Friday, November 1, 2013

A conversation with Laura Madeline Wiseman, editor of Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence, part 2

On Monday, we posted part 1 of the interview with Dr. Laura Madeline Wiseman, editor of the anthology Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence, which we've been giving a lot of attention during October's National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Today, we share part 2 of that interview:

SMF: Would you please speak a bit about diversity in this collection. Do you notice any demographic trends in writers who are more or less likely to write about this topic? Are you pleased with the range of who is represented in the anthology? Are there any poets whose work you really wanted for this anthology but couldn't get? Who else would you include, living or dead? Could or should there be another volume of this anthology down the road?

LMW: The anthology collects 108 poets. In researching for this anthology, there were many poets I wanted to include, but because I wanted to include only living poets, some of my favorites who had written eloquently, vibrantly, and audaciously about gender violence, I could not (e.g. Audre Lorde, June Jordan, Ai). When I initially contacted poets I wanted to include based on my research,h and when I sent out the call for poems to round out the collection in terms of diversity, some poets who submitted also forwarded the CFP on to poets they knew. I’m very grateful for that. I do know that I may not have been able to collect some of the strong voices that I did if other poets didn’t also see the need for the anthology I had in mind.

But let me answer this another way, Women Write Resistance is not the first anthology of poetry of resistance and it won’t be the last. Anthologies like this should be published year after year, country after country, place after place, because we need places to resist. Resistance offers hope.

Lets back up to your question about a dead poet I would have loved to include. When I was an undergrad at Iowa State University, I took a poetry workshop from Deborah Marquart; later, I did an honors project in the format of a grant-funded chapbook, a sort of independent study with her, and later still, I took her workshop in creative nonfiction. That first class was a small workshop, maybe a dozen people. It was the second poetry workshop I’d ever taken in college. I believe it was in her class that she assigned books by Rita Dove, Adrienne Rich, Gary Soto, and Sharon Olds, as well as others. At some point during the semester, we each met with Deb to discuss the poetry we’d written, revision strategies, and whatever else we hoped to write by the term’s end. Ross Hall at Iowa State is a bizarre building for an English department. Though I didn’t take all of my literature classes in that building on campus, I took a number of them there. In those classrooms, there weren’t windows to the outside. The walls were concrete. The lighting was florescent. Many of them were in the basement. It was more bunker than lecture hall, more Soviet-style austere functionality than welcoming environs. There was some technology. There were wipe boards. When professors brought in movies to watch, they did so by pushing in a tall, massive metal cart on wheels with an enormous TV chained to the top and a VCR player chained on the next level beneath it; and on everything, written in thick, permanent ink, were the words “Property of” the English department and Ross Hall. At one point in the term, Deb gave a reading and to so do, she recited some of her poems to music. She brought in a boombox. Imagine my surprise then, when I climbed the stairs to the floors where professors had their offices and I walked into Deb’s office and it was full of light. On the wall above her desk were shelves of books. On the floor was a soft square of carpet. There was color. There was ambiance. There was a window. After we discussed my poetry, Deb asked me if I had read Audre Lorde. She mentioned something about the rawness of Lorde’s work that reminded her of the work I was writing. She thought I might enjoy reading her. I hadn’t read Lorde, though later I would read her essays in a feminist theory class. Deb loaned me her copy of Lorde’s The Black Unicorn. Later, and when I was in the UK studying abroad, I ran across the complete poems of Audre Lorde, this very thick purple book that collected her work, and a book I’ve reread many times since. Lorde is a transformative poet for me and though I wasn’t able to collect her poems, the critical introduction does talk about her essays. In that sense, I was able to include her.

SMF: Do you think designations like "political poetry" or "activist poetry" antagonize or energize readers?

LMW: I’ve always disagreed with W. H. Auden’s statement that “poetry makes nothing happen.” To me, poetry is action, poetry does make things happen, or at the very least, has the potential to initiate action. I believe that poetry is powerful, that poetry is action. Poets have described the potential of poetry to foster change in the lives of one and of many. From Adrienne Rich to Pablo Neruda, Percy Byron Shelly to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Audre Lorde to Czeslaw Misosz, all of these poets write of poetry’s power for action. Muriel Rukeyser writes “If there were no poetry on any day in the world, poetry would be invented that day.” Milosz writes, “Do not feel safe. The poet remembers. You can kill one, but another is born.” Adrienne Rich explains one must write the “words you have dreaded and needed in order to know you exist.” Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence collects poetry of resistance written by over one hundred American women poets. They break silences about violence against women as they raise consciousness and enact a poetry of witness that links the personal, political, and social. They disrupt hegemonic narratives on gendered violence by employing sassing language and strategic anger. They resist gender violence by earmarking poetry as action. It is the hope of the anthology that it will energize readers to act. I know that by putting it together, it has energized me.

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