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Oct 02

Blot Lit Reviews: An Interview with Poets from Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence

 Blotterature, as most of you know, is rooted in the Northwest Indiana corridor and is actively involved with the growing literary arts scene in our area. On Saturday, October 11,  Indiana Writers’ Consortium is hosting their first Creative Writing Conference in Merrillville, Indiana. In the mix of presentations, Laura Madeline Wiseman has invited six poets from Women Write Resistance to join her in a reading that is sure to inspire writers to tackle the topic of gender violence. In addition to the reading at the conference, a special off-site reading will be held at Purdue University Calumet on Friday, October 10 at 6 PM in the YJean Chambers Theater.  Blotterature is a supporter of this beautiful and powerful anthology, and we are honored to be  participants of this event.  Below you can read more about the poets that will be at the conference. A few of us at Blotterature will be there too,  and we hope to see you there!

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Adrienne Rich wrote that “Revolution is poetry.” How has poetry been revolutionary and transformative in your life, art, and work?

 Meg Day: There’s a lot I want to say in response to Rich (& Lorde & Anzaldua & Moraga & Stein & Brooks & all the other poets who said similar things, either directly or indirectly with their work), but I think, if I’m speaking from a purely personal level, poetry has really transformed the way I’ve gone about living my life as a grown person. For a long time, I saw that I was able to do “good work” during periods of my life that were pretty rife with trauma and consistently busting the mercury on the crisis thermometer, so to speak. Everything was bad and I think the implication was that the work was good because of it. Regardless of whether or not that was true at the time—and I don’t mean at all to imply that I’ve somehow left my trauma days behind—suffering is not what makes me a poet. It’s also not what makes me a person: I exist, even without grief to shape me. I don’t think I would’ve been able to witness that possibility in myself (or recognize it in the world), or see that transformation without poetry as proof. It’s cheesy, sure, and privileged as hell, but happiness has been really revolutionary for me. Love has been really revolutionary. The prospect of giving birth as a person who’s frequently perceived as masculine-of-center or transmasculine has materialized for me through poetry & through the community that poetry has provided. It woke me up and I didn’t even know I was sleeping.

Shevaun Brannigan: Poetry has been revolutionary and transformative in my life because it has made me feel more connected with the rest of society. As a woman who has experienced trauma and has spoken up about it since a very young age, I often feel I am ostracized. My behavior defies the secrecy demanded of women who have been victim to abuse or subjugation, where to speak or write about our experiences is often considered unfashionable or inappropriate. In college, my dorm floor had a slogan for me: “FTFMF,” or, “Fuck the Feminist Motherfucker.” That was a time when I felt very alone, and I found comfort in the works of Audre Lorde, Carolyn Forche, Denise Levertov and other female poets. Earlier, I dropped out of high school after a nasty scandal began in response to my starting a National Organization for Women chapter, and my popular drama teacher spoke out against the club and myself on the grounds of it being pro-choice. He disappeared from school shortly thereafter, and people assumed it was because of me and became incredibly hostile. Though it turned out he was sleeping with one of his students, it was a hard thing to recover from. I remember reading “Electricity Savior” by Sharon Olds around this time, and understanding so viscerally from the poem how someone could isolate themselves through ideology (in this case, her son through his environmentalism). Paradoxically, reading this poem made me feel so much less alone, giving me the courage to continue a life devoted, in part, to writing about the traumas myself and other women face.

Mary Stone Dockery: There have been times in my life where poetry gave me all the answers about myself and about the world and about what it means to be a woman. After my mother’s death and the abuse I went through as a child, poetry allowed me to work through the trauma and to find a voice, some personal power. Through writing and reading poetry, I was able to find strength that I otherwise may have believed didn’t exist within myself; through writing I felt as though I was finally standing up for what was right, an energy that has shaped my career and relationships today. Poetry taught me how to search for understanding, how to empathize, and how to define myself at different stages throughout my life. There are also times, though, when it feels like poetry isn’t quite enough, where it can’t reach far enough beyond my own little world, and this is what I think I’m struggling with most recently.

