Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The End of the Harrington Lesbian Literary Quarterly

A week or so ago, the most recent issue of the Harrington Lesbian Literary Quarterly arrived and in the Editor’s Introduction, Judith P. Stelboum writes,

I am sorry to inform all our wonderful artists, readers, and writers that this will be teh next to last issue of HLLQ. The publisher, Haworth Press, has determined that it is no longer economically feasible to continue with its gay and lesbian fiction quarterlies. This will come as a disappointment to many of you who, since the inception of the journal almost ten years ago, have been so enthusiastic and supportive as contributors and readers.

I had heard rumor that this was coming, but still it was sad to read it and absorb the finality of it. HLLQ has been an important resource for lesbian writing in the past decade.

Stelboum continues,

The incredible energy of the 1970s and ’80s that gave impetus to the lesbian feminist movement, with its amazing output of lesbian-based philosophy, theory, poetry and fiction, no longer exists. That creative time exists as an exciting memory for many women of my generation who read every book, went to every reading and literary and social event we could at the sever women’s bookstores. When I speak with younger lesbians, many know nothing of these important writers whose work inspired and influenced so many of us. Twenty-five years ago, a small bookstore like Judith’s Room in lower NYC could not accommodate all of the women who had come to hear Joan Nestle read essays from one of her recent books. Just being in a room with so many lesbians was exhilarating. We cling, now, to a few entities, where we can get news about lesbian writing.

Today, a literary journal devoted solely to writing from lesbian perspectives cannot survive simply through individual subscription. Defining “lesbian” may be ambiguous and sometimes contradictory, but lesbian writing is singular because it relates experiences and visions shared by a group of women who respond to the world in very different ways from men or from women who are not lesbian.

I’m fascinated by these paragraphs and Stelboum’s description of the 70s and 80s in regard to lesbian writing. I think that there were a variety of conditions that lead to such a blossoming and I feel worried and sad that it be forgotten as she suggests. I think that is one area where we must be vigilant in writing about and preserving our lesbian culture. That’s my soapbox, however, and I’ve written about it before.

I do have a caveat in the first sentence of the second paragraph above. In most narrative that I have read about lesbian magazines and journals from a variety of time periods, there are always challenges surviving from a financial perspective. Stelboum seems to indicate that it is a unique situation today, but in fact it was true for the Ladder, the publication of the Daughters of Bilitis and for numerous magazines during the heyday about which Stelboum writes.

In the conclusion of the introduction, Stelboum writes about marriage.

We are, as Jill Johnston described us, the “lesbian nation”: multiple, varied, composed of diverse entities, with particular customs and manners, but with our own distinct culture, history, and literature.

At the same time, we are influenced by those forces of our national culture that are ranged against us; those who cannot accept our differences try to transform us into pop icons of lesbian chic, urge our assimilation, or call for our annihilation. We have been sexually neutered by queer theorists, and baby-boomed into a classification of same-sex “couples” by sociologists. We emulate heterosexual marriages with commitment ceremonies and we join the patriarchal army.

At this moment in our history a great struggle is taking place to allow lesbians to marry which will lead to further assimilation into the heterosexual world. The backlash from this effort has been costly, as cities and states reject domestic partnership agreements and job and housing discrimination laws that we have worked so hard to establish. Our immediate situation looks bleak, as the forces of bigotry and prejudice seem to have gained strong backing, and support from outspoken reactionaries of the population. However, the war is not over yet, and eventually, as with most issues of civil rights, we will prevail.

While granting lesbian couples the same legal and civil rights as heterosexual couples will be economically beneficial, there is a price for that financial security and social acceptance. Lesbians are in danger of vanishing by being subsumed into the larger heterosexual culture if we do not consciously create our own worlds. Though some of us are still individually invisible, we must never be culturally invisible.

I find the connections that Stelboum makes between marriage and culture fascinating and important. By and large, I agree with her in her assessment of the situation and the moment. Where I struggle, and she may as well, is how to respond. How do I respond as a writer and as a lesbian? What can be done to preserve our culture and to propagate it? I think these are always important questions worth grappling with. This introduction by Judith is a brave piece to write at this time and I hope that it enters the dialogue in a meaningful way. I hope others will read it and write in response to it.

Meanwhile, please join me in raising a glass to Judith Stelboum! She has done great work as the editor of HLLQ and I for one heartily appreciate it. She accepted and published my first poems to ever appear in print. For that I am personally grateful, but moreso, I am grateful to her for the work she has done over the years with the journal.

