Wednesday, April 12, 2006

I feel slightly constrained in commenting about the gender disparity in Craig's article, since after all Craig was kind enough to include me in it. Some useful commentary from Anne and Tony. To my mind the absence of women in Craig's article connects directly with the absence of women on the panel Tony and I participated in at AWP (with the exception of the organizer and moderator, Robin Schaer). As some of the women in the audience at that panel pointed out, many female poet-bloggers do not practice the sort of compartmentalization that male poet-bloggers do: that is, their blogs tend away from the essayistic-critical mode that Ron and I mostly follow. Instead their blogs have a more holistic feel, integrating poems and commentary on poetry with images and anecedotes from their daily lives (I think this especially true in the case of bloggers who are also mothers). Such blogs are less likely to be recognized as "poetry blogs" by those on the lookout for the kind of compartmentalized commentary that men tend to be comfortable with, and which more closely resemble the look and feel of the existing print journals (with their columns and demarcated pages, their tables of contents, and so forth) which Craig's article in particular reifies as the "center" of the poetry world. It would have been taking a further step than I suspect the institution represented by Publishers Weekly could be comfortable with to insist that "poetry on the internet" is not an imitation of the now-residual forms of print poetry culture, but for many younger writers the new "center" (if the endlessly reticulating network of blogs and zines can be so labeled). So Craig's article perhaps inevitably becomes part of a project to assimilate the poetry net into the print mainstream. I do not endorse this project, yet I am still happy to be recruited as an evangelist for the poetry net: if more people discover what's happening here thanks to Craig's article, that's all to the good. One of the first things they'll learn is that it may be the women who are pushing most insistently against the residual "print-think" that I would be the first to admit has a hold on my consciousness: bloggers like Anne, Robin, Alli, and many if not most of the writers linked to at ~*~W_O_M_B~*~ are taking fuller advantage of the medium's polyphonic possibilities than male bloggers like myself whose practice is easier to recognize from the perspective of print culture.


Anonymous said...

Well, ahem, Josh. Is this another way of saying that Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus?

:~ )


Tony Tost said...

Oh wow, I just kind of raised a similar question at my blog.

Maybe I really am Kent Johnson?

barbara jane said...

i tend to wonder how many women bloggers who actually do blog critical commentary on poetry, on poetics, etc. are being dismissed and disregarded, precisely because they are women blogging critically, on poetics, etc. rather than blogging about stereotypically woman isses of motherhood, domestic affairs, etc.

just a thought.

Josh said...

I would not dispute that possibility, Barbara. The feminine, whether it takes the form of actual embodied women or of literary modes and behaviors historically associated with the feminine, causes no end of anxiety in many if not most men.

If you haven't already, check out the discussion that's happening over in Jessica Smith's comment box.

Anonymous said...

So a manly man's blog doesn't include actual poetry or anything personal? Hmm, seems like I've noticed quite a few poems and personal references on men's blogs. For instance, I know Ron watches Project Runway and is currently on a trip. And I know some mother-bloggers who would barf at the word "holistic." Is Ron thus a feminine blogger? Are critical, essay-writing mommy-bloggers thus men-women? Please help. Once again, I am confused as to my gender markers.

Jessica Smith said...

barbara, that is such a good point... i wish there was some sort of PA system on blogger so you could say it louder. sometimes i publish academic papers i'm writing, or longer posts of the sort of "deep thought" variety (sketches for academic papers) (on poetry) and no one engages with me. where my post on flip-flops being a dangerous shoe got like 40 comments (mostly guys). a similar example, but more so, is juliana spahr. she often writes critical discussions of poetry and no one comments on her blog.

i want to say something really nasty like, the men who circulate in the blog world are intimidated by female intelligence and refuse to respond to posts when they see women thinking. Unfortunately I can only wish to be so nasty because I don't think that's the problem. When Ron makes more intellectual arguments no one engages him either. His comment boxes collapse into a parade of weak comments and insults. So in this aspect perhaps it's less that people disapprove of women being intellectual and more that the majority of comment responders are unwilling or unable to respond maturely and intelligently to the post at hand.

maybe there is something to be said about the gender politics of reader-response (um...). that ron, being barely, rarely engaged can keep on truckin' with his posts which are *mostly* and not always reviews of poetry or semi-bios of poets. and when i don't feel like people are engaging with my more "intellectual" posts i throw one out for the masses (consciously)... posting about something dumb like flip-flops. maybe this is the classic woman-training of "don't sound too smart, you want people to like you!". i dunno.