 Jill Khoury: My complete answer to this question would take pages. Poetry has been revolutionary and transformative for me since I became interested in poetry. For Christmas in sixth grade, I asked for Anne Sexton’s Collected Works and received it. That’s when the transformation started. In college I initially majored in technical writing. When I made the phone call to tell my parents I was switching to creative writing, it wasn’t pretty. My dad was not pleased. I think he was worried about my future financial stability, and rightfully so. Over 75% of blind people are unemployed or underemployed. I made a decision to follow my heart rather than the money.

Laura Madeline Wiseman: Early in college I was introduced to writers such as Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, and Sandra Cisneros. These writers and others allowed me to explore the rich world that poetry offered, to see how poetry was a work worth doing, and that art could be made from life, that such a writing life was possible. It was my early teachers that enabled me to think, that yes, I can do this. I can become a writer.

Larissa Shmailo: Poetry transformed me from a suicidal mental patient into a powerful woman. A former prostitute and love addict, I learned to love and honor myself as a writer and a person as I expressed my emotions and flexed my intellectual muscles. Poetry continues to mold and shape my life by offering new possibilities each day.

Sara Henning: Poetry has been my anchor for metamorphosis since I started writing it seriously. It has been my salve, my redeemer, and my intimate. Through writing it I have come to understand the world, its pleasures, its paradoxes, how I am limited and freed by the formal constraints of the page and my body. Given its effect on my personhood, I have internalized this sense of transmutation and I as matured, and these days I look to it not just as catalyst for physical and emotional progression, but for how I may serve as its benefactor. I try to write about things that have meaning outside of myself, and I think by trying to transcend narcissism, I engage with social issues that need engagement, not estrangement.

 

How do you view poetry as action?

 SH: Poetry is a verb, rooted in kinetic energy, form accelerating in space, accumulating, acculturating, until it is the unadulterated act of immediate embodiment. Poetry is meant to be performed as much as it is enacted, and I would ask anyone to contest me when I claim that poetry is an interdependent relationship of body, mind, spirit, and voice. Poetry is suffering, lovemaking, the body at its limits demanding to be heard.

 Poetry is also a place to exorcise cultural paradoxes.

 MD: This is a really interesting question because my students are constantly pushing back on the idea of poetry as an act of resistance or, in this country, a more domesticated revolution. Sometimes I have to remember that the academic industrial complex washes away a lot of the intentionality behind behaviors that occur or are expected within “the building.” My students don’t always realize what a political act it is to write a poem—mostly because it’s something they’ve been assigned to do. When you sit down to write a poem, I think you’re making a really brave and bold statement that is at once insistent upon your own existence and also wildly generous in the sacrificing of that existence to the possibility of a reader. To be a person—to insist on personhood—is a right we see refused to the majority of the people in this country (and other countries, with our country’s help) on a daily basis, even when we aren’t hearing about it on the news or social media. I know there are ways to write poems that side-step the self—flarf, homages to the Oulipo, and other conceptual poetics probably get closest—but even these feel to me, somehow, deeply rooted in what it means to be alive right here and right now (in what other world would we be so inclined to include the creation of poetry on the list of things we offer up to the Google search?).

 LMW: As I said in the critical introduction to Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence, I believe poetry is power. Poetry is action. Poets have described the potential of poetry to foster change in the lives of one and of many. From Adrienne Rich to Pablo Neruda, Percy Byron Shelly to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Audre Lorde to Czeslaw Misosz, all of these poets write of poetry’s power for action. Muriel Rukeyser writes “If there were no poetry on any day in the world, poetry would be invented that day.” Milosz writes, “Do not feel safe. The poet remembers. You can kill one, but another is born.” Adrienne Rich explains one must write the “words you have dreaded and needed in order to know you exist.” Women Write Resistance collects poetry of resistance written by over one hundred American women poets. They break silences about violence against women as they raise consciousness and enact a poetry of witness that links the personal, political, and social. They disrupt hegemonic narratives on gendered violence by employing sassing language and strategic anger. They resist gender violence by earmarking poetry as action. It is through their words that action is possible.

