Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Now I am Living on the East Coast

I'm crying into a big zit. The city of Providence. I'm thinking I should have stayed on the West Coast and lived in a tiny shrine. The shrine would be in the yoga studio of a famous software developer. My duty as the inhabitant of this West-Coast shrine would be to sit, drink offerings of kale-apple-mint-parsley juice, and draw construction plans for passively-heated shrines. These shrines would be installed everywhere on the West Coast and would be the West Coast. Eventually the software developer would find a way to love himself in a non-competitive, non-judgmental way, and he would attribute his self-respect to a deity represented by me. I would be worshipped by insecure software developers and would spend all my time channeling their insecurity into undifferentiated warmth and compassion, and this, by providing an unlimited supply of passive heating, would solve the energy crisis.

Thank you, thank you, but I am in Providence and nothing is solved. Empty lots where trash accumulates on both sides of fences are beautiful in late autumn. I go around thinking about different parts of a pig I could be eating. I feel unusually fertile and consider pouring my blood into an empty lot, to remedy the soil. When I do eat the part of the pig I most resemble, I crave something else, meat from a different part of an exotic animal accessible by way of New York. On these unusually fertile days in Providence I feel as if I'm hiding out in a hideout of New York, and the hideout is run by Italians who may just decide at any time to stop picking up the trash and processing sewage. So I consider making a trip to Seattle for a composting toilet. I'll also pick up some raw buckwheat-hazelnut granola and kale-apple-mint-parsley juice, and I'll drink it without worrying about the fact that Brassica (kale) are planted to remedy high-lead soil. I won't worry at all about my blood-brain barrier. I'll sit in a yoga studio overcoming the mental and physical barriers I perceive between myself and the people and objects around me. 

I'll become a software developer by overcoming the barrier between myself and the software developers around me. No, I'll become code in the latest update to the most popular social-networking site, and I'll be a glitch in that code that causes every user to friend every other user, obviating the need for anyone continuing to use the social-networking site except as a repository of collective friendship. This will cause a financial meltdown/spiritual-redemption scenario on the West Coast, leading to self-discovery seminars led by meditation gurus who will have reconciled in advance the differences in their lineages that previously kept them apart. Breathwork will ensue. Slowly the economy will rebound. MoMA will invite me, a code, a glitch, to do a retrospective, "Retrospective of a Glitch", and the articulated muscle groups of small muscular New York socialites will toast me. Near the end of my usefulness to this milieu, I will return to Providence where I will accumulate along the ground between the sidewalk and fence surrounding an empty lot that is beautiful right now.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


still on that pseudonym talk. this week, frank hinton from metazen

I write under a pseudonym for a few reasons. I think the main reason is that I don't like my actual name. It's kind of like, nobody thinks Walter Willison is bad ass so he became Bruce Willis. The problem is that I don't even really like my pseudonym because I'm worried about people thinking I'm some kind of S.E Hinton fan or something.

I do treat Frank as a persona. I kind of think of it as a sort of meta-metafiction where I'm trying to look at/ understand what writing is and what being a writer is by not just writing about a writer who is writing, but by kind of trying to authentically create fiction as a fictitious person, if that makes sense. At least that’s how things started. Now I’ve become so comfortable writing/ befriending other writers as Frank that I feel that part of me is actually authentic. I don’t have any friends that are writers in my real life so meeting other writers as Frank has nourished me. I didn’t know how important it was as a writer to connect with other writers.

I think it's interesting how writers with pseudonyms hide themselves. I mean, I think I've seen xTx's body. She's shown it in dim light. Finnegan Flawnt didn't "come out" until he retired, even to me and he was an editor for my site...I heard his voice and nothing more. He turned out to be a god damned German physics prof. I think with me there are a lot of people in my world who would be shocked if they knew about Frank Hinton and there would be a lot more people who would be shocked in Frank Hinton's world if they knew I was Philip Seymour Hoffman.

I don't write anything as myself. I think because I've kind of established whatever my online presence is, the first thing I do when I write is drop a lot of the bullshit I carry around with me day to day and write as Frank. I use a lot of stuff from my actual life in my writing, but using it as Frank feels truer to me. I don't know why that works though. I also tend to keep swinging around on the gender pendulum. Being a man or a woman is kind of something you can give up when you came out of the birth canal onto the internet. I think people who actually know me as Frank Hinton know me, but for readers I don’t want them to pin me down right away.

My veil will never come back. I'll be wearing a yeoniptal at AWP. Or I'll send someone else. Or I'll go as me and say I'm someone else. I won't be there.

