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Post-Marginal Positions:

Women and the UK Experimental/Avant-Garde Poetry Community

A Cross-Atlantic Forum — Moderated by Catherine Wagner

This piece is about 25 printed pages long.
It is copyright © Catherine Wagner, the contributors and Jacket magazine 2007.


paragraph 1

Date: Fri, 1 May 1998 14:56:46 EDT
Subject: Re: London Cambridge pokery
... But would any one like to discuss how Denise Riley’s long lines work? Or the layering in Grace Lake’s work? The intelligence word-to-word of Helen MacDonald’s fusing the world of human loves and human-bird relations into a strange meld of dictions — cross-century, cross-biology? Geraldine Monk’s real concern for real people? Oh yes, Maggie O’Sullivan? Can we discuss these people as minutely as we discuss Prynne? Why are the British women viewed as less interesting as, say, the Howe sisters (more power to them)? Does a man have to say these things, increasing yet more the patriarchal patronage? I mean, WHAT’S WRONG WITH US?

[no response to this post]

Date: Sat, 2 May 1998 04:06:22 EDT
Subject: Re: Finlay’s garden repeat: Why does hardly anyone on this list ever talk about women poets? I mean, we have a mouth full of feminism, just like dominant trend on the Buffalo list — where at least they have quite a few women contributors, though there are more political than poetic, discussions of feminist issues. But here it seems that only men’s poetry and ideas are worth long debate. I can’t even mention this without being accused of patriarchal patronage, no doubt, but something is seriously wrong...


[one brief response, 3 days later, saying “wondering the same thing”]

Date: Sat, 2 May 1998 11:12:39 EDT
Subject: Re: Prynne/Derrida
... Every time I try to mail this listing with my complaint that no one ever seems to talk about women poets, the message doesn’t get through...

[no response to this post]


paragraph 2

That’s Douglas Oliver, in 1998, complaining, apparently to deaf ears, about the lack of discussion of women’s work on the British-Irish Poets list. Eight years later, the Cambridge Festival of Contemporary Women Experimental Poets was followed by only one public commentary, by Elizabeth James, on the UK Poetry list. Earlier the same year, the Cambridge Conference of Contemporary Poetics (CCCP) included only 2 British females of a total of 14 British participants. In my visits to various UK poetry events, I’ve become curious about why there seems to be more parity for non-British females than for British females: though British women were almost absent from the 2006 CCCP, almost a third of total participants were female. According to the recent Chicago Review, the New British Poets include only one female, Andrea Brady, and she is an American expatriate.[1]


I do not think anyone in the States would argue that US male poets far outnumber US female poets; in the States, the most influential poets living — on almost anyone’s list — are mostly women. Why are things different in Albion? Are the male poets are better in the UK and worse in the States? I am sticking my nose in where it doesn’t belong: go and criticize your own country, Wagner. But Christine Kennedy has given me the space to ask, and I honestly want to understand.


Because I don’t have the cultural knowledge to analyze the situation, I’ve asked some people to contextualize the problem for me. I’m also hoping this forum will generate some ideas about how poetic communities change and become more inclusive. I’ve therefore invited a number of UK poets and US poets to weigh in on changing communities they are or have been part of, hoping for historical context and practical solutions.

Catherine Wagner

Andrea Brady

Andrea Brady

Andrea Brady

Andrea Brady’s books of poems include Embrace (Object Permanence, 2005) and Vacation of a Lifetime (Salt, 2001). A long sequence of materialist history of obscurity and phosphorescence, 'Wildfire', is published on She stumbles into an ars poetica in a new interview with Andrew Duncan at the Argotist. Andrea is the director of the Archive of the Now (, and with Keston Sutherland runs Barque Press ( She teaches Renaissance literature at Queen Mary, University of London.

paragraph 5

I’ve been struggling with the conspicuous lack of parity between male and female poets for a long time. Your intro raises two questions: why are there so few women writing within the ‘avant-garde’ or (whatever you want to call it) community (if it is a community rather than just a bickering city block)? And why does the work of those women who are around receive so little attention?


I would guess (though I haven’t been around long enough to know for sure) that the first problem is a historical one. Following the unbearably macho legacy of modernism, and the drear post-war period, something happened in the 1970s and 1980s which dissuaded women from entering into, or staying in, the poetry scene. It sounds like a Gilbert and Gubar cliché, I know, but it’s a fact that of the few women who did, several later withdrew (e.g. Denise Riley), died, or went mad. Among the women who stayed, I know of none who took on positions as teachers, editors, publishers from which they could help in the fraught process of community formation.


I’ve always thought of this as an important distinction with the US, where the activities of women like Anne Waldman, Bernadette Mayer, Alice Notley, Susan Howe, Lyn Hejinian etc. created the conditions for the emergence of equality between male and female poets. But in the UK, women weren’t contributing to the magazines which turned out to be responsible for articulating the primary poetic concerns in this period. The big poetry production centres (London, Cambridge) remained very patriarchal; there are institutional reasons for this, in the case of Cambridge, with which I’m all too familiar. Resources to support artistic production were generally scarce. I haven’t studied this period, or lived through it, so these are purely guesses on my part; but they’re guesses which roughly indicate many of our appreciations of our past.


I say this problem is historical because I sense it is starting to shift. Many of us have been working to address it: the Bedford Square group, which I set up with Dell Olsen and Lucy Sheerman, was designed specifically to provide an environment in which women could develop and discuss their work, getting critical feedback and supporting each other’s various practices. We recognised that the existing forms of exchange for poetry had for a long time seemed enervated and dull. Why should anyone, let alone a creative and difficult woman working between media and with the conflicts of the world and her own utility banging in her poetic cochlea, want to sit on a hard chair in a carpeted room above a pub listening to the same five or six old men with only themselves for audiences? The poetry reading is too often an anti-social event, whose management is anti-creative. If we worked harder to organise them they could be regarded as a pleasure, rather than just an obligation to replace mass on Sundays. We were in the middle of planning such an event (we can serve soup, show films, set up stations for making things, needlepoint, collage, there can be music and dancing...) when the group dissipated — all too busy, I guess.


The Bedford Square group meant a great deal to all of us who participated. It was possible to form it at that particular moment, because some of us have managed to institutionalize ourselves, and have access to university resources, including that old Woolfian necessity, space. Dell is encouraging new generations of poets, male and female, through her teaching at Royal Holloway, where she runs the MA in Poetic Practice; and has engaged some of her students with How2, of which she is now Editor. Lucy Sheerman is the literature officer for Arts Council East, and the publisher of RemPress — so she knows how to get our hands on the finances, and was extremely helpful to me in getting a sizeable grant for my small press, Barque. Barque has struggled to keep any kind of parity of representation in its own list — that’s the historical problem again–but we have tried to support emerging writers, to help women in particular develop the confidence that comes with publication.