 SB: The first thing that comes to mind when I think of poetry as action is movements like Split this Rock, or 100,000 Poets for Change. These organizations are visibly reconnecting poetry with politics in a way I much admire. I also do not think of poems or poets as static—just because someone writes poetry, does not mean they cannot be an activist. In fact, poetry, which is a vital form of connecting with others, may predispose someone to be more in tune with the world’s injustices. But if someone is actively involved in civil rights issues, and they write poetry, of course the former is going to inform the latter. Or even, if someone is feeling oppressed by a husband or lover, their poems might reflect a suppression and tension even when discussing other subjects. It can be subtle, it can be overt. Audre Lorde has an essay, “Poetry is Not a Luxury,” that I read after reading this question. It says everything much better than I can.

JK: Giving readings. Publishing poetry in online journals, which are more widely accessible than print. Teaching workshops in the community and taking workshops in the community. If we want literature to be an agent of cultural change, then it must do its work in an environment where change is most needed.

LS: The knowledge expressed in poetry has infinite organizing power on a subconscious as well as conscious level.

 Moving from action to inspiration, what is inspiring you these days?

 LMW: I am currently inspired by the fabulous artwork of Lauren Rinaldi and Sally Deskins. I collaborated with Sally Deskins to create the book Intimates and Fools (Les Femmes Folles Books, 2014) that couples body art with poetry. Sally and I began collaborating on a second book recently that focuses on trees. Moving from fairy tale to children’s book, film representation to fact, Leave of Absence: An Illustrated Guide to Common Garden Affection tells the love story of two trees as they fall from a growing forest into the outstretched limbs of the other. Deskins’ body and tree prints and drawings weave a rich ecology of place to show us that even when we’re reaching away from what we know, our lives are actually becoming more entwined, binding us to what we love.

It was via Les Femme Folles that I first saw the gorgeous art work of Lauren Rindaldi. Her piece “Desire’s Conquest and Demise” became the cover art of my book Some Fatal Effects of Curiosity and Disobedience. From there, Lauren and I began collaborating on book that will feature her sketches and paintings and my prose. Art, then, has been inspiring me.

LS: Form and meter – I seek a union between content and form, and wish to acquire all the skills of the poetic profession available.

MD: I’m letting myself daydream about the future a lot and I’m flossing my teeth every day, and somehow these tiny, novel acts of manifesting potential and self-care are making me believe that something else is possible for all of us. I would really love to see something good come of the situation in Gaza, or Ferguson, or Baltimore, or Salt Lake, or wherever people of color or trans*folks are being murdered every single day, which is everywhere. My students are starting to introduce themselves with their pronouns included, and they are finally questioning when and how it was that they learned that power equates goodness, and the other day, a white student in my Gender and Social Change course told another white student why it was important for him to report racism witnessed in a classroom, even though it “wasn’t about him.” I don’t know if inspiration is the same thing as hope, but lately my students are the reason I’m not afraid to remind the people I encounter that Robin Williams wasn’t the only casualty this week.

SH: Leslie Marmon Silko, Willa Cather, and the very real fierceness of the human spirit.

JK: I’m doing a virtual roundtable on disability poetics and disability narrative theory that will soon appear in the journal Wordgathering. I just got finished teaching in the Young Writers Institute, a summer program for kids who love creative writing. Those kids inspire the heck out of me. Their fearlessness, their risk-taking. Or their ability to admit that they are afraid to take risks. I wish I could teach in a program like that all year round.

 SB: I am working at an advocacy organization for women and girls, and the work it does brings me inspiration daily. I was introduced to the #bringbackourgirls movement through my work, which inspired my poem about the Nigerian school girl kidnapping. In the times we are facing, the words of Jack Gilbert have come as comfort, particularly his poem “A Brief for the Defense.” I am inspired by my past, but as I work to recover the previously damaged relationships with my parents, I find that calling on previous incidents feels less productive than it once did. So I am in a process of turning from the past and the personal to the present and the universal. I write about being in love sometimes, and I like these poems.

