Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Lifting Belly High Plenary: New Directions II

This was the final panel of the conference and I was mighty tuckered out by the time I reached it (and I should add am tuckered out now as I finish this final report, but I must do it now before I lose too much in other readings and activities.)

Arielle Greenberg began this plenary with her comments on the “Theory of the Gurlesque” which addresses young women writing about femininity in poetry in a new way that is playful, humorous, unstable, and filled with contradictions. She reflected on how she coined the term, but then it became an internet phenom and took off without her further participation or writing about it. This raised interesting issues about authorship and authority in the internet age with which she is still grappling.

Susan Stanford Friedman spoke. (Again, as I felt about Dee Morris: Wow. Wow! To be in the presence of intellectual greatness.) Friedman outlined four “sea changes” that have happened in women’s writing and scholarship:

1. move from national to transnational
2. move to biocultural studies
3. move beyond identity to queer and hybrid
4. move from print culture to digital culture

She described all of these as “reinvigorating the gynocritical terrain.” (Note to self: I want to use gynocritical at least three more times this semester.) Friedman addressed some of the exact same issues that were raised in my readings earlier today (see blog on Gender, Power, and Difference) including that the category of woman is an uncertain and contested are for the field right now, a move from writing about being a woman to writing by women, and the shifts in feminism. In spite of this, she noted the extraordinary speed by which women writers are “disappeared.” She said the “assertion of women’s action as social and cultural producers” is a feminist act. It is a feminist position to insist that women are producers.

Finally, Friedman articulated five areas that she sees as critical to the field:

1. Women’s poetry is a planetary phenomenon and so scholars must engage in transnational comparative work.
2. Women’s poetry is a multilingual phenomenon.
3. All poetry/poetries need to be embraced with respect.
4. Studies of women’s poetry need renewed vigilance to questions of diversity (with the corollary that women’s poetry is not a white phenomenon.)
5. Feminist literary theory needs to be revitalized.

OK, so I am just going to make that my check list for the balance of my graduate education.

We’re not done yet, though! (Dear reader, feel free to take a break. Friedman was extraordinary and so get a diet coke, relax for a minute because the next speaker rivals Friedman’s brilliance.)

Christianne Miller spoke next with two clear directions for feminist poetics. First, she talked about the importance of “locating poetry as it is conceived, published, and circulated in women’s lives” and looking at “how locations shape the work of writers for any literary movement.” Second, she talked about the importance of editing and recovering the work that has fallen out of print. She described this as “painstaking, but crucial labor.” Editing addresses a variety of important questions and new media creates new opportunities. Questions Miller raised include, When is a poem finished? Who gets to determine when it is finished? What does chronological mean? What is the appropriate critical apparatus for editing? What is a mistake? Who gets to “correct” mistakes?

I’m going to append this to my earlier check list.

Deborah Mix talked about the importance of thinking about influence as not a struggle, but a give and take and a dialogue that can be generative. She also talked about influence as something that works across generations, not only from one generation to the next.

Finally, Melissa Girard, an alumna of Dusquesne talked about her work in poetics and in a demonstration of how younger scholars are engaging work between white canonical writers and writers of color explored her work on Edna St. Vincent Millay in dialogue with Angelina Weld-Grimke, Georgia Douglas Johnson and Anne Spencer, three African-American poets.

It was an extraordinary conclusion to an incredible conference. Kudos to all of the organizers of Lifting Belly High.

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