That’s also one of the goals of my Archive of the Now project, which is not close to equality — only 19 of the 100 or so poets are women, six of whom are American or Canadian (me, Kai Fierle-Hedrick, Kaia Sand, Susanna Gardner, Marianne Morris and Carol Mirakove). The last three are not even based in the UK, but were recorded during the Cambridge Experimental Women’s Poetry Festival last year, which was organised by Emily Critchley with help from Catherine Brown.


That festival was an excellent developer of women’s writing, and maybe you can ask Emily to address it in more detail. But it is emblematic of the way in which the younger generation of writers are working to ameliorate these historical inequalities. Other examples include Marianne Morris’s work with Bad Press, or the activist poetry of Ceri Buck, or Frances Kruk’s press Yt Communications (which she runs with Sean Bonney), or the Poetry Summits and other readings held in Cambridge which were co-organised by brilliant men and women.


These recent events in Cambridge (including Emily’s conference) have changed the mood: they are friendly, positive, non-exclusive events, with large audiences, and when they’re over you feel yourself emerging into new collaborations, interests and respects. They have single-handedly erased the misanthropies of which the ‘Cambridge school’ has anciently been accused (sometimes correctly, though not often). That’s big news for poetry, as the universities here continue to feed graduates into poetry; but we can add Brunel, Queen Mary, Sussex, St Andrews, Dundee, Manchester Metropolitan, Central Lancashire, Birkbeck, Southampton, Anglia Ruskin, Royal Holloway... etc. to the list of academic outposts recently colonized by poetry renegades.


Other women are working in modes which don’t correspond to the traditional poetry networks we might recognise: rather than going to readings (or organising them), holding workshops or publishing magazines they are making text-based architectural installations, teaching in schools, or offering text-based performances. Perhaps this was always the case, and it is that work which goes uncatalogued, the better to castigate ourselves.


As to your second question (a shorter answer), the lack of critical response is not specific to women. There is almost no review culture here, for men’s or women’s books. We all have to write into the same void. The void does not discriminate. People protest from time to time, set up blogs that wither on the cable... perhaps the volume of poetic production is too overwhelming, or maybe we’re all too vain. Maybe actually reading poetry means less to people than thinking about it in an abstract way or identifying themselves with its general production and reception.


Having said that, I can’t agree with your criticism of Chicago Review. The four ‘young British poets’ [ybp] were not chosen as the only members of their class. There is a coherence among our work: we have published each other, we are friends, our work engages with each other’s in very direct ways. My conversations with Keston Sutherland, Peter Manson, and Chris Goode have been fundamental in nurturing my present composition as a poet. It would be very depressing for me if the response to the issue was merely a carping question about ‘but why hasn’t X been invited?’ (I sometimes feel that the poetry scene takes on a masochistic structure: our fantasies of cultural domination disappointed, we project and introject our frustration as criticism. We can be a right old bunch of wreckers, and efforts to construct — unless it comes with its own native piety, e.g. the Bedford Square group, whose work was treated with mild admiration by anyone male/excluded who mentioned it — are so often immediately dismantled by the planning officers, that we stay mumbling at zero.) And there are lots of other women in the volume: Leila Wilson writing on Sarah Law, Heidi Lynn Staples reviewing Peter Finch, John Lennox on Geraldine Monk, Kai on Caroline Bergvall, Ruth Abbott on Michael Haslam — and of course your letter on this very subject!


So these are my informal responses to this difficult question — I am sure that some of them reveal me to be uninformed, and I look forward to being put right. My ignorances could probably be taken as representative, however, and so it may be useful to have a record of them on paper.


Geraldine Monk

Geraldine Monk

Geraldine Monk was born in Lancashire in 1952. Her first publications appeared in the 1970s and she has been an incurable member of the British poetry community ever since. In 2003 Salt Publications brought out her Selected Poems ( Escafeld Hangings was published in 2005 by West House Books ( ). Her latest publication is Raccoon, published by Free Poetry, Boise State University, U.S.A. 2007 ( ).


Well, good for Doug Oliver. The lack of response is depressing. I wasn’t ‘online’ in 1998 or I might well have replied. However, I think it is a mistake to cite the British-Irish Poetry list or CCCP as yardsticks for British poetry. They represented that tiny strand of poetry in Britain that is sometimes called the Avant-Garde and sometimes experimental poetry. Both these terms are chewed over and disputed to the point of tedium but we all know roughly what they stand for: they stand for not being mainstream and that term, mainstream, is chewed over and disputed to the point of tedium but we all know roughly what that stands for. I don’t want to get bogged down in the exactitudes or rights and wrongs of this terminology but it’s important to make this distinction if your question is to be answered.


This distinction between mainstream and experimental is very important because your question could be seen as portraying Britain as being incurably patriarchal where women are ignored to the point of oblivion. That’s not true. Oh certainly sexism still exists — I think it always will because we will always have insecure men who feel inadequate and when you mix that with too much testosterone it’s a lethal mix of illogical fears often aimed at women in various ways. They vary from the extremes of indiscriminate murder to a controlling non-acknowledgement of our being: both achieve obliteration of women. However that isn’t specific to poetry; this is the wider phenomenon of sexism which permeates all sectors of life.


So it needs to be said that British women poets are far from ignored, they rule the roost but they are overwhelmingly mainstream poets. The list is endless: Carol Ann Duffy, Jackie Kay, Wendy Cope, Anne Stevenson, U.A. Fanthorpe, Sophie Hannah, Gillian Clarke etc and etc. They are the darlings of the British literary festivals, they get well-paid reading fees, they get reviews in the broadsheet newspapers and they win awards. They are indisputably represented and enjoy a healthy parity with the men from the mainstream poetry world. But credit where it is due, I think this parity has been brought about by the spadework of presses like Virago Press and Women Only Press who worked tirelessly to bring women’s writing, old and new, to everyone’s attention.


That aside I think your question should be ‘Why aren’t there more women writing experimental poetry’? And my answer to that is I’m not really sure. One reason cited more than once is that women didn’t like where ‘experimentation’ took place: in smoky upstairs rooms of pubs with a small audience. Oh well. The small audiences could be a drag but mainstream poetry also took place in smoky upstairs rooms in pubs with small audiences so I don’t really think too much can be made of that. I’m not an experimental poet because I like pubs! Maggie O Sullivan hated/hates smoke and didn’t drink much but like me she was at many of the poetry events, to read her stuff and hear the poetry. Happy days. It was truly exciting.