If my identity were revealed it wouldn't be the end of the world. I would probably disappear and then simply start to rebuild all over again as something else. I think I’m pretty forthcoming with people one-on-one. I just think that when you’re writing and trying to share your stuff with others it’s nice to have some kind of glitz on you. I appreciate those chicks that put sparkles on their tits before they go out to the bar.

I don’t think I’ll switch my name or anything. I’m pretty comfortable using Frank Hinton. I’m more comfortable with nobody knowing who I am. If I can explore my own loneliness and perversions and fears from behind this weird wall my writing feels truer. I can put myself out into the world as less of a definable person and more in terms of my own feelings and emotions. You get my personality without having to see the pimples on my ass.

Frank Hinton lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia and edits the daily fiction journal metazen. Frank has been published in decomP, > kill author, Dogzplot and a number of other publications.

Friday, September 3, 2010


xTx in part ii of the pseudonym-talk:

Being as specific or broad as you like, what are your reasons for writing under a pseudonym?

My pseudonym really was just a sort of on purpose accident.  I discovered blogging back in 2002 and it was really EVERYTHING I had ever wanted to do with all the randomness I constantly had fucking up the insides of my head, basically, an open diary to the world where I could just put it all out there.  However, due to the things I found myself blogging about, primarily sex, porn and masturbation, and because people actually started reading my blog, I soon realized that I could get into ‘trouble’ if anyone from my real life found out.  I stopped using my real name and, for a completely uninteresting reason, started blogging under xTx.  

As the years went by, my daily blogging turned more into daily prose, poetry and little crazy stories and so by the time I discovered there were online lit zines that featured such things, I had already felt a complete identity as xTx and so that’s what I started submitting under.  Also, I was still afraid of ‘getting caught’ by anyone in my real life.

xTx is completely fear based.

For you, is it about getting into the skin of another persona?  Or is it more or less that you’re able to use the name as just that, a name, that allows you to unmask something in yourself?

The latter, but again, the reason is strictly fear based.  It is not to unmask anything.

Did you make a conscious decision between oh, I’ll work under a pseudonym but people can see my face (like Sam Pink) or I’ll remain completely in the dark, physically, while maintaining only a print/online presence?  Were there particular reasons for this?

The latter, primary reason being my face would result in being identified in real life.  The secondary reason being, I hate my face.

And, Sam Pink’s real name isn’t really Sam Pink?!?!? WHAT?!?!?! 

Do you write creative work (even if not for publication) under your regular name and is there a difference between that work and the work under your pseudonym?

I’ve only written and been published under xTx.  I am not sure if there would be a difference in my writing if I started writing under my real name.  I am scared there might be, at least in some aspects of my writing, primarily my poetry and prose because I tend to write some pretty, um, ‘hardcore shit’ when I go poetry/prose, in that, it’s usually a lot closer to home for me. ‘Home’ being, what I am made of and a lot of what I am made of is pretty gross and disgusting.  I feel 85% sure I could share most of my fiction with people in my real life, but 3% sure I could share any of my poetry/prose because I am afraid it would change what people thought of me.

Is there ever a real fear/hope that, in your wildest imaginings, your work will take off and you’ll want to pull the veil back?

Yes, both fear and hope.

If your identity were revealed what are the best responses you could hope for from the lit culture?  The worst?

I really don’t care one way or the other what the ‘literary culture’ would think of my identity revelation.  Even on my bad days, I think I am a pretty cool person.  I think the ‘literary culture’ would probably want to have a beer with me, maybe play a game of horseshoes.  Again, my primary concern about reaction to my identity being attached to my writing is purely centered around people in my personal/professional life.  

All I want from the ‘literary culture’ is to like my writing, even if my name was Steven.  Even if my name was David.  Even if my name was Stacy.  Even if my name was Steven David Stacy.

Do you see a lifespan for your other persona or for yourself working under your pseudonym?

I never expected for my writing to be as well received as it has been.  I have been asked to do a few book things.  The book things will need to have a name on them.   I know that if I were to ever be ‘taken seriously’ as a ‘real writer’ in the ‘literary world’ I will probably have to drop my pseudo and use one with more vowels.  I realize that if I want to ‘seriously pursue my writing’ I will probably need to drop my pseudonym.  So, in terms of pseudonym life I guess I feel it is going to be a short lifespan.  I mean, I don’t think it would be a short lifespan if, eight years ago, I would have been smart enough to have picked a fake name that looked like an actual name and not one that is comprised of three consonants and looks like a dick and balls if you squint your eyes and turn your head sideways.  I do not always think things through.

