Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Sauce for the gander

Someone referred to me a website posting "formalist poetry by women." Folks have been trying to enlighten me for years, but I must be ineducable: it just hasn't worked. I still don't understand why such places and labels aren't offensive. You know, don't you, that if someone opened a site dedicated to "formalist poetry by men," it would be booed, hissed, reviled, and castigated for being openly, blatantly sexist. (It also would be ignored, but that's a different problem.) Why is this different?

I welcome answers, you know, though if they consist of little more than "you troglodytic brute," I'll just delete them.


Anonymous said...

I am no expert, not even a poet, but I love visiting your site. Are women the minority in the world of poetry? Perhaps they feel they have to band together and show you men how it's done. Smile.

qua said...

Troglodytic brute? No more than Elizabeth Bishop is a troglodytic femme. At times double standards defy both explanation and understanding.

Lady_Naomi said...

All kinds walk the earth.

I've visited a website for men who write romance. Nothing but praise there.

They do it because they can.

And, you're right. If there was a prominent site of poetry devoted only to men, I can see uproar.

Let them have their site. I hate the thought of my words only touching one sex.

RHE said...


An "in numbers there are strength" sort of thing? Perhaps. But it's difficult to take poets-in-the-aggregate seriously. Movements and sisterhoods notwithstanding, poetry really is a one-person-at-a-time pursuit, and organization by gender seems an even sillier principle than most.

More snow for Conifer this weekend. Get ready.

Eloise said...

Perhaps because the last 1000 (2000?) years of mainstream poetry has been dedicated to formalist poetry by men, with a (very) few notable exceptions. If we are really talking equal opportunities I think that women have a far stronger case for single-sex collections, if purely to benefit from the strength in numbers.

Of course I believe in striving for the best poetry regardless of gender, age, race, sandwich filling preference etc. but we aren't quite at the point yet where that can truly happen and the odd women's site is only helping women poets to get to that first step so that they are on an equal footing with men that have the benefit of a rich history of dead white guys.

I hope that is a little bit more helpful than just calling you a troglodytic brute.

RHE said...

"Of course I believe in striving for the best poetry regardless of gender, age, race, sandwich filling preference etc. but we aren't quite at the point yet where that can truly happen"

But nothing else matters in poetry, which is made a poem at a time by a poet at a time. The obvious parallel to affirmative action seems to me a false one; no one is denying women access to pen and paper; and anyone (as you and I prove) can "publish" on the Web. It's hard for me to picture the weight of DWEMs keeping formalist women from blogging. Perhaps that merely proves that I myself am a near-DWEM.

hrcraig@gmail.com said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lady_Naomi said...

I respectfully disagree with Eloise. I don't believe that either female or male has 'a stronger case for single-sex collections.'

History is history. You can't change it. It seems wrong somehow to swing so far in the opposite direction, no matter how much equality we wield. After all, it's not poetry's fault that men were the only ones allowed to be educated in literature many moons ago.

And is it really right for women who are not 1000 years old to take on the injustices of others so long ago and spout this as reason for discrimination? It all seems to have sunk to a similar level.

If women believe that they have to benefit from strength in numbers then they don't know how to use their power. One woman can stand up to a thousand civilised men.

You don't need to armour the 'cause' as it prolongs the belief that women are weak and we need many around us kissing our toes.

'The weak or cowardly band together.' Why else would you do it? Not to encourage equality of course, as true equality is for both men and women today. In fact, it's law.

There is no benefit from strength in numbers of one sex in poetry. Let me die here and now if I never get to read another Robert Frost poem.

The part where you say that you want to strive for the best poetry is in contradiction to your first paragraph. If you were really striving for it, you wouldn't even consider single sex collections. And, that's why you're not at that point yet. Enabling.

Odd sites that do this aren't helping women by having 'just women writers'. They are hindering them by instilling the belief that they can't do it themselves if they branched out as a single voice in a lot of male's. The poetry would be all the more powerful because of it.

The reason you believe that you're not quite at that point for striving for the best poetry is all in the way your mind ticks over, sweetie.

Women are equal to men before they make that "first step".

The question is, is it helping women get to know all the wonderful poetry in the world?

Lady_Naomi said...

Oh, btw,

I hope you don't mind me commenting on this. *shrugs*

RHE said...


I could have done without that patronizing "sweetie" in your extended response. You don't have to be Andrea Dworkin to have your teeth set on edge by a tone like that. And I'm not sure I understand why postings on a site exclusively for formalistas would keep you from reading Robert Frost. Not even Donald Rumsfeld proposed that.

epsteinsternator said...

But nothing else matters in poetry, which is made a poem at a time by a poet at a time.

"No poet, no artist of any art, has his [!] complete meaning alone."

Not being initmately familiar with the genre of women's formalist poetry, this would be the best explanation I could hope for (though maybe not the *actual* explanation): that these poets are trying to define themselves w/r/t to a tradition of "women's poetry." Probably not exactly what TSE had in mind, and I have no clue what the tradition of "women's formalist poetry" would look like. No doubt it would reach all the way back to Homer.

A little late to the convo, but I've been busy fellowing.

RHE said...

I have no clue what the tradition of "women's formalist poetry" would look like.

It would look thin, really thin. Spanish fashion runway thin. Its greatest exponent, up there in her Amherst room eschewing tradition (32 times before swallowing), probably would disclaim it, and it would be stuck with the less-than-satisfactory Brownings, Millays, and Wylies.

I think that any great poet, man or woman, formalist or un-, would rather close ranks with the Fraternal & Sororal Order of Other Great Poets than pick her company by gender.