To blame the venues would be a bit feeble to say the least. But if that was a reason are we talking about women here or class? Was it too much for terribly nice middle class women to get low down and dirty with the sopping-wet beer mats, smoky rooms and terribly nice male poets? No I don’t think that’s true, after all a venue doesn’t stop anyone, man or woman, from writing experimental poetry in the comfort of their own home, besides that most of the exposure of the poetry took place in small press magazines and journals. If that hadn’t been the case then experimentation would have been bound by location which it wasn’t. The London vs. Cambridge ‘issue’ was a little spat between male professors and nothing to do with the rest of us. I knew nothing about it until it was over. We came from all over Britain and we weren’t interested in so-called Poetry Wars (what a depressing term that is).


I think some male poets did ignore women poets but the majority did not — the dearth was just because there weren’t that many women interested in experimentation. They couldn’t invite us to read and contribute to magazines if we didn’t exist. But why were there so few of us?


According to statistics women are more conservative than men. They are more likely to vote conservative. Liberalism is a luxury. Decadence is a rich man’s dream. Women have always been socially disadvantaged, having less money than men and the responsibilities of childcare and often looking after elderly relatives.


When life itself is precarious safety not experimentation is a refuge. This I think is a much more valid reason to explain the dearth. Generally speaking the homeliness of mainstream poetry with its domestic agenda and familiar constructions was a bigger draw for women poets but things are changing.


The recent activities in Britain which has seen a burgeoning of women writing in experimental genres is more likely a result of women’s social standing not room preference. A lot of the experimentation is being written and championed by women poets working in universities and colleges — women with good jobs and financial security. This could explain why American women are slightly ahead of us: they have been active for much longer in the many and flourishing poetics programmes up and running in their academic institutions.


So it’s not that women prefer the white, clean rooms of academe to the flock-walled, smoky dens in upstairs rooms of pubs, it’s because the white rooms are where they have authority and security. This is now creating something that we have sadly lacked: a strong female tradition to build on. Financially secure Gertrude Stein will no longer be the lone and only voice we can cite as the female influence on our experimentation and not before time. Because of these reasons I think Britain’s women poets are still behind our American counterparts but they are catching up quickly.


I didn’t address the question about ‘why aren’t women talked about’ but after seeing yet another article by someone trying to prove Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was written by P.B. Shelley I thought I’d just air a few thoughts on this. There is virtually a cottage industry amongst men (I know of no women in this industry) trying to prove that P. B. Shelley wrote Frankenstein and even more hilariously that Branwell ’Bladdered’ Bronte, brother of Emily, staggered out the pub and roused himself long enough from his drunken stupor to write Wuthering Heights. Be still my aching sides. That two of the most charismatic and famed ’outsiders’ in literature, i.e. Frankenstein’s monster and Heathcliff, were the inventions of women is so unacceptable to some men that they devote their lives to trying to prove that a male relative, no matter how drunk and incapable, must have been the author. It’s pathetic beyond belief. Get a life you spiteful plonkers! That those two famous ‘outsiders’ were the invention of women seems to me to be perfectly natural because these women writers were themselves outsiders.


I think we forget how much women have had to travel in a comparatively short time from such a dismal place. Throughout women’s herstory their writing was published under ’anons’ or male pseudonyms: it was the norm. The brave ones that dared to put their name to their own work jeopardised not only their female status but also their morality and social standing. ‘Mad Madge’ wasn’t in the least bit mad she was Margaret Cavendish who signed her work with her own name so of course she had to be ’mad’.


Time and again you find men challenging women’s writing that they rated highly as being of dubious origin because that origin had to a male. This outlandish charge occurs with such regularity that apart from being tedious in the extreme it underpins the insecurities of men. It was just another form of ‘obliteration.’


What a long and dreary hill they made us climb. I’m only surprised we didn’t scream longer and louder when we got to the top. But of course we haven’t quite got there because one thing that is still not permissible is a woman with influence and this denial of our influencing powers is achieved by not writing about women’s writing. It has seen so many women writers slip off the map and into the arms of oblivion.


As more women take up posts in our universities this will gradually change although I think I’ll end with a cautionary note and that is almost all the American women poets I know are attached to some creative writing faculty which makes me suspect that some poets, women and men, not attached to an institution are being overlooked. It would be a great pity if good poets were ignored because they were outside the academic loop with its all powerful network of connections and influence. 


Danielle Pafunda

Danielle Pafunda

Danielle Pafunda is author of Pretty Young Thing (Soft Skull Press) and My Zorba (Bloof Books 2008). Her poetry appears in a number of journals and anthologies, including Best American Poetry 2007 and Not for Mothers Only (Fence Books). Co-editor of the online journal La Petite Zine and the poetics blog-journal Delirious Hem, she is also a moderator of the Pussipo listserv and a PhD candidate in the University of Georgia Creative Writing Program.


As Cathy says, things ain’t half bad for US women poets. And as Stephanie points out below, the numbers are improving. So let’s say things are a third bad. The publication and review ratios indicate a stubborn lack of parity, and the anecdotes confirm that sheer numbers won’t launch us out of boys’ club territory. Clearly, British women poets of experimental bent want more than just the volume we boast, more than the moderate (which sometimes still feels grudging) respect. And we want more, too. When we ask how the US poetry scene fostered so many experimental women poets, let’s follow up quick, inquiring how these same poets keep at it, keep their chins up, and keep in contact.


In poetry, geographically engendered voids abound. The Internet supplies bridge and portal, and, approached with the right framework, communities therein have the potential to bombastically revamp contemporary poetry and poetics. Anne Boyer started the Pussipo (after Acker) listserv for experimental women poets in October 2006. More than 130 of us leapt aboard in the first week. Posts appeared at dawn and discussion stretched into the wee hours. We were electrified, losing sleep, envisioning global action (indeed, list members span San Francisco to Dubai).


Why such a frenzied launch? The expected resources, of course: sounding board, network, larger audience for one’s projects. Beyond that, though, many of us were giddy to find an experimental poetry stockpile — who’s your favorite new little-known or underrepresented poet; what new journals should I be watching; how do you teach language poets, tonal poets, performance poets? — and giddy to find a dynamic we’ve formerly had in twos and threes at best — an affinity zone. Should you be an English-speaking poet, a woman, and, further, writing in one of the variations known as experimental, you often play the misfit. Should you live outside the major metropolitan centers, then you likely haven’t got much to keep you wry when the dull, but well-groomed, Buster Brown wins Uncle Pulitzer’s affections.