As I have been studying lesbian writers and writings about lesbian writers and poets, one thing that strikes me is the profound influence that writers have when they work as editors. Joan Larkin, Terry Wolverton, Adrienne Rich, and now Judith Stelboum and Eloise Klein Healy with her new book series, Arktoi Books. While most may just want to spend their creative time writing, some make the commitment to editing and all of the aesthetic, administrative, sublime and mundane questions and responsibilities that come with it. Editing work has a profound impact on our culture and is, in general, profoundly unappreciated. So with that acknowledgement and the gratitude that comes with it, Here’s to Judith Stelboum! (clink, clink)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

This call from off our backs is to feminists living outside of the United States to send off our backs their hopes for the 2008 election. Please share it widely! (And to really read it in larger form, click on it and it will open larger.)

Monday, January 28, 2008

New Calls for Submissions for off our backs

off our backs
Call for Submissions

Contemporary Gender Roles

Deadline: March 1, 2008

Blue=Boy. Pink=Girl. Gender roles in the twenty-first century are more complex than that. After the so-called second wave of feminism, gender roles continue to morph and change. In this themed issue of off our backs, the collective takes on questions about contemporary gender roles in the year 2008. What is gendered feminine today? What is gendered masculine today? How have gender roles changed? How do we want them to change in the future? What has been the impact of the transgender movement on contemporary gender roles? Are transgender people and trans analysis changing the terms of gender?

off our backs is looking for smart, contemporary, feminist analyses of gender roles. We want to read your analysis, articles, rants, and reviews of how gender roles are experienced in our lives today.

Women’s Friendships

Deadline: July 1, 2008

“When my Hands/are Cut, Her/fingers will be/found inside—“

Emily Dickinson wrote that about her dear friend, Susan Huntington Dickinson, who was her sister-in-law, literary companion, and epistolary correspondent for over thirty years. Women’s friendships are the source of great energy, insight, and support. off our backs is looking for stories of women’s friendships, today and throughout history. In a themed issue, off our backs wants to explore the meaning and significance of women’s friendships in a feminist framework.

What is the significance of women’s friendships? What are the challenges and conflicts in friendships between women? How does friendship nurture our feminist aspirations? What about conflict between women? At off our backs, we want to read smart, contemporary, and feminist analyses of women’s friendships.

Please note: off our backs does not run poetry or fiction. We are only looking for high-quality journalistic writing that addresses these two themes.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Virginia Woolf's Birthday

From The Writer’s Almanac:

It's the birthday of the novelist and essayist Virginia Woolf, (books by this author) born Virginia Stephen in London (1882). She came from a family of distinguished scholars and literary critics. She said, "[The] Stephens are difficult, especially as the race tapers out towards its finish — such cold fingers, so fastidious, so critical, such taste. ... How I wish they had hunted and fished instead of dictating dispatches and writing books."
She never went to school, but her father chose books for her to read from his own library. Her brothers all went to the best universities, and she wrote letters to them about her reading. She was only allowed to move out of her family home after her father's death, when she was 22. She moved into a house with her brothers and sister, and instead of writing letters about what she'd been reading, she began to write literary criticism for the Times Literary Supplement, and she became one of the most accomplished literary critics of the era.
Of Charles Dickens, she wrote, "Dickens makes his books blaze up not by tightening the plot or sharpening the wit, but by throwing another handful of people upon the fire." Of George Moore, she wrote, "Literature has wound itself about him like a veil, forbidding the free use of his limbs."
In 1917, Woolf and her husband founded Hogarth Press, a printing press that they ran out of their home. It allowed her to publish whatever she wanted, without having to submit her work to editors, and as a result she began to produce a series of experimental novels that might not have been published otherwise, in which she attempted to capture the inner lives of her characters.
Woolf believed that the problem with 19th-century literature was that novelists had focused entirely on the clothing people wore and the food they ate and the things they did. She believed that the most mysterious and essential aspects of human beings were not their possessions or their habits, but their interior emotions and thoughts.
She wrote: "We all indulge in the strange, pleasant process called thinking, but when it comes to saying ... what we think, then how little we are able to convey! The phantom is through the mind and out of the window before we can lay salt on its tail, or slowly sinking and returning to the profound darkness which it has lit up momentarily with a wandering light."
She considered her first few novels failures, but then in 1922, she began to read the work of Marcel Proust, who had died that year. She wrote to a friend, "Proust so titillates my own desire for expression that I can hardly set out the sentence. Oh if I could write like that!" Later that summer, she wrote in her diary "There's no doubt in my mind, that I have found out how to begin (at 40) to say something in my own voice."
Her next book was her first masterpiece, Mrs. Dalloway (1925), about all the thoughts that pass through the mind of a middle-aged woman on the day she gives a party.Woolf wrote: "In people's eyes, in the swing, tramp, and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jungle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what [Mrs. Dalloway] loved; life; London; this moment of June."
Woolf went on to write many more novels, including To the Lighthouse (1927) and The Waves (1931), but she was also one of the greatest essayists of her generation. Many of her essays were collected in The Common Reader (1925).
In one of her most famous essays, "The Death of a Moth," Woolf described the experience of watching a moth trapped between two windowpanes. She wrote, "Watching him, it seemed as if a fibre, very thin but pure, of the enormous energy of the world had been thrust into his frail and diminutive body ... as if someone had taken a tiny bead of pure life and decking it as lightly as possible with down and feathers, had set it dancing and zig-zagging to show us the true nature of life. Thus displayed one could not get over the strangeness of it."
And in her long essay about women and literature, A Room of One's Own (1929), she wrote: "So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say. But to sacrifice a hair of the head of your vision, a shade of its colour, in deference to some Headmaster with a silver pot in his hand or to some professor with a measuring-rod up his sleeve, is the most abject treachery, and the sacrifice of wealth and chastity, which used to be said to be the greatest of human disasters, a mere flea-bite in comparison."

