Last night I went to the best panel at the Small Press Fair on 44th Street, the topic of which is the title of this post. The panel included four great poets (two established and two emerging) speaking of political poetry: Anne Waldman, Eileen Myles, Jen Benka, and Matthea Harvey with Erika Kaufman moderating.
Eileen Myles (who I had never seen speak before)was particularly generous and witty. She brought up the parallels between being a woman and a poet. She said she was somehow always having to justify both. As much as I argue that men and women are equal in the poetry world - Myles had a good point - why do all women reading/panels still have "woman" in the title? Myles suggested something to the effect that if there was an all white male panel about poetry - yawn, bore. No one would come!
Jen Benka also brought up an interesting idea about the merely the act of writing poetry as a political act. I want to explore this more in my interview with her next month. Matthea Harvey challenged her by asking if writing poetry as a white male was a politically inherant act. This is a good idea to explore further. I think I know what Jen means though. Writing poetry is subversive in that it has no market value in the US. It is choosing to completely live/work against the grain in society which so values "the norm." Poetry is not the norm. Just by writing a poem or calling oneself a poet, one says "Okay...I'm going to live as an outsider."
There was one disturbing moment in the program. As someone who dated a curator/filmaker and has sat through countless Q&A's I inherahantly know that the Q&A is really BAD news. Last night, in first question, an African-American woman got up and challenged the panelists with the fact that there were no Black women on the panel. This would have been an okay question and perhaps she had a point....but she was so angry and confrontational. She really put the poets on the spot, and I felt like these women do their best - Anne's Poetry Project and Naropa are both very diverse institutions ansd I know Jen works directly with poor women. Come on!
The question wasn't completely out of wack - but so badly timed and disruptive. I am not even convinced the questioner cared about the color of the panelists - I think she just wanted to turn the show on herself, but it does bring up interesting questions.
1. The wasn't, never is and never will be a crippled girl on the panel.(Until they invite me!) In fact, the "outsiders" mentioned in the discussion were "queer, women, and race." So, there! In this situation I feel everyone IS doing their best. It's implied that we all are included/fought for/represented.
2. Does everything have to be a numbers game? Well, if there's not a woman, well, it's all women...but no one's queer....wait! black....no wait...no one's Chinese...where are the transexuals? HUH! Get it? I think it's too bad that society has been so bad that it had had to come to this insanity. It's a reverse prejudice in a way. People can't even listen to what these genius poets (I'm sorry...Anne is a genuis) are saying because they're checking out their races and taking out the measuring stick.
To bore you further, I think when we consider exclusion, we have to think it over more....These poets were choosen because 1. They write political work and/or are activists. 2. They were in New York and free. Was there a Black mid-late career poet who writes political work and was free in New York? Then, that's woman's right, she should have been invited too.