MSD: It’s been quite an emotional few months for me, personally, and so I have been relying a lot on friends and family for inspiration and emotional clarity. It seems when there is an overabundance of emotions, the writing suffers. Staying off of social media has also been motivating. Eating a lot of fried eggs. Walking the dog and counting how many butterflies I can spot in those short thirty minutes. Reading the poems of friends yet-to-be-published and reading novels recommended by non-writers. Keeping the windows open and wearing dresses.


 

Bios

Larissa Shmailo is the editor of the anthology Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry, poetry editor for MadHat Annual, and founder of The Feminist Poets in Low-Cut Blouses. She translated Victory over the Sun for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s landmark restaging of the multimedia opera and has been a translator on the Bible in Russia for the American Bible Society. Her books of poetry are #specialcharacters (Unlikely Books), In Paran (BlazeVOX [books]), A Cure for Suicide (Červená Barva Press), and Fib Sequence (Argotist Ebooks); her poetry CDs are The No-Net World and Exorcism (SongCrew).

Laura Madeline Wiseman is the author of more than a dozen books and chapbooks and the editor of Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2013). Her recent books are American Galactic (Martian Lit Books, 2014), Some Fatal Effects of Curiosity and Disobedience (Lavender Ink, 2014), Queen of the Platform (Anaphora Literary Press, 2013), Sprung (San Francisco Bay Press, 2012), and the collaborative book Intimates and Fools (Les Femmes Folles Books, 2014) with artist Sally Deskins. Her work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Margie, Mid-American Review, and Feminist Studies. www.lauramadelinewiseman.com

Jill Khoury earned her Masters of Fine Arts from The Ohio State University. She teaches writing and literature in high school, university, and enrichment environments. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous journals, including Bone Bouquet, RHINO, Inter|rupture, and Stone Highway Review. She has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes and a Best of the Net award. Her chapbook Borrowed Bodies was released from Pudding House Press. You can find her at jillkhoury.com.

Shevaun Brannigan is a graduate of the Bennington Writing Seminars, as well as The Jimenez-Porter Writers’ House at The University of Maryland. She has had poems appear in such journals as Best New Poets 2012, Lumina, Rhino, Court Green, and Free State Review. She has been an Arts & Letters Poetry Prize finalist, received an honorable mention in So to Speak’s 2012 Poetry Contest, as well as a Pushcart nomination by Rattle.

Meg Day, selected for Best New Poets of 2013, is a 2013 recipient of an NEA Fellowship in Poetry and the author of Last Psalm at Sea Level, winner of the Barrow Street Press Poetry Prize (forthcoming 2014), When All You Have Is a Hammer (winner of the 2012 Gertrude Press Chapbook Contest) and We Can’t Read This (winner of the 2013 Gazing Grain Chapbook Contest). A 2012 AWP Intro Journals Award Winner, she has also received awards and fellowships from the Lambda Literary Foundation, Hedgebrook, Squaw Valley Writers, the Taft-Nicholson Center for Environmental Humanities, and the International Queer Arts Festival. Meg is currently a PhD candidate, Steffensen-Cannon Fellow, & Point Foundation Scholar in Poetry & Disability Poetics at the University of Utah. www.megday.com

Mary Stone Dockery is the author of One Last Cigarette and Mythology of Touch, and two chapbooks, Blink Finch and Aching Buttons. Her poetry and prose has appeared in many fine journals, including Mid-American Review, Gargoyle, South Dakota Review, Arts & Letters.

Sara Henning is the author of A Sweeter Water (Lavender Ink, 2013)as well as a chapbook, To Speak of Dahlias (Finishing Line Press, 2012).  Her poetry, fiction, interviews and book reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in such journals as Willow Springs, Bombay Gin and the Crab Orchard Review.  Currently a doctoral student in English and Creative Writing at the University of South Dakota, she serves as Managing Editor for The South Dakota Review.