women - women of color - reticence - publishing - poetry

x-posted here.

The more I think about it, the more I both appreciate and resent this, "Tell us what we need to know about feminism in _____," (fill in blank with a name of a place that isn't in America) coming from white American women.

Perhaps a "Please," and a withholding of any initial assumptions would make me appreciate the request a little bit more. This "Please," would make the request sound like a request and not a command, and perhaps if this request were to come with an explanation of why the requester feels s/he does not know enough or anything at all, why this information is not something s/he has not found, where s/he has looked, to whom s/he has spoken.

Regarding the withholding of assumptions, some assumptions being that communities of "others," or those of "other" places deemphasize feminism because of these "other" communities' inherent misogyny; that "innovative" poetry coming from these "other" places will abide by the same standards by which "white," "avant garde" American poetry abide, these standards determined by this same "avant garde"; that these "other" communities group them/ourselves in the groupings set up for us by those who don't live in our communities.

So then. What is "innovative" poetry for poets of color, or Filipino American poets, or Asian American poets? And what then, about this alleged reticence of women poets to submit their work to various editors for publication, and how is this compounded by ethnicity. (And here I'll talk about poets of color, Filipino American poets, and Asian American poets because these are groups with whom I have experiential knowledge.)

A couple of things I am thinking:

(1) Chris Chen, who curated the Asian American Poetry Now reading at the Berkeley Art Museum discussed "post identity poetry," as a process of movement and negotiation in which ethnic poets engage, between the already used and overused tropes of cultural artifact, and its binary opposite of blanket disavowal of any ethnic identifiers. I wrote about this here.

(2) Rigoberto González reminds us that not all poets get published or seek print publication. This may be interpreted as reticence but let me offer this possibility: Many poets not widely published are perhaps invested in live and recorded performance, which certainly makes sense if you look at communities for whom oral tradition is underscored over written tradition.

So then, Def Jam poets, slam poets, for example, and those who perform with music, not because it's "new" and "innovative" a thing to do, but because certain types of music are simply a part of the oral tradition. We see Hip-hop poets as a continuation of musical oral traditions. Seeing Amiri Baraka perform last week at UC Berkeley is a very good example of the drum, the "Negro" spiritual, the blues, and jazz being so inextricable from poetry and the body.

But now, another reason for this perceived "reticence" of women writers of color also has to do with a general and justifiable distrust of American letters and Western institutions. I say "justifiable," but also get terribly disappointed in folks in my community whose distrust of American letters and Western institutions isn't terribly well thought out for its being reactionary, and which becomes an excuse for blanket rejecting the poetry which is perceived to come from these institutions, and a refusal to become a part of these institutions.

So then, back to my question of what's "innovative" in our communities? Some things I can think of offhand, and this list is by no means definitive: code switching, translating, writing in polyglot and various vernaculars; integrating that performative, that music onto the page presentation are a couple of things I think of, as well as integrating our own cultures' oral and poetic forms into primarily English written work.

Do editors of American publications recognize these innovations? How do these editors read or deal with the "foreign" elements in this work, and especially "foreign" elements that do not abide by these editors' preconceived notions, assumptions, and prejudices? For example, not all Asian American poetry is East Asian. Not all East Asian poets have Buddhist sensibilities. Not all Hip-hop is African American. Not all African American poets are Hip-hop. Not all Spanish writing comes from Latino/a and/or Chicano/a poets. Not all ethnic "innovative" poets disavow ethnicity.

What happens to the work of "ethnic" poets who do not conform to some American editors' expectations? Where does that work go? Who publishes it? And so is this reticence when we do not see this work in print?

Let me compound the above with gender. What do women of color poets write about? Again, some things that come to mind, a not definitive list: lots on body politics and its intersections with war, with race, with ethnicity. Combine these issues with the above explorations of language and oral tradition and performance.

Back to Tara Betts' and Patricia Smith's blog posts on Meghan Williams. Who remembers who Meghan Williams is? And is what happened to her not something that ought to concern American feminists of any ethnicity? Elizabeth Alexander writes of Saartjie Baartman, who is popularly known as the Venus Hottentot. Evie Shockley writes of the Middle Passage, of rivers in the tradition of Langston Hughes (this talk of rivers I believe influenced Jean-Michel Basquiat), and African American women who navigate these rivers. Suheir Hammad writes of the plight of Arab women negotiating tradition and war, and of finding and forming community across ethnicity. I write about Third World women in war — Filipina brides, the gang rapes of Iraqi women, the Comfort Women of WWII, linking these power dynamics to pornography.

We are not sparing details.

We are American poets and we are American feminists.

I don't think this is reticence.

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