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Dear Kay Ryan

Thank you for the lovely evening on Tuesday night at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC. I wanted to stay and speak with you afterward, enamored by your presentation, but it was the birthday of my beloved, and frankly she had indulged me enough to spend the hour with you when poetry is not particularly her cup of tea. Nevertheless, she was engaged by your poems and your presence. My more British empirical friends might even call you a pip. She had fun in the theater of the Folger listening to you read your poems once, occasionally twice. When you talked about your homemade holiday cards, I poked her side as she pokes me in late November for crafting a hundred cards while avoiding writing papers. We listened carefully for you to cue you hand to being a lesbian. When you did acknowledge writing a poem about a dream of your partner and called her she, we sat back in our chairs relieved. Now reading you on the internet, I realize, you’re very open about being a lesbian. Twenty-seven years with Carol impresses me as I try and figure your age, when you met, and map those facts against my own, just out of habit. You know the natterings of long-term relationships. I’ll say to my beloved, how old was I? And you were? And when we’ve been together, I’ll be? And you? We both sigh and shake our heads. Ask what the other wants for dinner or if we saw the news of some absurdity or another. None of this I would have told you had I spoken with you after the reading, your new book pressed in my hands. I would have asked you to sign it and sputtered out my name. I’m so terrible in some social situations. Once, and I was much younger then, I went to see the FAMOUS poet and stood in line for all of four minutes (she was very famous but you know the relative fame of poets) and when I arrived, hard bound book cracked and presented, she asked my name, and I said, my name? My name? My name? Yes, your name, pen in hand. I couldn’t remember it and had to be rescued by my best friend then who swooped in, Julie, her name is Julie, and she loves your work. I was frozen. I couldn’t even think of a witty reply, just grasped the book to my chest when she returned it and backed away. I have more grace than this now, though, so I’m sure, standing in the dark, wood-paneled room of the Folger, I would not have been so mute, though I cannot guarantee the witty, delightful repartee that is fulsome in my imagined lives. All of this to say, Kay, thank you for the lovely evening with your dry wit, your sharp poems. I’m going to add you to the list and spend more time reading you. I wonder if you’ve read Emily to Susan? The Dickinson meter and line breaks so present in your poems, I must believe you read Emily daily in manuscript. In fact, I’ve started to think of you as the modern Miss ED, biking in Northern California, rugged, tan, and now the toast of the town. Ah, how fortune’s turn and lives change in the boat we steer on faith. If you get this, drop me a line, I promise I won’t respond. -- Julie

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Cath Elliott on "designer vaginas"

This from AlterNet this week.

Designer Vaginas, Anyone?
By Cath Elliott, Comment Is Free
Posted on January 11, 2008, Printed on January 13, 2008

Once you've had your breasts enhanced, your thighs sucked thin, your skin stretched taught over your cheekbones, and your lips pumped full of cow's tissue, what better way to finish off that perfect Barbie doll look than to have your genitals surgically remodeled and your pubic area waxed smooth? And if you're worried that your partner might be tempted to stray because you've had a couple of kids and things have started to sag a bit, what better way to guarantee his fidelity than to transform yourself into a porn queen lookalike with the fanny of a pre-pubescent girl?

Hymenoplasty, vaginal tightening, revirgination, G-spot amplification and labial reduction are the latest craze in cosmetic surgeries for women with more money than sense. Surgeries that were originally designed to help overcome some of the more debilitating side effects of childbirth have now been appropriated by an industry whose sole purpose is to convince women that they're imperfect and to profit from the plummeting self-esteem they promote.