Let’s take for granted that experimental women poets get a raw deal for mostly nefarious reasons, and generally lose more tooth and nail to the struggle for visibility. While the ego takes a licking, the real heartache is anchored in powerlessness. How chilling to attempt to alter the dominant discourse on one’s own! Even the influence of the lucky few with tenure, books, and journals, can reach just so far. A creature like Pussipo gleams. Experimental poetry is the order of the day, not the alternative, and the screws are put to gender politics. We find the numbers needed to make an impact on the larger scene, celebrate each other’s successes, and cast off many of those patriarchal conventions which can promptly diffuse one’s participation in mixed-gender forums.


Pussipo produces auras, off-gasses, and like poetry is at once discrete experience and evidence of a process. The community actualizes via its phenomenological productions. The listserv itself is not the community, nor do the members themselves contain the community. We assemble on the platform known as Pussipo, in various guises and configurations. We’re in constant flux, an ever shifting group of English-speaking experimental women poets. List members drop in and out of conversation as interest and time permit. New poets join, longer standing members drop out. Pussipo hardly harbors the likeminded.[2] The very name of the listserv stirs debate. By the way, Pussipo’s composition, however mottled, is overwhelmingly US. We’d like to bust it open, so do contact us via


I offer one new project representative of the kind of experiments a community like Pussipo can conduct. A common listserv lament: while a decent number of younger women poets blog, we have no female counterpart to the more established (a troublesome term, admittedly) Ron Sillimans and Pierre Jorises of the blog world. Further, one finds a great deal fewer critical works published by women from the experimental camps. The wish list began rather expectedly — if only someone could convince Alice Notley to start a blog, if only one of us would start a journal publishing such critical work, if only there were a great deal more money and time and heck, while we’re at it, let’s throw in childcare and free cookies. But if you want a thing done rightly... What were a lot of women short on time, money, and only moderately gifted with clout to do? How would we agree on format, and co-operate across vast distances (both geographical and aesthetic)?


The answer came in the form of a live online literary journal in blog format, maintained by a revolving, loosely knit curatorial staff. Delirious Hem [3] (, operates as a politely anarchic platform. Each curator trails her own obsessions, queries those she admires, and post her spoils regardless of the other curators’ interest or approval. Which is not to say that we don’t confab as a group, but that there are no long drawn out debates about whether X or Y is more valuable to a given issue — there are no discrete issues. No curator dedicates more time than she can scavenge up, and may drop in and out as suits her schedule. The blog format allows for follow-ups, multiple threads, audio, video, and four-color images. Blog readers are well-accustomed to the inconsistent flow of posts, and the network of blog links ensures that new posts swiftly make their way into the spotlight.


More importantly, perhaps, blogs allow for public discussion. Readers, even the other curators, will be able to comment on every post. Authors and curators can comment and respond. We risk here the blogosphere trolls[4] and the same obstacles to communication that plague e-mail, but the veteran and neophyte bloggers among us have already sailed those waters, and find the dragons less gruesome than legend suggests. Further, as there’s no need for the curators to be of one opinion about the work presented on Delirious Hem, there’s no fetishization of product or of a singular mission. Coherence interests us far less than volume and variety, and friction equals fuel.


Evie Shockley

Evie Shockley

Evie Shockley is the author of a half-red sea (2006) and The Gorgon Goddess (2001), both with Carolina Wren Press, and recently guest edited a special issue of MiPOesias featuring the work of contemporary African American poets. She is an assistant professor of English at Rutgers University, New Brunswick.


At Cathy’s request, I’m coming at the issue of gender diversity in “experimental” poetry from an angle (“Tell all the truth, / but tell it slant”). Assuming that there’s a lack of participation by, representation of, and/or critical interest in British women “experimental” poets (about which there seems to be some debate, even among the participants in this forum), I’d like to suggest one way to address the situation by way of a model developed to address issues of racial diversity and exclusion. Cave Canem is an organization for and community of African American poets. It was the excellent idea of two established poets, Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady, who had themselves needed and longed for such a community. Despite the success of their individual careers, they both believed that something like Cave Canem was necessary for the difference it could make in the lives of both emerging and established black poets, as well as for the difference it could make in the arena of American poetry.


I was fortunate enough to have been accepted to Cave Canem’s annual summer workshop/retreat in its second year. Once accepted as a Cave Canem fellow, a poet can return three times within a five-year period; I took my three years in one gulp, 1997-99 (which will teach me about drinking the finest scotch whiskey from a shot glass). As both a “graduate” fellow and a scholar of African American poetry, I would say that the organization admirably fulfills both of the main goals that Derricotte and Eady had for it.


First, it provides a space — less physical than metaphysical — in which black poets can gather to learn, talk, debate, rant, explore, exchange, and risk, without facing the threat of limiting, racist expectations for their work. Eleven years ago, when Cave Canem held its first summer workshop/retreat, most African American poets obtained their training in virtually all-white workshops and programs. These were led and populated by poets who typically had at most a superficial knowledge of the stunning tradition of African American poetry and didn’t fully appreciate the ability of black history and cultures to inform and enrich a poetics.


I see a parallel to this in the way women’s writing is excluded from the canon, as Jow Lindsay discusses, and in how writing about women’s issues, such as motherhood, is marginalized, as was demonstrated in a passionate and fascinating conversation on the Pussipo listserv about a recent poetry anthology, Not for Mothers Only. This type of arrogant ignorance (“I don’t know and I don’t need to know”) about black poetry is still too often the case today. Cave Canem offers a respite from the predominant situation, in which a black poet often has to explain or apologize for the “blackness” of her references, her aesthetic choices, and her influences.


One of the results of gathering a significant number of black poets together under a banner that is racial, but not based on (presumed) aesthetic, linguistic, or ideological commonalities, has been the increased visibility of the diversity of styles, topics, cultures, and formal approaches with which modern and contemporary black poets work and have worked. It’s worth saying, if it isn’t already clear, that Cave Canem is not exclusively or even primarily devoted to “avant-garde” or “experimental” poetics. But while the founders’ aesthetics do not lie in this vein, they have been open to — have opened Cave Canem to — poets working under these umbrellas.


One way they have signaled this openness is by inviting such poets (including Harryette Mullen, C. S. Giscombe, and Erica Hunt) onto the constantly rotating faculty of the summer workshop/retreats. This encourages black “experimental” poets to apply to and participate in Cave Canem, which not only supports our work but motivates other poets to experiment more freely with the depth and the breadth of poetic possibilities available to them.


