Friday, September 22, 2006

Madrid, Beauty, and Women Poets

If you follow the news, you’ve probably heard the rumblings in the fashion world.

From today’s New York Times: “Organizers of Madrid’s Fashion Week caught designer and fashionista scorn for banning the unreasonably thin from their show. The Madrid standard: a minimum body mass index of at least 18 — a measure of body fat based on weight and height. A reading of 18 is still underweight (18.5 to just under 25 is considered normal), but it is outsized among the ranks of supermodels, many of whom hover between 14 and 16.” I congratulate Madrid’s bravery in putting a crunch on a industry the encourages women/girls to starve themselves and society to judge people by their looks. To change this engrained way of thinking would deeply damage the U.S. economy. Think of how many hair salons, make-up giants, gyms, diet book writers, and plastic surgeons would be out of business.

What on earth does this have to do with the poetry world? I would argue, not exclusively but somewhat, as un-feminist as it sounds, that better looking women have more of a chance of becoming successful poets. Perhaps this started in the fifties with the fashion-model duo of Sylvia and Anne. A poet having their photograph on their book is a relatively new practice. It started (more or less) with Carolyn Forche’ in 1982 with The Country Between Us. Forche’ (who is a GREAT poet and quite a looker, by the way) not only had the dreamy, long-haired beautiful poet portrait on her book – but it was the cover! This paved the way for APR’s and publishers' habit of including a photo with poems. There is nothing wrong with this, but I do think it skews the playing field a little (see: Rukeyser and Niedecker).

I’m not against feminine wiles as a concept. If I were, I’d be paying my car mechanic a lot more. However, I think we could all stand to have a little more Pynchon in the poetry world. Shouldn’t poetry be based on, well, poetry.

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