xTx is a writer living in Southern California. You can find her writing in places like Monkeybicycle, Smokelong, decomp, elimae and others. She has a free e-book, titled Nobody Trusts a Black Magician at nonpress. She says nothing here

Thursday, August 26, 2010


the concept of writing under a pseudonym has interested me for a while. as such, i've asked writers like xTx, frank hinton,  janey smith and others to write essays/answer questions about the act. here is part one with janey:

I write as a pseudonym because writing is like acting. When I write a certain way it's like I am acting a certain way. When I started writing, like, four years ago, I wrote stuff that I thought was so important. I thought "This is my vision. It is so important." But, nobody wanted to see things my way. Probably because my way was like the way everyone else was going. So, I stopped. Then I started to pretend I was somebody else because it's easier to do that, more creative. 
So, I guess I use the name Janey Smith because I like pretending I'm in a movie. But, I also use other names, too. And since I don't believe in a core creative self, or in any type of creative self, and I'm not even sure what a self is, I like to pretend I'm a movie star. Or something I can believe in. Like copy machines and fancy clothes, stuff like that. 

Anyway, I use my fake names without hiding who I am physically, or pretending that I'm really that person, because it's just too much work doing all that stuff. If someone says "Hey, what's your real name?" I have many names to choose from. If someone says "Hey, who are you really?" It gets more complicated. So, usually, I just say "I don't know." I also use fake names to write in fake styles. It makes me feel weird to write in fake styles using a real name. It feels like I'm cheating on myself or something. Which is weird. Because I am a total cuckold. I do write stuff under other fake names, though. 

I also publish stuff under other fake names. One of my fake names, Steven Trull, has been published on Everyday Genius, NOO Journal, Sententia, all over the world, really. He writes in a style that's more fake than Janey's, more "going nowhere." Mike Buffalo is also a totally fake name. He has stuff coming out on PANK in October because he is gay. He is also working on a novel, which is gay, in a really fake way. He writes a lot like that one fag whose name I totally forget. Anyway, it would be neat to have a different fake name publish stuff in a different fake style, all the time. Like, it would be neat to have all these books that the real I, not the fake one, has written, written by a different fake name. That would be so awesome. It would be so anti-Kenneth Goldsmith. Like, "I'm the anti-brand." 
What's wonderful is that Janey's stuff has been solicited by people all year. So, in a way, I guess, her stuff has kind of "taken off." But, none of my fake names have published books. So, I'm not a real writer, yet. But, someday soon, I hope that all of my fake-name friends will have books out. That way, I can say "I'm a real writer." That would make me feel like I'm a little more real, I guess. But, if any of my fake names really took off, the way Blake Butler's fake name or Jonathan Franzen's fake name have taken off, I would not reveal anything about who my fake names really are because I don't know anything about who I really am. But, if you asked me "Who are you?" or "Are you really this famous fake name?" I'd say: I'm nobody or I'm that other person. Or I'd say something that would make sense to you because I'd want you to be my real friend. I think it's important for you to know, Gene, that I'm not some puppeteer-god like Gordon Lish or Dennis Loy Johnson. My fake names are real people. They are not nominal, slavish extensions of a master personality. I'm just too honest for all that. Besides, I can't really get into the corporate culture thing, even at the smallest level. Although, I do wish Gordon Lish was my boyfriend.

Besides that, my identities have been revealed. Some people know who I am, but they let me pretend I am somebody else because they are nice. These people are like my real friends. I asked Paula Bomer for a loan, once. And she sent me some money, no questions asked. Then I got an email from Dennis Cooper, who was in London, asking me to send him some money. He took a lot more than I thought he would. Anyway, if my identities were revealed to somebody, like you, who doesn't even know me, the best response would be: "That's cool, I want to do that, too." But, it doesn't really matter, anyway, because, right now, nobody knows who I am, anyway. Still, it's nice to Google myself. Or watch myself on youtube TV. But imagine, Gene: If you used all these different fake names, too, you could be the editor of seventeen or twenty different lit sites or magazines or whatever using a different name for each one. You'd be able to really fuck with people at cocktail parties where everyone introduces themselves by their first and last names! Anyway, if my identities were revealed, the worst response, I suppose, would be: "I don't like 'whoever they are' anymore." That would make me sad. You see, I really want everyone to like all of my fake names. Really. I do.

Gene, let me be real with you. I will probably write using different fake names forever. I don't believe in immortality or literary permanence or whatever. Those are very bourgeois notions. The fake names will change, they will multiply, I will begin my literary career a million times over with a new fake name for each new fake work, but I will always write. It's what I do. For real. 


