Women of the Left Bank

I’m still thinking about Paris Was a Woman and at the moment am listening to Ed Sanders reading “Hail to the Rebel Cafe”. I know a lot of Latin American women were in Paris or visited in the teens and 1920s, and I’ll look through my notes to figure out who. All my biographical information on these writers is going into a wiki, which for now is private while I set up the structure and the skeleton, but will soon be public and editable by anyone.

I need to get a copy of Women of the Left Bank and add them too.

Here’s some of the people I can list as literary women in Paris from the documentary: Djuna Barnes, Jean Rhys, Sylvia Beach, Janet Flanner, Alice B. Toklas, Colette, Janet Flanner, painter Marie Laurencin Berenice Abbott, Gisele Freund, Djuna Barnes, Natalie Barney, Sylvia Beach, Adrienne Monnier, Gertrude Stein, Ada “Bricktop ” Smith , Josephine Baker, Renee Vivian, Romaine Brooks, Marie Bonaparte, Elizabeth Bowen, Victoria Ocampo, Vita Sackville-West, Virginia Woolf, Bryher.

We could also add:

* Gabriela Mistral
* Emilia Bernal
* Léonie Julieta Fournier (Nirene Jofre Oliú.)
* Comtesse de Noilles – Anna de Noailles

Of course, what about now? Where are we? Are we documenting this? I’d like to expand my women poets/writers wiki to right this minute and my own hometown. Why not document the moment and ourselves? Think of the riot grrl history that is already lost or slipping away. Let it be recorded on heaven’s unchangeable heart or at least the internets, failing heaven.

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

A few feminist seeds scattered to the wind and you

The documentary Paris Was a Woman, about just a few of the women in Paris in the early 1900s and especially the 20s; writers, painters, poets. I especially liked the interviews with photographer Gisele Freund. The tension between Stein and Beach as Beach suddenly turned to throw her weight of attention, of critical attention and great-man-making, behind Joyce and people like Hemingway who she decided was a big fat genius before he had written a single stitch.

Rant mode…

Consider the poisonous sexism of Joyce and how the poison is worse when it is in an elaborate feast. Think for a minute about how good Ulysses is, and it’s damn good, and then about how he produced it while knowing SO many genius interesting articulate politically and artistically aware women and what women characters does he write? Not any who have a thought in their head – a dumb teenager who confusedly tolerates a masturbating creep on the beach and an illiterate slut taking a shit. I could slap him. (And also could slap every person who’s ever pointed out Molly Bloom to me as an example of a female character I could love in great literature. (and no I said no I won’t No) I can love the book and admire the talent but hate the dreadful vindictive poison — as well as the thing in Joyce and so many other writers of dicklit that makes them gather masses of mediocre sycophants to make themselves look better – unable to tolerate other actual geniuses. It is just that sort of person who is consecrated later in history as a “great” writer, unfortunately – something to keep in mind as a sour-grapes comfort as the most of us head straight to being Minor Poets. Think how irritated I am as I continue to digest Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red and the magma builds up in my fevered thoughts. Oh! The more beautiful and excellent the art, the worse the poison is and the madder as hell I get.

It was funny to be watching this movie with my partner who didn’t really know any of the writers or painters even the most famous ones. Joyce and Stein, their names, but not their work at all and he had never heard of Sylvia Beach. That puts it all in perspective, doesn’t it? I plotzed when he said “H.D.??? Who?”

To get the taste of all that out of your brain try downloading some of this:

Free mp3s of Adrienne Rich reading from Diving into the Wreck and other works – from the Pennsound archives. On the very long file, the 38 minute one, it sounded a little like Di Prima introducing her but then I decided it wasn’t and the accent was just a bit similar. It’s nice to have the huge file of the entire reading in my iTunes. I love hearing her inter-poem comments, nerdy little snippets about greek drama and patriarchy.

Oh, and if anyone happens to have some recordings of Di Prima’s early readings I’d love to have more of them. I have her doing a few of the Revolutionary Letters; they’re so flamingly fiercely beautiful!

