Tuesday, May 08, 2012

A few more questions regarding women, reviewing and power structures

Here are the original four questions:

But there are a few more questions we need to ask about the relationship of women's reviews and the larger editorial infrastructures that make up the literary world. I know, it's a dirty business that no one wants to actually discuss, but I think it's time. I would sincerely like to hear some discussion about the amount of mentorship that goes into those poets who have public literary profiles. I would like to hear some men talk about this specifically. How did you get the opportunity to review? It would be good to hear from women as well. What I am curious about is this:
  • How many women hold editorial positions and are assigning books reviews on a national level, not on a minor level, not in a journal designed for women (the general public as such don't read those)?
  • What is the relationship between writer/editors assigning book reviews and those who they assign book reviews to reviewing their own books favourably? A long series of promoting each other ad-nauseum. 
  • Realistically, how many core reviewers were asked to review, versus, the reviewer pitching out of the blue? 
  • Who is currently setting the standard for what constitutes a compelling, effective critical frame for reviewing and thinking about literature? Why do we imagine there is only one such frame? 
  • How many literary women, poets in particular, hold institutional power and are using it to build an army of defenders and acolytes who will write about and support them? 
  • How are those relationships impacting general poetic discourses? 
  • Do we want to know the infrastructures of critical review assignments? 
Or, do we let those power structures go uninterrogated and focus on creating a generation of poet critics who can move outside of the increasingly small world of poetry and into mainstream sources? In other words:
  • How can we get women writing more reviews? 
  • How can we get women into positions of institutional power so they are assigning and directing discourse? 
  • If I organize the critical boot camp I have long been talking about, will women come? And will women  make like the Admiral butterfly and inundate the national media with their voices???
  • Yes, I am serious about the boot camp.  


Panic said...

I would bootcamp. Yes I would.

Panic said...

I would definitely attend such a bootcamp.

KG said...

I'd love more out-of-the-blue pitches. Would love long, thoughtful, well-written reviews on actual topics (as opposed to description or lobbed quotes.

Would love good writing, both grammatically and entertaining (I recently saw the following sentence:"For example." Seriously.)

There is not only too much self- / reciprocal promotion, but also I think too much knee-jerk this-sucksism. What if we were well-informed/educated about what a writer comes from or intends, and considered their past work, and read closely enough to suggest what they are doing/writing against/building, and then pointing out both gaps and holes where the light gets in?

Boot camp: if you build it, absolutely. I daresay we need a bootcamp for reviewers of any sex also (a adjunct boot camp?). I am hereby volunteering my participation.

Love ya,


Lemon Hound said...

Thanks for your seeing this as an opportunity for everyone to advance. It is, absolutely. You role model taking a bad situation and turning it on its head.


Melanie janisse said...

Thank-you for addressing this.
I would hit your bootcamp absolutely. Having a voice and using it at this level is a must, and should be a deep topic of consideration for us all. I am particularly interested in your question re: will women take the leap and be heard at the level of national media, and within critical discourse. Great question, and I hope so.

Al Starkey said...

Dear Sina,

I feel like you've taught me that good criticism is the kind which realizes that its own subjectivity is at least part of the matter at hand, and that therefore the object of criticism, as a catalyst, contains all kinds of creative possibility. Is there a term for this? Relational criticism, perhaps? Anyway, this learning was pretty shattering for a woman like me, who was raised (or lowered) to not recognize her subjectivity as such. So then I was faced with the difficulty of relocating myself -- of heightening my ability to hear the way I hear things (a form of echolocation?) This has required therapy and better interpersonal relationships in general... and of course, endless reading and responding. I, for one, just happen to be slow to arrive, but I feel your class, which was indeed like a bootcamp to me, put me on the right track, in art and in life.

It's thrilling to witness this little brainstorm between you and KG. Whatever you come up with will surely be grand!

Will be paying attention, as always,


Lemon Hound said...

Relational criticism works.

But it has to have spine, it can't just be processing and wanking.

Thanks for saying that about boot camp: I do think of my classes as boot camp...but I will need to hire Michael Robbins to come in and throw verbal tomatoes at everyone just so we can all learn to survive the inevitable, tonal blows. They are usually not intended as such, but as you say, there is, in general so little understanding of the self and the role of the self in the creation and delivery of criticism...

Al Starkey said...

I presume what you mean by "having a spine" is actually saying something, rather than just being something that responds to things, mindfully or not. I agree that one's perception is just a starting point, and not the point of literary discourse, which is, perhaps, why I make my claim to slowness, and why it's a real struggle for some people just to get on their marks and go into it. Bootcamps are surely needed, for some, as training to learn the language, which is, among other things, atmospheric.

The lack of subjectivity problem of course causes a violent effect in both directions, relationally speaking. Those who are dissociated from their own intentions are equally unlikely to understand the intentions of others. Those who aren't ready to take discourse beyond the personal are bound to take everything personally. Which inevitably creates a wimpy situation of war and/or wankery of the dumbest kind.

derek beaulieu said...

i am constantly encouraging emerging writers of all genders to write more work critically as it not only adds to the discourse, but also helps them hone their own poetic voice.
we've discussed this before - i think you had an ongoing series of interviews online here about reviewing, right? -- and i think that a bootcamp around critical reviews is an excellent idea, let me know how/if i can help.

Kerry Clare said...

I would also attend your boot camp.

Lemon Hound said...

Yes, it has to say something. Wasn't insinuating that you personally lacked a spine, just that I am not advocating less rigour...it's not that easy.

Thanks Kerry, Panic, Melanie, there is traction for this and some amazing women (and Kenny!) already saying yes, they will come and talk...so the first tentative steps have been taken.

Yes to the poet critic.

Lemon Hound said...

I know you are. You, Kenny and Christian are all generous that way. And I appreciate your support.

This is going to be fun. Though I do intend to kick some ass.

Al Starkey said...

Thanks Sina! I didn't take anything personally -- I just tend to overshare.

Would love to hear more articulations of the spine.

Michael Robbins said...

If I'm going to play drill instructor, I'm going to need actual tomatoes. And a megaphone. And a drill.

Micheline Maylor said...

Dear Sina,

I would attend your boot camp.

What of the publishers though who tend to look at a review as a form of advertising. Do we have an obligation to please them as reviewers? I've been cautious with wording on a number of reviews (and yes, I am likely the "unread" journal reviewer) because a solid scouring of the text is likely unflattering. Considerations of craft / aesthetics - should those be balanced with kindness, considerations for the author, the editor, the publisher? Do these reviews damage or help the already floundering industry. Are critical reviews something we have to look at as changing? These relationships: criticism, publishing, editor, author, do not exist independently from one another.

If your bootcamp would allow me to feel more comfortable with these answers, surely, I would bring my critical "testicles" to the workshop.

Micheline Maylor

Erin Wunker said...


I'd attend a bootcamp, for sure I would. It seems to me that additional bridges need to be built between the academy and the writing community. CWILA's interview with Canadian Literature reviews editor is telling: academic journals need to continually rearticulate their aims and goals, as well as think about how to turn out timely reviews (as publication times are often infuriatingly long...) Further, what article are being accepted? It seems to me that contemporary poetry, poetics and the like has a hard time gaining academic traction beyond very specific journals (hip-hip hooray to Open Letter and the like, but kinda like preaching to the choir, too)

So yes. Boot camp, then the world.