Moreover, surprisingly or not, another measure of the success of Cave Canem is that it has begun to change the face of American poetry — the second of Derricotte and Eady’s primary goals, as I see it. By nurturing black poets and raising awareness among poets, readers, and critics about these amazingly talented writers, Cave Canem has contributed enormously to creating an environment in which exciting, highly skillful, and inventive poetries — that might otherwise have remained unpublished and unread, even unwritten — can actually thrive.


The organization does this work not only through the annual workshop/retreats, but also through a variety of other more public activities. When funds permit, Cave Canem offers regional workshops that are taught by Cave Canem faculty or graduate fellows, making this non-degree-oriented training available to poets who might not be able to attend the summer retreat. It organizes and supports poetry readings by faculty and fellows. Cave Canem has entered the publishing arena in two ways: by producing anthologies of poetry by black poets (Gathering Ground and The Ringing Ear) and by sponsoring a first book prize for African American poets. The importance of this entrée into book publication shouldn’t be underestimated. A telling example: this year’s Pulitzer Prize in poetry went to Native Guard, the third book by Natasha Tretheway — whose first book was selected by Rita Dove as the first winner of the Cave Canem prize.


But just as significant, in my view, is the way Cave Canem fosters an ongoing sense of community among fellows by maintaining the fellows’ email listserv and online forum. These “virtual Cave Canem spaces” are vital because, in conjunction with the physical reunions we manage to put together, as they enable us to develop friendships begun at the retreats and to initiate connections between graduate fellows and more recently admitted fellows. They enable us to exchange work for critique; to share information about poetry-related opportunities; to discuss (“hash out” might be the more apt term) viewpoints on cultural and socio-political issues of interest; and to celebrate each other’s achievements. And this is despite the fact that we are scattered widely across the country (and even beyond the US borders, wherever fellows’ travels take them).


From this foundation, we are better equipped to re-enter those spaces of engagement with non-black poets and hold our own. I see African American poets appearing in journals that have not traditionally published us, larger numbers of us publishing books and sustaining careers as poets than anytime before or since the Black Arts Movement, and more widespread attention to African American poets and poetry from the critical establishment than anytime since the Harlem Renaissance. It is no coincidence that I’m comparing this era to other periods in which many black writers considered themselves to be consciously and literally part of a literary community.


I hope it’s clear that what I’m suggesting is this: if “experimental” women poets in the UK are getting short shrift, then rather than continuing to charge directly at the walls of exclusion, it might not be a bad idea to gather themselves together, determine what their needs are, and try to meet some of those needs through resources currently or feasibly available to them. By nurturing themselves and the coming generation of women poets interested in “avant-garde” aesthetics, they can simultaneously cultivate the audiences for (and scholars, teachers, and critics of) their work.


Emily Critchley

Emily Critchley

Emily Critchley lives in Cambridge where she is finishing a PhD in contemporary American women’s experimental poetry. Collections of her work include: Of all the Surprises (Dusie press, 2007), When I say I believe women... (Bad press, 2006), How to make Millions (Arehouse, 2005) and The Dirt Glitch Land Alter Affair (Arehouse, 2004).


I am one of the youngest poets writing in the contemporary British experimental ‘scene’, so my experience is limited. Moreover, I am based in Cambridge, which I’m told is one of the most residually patriarchal locales in the country. Presumably this has to do with institutionalised, conventional power relations (hangovers from the tradition that kept women from even getting a degree here until well into the last century), as well as personal attitudes — less easy to identify, let alone counter.


But things here are obviously changing as the quotient of male to female students becomes more and more balanced, and, thus, the number of those staying on in academe to teach, research and write, increases, encouraging more inquiries into this area. I believe that keeping up the number of women within the academy — even if this conjures images of crude head-counting — is important if we are to prevent a backslide into past inequalities. If women are not given access to the resources that inspire greatness, they are less likely to become great.


Andrea Brady and others that I have asked raise the important point, with which I concur, that there may be a dearth of women writing experimentally in Britain to begin with (especially compared with America). Again, this would seem down to historical and environmental conditions that have excluded women, or put them off being part of this scene, until very recently. The cliquishness and vocal dominance of men at past poetry readings surely repelled some from even attempting to be part of such a collective, not only because of the peculiar mix of sociability and self-promotion such events demand and indeed rely on (marginal to mainstream culture as they are) but also “because it was implicitly made clear [...women] weren’t welcome” as Robert Hampson has suggested (in an email to the UK poetry list, 26 Sept 2006).


The need to be explicitly feminist, expressive or defensive, to counter past exclusions, and/or investigate the experience, identity or cultural ‘place’ of women in an accessible language, has been a pull away from experimentalism for others. Who knows what radical poetry Charlotte Mew, Fleur Adcock, Gillian Clarke, Selima Hill, Carol Ann Duffy, U. A. Fanthorpe and other mainstream writers might have produced if they hadn’t felt their work had to be more or less explicitly tied up with examinations of gender, domesticity, anger, hierarchy, and so on? Of course, they might have written in just the same ways, but my point is that male avant-garde writers rarely feel the need to shore up their gender with positive perspectives, comprehensible by the culture at large, because it has never been regarded as a disability by that culture. Caroline Bergvall identifies this crucial dilemma: “Can female poets in fact afford to dispense with identity-seeking when positive female identification is still culturally and politically so vulnerable?” (‘No Margins to This Page: Female Experimental Poets and the Legacy of Modernism’ 1993)


This having been said, in my introductory paper to the Cambridge women’s festival I organised last October (reproduced in HOW2[5]), I sought to draw attention to those women who have chosen precisely the realm of the experimental, dominated though this has been by WMHs (white male heterosexuals) in Ron Silliman’s terms, to produce work that interrogates these and many other themes.


Indeed, some have argued that an escape from normative language is a necessary, feminist move, embedded as this language is in the hierarchical, phallologocentric values women are trying to resist. For instance, Kathleen Fraser:


One begins to understand that the established forms one is born into — the well-designed structures which precede, protect and guide — may limit and even harm the ability to listen for an interior prompt of difference and to follow its peculiar, often “irrational” moves...having been called beside the point. Each writer comes up against this constructed wall and accepts the power, safety and authority of its limits...or decides to break through. (Fraser, ‘The Uncontainable’, 1999)


I’m aware that this still doesn’t answer the question as to why America seems to have produced more experimental women poets than Britain, or why this issue doesn’t seem to be a priority of those who specifically contribute to the UK and British-Irish poetry lists. I too was disappointed by the virtual silence following the Cambridge festival I organised. Perhaps it was due to precisely that event’s concentration on American women? Certainly we need more events like it — to raise the profiles of those already writing and also to catch the attention and interest of those with the potential to become writers. (Sophie Robinson and I are working on plans for another women’s conference that will be London-based and British-focused this time).