Elisa speaking up about biological determinism. Very lovely!

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

Writers With Drinks tonight!

Y’all come to WWD tonight and hear one of my favorite poets, Steve Arntson. He does mad things with geography in very long poems which he mostly recites from memory. I’ve heard him declaim for 45 minutes without stopping! He’s a master of juxtaposing imaginary landscapes and history into any moment, oddball freewheeling descriptions, with language that’s densely layered & conversational. Yay, crazy beat poet legacy!

I’ll be there to cheer him on!

Award-winning spoken word show Writers With Drinks mashes up your literary experience! This month it features:

– lit by KE Silva (A Simple Distance)
– erotica by Spring Opara (Ultimate Lesbian Erotica)
– comedy by Dana Cory (Q Comedy)
– journalism by Katie Hafner (The Well)
– poetry by Steve Arntson (Cuts from the Barbershop)
– SF/Fantasy/mystery from Madeleine Robins (Petty Treason)

Where: The Make Out Room, 3225 22nd. st. btw. Mission & Valencia
When: Saturday, Nov. 11, from 7:30 to 9:30, doors open 7:00
How much: $3 to $5 sliding scale, all proceeds benefit other magazine.

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

Spoken word memoir

Just said this on mailing list but I want to stick it here too so I can remember it and think about it some more. In the context of people saying their students write this kind of thing that is more “performance art” than poetry. What I’m looking at is that this form is a new form – or genre – that we have a hard time judging properly – and there is a knee jerk reaction against it, but that’s because we’re seeing its manifestations popping up all over and not (as we will 30 years from now) its “best” or most characteristic examples. (And mediocre or dull formal poetry is certainly as bad as mediocre spoken word memoir.)

So this is a bit out of context but, anyway, here.


I tend to feel that there’s a trend of memoir-style spoken word
performance that isn’t what I think of as poetry. It’s a form that’s not as dense and declamatory even as long poems; it’s more like the pace of a section of a novel. I think of them as vignettes or as their own form whose conventions I’m only starting to understand. As poetry, I don’t always like them. But as whatever they are, they’re their own thing.

There is something about the “coming out story” to them; again, they follow a convention of memoir, but of a sort of monologue sharing-aloud memoir. Does anyone know what I’m talking about? I could try to find examples online.

As far as content, the spoken-word memoir seems to extend and turn what I think of as a convention of the generation before me – the Boomer confessional, in which a shade of emotional subtlety is revealed – what is secret is revealed – the “private” of the nuclear family is violated in speaking the unspeakable – then, a moment of aesthetic awareness. For the younger spoken-word memoir poets there is a firmer security in speaking that kind of thing. It comes out, but it isn’t all. I think the point is more that it’s a conscious establishing of political identity, a playing
with identity and story.

A thought on cultural appropriation

I was thinking of this today, as I did my “bridgeblogging” and some translation from Spanish. So went to look up the exact quote. It’s from Revolutionary Letter #31 by Diane Di Prima.

better we should all have homemade flutes
and practice excruciatingly upon them, one hundred years
till we learn to
make our own music

(In contrast to children in Bengal spending their lives in factories not singing because singing is for export, for Folkways records.)

I do try to “practice excruciatingly” – thus my blogs and poetry. I understand what Di Prima is saying – it is the “Are my hands clean?” of Sweet Honey in the Rock’s song – and the answer is no. I wonder if Di Prima listens to Folkways records. It is a poem worth thinking about, even if you don’t live by it, as I am not.

I hope that my blogging, reading and writing, have a net benefit for everyone. As a translator I do worry about this and issues of “cultural capital” and I don’t really have an answer. Oh, the guilty socialist intellectuals who don’t know what to do! I’m not complaining, but there it is. I wonder if it is that I believe not in Art (which di Prima’s poem is against) but in Information. Well, against it when it’s set against the value of human life. “not all the works of Mozart worth one human life”. Instead we believe we are saving lives by our techno info hippie art – but whose? Whose lives or whose privilege?