In last week's Observer, Cristina Odone lauded hymenoplasty as "brilliantly subversive" and as "good news" for women. "After all," she chortled, "nowadays you don't have to be a virgin -- you just pretend to be one."

Well, sorry to burst your bubble Cristina, but having your hymen repaired to meet with societal expectations of a new bride's virginity, or having your vagina tightened as a gift to your husband so he can re-live that first night experience, is not "good news for women," not by any stretch of the imagination. Something's surely gone amiss if we're now celebrating voluntary mutilation as some kind of benchmark for women's progress.

We rightly condemn female genital mutilation (FGM) when it's forced on women and girls in the name of culture and tradition, yet we're quick to embrace it when it's sold to us packaged in the language of choice. There's a glaring inconsistency in the western notion of female empowerment, when enshrined within that is the right of women to go under the surgeon's knife in pursuit of a socially imposed model of physical perfection. It's no wonder we face accusations of hypocrisy and cultural imperialism, when glossy magazines carry worthy articles about the horrors of FGM in the developing world on the one page, and advertisements offering the latest in designer vaginas in the classified section at the back.

Of course there's an enormous difference between a young girl being forced to undergo FGM without anaesthetic, where the purpose is to reduce the desire for sex, and a grown woman choosing surgery under the misapprehension that it's going to improve her sex life (doctors have now warned that the potential risks, which include infection, scarring, nerve damage and loss of sensation outweigh the potential benefits). While the procedures and motivations are different, both come firmly under the banner of harmful cultural practices.

In 1915 the Chinese government finally declared foot binding illegal; for centuries Chinese girls had been forced to endure agony for the sake of a pair of tiny feet. Ironically, podiatrists in America are now performing toe shortening surgery, to help women fit into the latest designer shoes. And while a quarter of young girls in Cameroon are being subjected to breast ironing, where their breasts are pounded and massaged with a variety of heated implements to try and stop them developing, in the west, teenage girls as young as 14 are being treated to breast implants.

From one generation to the next, and from one society to another, women's bodies are being continually sculpted to fit in with cultural norms and orthodoxies; but it's not just women who are falling prey to the myth that the body beautiful is within everyone's reach. While we might wince at the thought of the subincision practised by some Aboriginal Australian tribes, increasing numbers of men are seeking out penis enlargement surgeons, or inserting splints attached to weights into their members in a bid to make them longer. And while breast enhancement surgery has become an almost routine procedure for women, men too can now have their chests reshaped with pectoral implants.

There's a scene in the film adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club where the two main protagonists steal discarded bags of liposuctioned fat from waste bins; the fat is a vital ingredient for the designer soap out of which they make their living. As we watch the bags being dragged out of the bins, the narrator intones:

Tyler sold his soap to department stores at $20 a bar. Lord knows what they charged. It was beautiful. We were selling rich women their own fat asses back to them.

Cosmetic surgeons now offer injectable fillers, containing human fat harvested from the patient's own body to pack facial creases and build up shallow contours. Palahniuk got it right. We're selling rich women their own fat asses, and someone's laughing all the way to the bank.

Cath Elliott is a feminist and a trade union activist. She is currently working in local government.
© 2008 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at:

This weekend I read Christopher Hennessy’s book, Outside the Lines: Interviews with Contemporary Gay Poets.* It’s a great read including interviews with Thom Gunn, Frank Bidart, Reginald Shepherd, and Carl Phillips. There are twelve interviews in all. Christopher is a thoughtful and insightful interviewer. That is part of the joy of this book. He has clearly thoroughly read and studied the poets work and so asks questions that really delve into their work and plumb their psyches. It’s an interesting book to think about what are contemporary gay male poetics. Christopher writes a good blog as well, titled, Are you outside the lines? Add it to your reader if your interested in gay male poetics. I only hope that Christopher is working on a longer discursive study of the poets that he interviewed and the themes and images shaping contemporary gay male poetics.

Reading this book also made me think about how fabulous it would be to read a similar book of interviews with lesbian poets. Who would I interview to construct such a book? Adrienne Rich, Minnie Bruce Pratt, Robin Becker, Judy Grahn (I’m reading her book, The Golden Apple, and will write more about that later) Marilyn Hacker, Sina Queyras, Joan Larkin, Mary Oliver, Eloise Klein Healy, Terry Wolverton, Cheryl Clarke, and Judith Barrington. That list is subject to revision, those are my first thoughts on the topic. It would be a great project!

*It’s published by the University of Michigan Press; I feel as though I’m collecting everything they are publishing in their poets on poetry series!