We must work to make such reading events positive, inclusive exchanges of our ideas and talent. We must obviously also be alert to even subtle examples of the exclusionary or sexist behaviour that drives women to stay within the private realm to which they have been confined sociologically and psychologically, throughout history, and we must challenge these wherever they occur.


Jow Lindsay

Jow Lindsay and Sarah

Jow Lindsay and Sarah are snuggling up to the bristles of a cleaning brush — because they think it’s their mother, together with Marianne Morris and Jonathan Stevenson. He is the author of Cuntomatic and Dog Puke. Photo: Jow Lindsay and Sarah.


Two quite obvious things are quite obviously connected with the Kingdom’s patriarchy of poesy.


(1) The infection of a manifold of plural value by some crude hierarchy (enthusiasm is usually the injection mechanism). The more talk of better and worse poetry is made to seem ridiculous — even as a temporary measure to begin a conversation — the harder it is for any demographic to accumulate unjust representation. “Better” and “worse” can compress immanent critique, or whatever, but they rarely do. There are more ethical and veritable ways of protecting yourself from wasting your time than going around like a fucking Top Ten.


(2) The fate of UK chicks simpliciter. Around two a week are actually murdered by their main squeeze. The full time pay gap is sitting at a mere 12.6%. And stifled in burqas, and slobbered over in skirts. And raped a lot. One of the things me and my friends like to do, is underreport sexual assault? And ambiently told they’re antimatter.


I’m vaguely waving at something there, and unsure how to connect those deictics with this forum’s specific concern. Lurky shapes in the mediating territory are: the extremely secular condition of English society (in combo with witch prejudices); [a] room of one’s own (lack of); the British ubiquity of highly-gendered comic structures waaaay beyond anything to do with ha ha ha ha; islander prejudices about public speakers; islander prejudices about voice; islander prejudices about craft; islander prejudices about technology. I can think of no fat British women poets.


But the details of the connection don’t really matter — my point is that circumstances are not necessarily better in the States, the mainstream, or the future. They may just be less symptomatic. What would it be like for women’s poetry in the UK to get the “recognition” it “deserves”? For poetry to be deservedly recognised as Women’s Work?


Our remit includes practical suggestions, but really I think it’s a bit hopeless and depressing. I feel very confused about what is at stake. Microactivism within poetry (poetry, which is not a hobby, but can be as grotesque as one) risks exhausting important energies in cosmetic or isolationationist expression. On the other hand, the “broadening” of achievable pseudo-political goals into merely veritable political critique is clearly a repulsive pastime. There’s no unsentimental observation so tattered but some quietist won’t dress his corpse in it.


(a) In 2006 the Cambridge Experimental Women’s Poetry Festival imported women poets from the States and elsewhere. Probably this is good. Probably it should happen again and again. Wherever possible they should be persuaded to live here. It is worth considering hiding Carol Mirakove’s passport. A Cantabrigian festival is partial penance for its university’s yet fusty and lekking sinning. But a London festival could bring in larger and more capricious audience. Brighton?


(b) Poets do poety things. If a bunch of us were to agree to get together and do women’s activism, without any poety things explicitly on our agenda, I suspect the outcomes would include a set of poetic engagements with gender which would put to shame the “Can you think of any good women? . . . we haven’t got any women for this one” school of sociopoetic intervention. I’m up for it ( I don’t quite mean that we’d write some good poems about gender; it’s really more connected with . . .


(c) Through broader notions of poetic practice than what Poetry Publishers print, or the miked person says at Poetry Recitals, we might discover a somewhat healthier situation. Perhaps all the banal indicators of poetry in process — festival appearances, publications, one-off poety pedagogies — are polluted; perhaps the real poets are better off without ‘em. But we’d probably find a situation that’s much worse.


(d) It is not enough that of the poets born in the 80s, those doing interesting work and being recognised as so doing are evenly spread among the seventy-odd proven genders, and have shown an aptitude to flow into the firming ones. Pandemic and other winnows may well disrupt this configuration. The future is not so much rosy as gore-trodden. Besides, components of that fractionally older generation from which the gender imbalance glares need biologically female contemporaries, not the cold comfort of a plural up-and-coming. “Jesus is coming. Look bluesy.” The best suggestion I’ve heard so far is to feminise the anatomies of existing interesting poets. Consent; well there’s that old infinite regress, consent requires a prior consent to assertibility protocols for consent, et cetera; my hunch is that the regress is not malign, but to be safe we should guess.


It’s of course early for short lists, but I’ve asked for quotes for Robyn Hampson, Coleen Nolan, Belle Watson, Paris Hilson, and (why not?) Andrea Motion, and will post them on my blog ( as soon as I have them. Is this the kind of thing Arts Council could fund? — the cliché is that they ill-consideredly fling their vaults open to exactly these kinds of identity interventions, but I have no idea how true that is. An anonymous reader remarks that he was Harriet Gilonis for several months in the seventies. It is incumbent on us to set our house in order at a faster rate than it sets itself. Robert Hamster: a radical, rodent-based solution to Robert Hampson. All else is trickle-down apologetics.


(e) Syllabuses. Let’s get ‘em. We could start with Cambridge; until quite recently, their English tripos required undergraduates to take seven papers in their first two years, of which five (the historical papers 1300–1550, 1500–1700, 1700–1830, and Shakespeare — all compulsory papers) were a bit thin on women. The rooms one had were not of one’s own. Another paper, 1830-present, was devised in 1830-and-three-seconds, and grew gradually less and then gradually more ridiculous. Let’s say you really wanted to study Beckett and Joyce and would feel stupid not doing Dickens; well if your roshi thinks you really better had read some Larkin then pssst! there went Virginia Woolf. There went Denise. I think that things have been jiggled somewhat since then, but without really touching the systemic bowdlerisation of women’s writing through ambition to historical breadth and mild, thoughtless prudence about what goes where.


(f) Workshops in London, where several scenes thrive, with sex quotas, ratios, caps — 80% female, something like that. All-women workshops might be a good idea too. I have no idea.


(g) Any chance of the print journal HOW(ever) making a comeback alongside the How2 web site? If there were interest (hi), it could be a Bad Press joint project, if it’d help.


(h) Following the recent and good Don’t Start Me Talking (“Named for a SON=ny /BOY/ William-SON SON-g, this is a collection of interviews with 19 modern men & Elizabeth Bletsoe [...]”) Chris Hamilton-Emery (hi) should put out a companion volume, including interviews with or something by Bergvall, Brady, Byrne, Buck, Damon, Duffy, James, Lavers, MacDonald, Monk, Mulford, Olsen, O’Sullivan, Presley, Riley, Shapcott, Tarlo, Templeton, Torns, Van den Beukel, for starters, and all those other important poets I don’t know about because I haven’t read it yet. I’ll interview someone. If it’d help.