Monday, August 23, 2010


so, most important news is that WE'RE NOT ACCEPTING SUBMISSIONS AFTER SEPT. 1ST. read down a few posts and i explain why. anything that comes into our inbox after SEPT. 1ST will get deleted. i'll start reading again in mid-january/february. 

that said, i'm going to keep updating the blog with essays and interviews. things. people that are going to write tentative works for the blog: blake butler, rachel b. glaser, mike young, evelyn hampton, grace krilanovich, xTx, janey smith, and on and on. 

i'll try to update at least 1-2 times a week. be easy friends. 

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Since historically, literature has been domineered by the patriarchy, what advice would you give to teachers to broaden horizons?

I hate to say, “Be more inclusive,” without giving a roadmap, but that’s the catch.  How does anyone go about being more inclusive without the flip-side of that coin feeling reductive (i.e. “Am I including enough queer/Native American, etc writers?”  But if your contents, and the subject matter and styles they cover, feel lopsided or homogenous, they likely are.  And that’s not to say that writers can’t write beyond or outside of their seeming outward identities, but let’s not cling too closely to the idea that we should only hire sighted and hearing actors to play deaf and blind roles simply because they can.  In fact, let’s see how the blind and deaf inhabit those roles and inform them and act beyond them as well. 

So the effort to read more widely, with concerted effort, begins.  My recipe for doing so:  read beyond your comfort zone, read that which you think won’t interest you, read internationally, beyond your genre even, and note what you discover for those classes.  Just as every student won’t be thrilled with every book you suggest, neither do you need to have equal passion for every book.  But you are responsible as a teacher to teach beyond your own palate/palette and offer a spectrum of work that reflects a range of experiences, subject matter, styles, etc.  You will never be able to include “everything” and “every voice,” but you can try.  

I’ve quoted Ashbery elsewhere in similar regard, "And if, on laying the book aside, we feel that it is still impossible to accomplish the impossible, we are also left with the conviction that it is the only thing worth trying to do."

Is it a matter of using more contemporary examples? Finding new angles on or reinvigorating a push toward established members of the canon (Dickinson or Plath for example)? Unearthing overlooked members (admittedly this is the more difficult example) of historically relevant movements/epochs? Others? 

I’m a fan of the contemporary, but that’s my limitation.  I should likely spend more time mining the past and not just that limited past represented by the literary canon, because that’s where we get into trouble.  There are many literary recovery projects taking place these days as well as attempts to see the “tokens” such as Dickinson and Plath as dynamic writers instead of their stereotyped representations (i.e. Plath as suicide and Dickinson as lonely spinster).  These efforts are attempts to remedy the deficits the canon has instilled in our sense of literary history.

But to answer your question wholly and using your language, we should likely engage in both directions:  reinvigorate what we know of past works of literature (i.e. take marginalized work and treat it more rigorously) and read less popular contemporary work more earnestly. Of course, doing so entails seeking that work, which is, as noted in my last reply, no easy feat.  

Does it feel like an uphill battle as so much of literary history has skewed toward males that even if you wanted to introduce elements to widen the purview of the canon, it'd still have to be within the context of "well this is what's been established"? Can we just cannon the canon (this part is only semi-serious)?

I’d like to cannon the canon into a moth-eaten shroud:  bullet holes that we can peek through to find what’s been hidden behind that canonical cloak of “importance,” all dog-eared and swiss-cheesed, to make a very bad mixed metaphor.

Seriously, the canon is what it is because lots of women’s writing simply didn’t get published; women’s words and concerns were relegated to the “lesser” formats like diaries, letters, and journals.  This writing realm was indicative of women’s affairs in general:  that of the domestic, which was devalued in contrast with the “larger” world of men’s affairs such as business, wars, exploration, imperialistic ventures, philosophy and science, etc.  

Like it or not, this divisive history, and its resounding effects, has not been erased simply because women have entered the work force and attained some rights in the fight for equality over the last half century.  The effects of living this dichotomous existence carry on in ways we have yet to identify.  The canon reproduces much of that lopsided history, even as we work to identify what has been excluded and how to redress that exclusion.  Asking what the canon has left out and effectively rendered invisible is similar to asking what would be different now if we had all lived on equal footing or in a more symbiotic cooperative manner.  

But I think you’re asking how can we begin, right now, amending the canon, so to speak, assuming that following a canon is the correct model for teaching.  I suppose one practical way is to simply begin asking who has been omitted from a survey of American Literature (for example), a time-consuming venture especially if you’re teaching one class at a time.  The task of redress is almost too daunting to approach.   My possibly-superficial feeling is that we need to ask what values and subjects have been ignored—to look at the “unearthing” route, as you put it.  Again, very difficult questions to approach, in part, because how can we identify what’s missing if it was never brought to light or is represented via “token” inclusion (i.e. mentioned through minimal representational work but not taken up in any depth)?  