Anti-Valentine's Day Slam to Benefit off our backs

Help support the longest running feminist newsjournal in the US.  off our backs is 38 years strong and still keeping the feminist voice alive!

Feb. 13-- Cash prizes!

Bring us your bitter, break-up, back-stabbing best, ANYTHING but your love poems to this event!! There will be cash prizes! $100 to winner; $50 to runner up.

What: Mothertongue's Annual
Anti-Valentine's Day Slam
Where: The Black Cat
When: Wednesday February 13 at 9 pm. Doors at 8:30 pm
Cost: $10 sliding scale -- beneficiary off our backs

All ages show

Hosted By J. Scales and Michelle Sewell

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Op-Ed in Baltimore Gay Life: Calculating the Value of My Marriage

Calculating the Value of My Marriage
by Julie R. Enszer

The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law released a research study at the end of November 2007 that said that the state budget in Maryland would see a benefit of approximately $3.2 million annually if the state were to recognize marriages of gay and lesbian couples. While I support civil recognition of gay and lesbian marriages, such economic analyses lack persuasive power.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot at stake economically in marriage equality for gay and lesbian people. Within a household, the ability to transfer property to a partner can be hampered by the economic penalty that gay and lesbian couples face in comparison to heterosexual couples. The additional taxes paid by gay and lesbian couples, who utilize domestic partner benefits, are significant in a household economy. The unfair penalty to gay and lesbian couples in death as a result of estate taxes is wrong. Individuals have an economic stake in the unfair exclusion of gay and lesbian couples from marriage and are right to speak about it.

Read the rest here.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Even Donald Hall Votes

Read what he has to say about it in the New York Times, Snow Falling on Voters.

Janet Malcolm's Gertrude and Alice

I just finished reading this book and am still mulling through how I feel about it. On one hand it was riveting, and I want to read much more Stein, but on the other hand I’m unsettled by the portrayal of Alice. I’ll write more about it later, but it will be a while. In the interim, read this from the Times Online.

Gertrude and Alice
The difficulty of separating Stein's influence as a writer from the force of her personality
Justin Beplate

Janet Malcolm
Gertrude and Alice
224pp. Yale University Press. £16.99.
978 0 300 12551 1

Read the full review.

Mary Oliver's Tribute to Molly Malone Cook

She had me at American Primitive. Sure, I was a child when it was published and didn’t read it until 1987, but that was the book that brought me into Mary Oliver’s orbit. I’ve been there, happily, ever since. Now she has a new book out with photographs by her long-time partner, Molly Malone Cook. I think I am going to start answering the telephone as someone else and then pretend to be her pretending to be me when we talk. Read the article in the Los Angeles Times, here, and you’ll understand.

What I love about Oliver these days is how she’s an open lesbian. I wanted her to be one so desperately in 1987 which I was just figuring out that I was. So in addition to her lovely poetry, I’m so pleased that she is now open as a lesbian and that it all just seems perfectly fine to encounter an article like the one below in the newspaper today. Big changes in my lifetime.

'Our World' by Mary Oliver
The photographs of the late Molly Malone Cook, with a text by her partner, poet Mary Oliver.

By Susan Salter Reynolds

Our World
Mary Oliver, photographs by Molly Malone Cook
Beacon Press: 88 pp. $24.95

USED to be, if you telephoned the poet Mary Oliver, her partner Molly Cook would invariably answer. Read the rest of the article.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

but then you danced

A new edition of Jeanne Lupton’s collection of tanka, but then you danced, is now available from RAW ArT Press. I’ve reviewed Jeanne’s book on the Woman-Stirred blog. She was also recently on Woman-Stirred Radio with the incomparable Merry Gangemi. It’s a fun interview and worth a listen. It will soon be up on the podcasting site for Woman-Stirred Radio at Women On Women. Meanwhile, check out the gorgeous new edition of Jeanne’s book. She first published it as a small book that was photocopied and staple bound. I loved it in that form, but I think I love it more in its new, handsome perfect bound edition.

New issue! off our backs - Feminism and Culture

I’ve been working for the past year or so on a special issue of off our backs on Feminism and Culture. Just before the holidays it went to the printer and mailed in the last few days of December. Many folks are getting it now. Mine arrived last week and it was - and is - stunningly beautiful. There is for me a particular joy and pride in seeing something that I have had a hand in creating. I felt that when my issue arrived in my mailbox last week.

