Tell US Poets

Dear Poet or Friend of Poets,

In the last year, we have co-written a paper that deals with representation of women in the US experimental poetry scene. (This paper was recently published in the Chicago Review as "Numbers Trouble" and we've put a draft of it and some supporting documents here. Right now, this is accessible only to users outside of North America. So, North Americans, get the Chicago Review issue here.).

One of the things our paper does is end up being a catalogue of some of the limits of feminism in US experimental writing. Among these limits is a myopic lack of attention to women's issues outside of the US and a lack of collective action. We end this paper asking people to write to us with suggestions about how to overcome this. Our intention is to try and compile a bunch of these suggestions for publication in order to start a conversation.

Would you be interested in being a part of this conversation?

Our plan right now is to start this conversation outside of the US.

There are several ways you could help us.

We are looking for local co-editors for different regions (right now, regions outside of North America) to gather brief statements from local writers about feminism. Would you be willing to be one? What this means is that you would gather together some responses from writers in your area around this issue. You could gather as few as two or as many as twenty. It would be up to you. We like the idea of more but we're flexible.

If you are not interested, do you think you could suggest someone who is?

If we were to get these responses, we then would need to get them translated. If you wanted to do this work with us (like if you translated these into an English that we could then smooth as necessary), that would be great. We might be able to pay you a small fee. If you don't want to do it, we can probably pay someone else to translate it.

There are two ways we think it might be easiest for co-editors to get these responses. One is to just ask friends. The other is to put an ad in a local paper or journal like Jen Hofer did when she was editing her anthology of Mexican writing. If you are interested in putting an ad, again, we might be able to pay for the ad. It depends on how much it costs.

We think an ad might say something like this:

We're a group of feminist writers who are curious what it is like to be a woman poet in _____. What should U.S. poets know about the living and working conditions of ____ women poets? What can be done? Is there anything to be done together? Send an email to telluspoets[at]gmail.com."

But you could do whatever you thought was most appropriate.

We'd also like to know if there is anything you think we should say to US poets. At some point we will probably do a similar process-solicit responses from our friends and place ads to reach those we do not yet know-inside the US and any feedback you can share would be helpful.

If all of this seems too much, then can we talk you into just sending us a response? Or if you think of anyone you know who might be interested in doing this work, forward this and let us know.

Our deadline on this is somewhat flexible but not infinite. Our goal is to get this material into book form sometime in 2009. We would like to start getting responses sometime between now and spring of 2008.

Hope to hear from you.


Juliana Spahr and Stephanie Young


Murat said...

The last I know Juliana Spahr and Stephanie Young are American poets. Is there not something ironic in two American poets initiating this letter?



barbara jane said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
barbara jane said...

Hi Murat, I'm not sure what you mean about non-ironic, but what I am thinking is whether there's an assumption here that all women, or all communities of women in North America are subject to the same standards of feminism.

Anyway, to be constructive, I've emailed my response re: ethnic rather than geographical conditions.

jms said...

Thanks BJR for the response!

The answer is no. There is not an assumption that all women or communities of women in North America are subject to the same standard of feminism.

Murat said...


The following quotes occur in the post:

"Our plan right now is to start this conversation outside of the US."

"We'd also like to know if there is anything you think we should say to US poets."

Whom is this "we" referring to? Reading the post, my assumption was that a group of non-American women poets, impatient with American women experimental poets' myopic attitude towards feminism in other cultures and countries, are calling to arms to develop an independent, non-appropriated definition of feminism.

When, at the end, I saw Juliana Spahr's and Stephanie's Young's names, I realized that my assumption was wrong. This was, in my view, another example of Americans telling others how they should feel, that is to say, another example of the myopic attitude the post seems to be attacking. That's the irony I am talking about.



Tara Betts said...

I'm also curious about international intersections. What about immigrants and first-generation U.S. citizens? Also, what about mixed identities? Nationally, ethnically, culturally, faith-wise, racially?
There are communities throughout the world where women are horribly violated or agree to relationships with soldiers. What of the feminist implications of these women and those who may write from this perspective?
There's so many dynamics that can broaden this discussion of feminism because feminism does not mean the same thing all over the planet.

barbara jane said...

Thanks for your response, Juliana.

Murat, not to act as translator, but I read this post/letter not as an American direction-giving, but a rather open asking: what do we Americans need to know but don't (for whatever reason)?

Tara, that is also my stand on feminism in America, and my community's position as immigrants and transnationals. There are issues of power dynamics, economics, language and resource access which differ from or are divergent from the American mainstream feminist dialogue. As well, I noticed you've recently written on Megan Williams, and I wonder to what extent her story is even acknowledged by American feminists, rather than viewed solely as a racial issue?

Murat said...


The heading of this post was, "Tell US Poets," which for me started this whole thing and my initial visceral response. This heading strongly suggests the sender(s) of the post to be non-American.Therefore, when I saw Julians's and Stephanie's I felt a usurpation had taken place.

Now that I think of it, I am not sure that heading was put there by them. It may have been an addition by the blog coordinator, which changes the whole thing.



Tara Betts said...

Yeah, I've been writing about Meghan Williams a lot and other Black women coming up missing, mutilated and otherwise abused and assaulted and it seems that the dynamic is to briefly notice this violence against women of color, if at all. I'm sure that many poets are aware of this, but how many writers make note of the contradictions it is fraught with? For example, the Jena 6 and Genarlow Wilson were newsworthy injustices that should be exposed, but what about Nailah Franklin (who was believed to be abducted by an ex-boyfriend and was then found dead), Meghan Williams who was tortured and sexually abused for days by 6 white people and the woman and her son who were assaulted by a group of boys in Florida's Dunbar Village community. It is shocking that these types of events don't fall in the purview of the media.

Also, I wonder why these communities of color (or communities that are typically perceived as other) are pushed to tell someone else their experience. Tell me what it means to be sensitive to you, to treat a woman like a human being, to tell me how I contribute to someone else's suffering, to tell me how to avoid being racist. Again, it puts the burden on the communities tagged as "other." How can a space such as this be co-mediated by all the parties involved to consider such dynamics?