A good place to begin is in the “marginal.”  I mean, we all know that much of the subject matter consistently taught relates to the aforementioned masculine realm that thrills at the sound of imperialist heroism, at the footsteps of adventure or conquering the unknown, but what about those territories we’ve been conditioned to think of as uninteresting or unimportant?  Is raising a human not of *the* utmost import?  Don’t the effects of nurturing and educating people ripple throughout society?  How did we come to value stories of conquering over stories of nurturing?  Why have we thrilled to a history that births stories of how cowboys robbed and destroyed native peoples?  Many scholars, for some time now, have invested years and painstaking research into the aforementioned recovery projects for some of these “marginal” and neglected views.  And why not? 

I also think we can look to those who have been included but query the focus of how they’re taught.  You mention Plath; isn’t it old hat to simply keep going round and round her poems with the biographical focus of suicide and daddy issues?  Far too often, Plath is victimized as the unhinged genius/woman scorned in that “coldest London winter on record,” while her extremely rigorous, ambitious, Thesaurus-wielding poet-self is underplayed.  To boot, Sexton wasn’t just Plath’s friend; she was a fierce poet who wrote her own poetry.  We need to ask better questions when we approach the few canonized women because they end up getting reduced to so much fleeting biographical notation, and students end up glossing over, never really interrogating or debating their work the way we are encouraged to query and explore Eliot’s or Pound’s or even Lowell’s.  

Elisa said something enlightening to me about feeling welcome in a space. Obviously this is subjective, but as a reader, what about a space (print or on-line) makes you feel welcome? What about as a submitter? The design? Familiarity with names? The aesthetic of the writing? What is off-putting or unwelcoming?

Hmm.  I suppose what makes me feel welcome is discovering work that challenges my aforementioned comfort zone sitting right beside work akin to my own aesthetic and/or subject matter I am familiar with.  Simply put, I’ve been encouraged to be attuned to the female, the domestic, to feelings, to empathize, to nurture, to speak a certain way (not that I’m good at any of these!) and yet, my repertoire is not limited to being attuned to, seeking or liking only the traditional.  I am thrilled by more and seek it. I like echoes of it such as in Virginia Woolf but I’ve also been incredibly moved by Cesar Vajello’s poems written in response to the Spanish war.  That’s a dumbed-down version of a welcome mat, actually.  How else can I put it?  

In my children’s literature course, I talk to my students about the importance to a child of reading work that somehow resounds or even remotely relates to or touches on his or her own experience in a language they can understand (i.e. What happens if a class is exposed to books featuring only white male protagonists though the class population is comprised of two Indian girls, one kid is Muslim, one kid has two mommies, one child is adopted, one child lives in poverty, etc?) so that the child doesn’t end up feeling ostracized or like an anomaly, while also fulfilling the need to read experiences and voices beyond your own scope because that is what fuels the imagination – the pleasure of the familiar and the thrill of the unfamiliar.  Or as my physical therapist suggested the other day, we are always seeking a balance between that which unsettles and that which comforts; neither should dominate.  

Is it enough to have diversity of submitters or should there be a reach for diversity in subject matter as well? 

Another difficult question, since the experiential certainly informs and likely influences every writer’s style and subject matter.  Of course, I don’t believe writers are limited by their experience anymore than I believe all women should be mothers or all lawyers like to imbibe at five o’clock on the dot daily.  However, the chances of offering up twelve male writers in a journal and having six of them write beyond the scope of what I’ve so far referred to as traditionally male interests is highly unlikely.  Naysayers like to get angry at this point because the whole venture of being aware of gender and any other identify factor feels reductive.  And there is some truth to that anger:  how can I quantify experience as being based in identifiable features like gender, race, and class?  I mean, women can write in a masculine mode and men can create believable female characters, so the argument is difficult because ultimately it can be broken down.  Nonetheless, we are all still conditioned to certain roles, interests and behaviors, however aware or not we are of that conditioning.  