Then I received this fantastic email from one of the women behind The Spiral Dance Women’s Center and Bookstore in Baltimore, MD. She wrote,

Julie, the response has been amazing!  A man and woman from Frederick drove all the way to Baltimore, just to see the place.  Oh my gosh!  What a blessing.  So, thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

I was pleased to get that email and am happy about the work on off our backs. One of the things I’m interesting in studying academically is feminist publishing and lesbian-feminist publishing. I feel for myself that my academic work is balanced by participation in the real life of publishing. It’s a nice theory/praxis nexus, as one might say in the academic world. At off our backs, we’re working on the next issue on the theme of Women and Happiness. We have almost all of the content for that one done, but have new calls for submissions here. Please think about submitting to off our backs or helping out with this great feminist publication which is just as old as I am!

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Mr. Williams, There is a Lesbian in the Middle of your Poem.

Last fall I had the pleasure of reading Paterson by William Carlos Williams. I’ve written earlier about some passages in Paterson from the letters of Marcia Nardi to WCW. I continue to think about Nardi and how she works in this text, but I also want to think about and write about the lesbians in Paterson.

The first passage that I’ll write about is from Paterson V in the second section. Here it is in its entirety.

There is a woman in our town
walks rapidly, flat bellied

in worn slacks upon the street
where I saw her.

        Neither short
nor tall, nor old nor young
face would attract no

adolescent. Grey eyes looked
straight before her.
was gathered simply behind the
ears under a shapeless hat.

        hips were narrow, her
thin and straight. She stopped

me in my tracks--until I saw
        disappear in the crowd.

An inconspicuous decoration
made of sombre cloth, meant
I think to be a flower, was
pinned flat to her

breast--any woman might have
done the same to
say she was a woman and warn
us of her mood. Otherwise

she was dressed in male attire,
as much as to say to hell

with you. Her
                        express was
serious, her
                feet were small.

And she was gone!

.        if ever I see you again
as I have sought you
daily without success

I’ll speak to you, alas
too late! ask,
What are you doing on the

streets of Paterson? a
thousand questions:
Are you married? Have you any

children? And, most important,
your NAME! which
of course she may not

give me--though
I cannot conceive it
in such a lonely and

intelligent woman

When I read this passage, I was incredulous to find this lesbian. First, I suppose I should explain why I think she is a lesbian because while it seems completely evident to me, I’ve found that some don’t see the lesbians in literature as immediately as I. Williams begins by rooting that there is a woman in the town of Paterson who “walks rapidly,” by this he means she is a woman of purpose and a woman with intention and places to be. She is also “flat bellied” and wears “slacks upon the street.” Paterson V was published in 1958 and at the time that it was written, it would have been less usual than today for a woman to be wearing pants. Yet, many lesbians in talking about the 1950s describe wearing pants in public. So I see that as the first sign that the woman is a lesbian.

The next passage, through the line “disappear in the crowd” is further explication of the woman’s appearance. What I find striking about the description is both the ordinariness and plainness of the woman. She has “grey eyes” and gathers her hair “simply behind the/ears.” There is nothing of particular note in many ways about the woman. She is a woman that I might see out at a lesbian bar at any time. Yet, Williams says, “she stopped me in my tracks.” Why was she so unusual to Williams? Why would he not have conveyed rather than her physical description the charisma that she had that drew him to her?

Part of the answer to these questions comes in the next section in which Williams describes the flower that this woman has “pinned flat to her/right/breast.” The flower is a symbol of both the woman’s gender and of her sexuality. By that I mean that the flower, “an inconspicuous decoration” “meant/I think to be a flower,” marks both the woman’s gender as “[o]therwise//she was dressed in male attire” as well as being a symbol for women’s sex organs. Combined these series of facts mark her as a lesbian.

What I especially love, of course, is the next line, after the “male attire” is that the purpose of this clothing is “to say to hell//with you.” I admire both her plain clothedness and the intention behind it.

Like most lesbians prior to the lesbian and gay liberation movement of the last part of the twentieth century, however, she is a spectral lesbian. That is she is present for a moment in the poem and then “she was gone!”

Williams asserts that if he sees her again, he will speak with her. While up to that point, I had some sympathy with him as the narrator in Paterson (though my relationship as a reader with Williams is conflicted even on the best days), it is at this point that I lose some of my sympathy and respect for him. The series of his questions is suspect and indicates the sexism that I think is implicit in this poem. Yes, Williams grapples with his sexism and is looking to understand relationships between men and women, but still I find him suspect. HIs first question is “What are you doing on the/streets of Paterson?” I imagine the lesbian responding, “Living, what are you doing?” He then asks,“ Are you married?” and “Have you any//children?” As though this lesbian he has clearly identified could be married, living as consciously and openly as she does. It is only in the fourth question that Williams gets to asking her “NAME!” This woman, like other women in the book, is a flat character not meant to be named or explored as a real person, but as a rube for Williams’ art. Perhaps I am being unkind when I say, by the end, I imagine my lesbian chuckling at Williams. She will not tell him her name and he will never know, that truly, she is not lonely. We might both ask Williams, if we were to speak to him, “Have you read anything that we have written?”

