Click the link above to download the zine I made to accompany the show. Exhibition essay after the jump.
The Omnivore just posted a blog about the lack of female reviewers writing about big, important, scholarly books. The reasons for this are as mystifying as the reasons we have social imbalances in any area of the arts. I know that there is a tendency for directors / CEOs / editors (largely male) to work within their familiar (largely male) circles, and that this can lead to the exclusion of women (and by extension black, gay, trans, disabled, poor people – you name it.) For example, I very, very rarely see editors/representatives from top (or even middling) publishing houses at small, raucous events with hot new voices, but I see them in abundance at readings by Russell Group alumni, the already famous and the nearly-dead. If you are clever, you will attend these champagne and nic-nac events because said editors are usually very friendly. Nobody denies inequality, however when it comes to redressing the balance those with power prefer you to come to them. I wonder if the same thing applies when it comes to reviews?
Last week I asked everyone to bring a poem they thought needed a lot of work. They swapped among themselves, spent the week writing feedback, and then, yesterday, presented their thoughts and improvements to the rest of the group. Almost everything I do is coloured by a book I fell in love with over the summer, “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” by Paulo Friere, specifically the sections about giving up power. A zine I was reading put it especially well: in a piece entitled “Queers Kissing and Accountability” Shannon Perez-Derby states:
“Often we get power without asking for it and giving away power can feel counter intuitive because it’s something we’re not taught to do, and have almost no models for.”
I’m a bit of a dinosaur. The fact that I am posting this video six months after it was shot proves this. My discomfort with social media means that for the last eight years I have avoided doing much online beyond reading email, blogging in spurts, wasting time on YouTube and scrolling through The Guardian. I have never understood how the internet aids what I do as a writer. It’s an obvious promotion tool, but, so far, it has had little impact on what I actually write. It has been noted that we writers of literary fiction and poetry act as though the internet did not exist, and I think it’s because the model/medium – pen and paper – is still the same, as is the aim – publication. I am aware that this is evidence of a chronic lack of imagination.
I’m working on a piece for a new anthology set to come out mid-2012. It’s called In Their Own Voicesand will be edited by Helen Ivory and George Szirtes. Fifty or so authors will each talk about their “poetics”. I’m having trouble working out what that means. I understand that “poetics” refers to discourse around the theory of poetry (thank you wikipedia), but every attempt I’ve made to apply the term to my work seems false. So I’ve been concentrating on the tension between my self-identification as a writer and my tendency to perform rather than publish. In doing so, I’ve been reading lots of fascinating essays and article, including a piece by Peter Middleton called “The Contemporary Poetry Reading.” It was written in 1998, so a lot has changed since then, but I love that he begins with a description of a reader on stage and then this:
“This ritual is an ordinary poetry reading of the kind that has become widespread in the past forty years, and is therefore so familiar to most readers of contemporary poetry that its strangeness requires an alienating description to be visible at all. Listeners and poets have had almost nothing to say about this phenomenon despite its importance for financing and fostering their careers, assisting the distribution of their poetry, and even shaping its very forms.” (p.262)
I’ve got a comic called “Paradise” in this new anthology of stories in support of the Albert Kennedy Trust. I’ll be reading at the launch on July 15th at the Southbank Centre too. You should probably come.
“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by” – Douglas Adams*
I am 48 hours away from a deadline that could make or break me. These past few weeks, I have been trawling the net, reading academic articles, listening to TED lectures and making desperate stack requests at the Bodleian, because I am trying to write about a genre that both intrigues and mystifies me. The combination of image and text to the end of creating a narrative – otherwise called comics, but these are properties of illuminated manuscripts, clay pots and adverts as well – isn’t as simple as plonking together a story and some illustrations. Writing about it isn’t as simple as finding some pieces I like and saying why, especially not when I’ve chosen a topic as tricky as women ‘n’ comics. The problem isn’t so much the inevitable backlash I’ll experience upon publication, but the torment that takes place before – this awful knowledge that no matter how much research I do, how many articles I read or blogs I subscribe to, there will always be something I’ve missed. And this, I suspect, is why I have never completed anything before the deadline.