In order to encourage greater awareness, it is imperative to locate and include writers who have thus far been marginalized.  Seeing who has been left out is not difficult in the least.  I can’t tell you how many of my students have read F. Scott Fitzgerald but have never heard of the equally amazing writer Zora Neale Hurston.  And the realities they represent in their work are worlds apart.  You tell me when you open the current anthologies of American Literature that the range of writers is great and varied, and I dare you to show me that book.  Open up the New Yorker and do a count of this year alone – how many women’s books are reviewed versus men’s.  You’ll see that count shortly on the VIDA website, not-so-incidentally (http://vidaweb.org/).  Is it because men are writing about women’s experiences, in the voices of women, with the awareness of women better than women?  Not hardly.  Women do read these books, but that doesn’t mean we only want to read about men’s interests and ventures.  We can learn from each other as well, as men can too.  And that is why it is the responsibility of the editor to include a variety of names as well as to look at what those writers are writing (subject, content, voice, style-wise, etc).  

At risk of pissing even more people off, I’ll note that there is a direct correlation between reading about “other” experiences that extend beyond one’s own conditioned interests, reading to branch the proverbial female/male divide.  Cited in a recent article on my blog, David Rothman suggests, “Perhaps the United States wouldn’t end up in wars so often if its policymakers showed a little more empathy with others and used diplomacy instead. Guess what can help build empathy. Yep: the F word [fiction].”  More on that correlation here - http://amyking.wordpress.com/2010/07/12/your-own-revolution-poetry-publishing-the-internet/

Although language is primarily a product of hetero-normative patriarchal powers, what "moves" or steps could we and future writers take that could rebalance that power? What sort of onus do you think writers need to take in regards to language creation? 

I think I’ve already touched on notions of remedy above and am likely exhausting your readers at this point.  On the heels of that article I just linked to, I’d say that writers can also be editors in this internet age.  If you see a lack, get to work and start up an online journal, organize a reading series, publish some inexpensive POD books and get that work out into the world!  You can either use language to reflect the world around you, or you can use that language to change how people see and think about the world.  Getting those words out into the world is part of the effort.  It’s not always as fun as writing, but such work needs to be done by someone.  That someone could be you and you and you.  

As far as language creation, word- & syntax-tweaking is concerned, a lot of poets, “experimental” and otherwise, do this already – see books like Feminaissance and Infinite Difference for such women poets – and there’s no reason why every stripe of poet couldn’t mess around with their own conceptions of how a poem or a sentence should look and sound like and what meaning(s) it points to; at the very least they’ll have some fun.  I think we all need to challenge ourselves to break out of the molds every writer inevitably sets up for him- or herself.  You can likely sense which aspect of your writing might be a bit myopic or where the rut has set in; rather than repeating what you know, change it up.  Make yourself uncomfortable or, rather, stretch your comfort margins.  We writers are intuitive creatures, so the recipe for how will of course be up to the individual.

Mike Young brought up salient points about words like "cop" causing us to automatically think of men over women and yet women are still a minority in the police force (averaging around 10% to 20% of the workforce around the country even though they're actually cheaper to retain as women are less likely to have "excessive force payouts" applied to them than men) so, do you think this stigma will lessen as the numbers (hopefully) rise? Or could a lingual shift (from "stewardess" to "flight attendant") help alleviate some of that bias? Does the word bias exist because of the real life bias? Or does it perpetuate it? 

Both.   As I noted in my last response, language can simply reflect and perpetuate or it can change perception.  Obviously, we’re not speaking English the way we were a hundred years ago.  Not even twenty years ago.  Context affects how a word is received as well as the word itself.  If “bias” begins to feel impotent, then it is begging for a wordsmith to change it out for something more powerful or reflective of the changing reality (i.e. not all flight attendants are female now).  

When are we going to be able to drop the “stay-at-home” part of father to signify fathers who have part-time jobs or share much of the child-rearing responsibilities?  Because the jump in men who are participating more at home with such tasks is dramatically increasing for the better.  How long will we have to qualify these men as special instead of simply as fathers?  The notion of a father who has never changed a diaper used to be bragging territory, but now it has become a flag of embarrassment.  Not all mothers are stay-at-home anymore now than all fathers are not-at-home unless otherwise stated.  So I suppose what I’m getting at is I may not refer to such a father as stay-at-home anymore because I want to resist perpetuating the notion that this is a special condition for fatherhood; in fact it is going to likely become as typical as mothers who stay at home.  In the 1950s, when a father watched his children, this was often referred to as “babysitting” – though the children were his too.  Language does and will change.

What do the terms "feminine" and "masculine" writing mean to you? Is there such a thing or is it a broad strokes appellation like "realism"? For you does it fall to subject matter or more a tonal quality? 