Carla said...

this is kind of crazy to me. i've read your post, josh. i've read the comments and participated at jessica's and i've read the comments here.
the thing that strikes me the most about this entire dialogue in all it's locations and variations is the careful remove in the statements.
honestly, your post pissed me off. that doesn't mean i hate you. i don't know you. you don't know me so what i have to say doesn't have to matter. i'm cool with that.
but the way you break down what you believe to possibly be a feminine construct/vision for a blog and a masculine one is based on ideas that are entirely as sexist as a magazine not aiming to achieve gender balance with it's coverage of an obvioulsy gender varied scene.
your theory, as well intentioned as it may be (i at least don't believe it was written with any malice) is just too huge of a generalization to make. padding it with compliments seemed to make it worse.
Can you see where I would think that? If not, email me and we can have a more involved discussion.

Josh said...

Jessica, I haven't had comments for very long, but I have noticed that people tend to have a lot less to say about posts that actually engage with particular poems than they do with posts about the social field of poetry. I got exactly one comment on my musings on the Post-Modernist Baroque a few days ago; I got dozens of coments when I was fantasizing about a poets' union last week.

Carla, maybe it is "sexist" to believe that there are "masculine" and "feminine" modes of discourse—but I think it's unhistorical and naive to think that discarding those categories is the path to true equality. There are modes of being in the world that are historically associated with the masculine or feminine and are immediately recognizable as such in a person's body language, way of speaking, etc. Similarly, I see certain styles of writing as gendered masculine or feminine. I did try to make the point, perhaps not emphatically enough, that the gendering of one's way in the word/world has no necessary and intrinsic connection with one's sex. I think critics like Cixous are right to recognize a kind of "ecriture feminine" at work in writing by male authors: her classic example is Molly Bloom's soliloquy in Ulysses, but of course her larger desire is to see women writers claim that sort of writing, rather than forcing themselves to only adopt the masculine style that is the general currency of discourse in a patriarchal culture. I also think Judith Butler is correct when she says that gender is a performance, which implies that both "masculine" and "feminine" modes of writing available to writers of either sex as a kind of "drag." This makes certain modes of critique available: for example, it may very well be that standard academic discourse is gendered masculine, while poetry in general is gendered feminine. That would certainly help to explain the energy many male poets, from the Modernists on, have expended on writing a discursive prose meant to masculinize a genre generally associated with women (the letters between Pound and Harriet Monroe are instructive in this regard). Some female modernists seem largely to have gone along with this program, but Gertrude Stein, thogh she certainly at times qualifies as something of a drag king, is probably the one who went the furthest to create a feminine mode of modernist writing. I suspect that's why she attracted so much attention and mockery while she was alive, and why she continues to be regularly denounced as unreadable by many critics (there was a particularly dumb article slamming her in the AWP Chronicle a couple of years back). The aura of strangeness and difference that her writing still carries, long after the modes of Pound and Stevens and Eliot have become intimately familiar, speaks volumes to me about how we as a literary culture are not yet prepared to recognize the feminine.

I hope that makes my theory less abstract and general, if not necessarily easier to swallow.

Josh said...

Oh, and with regards to the genearlization about women's blogs in the post above: I didn't make it clear enough that I was paraphrasing what this audience member at the blogging panel had said about how women's poetry blogs tended to be more integrative than men's poetry blogs. Though by no means universally applicable, her statement struck me as having enough truth to it to be worth repeating.

Carla said...