Friday, January 04, 2008


My favorite emails come from Wompos. Wompos are members of the Wompo ListServ, an shortened version of women poets. Wompo was founded about ten years ago and i think I joined about six years ago. It is a collection of now over 800 people interested in talking about women’s poetry in serious ways. I’ve learned an immense amount from listening in on these conversations over the years.

About two years ago, Moira Richards and a few other folks thought it would be fascinating to read poems by Wompo list members. Moira began gathering them for a blog. Shortly, this turned into an anthology and Letters to the World was born. A collective effort, the anthology has three primary editors, Moira Richards, Rosemary Starace, and Lesley Wheeler. These fine editors worked with a variety of other committees which were responsible for editing, proofreading, and arranging all of the contracts for the over 300 poems included in the anthology. Each list member could submit one poem of her choosing.

I can’t wait to read the book! In addition to the poems, list members shared brief reflective essays on the Wompo experience. From what I have seen with my page proofs, it looks fascinating. I’m incredibly grateful to all of the editors of the book for their hard work and good spirits in putting this together as well as to Kate Gale, the publisher at Red Hen Press who stood up and took a risk on publishing this book. In addition, all of the women who volunteered on the project - and all of the women (and men) at Wompo who participated, not only in this book, but in my education about poetry.

If you’d like to order the book, which I heartily encourage you to do, you can click on the link below and order it quickly and efficiently with PayPal. When you do, let me know what you think!

Letters to the World: Poems from the Wom-Po Listserv

Ed. Moira Richards, Rosemary Starace, Lesley Wheeler
ISBN: 978-1-59709-099-5
Size: 7x9
Pages: 456
Binding: Tradepaper

Available 2/1/2008

Will you join the VULVAlution?

Please join me in a collaborative, online feminist art project called VULVAlution.

In a world where women’s bodies continue to be objectified, medicalized, labeled, devalued, and hidden, we need space to understand and celebrate our bodies--and take control of the images created of them. In 2007, Oprah Winfrey talked about her vagina, using the language of Gray's Anatomy, the vajajay. Sometimes we call it "down there," "between the legs," “bits,” “cunt,” “twat,” "coochie" or "pussy." Whatever you call your vagina and vulva, how often do you look at your vulva and vaginal opening? How often do you dwell, then admire, then celebrate them?

This is what I am inviting you to do for a few minutes in 2008. Specifically, I invite you to photograph your vulva and vagina opening. Use a digital camera, a cell phone, a disposable camera, anything you'd like. Just spend the time getting a good picture of your vulva.

Then, if you would, send a picture and some thoughts about what the experience was like to Tell me about taking the photograph--how did you do it? What did it feel like? How did you feel about the picture? What do you think about emailing it? Posting it to a blog? What do you think about the project, VULVAlution?

You're welcome to send poems, graphics, stories or other expressions inspired by the experience of photographing yourself. With your permission, I'll post them at VULVAlution, the blog at At VULVAlution, I hope that women will share their experience, make comments and who knows, maybe we’ll even create our own VULVAlution. You can send your photo anonymously, but you must have a valid email to verify that the picture is yours and that you are giving me permission to post it. You are also welcome to use your name - or not - just let me know your preference.

This is a one year only project, so no worries about a photograph of your vulva being online forever. The entire blog will magically disappear on December 31, 2008.

I hope that you'll consider joining the VULVAlution and email me the photo you’ve taken and some words about it. If you don't feel comfortable photographing your vulva and want to send me a few lines for the blog about that, I'd be appreciative of that as well. If you have questions or want to chat on email, send one along to

Please do feel free to forward this email and link to others who might like to join in on the fun - and to send me an email if you have any questions.

Thanks so much for your time and consideration! I’m looking forward to a year of thinking about and celebrating the vulva at VULVAlution.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Advance Buzz for the next Tess Camillo Mystery

FOOL ON THE HILL, the second in the Tess Camillo series by Morgan Hunt, is on track to be released in April. Renowned author Rita Mae Brown graciously agreed to read an early copy of FOOL ON THE HILL. She had this to say:
"You will be fooled--which is half the fun of reading a mystery. Morgan Hunt gets better and better as a writer. Three cheers!"
--Rita Mae Brown, New York Times best-selling author
Pick up your copy of STICKY FINGERS today so that you’ll be ready when FOOL ON THE HILL comes out!