I’m going to go with both.  I think I’ve noted above, in a very generic way since women also have out-of-the-house adventures, some of the more “masculine” subjects that men write about.  Again, I’ll offer the caveat that not all men are taken with such subject matter nor are they all prone to writing in a masculine mode, which is a whole other can of worms I can’t get into defining here.  There are books on it.  If you want an example of popularized books that represent male subject matter, another post from my blog dissects (click and scroll down) -- http://amyking.wordpress.com/2009/11/04/why-weren’t-any-women-invited-to-publishers-weekly’s-weenie-roast/ 

Why do you think there are more submitters who are men, when, it seems that a majority of people who are coming out of MFA programs are either a majority or equal number of women? 

I think men, again generally speaking, have been taught to be less-abashed and bolder about getting their words into the world.  They’re pro-active in ways women have been taught to be modest about.  I also wonder if women aren’t simply more mired with busy work at home than men.  

Amy King is the author of Slaves to Do These Things, I'm the Man Who Loves You, and Antidotes for an Alibi, all from BlazeVOX [books], The People Instruments (Pavement Saw Chapbook award), and forthcoming, I Want to Make You Safe (Litmus Press). She teaches English and Creative Writing at SUNY Nassau Community College and, with Ana Bozicevic, curates the Brooklyn-based reading series, The Stain of Poetry. Her blog can be found at amyking.wordpress.com

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


So, without rehashing the entire thing, when issue two came out people took issue with the all-maleness of it. As did I. The thing was, I read a blog, reacted idiotically, and then spent some time trying to both apologize and get people to understand that, for me, it was a shitty confluence of timing and event that ended up with the publication of all males in that issue. Still, I stand by the quality of the work in the issue. Conversations popped up across a multitude of blogs. A lot good. Some stoking the fire. I felt like it's a conversation that needs to continue for everyone's sake. This is part one of a two part e-mail interview/slapdash thing I threw together. Part one is from Elisa Gabbert. Part two, to be posted in a couple of days is from Amy King.

Since historically, literature has been domineered by the patriarchy, what advice would you give to teachers to broaden horizons? Is it a matter of using more contemporary examples? Finding new angles on or reinvigorating a push toward established members of the canon (Dickinson or Plath for example)? Unearthing overlooked members (admittedly this is the more difficult example) of historically relevant movements/epochs? Others? Does it feel like an uphill battle as so much of literary history has skewed toward males that even if you were wanting to introduce elements to widen the purview of the canon, it'd still have to be within the context of "well this is what's been established"? Can we just cannon the canon (this part is only semi-serious)?

EG: All of these approaches sound feasible to some degree. I also think it’s crucial, when teaching literature, to bring in the history of literature, to explain the context in which the writing was created and celebrated. When teachers give students a reading list that is 90% men and don’t talk about why it’s so skewed, students just inherit the idea that a male bias is fine and normal. If no one else is questioning it, why should they? So if you’re teaching a class on 19th century British poetry, obviously almost all the surviving examples are going to be by men, but you can talk about why that’s the case. If we’re talking about high school English or a general poetry class, I think contemporary examples are key in any case, but if they’re balanced, they’ll have the added bonus of demonstrating that women are writing and publishing great work. Whether or not they feel comfortable admitting it, I do think a lot of people have this ingrained idea that men write more “great,” “ambitious” books. And it’s partly because books by men are more frequently reviewed, promoted, awarded, recommended, talked about and so on. (Probably also a factor: Men are encouraged to believe that if they’re going to bother writing they need to be “great.”)

Elisa said something enlightening to me about feeling welcome in a space. Obviously this is subjective, but as a reader, what about a space (print or on-line) makes you feel welcome? What about as a submitter? The design? Familiarity with names? The aesthetic of the writing? What is off-putting or unwelcoming?

EG: Good question. Not surprisingly, I feel much more welcome both as a reader and a submitter when there’s gender parity. It doesn’t have to be exactly 50-50 in every issue, but I think an attempt at balance/diversity over time should be one of the goals of an editor. If an editor doesn’t care about those issues and it shows, it’s not a huge deal, since there are other journals, but I think they have to expect some degree of criticism, and that not everyone will be comfortable reading or submitting.

This is really just one element of an overall sense that the editors care—that they want to present good work in a well-designed issue, that they have some unique editorial vision they want to express. So if the names in a table of contents are too familiar, I get the sense that the editors are just reproducing what other journals are already doing. More of the same isn’t very exciting. (That said, since I’ve been around the block a few times, if I don’t recognize any of the authors, I might be a little suspicious.)

Is it enough to have diversity of submitters or should there be a reach for diversity in subject matter as well? 

EG: I think this is essentially up to the editors. I wouldn’t personally be that excited about a journal that focused on a certain subject (I keep thinking poems about dogs), but I guess there’s a market for that. Probably more common is for editors to focus on a certain style. Take Artifice, which only considers work that somehow acknowledges its own artifice. There’s nothing in that editorial statement that prevents diversity in subject matter or among submitting authors. Still, not everyone is going to be interested in reading it or submitting.