Josh, this is interesting. I appreciate a thoughtful response. Sorry if my response isn’t as coherent. I’m waking late on west coast time and short a cup of coffee.
Yes, I think it is unhistorical of me to think that discarding the categories of “masculine” and “feminine” is the path to true equality. I don’t think it’s a path to anything except for a more varied and informed discussion. History tends to favor and document a more male dominated world than I’ve chosen to accept as a given. History can be bullshit.
But it most certainly is not naïve of me to think that certain discourses, particularly those about the culture and the work of writers, would benefit from a vein of discussion that doesn’t hinge on gender; it’s just said from a standpoint that’s backed by theory that most people don’t read because it’s not included in the discourse about writers (I mean that it’s mostly directed at visual art but I think applies to all creative outlets). I won’t go into quoting text and all that but the essence of where I’m coming from is to look at the same problem that’s being discussed in terms of gender and take gender out entirely, see what you’ve got, and approach it in a different way in order to determine if gender is really the root of the issue.
In this instance, it’d be as simple as looking at the differences in blogs in general. I read a lot of blogs by male writers that include visual and personal elements and so I think that at the root of all this is really a difference in how much a person absorbs of visual and written modes and why/how they’ve chosen to accept one, the other, or both as part of their own aesthetic.
But since this was all sparked by an article that has some gender imbalance..
I do believe that the standard academic discourse is maybe not gendered masculine so much as it is slanted to fit a male dominated history and theoretical sphere. The Modernists are an excellent example of that. But, despite what I’ve been taught, I don’t truly believe that Stein was the only one of the female Modernists to break from the male-dominance of the form. Just that there’s been the most documentation/criticism/discussion about her work. Mostly, I think, because of her continued attempts to spark that discussion and, possibly, because of the “misfit” gender (non)role she embodied during that time. Here is a place where I have seen history fail. In fact, I favor many of the female Modernists to their male counterparts and it’s because I do see incredible differences in their work. Jean Rhys, Mina Loy, Z.N. Hurston I think, did not go along with the program. But in a standard academic discourse that is slanted to fit a male-dominated history and theoretical sphere it’s not hard to sort out why their work is more often than not a footnote instead of a focus. Maybe I don’t have enough of an academic background to back that up. I prefer it that way since my experience with their writing as a writer who reads is more valuable to me than the ability to academically deconstruct it.

I’ve lost track of where this debate started and I have eggs to eat before they get cold, but all I’m really trying to say is this…I believe that if the goal is to create a more gender balanced academic discourse, documentation, and even media coverage of writers that it is essential to question the theoretical ideas that constitute the “givens.”

Yes, as you say:
there are modes of being in the world that are historically associated with the masculine or feminine and are immediately recognizable as such in a person's body language, way of speaking, etc.

The difference between my take on it and yours seems to be that I think the history with which masculine and feminine behaviors/roles are associated with never included enough of the gender-fuckers, the outsiders, the Hedwigs to really be much of a true history at all.

Thanks for the debate. This is fun.

Simon said...

This is a recurring theme -- I remember these debates from my more political blogging days.

Speculation on the essential nature of women versus men is rather problematic.

Generally, whenever one of these articles appears and there are no women there are two causes:

1. the most combative, controversial bloggers are male (hey Jim!)

2. women were invited but didn't respond (Craig's situation)

But these fires seem to just spin out of control anyway.

Anne Boyer said...

Hi Simon --

I thought one woman poetry editor was approached. Did Craig say something about inviting women bloggers who then declined to participate?

And also, I wonder if you really think the discussion has "spun out of control"? There are few jerks behaving rudely on the edges, but generally, it seems pretty productive -- actually fascinating.

I think discussions about essentializing / also about "gendering" discourse, etc., are useful to have -- not "spinning", but substantive.


Simon said...

I was under the impression that Craig asked a woman blogger, but maybe it was a web zine editor? Not sure if that's such a big difference?

When people are going on about essential aspects of the male and female personality I have to gag. I just find that kind of thing gross and offensive, I mean, I'm not like "offended" or mad at anyone, but to hear people talk about how maybe women do one thing and men do another... reminds me of my Mom criticizing my girlfriends. (JOSH COREY YOU REMIND ME OF MOM.)

We've talked a little about sexism and so forth online, and I think that's a productive discussion -- but really mostly in the sense of pointing out some guy (or some list in general) behaving like a prick and saying "that's not OK, we reject that".

If you really think Craig was being a dick by not rounding out Ron and Josh with "Jane", then the discussion seems very brief: Craig, you suck as a journalist.

Instead, what seems to be happening is that people are pulling some half baked notions of gender out of the oven and giving me a stomachache.

(e.g., Anne, you rock, but did I see you say somewhere that women's blog tend to be more experimental and radical? That is just wrong, I mean, I can think of a bunch of boys who blog crazy typography &c.)

As a sidenote, what is with the blogosphere's relentless desire to self-examine? Every time one of these metaposts pops up: HUGE discussions. But Kasey posts something really neat about computer-generated stuff, and it's like just a few people chime in. *That* bugs me! At least flarf discussions were marginally about poetry (although less and less as time went on.)

Simon said...

PS: Anne, I read your post on your blog about this whole thing, which I thought was great, I liked how you said "you cannot win the blogosphere."

(There should be a soundfile that plays whenever you visit a blog: this one.)

But then, like instantly, Shanna jumps in and starts blathering about a "sausage fest".

Anne Boyer said...


I think in the comments I also mention some younger male bloggers (like Tao, Joe) as being particularly rad, and some women who are similarly so, but as I said: "not rad in the same direction" -- meaning women who are exploring the social functions of blogs, or their artistic possibilities, or their potential for combining the confessional/critical are not doing so out of some essentialist drive to make "girly" things.