Caucus Results Tonight!

I’m very excited to watch the caucus results this evening. While I usually have politics that are too radical for the Democrats and therefore don’t vote for them, I do like “watching politics.” My online friend, Ellen, and her husband have endorsed John Edwards and over the past few weeks I’ve become more and more smitten by him (and his wife) as a candidate.

Today, I received the op-ed piece from the Boston gay newspaper, Bay Windows, by Mo Baxley, a New Hampshire state representative and the executive director of the New Hampshire Freedom to Marry Coalition. Here is a portion of what she writes,

Edwards has worked hard since announcing his candidacy for President to earn our support. He was the first candidate to publicly release the candidate questionnaire for the Human Rights Campaign; the first to publicly announce an LGBT steering committee; the first to release a comprehensive plan for addressing the domestic HIV/AIDS crisis; and the first to visit a gay and lesbian community center. The dynamic Elizabeth Edwards also became the first spouse of a candidate to speak at a gay Pride weekend - the San Francisco Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club - an event at which she declared her support for marriage equality. Edwards has also proudly and publicly dispatched high-profile LGBT supporters (like former National Stonewall Democrats Executive Director Eric Stern) to talk to LGBT voters in key early states like Iowa.

Edwards has not only demonstrated through these actions that our community is a vital part of this campaign whose support he is working hard to earn, but he has also proven that he will stand up for our community as our next president. When General Peter Pace (who was also then the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) called gays and lesbians "immoral," Edwards was the only candidate to immediately denounce and disagree with Pace's attack on millions of hard-working, tax-paying LGBT Americans. Neither Clinton nor Obama were able to do the same when initially asked to respond to Pace's hateful and very public remarks. Edwards spoke from his heart in defending our community from this vicious attack and he will do the same as our president.

You can read the full article here.

I’m hoping that tonight is a new day for John Edwards in Iowa and that he has a strong showing in the caucus. I think we would be well-served by an Edwards presidency.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008


Reflection on ENDA

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) passed out of the House of Representatives on November 7, 2007 with a vote of 235-184. In order to become law, it must of course also pass the Senate and be signed by the President. Most anticipate that those two things will not happen this legislative cycle. The version of ENDA that was voted out of the House is one that many advocates object to because it excluded gender identity language, which would have provided workplace protections to transgender people.

There has been an entire brouhaha surrounding ENDA that’s been mostly documented in the blogosphere though The New York Times article provided a good summary of it as well. I’ve watched these events unfold with astonishment.

Read the rest over at CIVILesbianIZATION.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The Donald Hall Standard - July through December 2007

I’ve written about the Donald Hall standard before here and here. It’s my annual ritual of benchmarking my work as a writer against the standard of my idol/mentor, Donald Hall. Hall writes in Life Work about publishing one piece per week in general. So that is what I have been trying to do for the past year or two.

Here’s my report on what I have done from July through December of 2007:

2 poems in print journals
1 poem in an online journal
1 poem in an anthology
3 columns - outside of the CIVILesbianIZATION series
11 columns for CIVILesbianIZATION
2 articles
8 reviews
2 readings

I also wrote a paper and two encyclopedia entries - but I’m saving those for when they are published. It’s all about the pipeline!

So the goal is to have 26 items published and I had 30 items out. The CIVILesbianIZATION column is really what keeps me going on both the standard and the commitment to doing the writing.

Here’s to a great year of writing in 2008!

I've Joined LibraryThing!

Happy New Year! It was a whim this morning. I saw on NIcki Hastie’s blog that she had a widget with random books from her library hosted by LibraryThing. I’ve heard lots of great things about LibraryThing. Ellen and her partner have logged over 8,000 books on LibraryThing. It seemed like a very nifty website and I’ve had as a goal to log all of my books. I was deterred by a recent experience with GoodReads. Allison Hedge Coke, whose who I love, invited me to share in her books at GoodReads, which is great. Alison has a couple hundred books with ratings and a few reviews. I joined, but I found it difficult to add books and the entire thing didn’t seem easy and intuitive. I wasn’t committed to adding all of my books to GoodReads.

Today when I cruised over to LibraryThing, I added a dozen books immediately off the bat. It was easy-peasy. Then I saw that they have the CueCat. I’ve heard about this - it scans ISDN numbers and then logs them at LibraryThing. I love little technology gizmos like this, especially when they only cost $20 with shipping and handling. I ordered it right away and when it arrives I’ll be doing a lifetime membership to LibraryThing. Hopefully, I’ll be easily scanning and uploading all of my books over the next few weeks.

So, stay tuned - and join in the fun at LibraryThing!