Stephanie Young

Stephanie Young

Stephanie Young lives and works in Oakland, CA. She edited Bay Poetics (Faux Press, 2006) a collection of 112 bay area writers, and is currently working on the collaborative website Her book of poetry is Telling the Future Off (Tougher Disguises Press, 2005). You can find her online most days at


It’s great timing to try and think through some of these questions in another forum, and internationally, issues I’ve been consumed with (even more than as ever) while working on a talk/paper with Juliana Spahr roughly ‘about’ gender and US experimental/innovative/avant-garde poetry scenes. A version of this talk (first presented at the CalArts Feminaissance conference this spring) appears as “Numbers Trouble” in the Autumn ‘07 issue of Chicago Review (53:2/3). While I don’t want to fall into re-doing the work of that paper here, I do want to give a quick gloss as there may be interesting points of intersection. chicago review 53:2/3 now available to order!


One of the things we’ve been doing is a lot of obsessive counting (tables of contents, etc.) and looking at various sets of numbers. For example, the % of women published in experimental/innovative/avant-garde US poetry anthologies from the 1960s-now, or the % of women who win the big money US poetry prizes (dismal! The Wallace Stevens Award, which pays out $100,000, has gone to 11 men and 2 women since 1994.)


We did this counting in response to a number of pressures, one a paper by critic Jennifer Ashton, “Our Bodies, Our Poems”, which appeared in American Literary History earlier this year. One of Ashton’s arguments is that by the mid-80s there was no longer any need for single-gender anthologies of US poetry because most of the imbalance in representation had been ‘fixed’ or addressed, rendering the post-80s single-gender anthology essentialist. Single-gender anthologies of experimental/innovative/avant-garde US poetry come under particular attack in Ashton’s paper as they begin to appear in the mid-80s, much later than that first wave of single-gender US poetry anthologies (which supposedly corrected the problem of unequal representation.) For instance, No More Masks comes out in 1973, and Moving Borders comes out in 1998, the same year as those heartbreaking pleas from Douglas Oliver on the British-Irish poets list.


When we started, we thought that Ashton was probably right, and that, as you say, Cathy, “I do not think anyone in the States would argue that US male poets far outnumber US female poets; in the States, the most influential poets living — on almost anyone’s list — are mostly women.” But we also thought Ashton was devaluing in her paper the very actions, editorial and otherwise, that had put pressure on a historically masculinist literary scene to do a better job with gender representation. Hence the counting.


We started when things were at their worst in terms of gender representation: New American Poetry (1960), ed. Donald Allen, includes 44 men, 4 women, or 8% women. And then we looked at things in the 80s and beyond: In the American Tree (1987), ed. Ron Silliman, includes 27 men and 12 women, or 31% women. So what we found was that things haven’t really been ‘fixed’ in US poetry. Better, yes, but not equal. In terms of anthologies, inclusion of experimental/innovative/avant-garde poetry written by women hovers around 30%.


The area that’s been nearly impossible to picture or represent via counting is reception. We tried to look at the internet, arguably the location for reception of contemporary poetry, and gave up. (I’d still like to count things like all the reviews in Jacket. Mostly we ran out of time. And the internet, in all its glorious hybridity/hypertext, is way harder to count than a printed book. Or we need software to help.) We also looked at the number of women poets written about on Ron Silliman’s blog. We counted the posts about a single author for two different years and again found that the number of women represented hovers between 25-30%.


The other thing Juliana and I did was ask writers to tell us stories about gender and the poetry community. And much of what we heard in response described social conditions that look more like the 70s than 2007. Syllabi with few or no women writers included. Critical work marginalizing the contributions of women writers to movements they were part of. It’s still totally possible to encounter, in US poetry scenes, various dismissals of feminism as no longer necessary (in both politics and poetry world) and even a kind of anti-feminist sentiment, often expressed most vehemently, if muddled and indirect, on the internet. (I also think about, and discuss endlessly with friends, how certain modes of discourse are privileged in the poetry scenes I’m part of; how this affects who speaks, who takes up social space, whose ideas and ways of thinking are heard and valued. Participation often requires not just fluency but persistent interest in occupying and performing these modes. And how these same problems are embedded or re-constructed on the internet.)


But we also revisited and tried to construct a timeline of important publishing and editing work we termed as feminist interventions, those actions which have been largely responsible for increased visibility of writing by women in U.S. experimental/innovative/avant-garde poetry scenes — from the journal how(ever) to women-only issues of experimental writing magazines to books like The Pink Guitar by Rachel Blau DuPlessis or the Belladonna reading and chapbook series. A lot of this work started happening in the 90s. A lot of work has been done. There’s more to do. What kinds of work, by who, with what aim; these are some continuing questions.


Typing right now, I’m thinking again how symptomatic that 25 year lag is, between the appearance of No More Masks in 1973, and Moving Borders in 1998. Many things, not only feminism, enter the social body of our experimental/innovative/avant-garde poetry scenes later than they would seem to enter other discourses, other scenes, other communities. I’m talking about the U.S. here but wondering if something similar may be true in Britain; Geraldine Monk mentions the tireless work of two presses, Virago and Women Only, in bringing women’s writing into publication, and I’m guessing from the context of her response that these are primarily publishers of mainstream poetry. I wonder if and how women’s success in the mainstream might affect the British avant-garde taking up the work of equal gender representation as part of an oppositional aesthetics. Or, more to the point, not taking up work of equal gender representation in editorial, reading and review practices. (a slant-rhyme: I have a hunch that community-based/privately funded publishing projects in the US experience far less pressure to think about equal gender and other kinds of representation because publicly funded projects have to “get their numbers right” in order to get funding. It’s like, “somebody else is taking care of that, we can think about aesthetics” or something.)


Another question, one we’re circling in this forum, is why? The 25 year lag? And then, what is to be done? Idly, writing this today at a hot springs in northern California full of utopian possibility and reading a lot of Roland Barthes (If I had to create a god, I would lend him a “slow understanding”: a kind of drip-by-drip understanding of problems. People who understand quickly frighten me) I wonder if there might be a value to this slowness? What possibilities in re-articulating concerns that have already passed through the organs of other communities and discourses? What feminisms from other locations, other spheres, might we learn from, in poetry world? What value to a late entrance? And how curious to be intimately part of a community which never experienced, directly, its own first-wave feminist moment, or where first-wave feminism arrived late and already dismissed, dismissable.