I believe in what I do! But I remain suspicious of it and of the structures that support it.

Texting as an art form

A threesome text
Originally uploaded by tuxcomputers.

Was just reading about Ghost Town, the texting novella or short story that comes to you on your mobile phone. From the article, the story doesn’t seem to be adapted to its medium. Or, well… read this from youthnoise and see for yourself. I’m super curious.

A novel adapted to the medium of cell phones and texting would be more like a play with very long pauses, a long-running larp, fiction blogs, or the evolution of gossip into an art form. I could see the beautiful structure – a character from the story texts you a whole bunch – crises build – other characters start to chip in to give you their side – incidents would happen in sensible realtime. The story itself would be mostly deduced and imagined from ellipsis.

Perhaps all the texted replies from all over the world would be collected and juxtaposed on a site. You’d get a hundred thousand replies of “OK” or “Whr RU” for every line of the story. Maybe replies would get ranked on interestingness. The replies might or might not be interesting to meta-followers of the texted novel’s happening. The main point of the novel would be the experience of it.

Days would go by. The characters buzz you from your pocket. What will happen? Why did TinyE say that about Slugface? OMG the cops just came to the party! Cameron has disappeared! Or whatever. At a crisis point you’d probably get messaged from several different characters about it. There would be a lot of suspense, multiple points of view on the same event, and unreliable narrators.

The reader could also be involved by the posing of temporary ethical dilemmas, like a kind of scary character wanting to crash at your house, or in desperation, asking you to do something questionable, and then a few minutes later changing their mind and taking it back. But during those few minutes you’d be thinking “Would I really let Slugface and her baby that she kidnapped from its abusive grandparents stay in my room while they’re on the run from the police?”

I’d love to try this! Now I can’t stop thinking about it… Put in some weird reality-warping fantastic elements… make it get weirder and weirder. A teenage science fiction novel… super political… should definitely involve the war and some teenage protagonist overseas… You know who would be the ideal person to write it — Holly Black or Tricia Sullivan…. Or Heidi Wyss, author of Gormglaith.

I love the idea of new literary genres evolving for cell phones. Seriously – (More seriously than this texting poem contest)

– think about gossip as an art form.

A truly sophisticated texting novel would know, from social networking software and analysis of your social networks, who your friends are. And it could send slightly different version of the textonovela (sorry, am stretching for a handy word for it – there is probably a nice one in japanese we could borrow and use) to you and your closest friends. Then you’d talk about it. I can’t believe Slugface told you that! She told me… blah blah blah. That would be great dramatic entertainment. Again, I think of how involved my friends and I became in Plain Layne’s (fictional) life and how we’d talk about her (and what the commenters said) in addictive soap-opera style, as if she were our real life trainwrecking mutual friend.

The new Tiptree book

tiptree biography reading
Originally uploaded by Liz Henry.

On private mailing lists, I’m seeing a ton of fascinating discussion of Julie Phillips’ new biography of Alice Sheldon (James R. Tiptree, Jr.). As soon as the book comes out, that discussion will migrate to blogs and public forums! A lot of people are having strong personal reactions, feeling inspired by the book and by Sheldon’s life — as well as admiring how well written and researched the biography is.

I think it’s of general interest, and especially recommend it to all feminists whether you know anything about science fiction or not. And to all science fiction people, whether you identify as feminist or not.

I’m hoping for scholarly editions of Sheldon’s letters in the future!

Julie will be reading from this exciting new book in San Francisco on August 21st, 7pm, at A Different Light on Castro. Here on her site there’s a schedule of her upcoming readings elsewhere in California, Washington, Oregon, and New York.

Literary adventures and commonalities

This weekend I went to a nice reading at Other Change of Hobbit – Mary Anne Mohanraj was reading from her new not-yet-published novel, The Arrangement. Though I haven’t read Bodies in Motion, her book of linked stories, I’ve heard her read from it. What I notice about Mary Anne’s writing is the subtleties of character, established very quickly, so that I expect everyone to be complicated.

