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.

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 (ottwater.com/garneaureview), seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics (ottawater.com/seventeenseconds) and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater (ottawater.com). He spent the 2007-8 academic year as writer in residence at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, and blogs regularly at robmclennan.blogspot.com.

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.

AN ALL WOMEN’S ISSUE IS NOT THE ANSWER
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…

DEMAND A MORE VIGOROUS AND DIVERSE LITERARY WEAVE
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.

MAKE A PATH FOR FEMALE PUBLIC INTELLECTUALS
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.
DON’T LET THE BASTARDS MAKE YOU BITTER
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…).
THE ART OF PITCHING ISN’T HARD TO MASTER
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?

BIGGEN YOUR IDEAS

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
http://vidaweb.org/category/the-count

1.)  The Lack of Female Bylines in Magazines Is Old News – Katha Pollitt @ Slate
— http://www.slate.com/id/2284680/

2.)  Being Female — Eileen Myles @ The Awl
— http://www.theawl.com/2011/02/being-female#more-71928

3.)   How To Publish Women Writers: A Letter to Publishers about the VIDA Count — Annie Finch @ Her Circle
http://www.hercircleezine.com/2011/02/10/how-to-publish-women-writers-a-letter-to-publishers-about-the-vida-count/

4.) ‘Numbers don’t lie’: Addressing the gender gap in literary publishing — Jessa Crispin @ PBS
http://www.pbs.org/wnet/need-to-know/voices/numbers-dont-lie-addressing-the-gender-gap-in-literary-publishing/7161/

5.) On breaking the literary glass ceiling — Jessa Crispin and Michael Schaub @ PBS
http://www.pbs.org/wnet/need-to-know/voices/vida-pt-2/7383/

6.) Why There’s Gender Bias in Media-and What We Can Do About It — Margot Magowan @ MS. Magazine
http://msmagazine.com/blog/blog/2011/02/10/why-theres-gender-bias-in-media-and-what-we-can-do-about-it/

7.) Women in Publishing: What’s the Real Story? — Kjerstin Johnson @ Bitch Magazine
http://bitchmagazine.org/post/women-in-publishing

8.) Women Get Published and Reviewed Less Than Men in Big Magazines, Say Red-and-Blue Pie Charts — Jim Behrle @ The Hairpin
http://thehairpin.com/2011/02/women-get-published-and-reviewed-less-than-men-in-big-magazines-say-red-and-blue-pie-charts/

9.) Bitches Be Trippin’ — Roxane Gay @ HTML Giant
http://htmlgiant.com/random/bitches-be-trippin/

10.)  The Sorry State Of Women At Top Magazines — Anna North @ Jezebel
http://jezebel.com/5750239/the-sorry-state-of-women-at-top-magazines

11.)  Gender, publishing, and Poetry magazine — Christian Wiman @ Poetry Foundation
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2011/02/gender-publishing-and-poetry-magazine/

12.)  VIDA: The Count Roundup @ The Rumpus
https://therumpus.net/2011/02/vida-the-count-roundup/

13.)  Why It Matters That Fewer Women Are Published in Literary Magazines — Robin Romm @ Double X
http://www.doublex.com/blog/xxfactor/why-it-matters-fewer-women-are-published-literary-magazines

14.)  Women at Work — Meghan O’Rourke @ Slate
http://www.slate.com/id/2283605/

15.)  The Numbers Speak For Themselves @ Women and Hollywood
http://blogs.indiewire.com/womenandhollywood/archives/the_numbers_speak_for_themselves/

16.) Do četiri puta manje tekstova žena! — BROJKE NE LAŽU @ Kultura (in Croatian)
http://www.tportal.hr/kultura/knjizevnost/109858/Do-cetiri-puta-manje-tekstova-zena.html

17.) Submitting Work: A Woman’s Problem? — Becky Tuch @ Beyond the Margins
http://beyondthemargins.com/2011/02/submitting-work-a-womans-problem/

18.)  On Gender, Numbers, & Submissions — Rob @ Tin House
http://www.tinhouse.com/blog/6993/on-gender-numbers-submissions.html

19.)  A Literary Glass Ceiling? —  Ruth Franklin @ The New Republic
http://www.tnr.com/article/books-and-arts/82930/VIDA-women-writers-magazines-book-reviews

20.) Research shows male writers still dominate books world — Benedicte Page @ The Guardian
http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/feb/04/research-male-writers-dominate-books-world

21.) Gender Balance and Book Reviewing: A New Survey Renews The Debate — Patricia Cohen @ New York Times Arts Beat
http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/08/gender-balance-and-book-reviewing-a-new-survey-renews-the-debate/

22.) Tickets to an Awesome Future Are Free: Gender, Literature, and VIDA’s Count — Carolyn Zaikowski
http://monkeypuzzlepress.com/blog/tickets-to-an-awesome-future-are-free/


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

fig.1

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