Because my own formation as a social subject is informed by growing up in a conservative christian household, and receiving a bad education in small conservative christian schools (all the way through college), I’ve often thought that I could identify more with women who were born earlier, rather than my peers. Maybe more accurately I could identify with neither. Which is to say I identify with contemporary poetry. In this context of small christian schools it was of course totally possible to encounter, in the 90s, a different canon of literature than my peers. I was taught an older version of American literature, where modernism was still a boy’s game and writing by women consisted primarily of Dickinson and Plath. Reminding me that we’re not all that far away in history from The New American Poetry, with its 44 men and 4 women, or this quote, from David Meltzer’s 1971 introduction to The San Francisco Poets, a book that includes no women at all: “The six poets in this book represent the history of poetry in San Francisco, in America, in the world.”


But we’re also not that far away in history from women seizing the means of production, becoming the ones who did the mimeographing and publishing and distributing. Or, blogging: it sort of changed my life. I was on a pink cloud. I said I was my own kingmaker. No elder made me prince. The map I constructed of contemporary poetry, I assembled beginning from the internets. A while later now, I share in skepticism around the limits of virtual space. And still, blogging changed my life. There was enough space to enter, between the other speech acts. This participation especially shifted my relationship to local scenes of writing. There was and is a reciprocity ‘there’, friendship and information sharing with women (and men) a lot older and a little older and the same age and a little younger and a lot younger than myself. These relationships and other, more troubled, exchanges helped and help me understand how to be a full participant despite whatever constant weird experience one has of oneself in a female body. (The body, this frame through which one is read, of course does not just disappear on the internet.)


What is to be done: an answer Juliana and I heard back (we also asked respondents to identify the impact of various feminist interventions and imagine how poetry communities might engage the living and working conditions of women on a national/international level) still rings around in my mind: Susan Gevirtz talked about the continued necessity for women to read closely and respond to the work of other women. Reception, yes. Where one places one’s attention matters. I’d add that everyone: male, female, between those two categories, has a responsibility to think about our reading and response practice in all kinds of ways, and push back against our default modes as consumers of culture.


Reading and response is tied to all the other kinds of work I’d hope each reader performs, especially in our often (comparatively) small communities. Publishing chapbooks and magazines and books, running reading series, in institutions but also in our homes — this work puts us in relation with others in ways that also matter. Perhaps we should take turns doing this work, more than we tend to do. Movement and shifts in positions of power are possible in our small, collectively created groups, or should be. More flux in editorial and curatorial projects. Groups where each member is acquainted with and knows how to do and does the various work of making things run. Flux and movement inside of long-term relational commitments, to overlapping writing practices, to each other.


Among those commitments, and yeah I feel silly saying so at such a late date but maybe we forget, is a continued responsibility, as a matter of course, to work towards equal representation (of gender, race, class) in our projects. A responsibility to include equal representation among whatever starting points a (publishing, curatorial) project considers at the onset. Which means at some point, one looks at the numbers and course corrects as necessary. It may sound programmatic, or simplistic, but the word that’s been coming to mind again is bio-diversity. ‘Diversity’ is a word that’s been overused, emptied, made available to a lot of nefarious contexts in the U.S., for instance while visiting my family recently I was handed a religious tract about heaven, how everyone will have a different fabulous house there, because, after all, “God loves diversity!” But still, I think about bio-diversity. Sustainability v. monocultures. Editing and reading practices which reflect actual complications.


I think, too, about the urgency of need for a location such as Pussipo, the possibilities of which Danielle discusses above. And how despite having international members, Pussipo is still primarily composed of women who live in the US. And how much wider the work of feminism might be, or needs to be in order to actually do anything, and again how frustrating it is to still be talking about the numbers, to still be talking about reception of poetry!


Thus I’m dynamically pulled between two of Jow Lindsay’s excellent ideas: “If a bunch of us were to agree to get together and do women’s activism, without any poety things explicitly on our agenda..” but also “Workshops ... with sex quotas, ratios, caps — 80% female, something like that.”


I feel stuck typing this. Glad to be part of the conversation, but stuck.


Which is where Juliana and I wound up, stuck, with a paper that catalogues some of the limits of feminism in U.S. experimental writing. Among those limits is a myopic lack of attention to women’s issues outside of the US and a lack of collective action. So we ended our paper asking people to write to us with suggestions about how to overcome this. Our intention is to try and compile a bunch of these suggestions for publication in order to start a conversation (not unlike the one happening here, in this forum). If you have a suggestion, we’d love to hear it.


We’d like to start this conversation outside the U.S. We’re looking for co-editors for different regions to gather brief statements from local writers about feminism. We’d like to learn more about what it’s like to be a woman poet in other places of the globe, about living and working conditions of women poets in other locations, what others think can be done, if there might be anything to be done together.


If you’re interested in being a co-editor, know someone who might be, or have a suggestion or idea, we’d love to hear:


This forum was originally commissioned by Christine Kennedy for The Paper, the magazine about poetry and poetics she co-edits and publishes in the UK with David Kennedy. However, on receipt, it was clear that the forum was too important and too wide-ranging to be restricted to a limited subscription, A5 magazine. It is published in Jacket with the agreement of Cathy Wagner and the contributors in the hope of widening the debate.

[1] I have decided that this point is unfair; Sam Ladkin, in a recent post to the UK Poetry list, complains in response to similar criticisms that this issue of Chicago Review (which he edited with Robin Purves) was never intended to be representative. Andrea Brady responds to the same point in her contribution to this forum.

[2] And here I should defuse what might appear to be my authority on the subject. I am one of five Pussipo moderators. I read every single message that comes through, participate in multiple threads, and instigate to the best of my ability. But, I am one shifty, unreliable source. I have personal vested interests, I’m morbidly optimistic, and I’ve got a streak of the seedy diplomat. Be warned.

[3] Which Emily-Dickinson-derived name was decided by our only act of democratic process.

[4] Defined by Urban Dictionary as “2.(n) -A depraved individual who sits in front of a computer all day and posts flames of an idiotic or pseudo-intellectual nature on public forums and private websites. Many of these people actually become emotional about what is said on the afore-said mediums and feel it is their duty to punish those who disagree with them. They too may pursue this object in an obsessive-compulsive manner.”


Catherine Wagner

Catherine Wagner

Catherine Wagner’s collections include Macular Hole (2004) and Miss America (2001), both from Fence Books, and various chapbooks; her latest, Everyone in the Room is a Representative of the World at Large, appeared in Fall 2007. She is currently editing a selection of Barbara Guest’s unpublished work for a special issue of Chicago Review. She teaches at Miami University in Ohio.

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