We all admired the new paperback of “Bodies”, & Mary Anne talked interestingly about writing, her experiences in the publishing industry in the literary fiction market, and then about the current market for erotica; she says that most successful erotica authors are women. Her erotica series, Wet, is printed on waterproof paper & she demonstrated for us how you can pour a glass of water onto it and it just rolls off. You can read it in the bathtub.

Mary Anne has a huge amount of projects, among them the Speculative Literature Foundation and DesiLit. She’s got a long-running pre-blog-era blog & was a founder for Strange Horizons and Clean Sheets.

I always think it’s interesting how many people we know or knew in common from various scenes. Many people from University of Chicago show up in my core groups of San Francisco people, science fiction, literature, sexuality, & poly – and Mary Anne is just one of the many with those multiple intersections. They are people almost guaranteed to have the most fascinating & eclectic book collections! After Mary Anne’s reading we headed over to Lori, Guy, and Steven’s house – another U. of Chicago connection, with role-playing games definitely in the mix – and I got to wallow around in Lori‘s reference books – the Dictionary of Languages – note our common interest in myth & women pirates & warriors & Inanna & that sort of thing – shelves and shelves of sex and erotica books – Anthologies – comic books – And Steven’s books on war and philosophy. In short, I could happily get lost in their house for months.

It’s nice to be around all these people – they’re inspiring, fun, smart as hell, and I have the feeling of intellectual security that they also know about the broad range of knowledge I have, so don’t see me just as a poet, or geek, or gamer, or history and science fiction buff, or sex radical; they know what it means to be all of those things at once, because that’s what they are too…

damning with faint praise and no space

After two years of research, reading prefaces to anthologies of Latin American poetry and descriptions of women poets in literary histories, I’m a veteran of hateful sexism. You’d think I’d be inured to it.   But this sentence dripped with such venom I thought I’d share it and perhsps that would defuse some of its power:

“She acheived a sort of stark and uncompromising beauty that came very close to justifying the 1945 Nobel Prize she received at a time when Reyes, Neruda, and Borges were all still very active.”

Thanks, Rodríguez Monegal… *sarcasm*. Why not just say right out, “Mistral did not deserve the Nobel Prize” and then explain why you think so?

There’s another phenomenon I keep seeing. A critic will praise a woman poet’s work to the skies, but then won’t discuss it; instead, will briefly describe the woman’s life, family, and reputation, while giving all the critical attention (and lots of space) to male poets who are not better writers. For example, Anderson-Imbert called María Eugenia Vaz Ferreira “the nucleus of Uruguayan poetry” and of modernismo; he praises her high level of complex thought and her technical perfection; but then he wraps her up in two paragraphs, following up with five pages in detail about Julio Herrera y Reissig, whom he calls “not a great poet…” If he’s not a great poet and Vaz Ferreira is, why did she get two paragraphs and he got five pages?

Reading tonight in Oakland

I’ll be reading tonight at the Nomad Cafe in Oakland…

It’s on Shattuck and 65th St., walking distance from Ashby BART. 7:00-9:00.

Serene will read a few poems, then I’ll read my poems and translations, and then a break and an open mike.

like to try a couple of my translations of Nestor Perlongher. They’re strange poems, and they don’t make a huge amount of linear sense, and they work by talking around the subject in baroque fractal image/wordplay digressions. So that the images will all be of starfish and rays of light and greasy film running through a projector and rayon shirts and feather boas, and every word has three meanings and interconnections to other words, but somewhere in the middle you are hit by a blinding realization that the poem is all about the metaphysics of cocksucking. They were VERY hard to translate and I would dig testing them out in front of people. I’ll read some of the short ones in Spanish, but most in English. I’d also like to read a sampling of my translations from the anthology I’m working on – Latin American women poets from 1880-1930.

If that sounds good, then I hope you show up!