I do also believe, however, that there are cultural conditions that might result in women in the arts challenging the status quo slightly more than men. (Mainly, that the status quo has not usually been wholly to our benefit.) We can have different relationships to discourse based on the social constraints we've felt around gender, and for those of us who do (women, queer, feminist man) there is sometimes a drive to do what Acker talks about -- to _see what happens when we write in such a way that isn't telling other people how to think_.

I did, yes, talk about the gendering of discourse also in that comment (the historical perception of the diaristic versus the discursive), but I would think most of the people engaged in that conversation were familiar enough with feminist theory to know that gendered discourse does not correlate to actual biological sex in a fixed way. (as in, men -- even the ones in the article, like Zach -- also make blogs that are mostly diaries: I think everyone in the conversation knew this).

I would love it if talks about gender never had to simply be "Stop it! That was unfair!" I wish there was no more of that kind of stupid omission of women, etc., to stop, because what happens to women when they bring up gender is never very pleasurable. It makes me sick to do it, because I have been trained to be _afraid_ that I will look like, what have they already called us -- Whiney bitches?

Anyway, today on my blog I talk a little bit about this -- how there are no "fully-baked" notions about gender, only all of us struggling, and that is still useful and good. I really don't think anything I said was less important because it was not _certain_, it is actually uncertainty and indeterminacy that make the conversations worth while. Without them, we'd never learn shit.


oh, and I think blogs/social software are completely interesting in themselves, as art, as social formation, as both. But I've also been completely obsessed with Bourriaud lately, so who knows, blame it on the French.

Josh said...

Not much to add this afternoon except that I too feel this has been a very productive discussion, though it naturally pulls in some ragged and jagged feelings from nearly all parties.

Carla's desire to break from history resonates with me, even in a specifically modernist context ("History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awaken," etc.). And Hedwing and the Angry Inch is one of my favorite movies: I taught it in a Frankenstein class (!) a couple of years ago. Genderfuck yay.

I don't really buy the "women-->visual" thing either, and I don't think that's something I've repeated.

My favorite practitioner of ecriture feminine is not a poet: it's Virginia Woolf. To the Lighthouse fascinates me for its close examination and critique of masculine/feminine mindsets: Mr. Ramsay trying to think his way to R, Mrs. Ramsay's dinner party as work of art.

Simon said...

To make a contribution (instead of just grousing at others): it seems to me the dominant modes of "exclusion" are not practiced at the level of sex.

If there is a problem with Craig's piece, it is in the way he tried to explore the blogs using the same tools that one would explore the usual hierarchical systems in the "real world." I mean, literally, it seemed as if, faced with blogs, he quickly invented a ranking system out of thin air and placed it over like a stencil on jello.

Simon said...

And, to reiterate: this discussion is about sex, not gender. We're not arguing about who is being excluded because they "write like a woman" -- people are saying that women are being excluded because of their biological sex. (Hence, Shanna: "sausage party" -- people are making this out to be a penis thing.)

I think these things are getting confused. There's a way that I think a case might be made for how gender functions, but making this out to be a classic oppression of women a la sufferage seems to be misguided and inflammatory.

Anne Boyer said...

Simon --

I think these conversations are about both sex and gender; I think most conversations about sex, or about gender, are about both sex and gender. There was the initial issue: the pw article didn't mention women bloggers or editors. I had a sentence about that on my blog, took it off because it didn't seem worth the fight (or making Craig feel bad). That was that: then some other people, like Nada, Reb, and Shanna, picked up on it, too.

The conversation over at Jessica's place actually had very little to do with the PW article, and it _was_ about gender and discourse in form and community, not so much about equality of representation, or only so far as perceptions about gender could influence the way the blogs are represented (or at least perceived -- in panels, conversations, etc.).

Then the next day, a second issue: Craig's response. The response itself seemed to deal with both sex and gender -- esp. what I saw as an implication of a "neutrality" gendered male and thus conflated with men. At some point, I think, the equality issue was understood (& seems there are those who think it is important, those who think that it does not). Anyway, it spurred on discussions, like this one, which were rather more purely about gender as it relates to discourse.

The dominant modes of exclusion are certainly not ONLY practiced at the level of sex, though I am not certain if you mean in this article or everywhere (I'm thinking everywhere). & you know I agree with the weirdness of trying to assign hierachies to something so lateral as the blogs, esp. when it is just sort of an imagined hierachy, not well supported by whatever "objective" measure was to stencil the jello.