The thing is, people tend to read and like work that is similar to their own. Only reading what you already like can be sort of limiting, in the sense that you can’t really know if you like something until you give it a chance. If you’re at all interested in expanding your horizons by traveling, trying new foods, doing new things, listening to different kinds of music … it seems worthwhile to keep an open mind about writing too. More exposure to work written by people who aren’t just like you helps you learn how to read it.

Although language is primarily a product of hetero-normative patriarchal powers, what "moves" or steps could we and future writers take that could rebalance that power? What sort of onus do you think writers need to take in regards to language creation? 

EG: I’m not sure about this one. I’m drawn to writing that interrogates received forms and received language. Questioning the status quo is one of the primary ways I engage with the world. I don’t know any formula for getting that done, however.

Mike Young brought up salient points about words like "cop" causing us to automatically think of men over women and yet women are still a minority in the police force (averaging around 10% to 20% of the workforce around the country even though they're actually cheaper to retain as women are less likely to have "excessive force payouts" applied to them than men), do you think this stigma will lessen as the numbers (hopefully) rise? Or could a lingual shift (from "stewardess" to "flight attendant") help alleviate some of that bias? Does the word bias exist because of the real life bias? Or does it perpetuate it? 

EG: I think lingual shifts can make a difference, yes, but in the case of “cop,” which is not inherently gendered, it’s tough. Certain careers are strongly gender biased (as another example most surgeons are still men, I think like 80%). When someone says “surgeon” or “cop,” most people picture a man because most of the time it is a man. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done before women feel like those careers are equally open to them. And as Mike pointed out language is part of that. 

What do the terms "feminine" and "masculine" writing mean to you? Is there such a thing or is it a broad strokes appellation like "realism"? For you does it fall to subject matter or more a tonal quality? 

EG: I think work can be described as masculine or feminine if it fits certain stereotypes, but women can write “masculine” work and vice versa. It seems slightly beside the point to the question of whether it matters that women and men are both published. Everyone brings a unique view to the table and gender is just one part of that. 

I’ve heard people make the argument that gender has no effect on one’s writing. I don’t agree, but even if writing by men and writing by women were exactly the same, it still wouldn’t be fair to only publish men. Excusing a bias seems equivalent to admitting they are different (and implying one is worse).

Why do you think there are more submitters who are men, when, it seems that a majority of people who are coming out of MFA programs are either a majority or equal number of women? 

EG: I get the sense that men are generally more confident that their work is ready for the world and deserves to be published. Again this probably goes back to men being published and celebrated more. I still get more submissions from men than women, but a lot of that can be attributed to the same men submitting over and over again (sometimes not even waiting until I’ve rejected their last sub) or men submitting work that is not at all right for my magazine. Men definitely do this more than women—I guess it’s that overconfidence again, as in, “Why do I need to read the journal first? Anyone would want to publish this.” Once I throw out all those submissions that are totally inappropriate or obviously unpublishable, the gender balance of subs seems pretty even. 

It may also be a question of free time. Many women are working mothers and just don’t have time to send out submissions every week. This isn’t to say no men have busy schedules. I’m just trying to account for the tendencies. If you have less time and/or you feel the market is less receptive to you, you’re likely to be more selective about where you send work.

Lastly, are there questions that you want to ask of the general populace? Things that are genuinely on your mind or that you want to trigger continued conversation?

EG: Here’s one: Why are people so afraid to identify as feminists? According to Merriam-Webster, feminism is “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” What about that sounds bad? I just read an interview with Martha Stewart—who seems to embrace the ideals of feminism; she is a strong, ambitious woman who has built a media empire celebrating traditionally feminine activities like cooking and decorating—but she claims she isn’t a feminist and even says “Do we really need to waste time saying, ‘I’m a feminist’?” I mean, huh? That sentence took longer to say than “I’m a feminist.” (You can tell, because it includes it, then adds more words.) It’s certainly no more of a waste of time than making your own pie crust. What I wonder is, Does Martha Stewart really believe that? Or does she just not want to alienate her audience, primarily consisting of women? Why do women think “feminist” is a bad word?

Elisa Gabbert is the author of Thanks for Sending the Engine, a chapbook from Kitchen Press, and, with Kathleen Rooney, That Tiny Insane Voluptuousness, a collaborative collection. She is the poetry editor of Absent and currently works at a software startup in downtown Boston. She blogs at The French Exit.