, lighter-shells, bike tires like details, resent – and trace back routes. Weather it.

"Civil" was read at the inaugural Synapse reading at Concordia and appeared on the reading series' blog. Here's a brief conversation. Emma, why prose poetry?

EH: In general: Not sure yet. But for me: I like how a prose poem sounds things. I like that kind of forward rhythm you can get, I like when something looks huge and brickish and imposing and then you look again and it turns out it's tiny and delicate and strange. Plus I tend toward listing, and I'm less cautious about things than I should be. It fits.

LH: When and where and how did you fall under the spell of the prose poem?

EH: In the summer after the 10th grade I took this English/poetry class with a bunch of other high school kids, and we had this amazing, crazy teacher who assigned readings from Tender Buttons but also, like, Letters to Wendy's, and I thought they were pretty awesome but I guess I may have been the only one. We got assigned prose poems for homework - each student was supposed to write one of their own and then read it in front of the class the next day, and for some reason all the other kids just hated that. Everyone was just completely and thoroughly unimpressed by the prose poem, in every possible way. I remember one girl saying to me: "These aren't real. This isn't a real thing. I'm refusing to write one." Which, I mean, it's pretty impossible not to fall in love with something like that.

LH: Favorite prose poet?

EH: Tie: Frank O'Hara, Donald Barthelme, my mother.

LH: What we should know about you?

EH: This is a terrifying question! Um. That I'm blind in one eye and make excellent curry. That I do this. That I just googled the phrase "what should we know about you?" to see if there was a good answer I could steal but all that came up was an interview with Tila Tequila where she says: "They have to understand that everything I’ve done I’ve done on my own [...] It’s just all me and I did it myself. It takes a lot of work and energy. I definitely did it on my own." That I am secretly Tila Tequila, and it takes a lot of work and energy but I definitely did it on my own.


Emma Healey is a Creative Writing major and Philosophy minor at Concordia University. She is from Toronto but now lives in the plateau of Montreal. Her fiction has appeared in Joyland, Broken Pencil, Cellstories, Can’tLit and Gulch. She is the founder and editor in chief of the Incongruous Quarterly. 

Friday, February 04, 2011

Michael Turner: Meredith Hunter’s Last Words (Heard)


(from the stage)

I -- I cannot see what's going on, I just know that every time we get to a
number something happens. I don't know what's going on, who's doing what;
it's just a scuffle. All I can ask you, San Francisco, is, like, the whole
thing -- like this could be the most beautiful evening we've had for this
winter, you know, and we'd really -- no, why, why...don't let's fuck it up,
man. C'mon, let's get it together. I can't do anymore than just ask you, to
beg you to just keep it together. You can do it, it's within your power.
Everyone. Everyone. Hell's Angels -- everybody. Let's just keep ourselves

You know, if we -- if we're all one, let's show we're all one.

There's one thing, uh, horrible, what we need -- Sam, we need an ambulance,
we need a doctor by that scaffold over there. If there's a doctor can he
get to there.

Okay, here we go. We're gonna -- I don't know what we're doing.

When we get to, like, the end and we all wanna go absolutely crazy and,
like, jump on each other then we'll stand up again, you know what I mean?
Everyone keep it-- Sit down. I mean, just keep cool and let's just relax,
let's just get into a groove. C'mon, we can get it together. C'mon. Sit

Rolling Stones begin "Under My Thumb"

Eight bars later, Meredith Hunter is stabbed to death by a Hells Angel

Michael Turner is a Vancouver-based writer of fiction, criticism and song. He tends a blog of his own. If you're still curious you can find more about him here.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Barack Hussein Obama

There was this particular avenue of thinking in formation, a response to Jon Cotner and Andy Fitch's fine book Ten Walks/Two Talks: reverberations clanging off of Thoreau's essay "Walking," onto the etymology of "saunter," Bruce Chatwin is there and his book The Songlines, through to the polyvocality of Plato, conversational overlap, cues and mishearings via J R, shifting to Bob Perelman's poets talks, and there's a conversation, half-remembered and re-arising in variations, with Jake Kennedy on a poetics of the lateral, which is ringing off Blaser's "The Practice of Outside."

This, though, will have to wait; all thoughts have stopped at: THIS.

Michael Nardone is in the Northwest Territories.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Women continue to publish into a critical vacuum

Vida, the organization for women in the arts, has published some disturbing, though not surprising numbers. The pies that illustrate tell the story very plainly.
The truth is, these numbers don’t lie. But that is just the beginning of this story. What, then, are they really telling us? We know women write. We know women read. It’s time to begin asking why the 2010 numbers don’t reflect those facts with any equity. Many have already begun speculating; more articles and groups are pointing out what our findings suggest: the numbers of articles and reviews simply don’t reflect how many women are actually writing. 
Sincere thanks to Amy King and the women involved in VIDA. As I have said here and elsewhere, the continued blindness to reading and referencing habits is stunning.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Silver Car Sessions, Episode 7

Colorado-radicals--Bhanu Kapil and Joshua Samuel Brown--skyped us on a crisp November day in 2010. We video-chatted for 15 minutes--they were brilliant. Then we lost almost all of the recorded footage. Voila!