However, I think equality issues in general, and more specifically in poetry (esp the "avant garde), are also far from being respolved. And I do not think that lobbying for fair representation of women in the media/the community is misguided or inflammatory. Why do you think it is?


Simon said...

Not to get too hyperbolic about it, but one fact about blogs is that there's nobody to complain to. You can address particular people for their particular acts, but beyond that... it is utter freedom out here.

So a lot of this talk seems rather strange. It's not addressed to anybody -- and so, instead of promoting individual authenticity against The Man, it seems to be a gathering spot for people to explain why men are from Mars, women from Venus.

That Craig has come in for all of this seems to me to be a symptom that people are trying to find The Man to rally against.

I keep going back to Shanna's "sausage party" comment because it seems to me to represent the exact same fallacies that Craig fell into: i.e. "let me in to the secret club, your blogroll". Blogrolls, or blogs, or even silly square PW articles, are not a Woolworth's counter or a voting booth, they provide neither comfort nor legitimacy. At the same time, she falls into an essentialist pose: "there is a special something you can only get from the ladies."

Meanwhile, I write what I want to write -- I don't want to be told that what I write is Male, because I don't think that's the case. I think an individual's relationship to her sex is totally strange and estranged.

Kristy Odelius said...

Josh, thanks for your engaging and (obviously procovative) blog. This isn't really about the current conversation, but to say 'hey, I like your spirit' and I enjoyed your poems in the new Pavement Saw. Was hoping to meet you in Austin, but I spent too much time at the hotel pool ( that a "girly" thing to do?) Take good care and keep the poems coming, Kristy

shanna said...

hello simon. the only place i used the term "sausage party" was at anne's blog, and it was a direct reference to craig teicher's blogroll (which he has since updated--apparently he agreed) that at the time was minus one, all male. i suggested that perhaps craig didn't think of any female bloggers of import for his article, because by the looks of his own blogroll, he wasn't reading any. if you'll read my comments at craig's (and reb's, and anne's, and jessica's, and my own blog) i never anywhere accused him of being sexist himself--in fact, the benefit of my doubt was on his side from the beginning. what i said was that his article, and then his blogroll, supported a general impression that women weren't important in the poetry blogosphere. i was asking him if he really felt this way, and he said no.

i'm pretty sure, too, that what i have said in the course of this conversation can't accurately be reduced to "it's a penis thing." this is a multichanneled discussion, and was actually lit by three different sparks in three different places, not just by his article. i think i have been very careful to qualify all the statements i have made about what i perceive to be gender-based differences in online behavior in the poetry blogosphere. in a larger view, it seems like all of us are talking about *whether* these differences we're observing *are* actually a factor of gender, or something else. (admittedly, the discussion is a little difficult to keep up with at this point, having spread to so many individual blogs. i just caught up with this particular thread today, Easter morning.) apologies to you & all if terming an all-male blogroll created by a man who wrote an introductory survey article in a trade magazine that gave the impression women poets do not blog prominently enough for notice in the publishing world a "sausage party" was offensive to you. it was a flip statement. you've got me there.


kfd313 said...

I too have been fascinated by this discussion at several places about women and blogging, which I think is a kind canon formation argument but w/ regard to blogs. It reminded me of this essay by Carla Harryman at However. A relevant quote:

The question is: Whose goal is it to usher anything into the canon? And how, as a writer to engage actively and publicly in literary practice without turning oneself over to false representations? I am by the way talking less about achieving public fame or notoriety than I am about fantasy structures of power that are silencing, that prevent writers for instance from addressing critically their own and other writers’ works. Women must be able to speak critically and analytically about each other’s and others’ (men’s, writers’ different from "herself," critics’, and theorists’) works or we will be misrecognized. However, if such writing about is about canon-formation, then the misrecognitions will persist along with an endless series of misnamings.

What I mean in the most simple sense here is that the writing about needs to attend carefully to difference, to awkwardness, to misfittings rather than to have as a primary goal the fitting of the "innovative" text into conventional categories. After all, the power of the "different" text lies in what it suggests about other ways of seeing and imagining writing. If one wants the implication of a vision to develop, then fitting the radical object into the square peg of patriarchal canon-making narratives is not only an inaccurate way of proceeding but one that reinforces values that the art object itself critiques. I do not mean that mediating language is not necessary for creating readings of and preserving writing but that reductive readings that are about norms and values the texts themselves reject or call into question can produce a kind of textual powerlessness.

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