Wednesday, December 06, 2006

More On The Women's Political Panel

Anonymous send me a comment a couple of posts down on the lack of African-American poets at the small press fair.
You can read her/his comments at ( I urge you to read it's pretty interesting.

I just wanted to add a post-note to what I wrote. (By the way, I'm a really nice person. I just like to make waves.)

I just wanted to note that the woman who mentioned the absence of African-American women on the panel has a logical point. I do think, though, her tactic was too agressive and too urgent. The question should ABSOLUTELY not have been directed at the panelists. They did not put together the panel. I also think the common was misguided. Does there have to be absolute representation when acceptance is implied?

As I noted, there was also not a person with a disability on the panel (and there never will be). I am frustrated that when people strive to equal things out (affirmative action and so on) they SPECIFICALLY DO NOT MEAN DISABLED PEOPLE. (Well, except Sesame Street). I would really like to see this change.

I think people (including myself) who are part of the world of ideas get too caught up in the world of the theroetical. My point is that when there is currently a genocide in Africa and a brutal war in Iraq it's kind of less important that there are not people of color and PWD on a poetry panel.


vee. said...

Dear Jennifer,

I’m not sure if you remember me, but I co-curated “Finally With Women” reading series and had the pleasure of meeting you – if briefly! – then. The link that was posted anonymously was to a blog that a good friend and I have – ( – but I was not the person who left it as a comment on your blog. Though I must admit I am flattered that somebody thought to leave it …

The urgency with which we approach “equality” is informed by who we are – this is humanity being self-involved. As the woman at the panel said (I wish I knew her name, so that she wouldn’t just be “the woman”): “I look around the room and I don’t see me.” I think that’s truly the heart of it – our search for ourselves and our validation. I believe this should have been brought up during the panel, because it is both a political and poetic question. I would agree that the woman was aggressive, but to be fair to her, the woman might not have known who put together the panel and no one in the room informed her who did put the panel together. (Like I said in my post, though, I admire the panelists for not “passing the buck,” if you will, on that—it would’ve been easy to claim their noninvolvement instead of engaging with the woman’s comments.)

With respect to your comment that representation on a poetry panel is less important than genocide in Africa, I have to disagree in part. I think it is like comparing apples and oranges. I see both as intimately connected – I believe that our (and allow me to speak in very Big Umbrella terms – not just you and I but more America) seeming indifference towards Darfur and Iraq and other world crises and political issues stems from our inability to empathize, our inability to see those in Africa and Iraq, India and Palestine, etc., as PEOPLE, just like us instead of people NOT like us.

Similarly, with the poetry panel, I was disturbed at the people in the audience laughing because I read that as denying experience. People’s ability to dismiss what the woman was saying reinforce what we’ve normalized, that is the normalization of “whiteness” as the “center” (to steal Eileen Myles’ term) around which we all exist. Our inability to see beyond the “center” (in all instances) is another example—I don’t know for sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a majority of those in attendance looked at the panel and didn’t question whether or not this was wholly representative of political women poets.

I hear what you are vocalizing about the lack of representation for those with disability, and I understand your frustration. I think you’re right—we need to have more awareness of that as well.

But I don’t agree that genocide or war or any international events are more important because I view them as a result of the attitudes that we display everyday. It’s a causal relationship, not an inequality equation. What we think affects how we act and as a society, we need to relearn how to think in order to truly change how we act. And for change to happen, it has to happen through the way people think.

Thank you for engaging with my previous post, though – I truly appreciate it!


Jennifer Bartlett said...

Dear Vernoica,

Thank you for writing - and reading! I deeply apologize for being cheeky about the comment being anonyomous. I didn't know it was you. Is your name on your blog? I love Finally With Women!

I understand your position. Even as I was writing the thing about Africa, I sensed that someone would respond as thus...And they would be right. What I meant though is that on some level arguing within the world of ideas can be dangerous when there more pressing issues. I think you said, was it you? That many people don't have the luxery to write about a pond -- but isn't the mere opportunity to make ANY art a luxery?

I would also say (again) that I am not sure if this was the right place for an attack. As I said on my blog all of the women on the panel have worked for/with all people. It's inferred that it was a place of acceptance. I do have to say that (as a minority) it did not occur to me that there was no handicapped woman on the panel, and I probably wouldn't have spoke out if I thought it was a problem. I only made a point of it later to exhibit something -- which is all the people who were concerned about women of color would never give a second thought that there was no handicapped woman (and I imagine it would have been the same for lesbians). I hope this will make my readers think it out. Are we truely looking "equality" or just striving "to see (own)selves" up there?

Anonymous said...

First off, I need to say that I don’t think that making art is a luxury—I think making art is a necessity. I don’t think any “group” of people in society has ever existed and not made art, no matter how oppressed. For those who are marginalized, art is absolutely vital to give a voice to, a venue for, and to make permanent their experiences and realities that would otherwise be lost or unheard. In fact, I think it’s incredibly dangerous to look at art as a luxury. “Luxury” implies “unnecessary,” implies “could live without” and beyond that, it implies “extravagant.” Audre Lorde has a great essay called “Poetry Is Not a Luxury” in her collection of essays, Sister Outsider, about this. You can read an excerpt here:

I think it’s your prerogative and choice to not speak up about not seeing yourself on the panel, but I also think it’s dangerous to deny someone else that same right to speak up. I didn’t see the woman’s words as an attack on the panel, and this is possibly because I was sitting next to her, so I heard her respond extremely positively to what the panelists were saying throughout the panel. I know that she really did value and respect what the panelists were saying and the panelists themselves.

Your assumption that all five of the women on the panel are heterosexual comes from a place privilege as well. It brings up the question of visible difference and invisible difference. Difference does not only exist in the visual realm. Just because you can’t see “lesbian” doesn’t mean they aren’t.

I also think that what “we” (I’m not too sure who “we” is, perhaps it’s better if I stick to “I”) are looking for is not “equality.” As long as there exists “difference,” you can’t have “equality”—the two terms are contradictory. I see the point of it as looking for complete awareness of difference, of the history of difference and the way that difference informs the “we” view the world.

I’ll quote from Audre Lorde’s “Poetry Is Not a Luxury”:
“The quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives has direct bearing upon the product which we live, and upon the changes which we hope to bring about through those lives.”

This is what I meant by needing to be aware of the way we think in order to bring about change. What we do here, every day, in judging those around us, impacts the way that we feel and act on international levels. The level of catastrophe away from home may make the events abroad seem more pressing or “important,” but by distancing ourselves from problems and not recognizing those catastrophes as a direct result of our own thoughts is truly, truly dangerous. Additionally, it’s easy to say “look over at the badness that is happening over there” and ignore the badness that is happening over here. I think our whole “ we can save them” mentality, while it might come from a place of genuine concern, is also an example of our own hierarchies: West=good, East=hopeless. West=saviours, East=needs to be saved. Meanwhile, death, war, genocide does not only belong to “the other.” People are dying here.

Thanks again for reading. Lots to think about!