Monday, January 19, 2009

Today from The Writer's Almanac

Everyone is Afraid of Something

by Dannye Romine Powell

Once I was afraid of ghosts, of the dark,

of climbing down from the highest

limb of the backyard oak. Now I'm afraid

my son will die alone in his apartment.

I'm afraid when I break down the door,

I'll find him among the empties-bloated,

discolored, his face a stranger's face.

My granddaughter is afraid of blood

and spider webs and of messing up.

Also bees. Especially bees. Everyone,

she says, is afraid of something.

Another fear of mine: that it will fall to me

to tell this child her father is dead.

Perhaps I should begin today stringing

her a necklace of bees. When they sting

and welts quilt her face, when her lips

whiten and swell, I'll take her

by the shoulders. Child, listen to me.
One day, you'll see. These stings
Are nothing. Nothing at all.

"Everyone Is Afraid of Something" by Dannye Romine Powell, from A Necklace of Bees. © University of Arkansas Press, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Donald Hall Standard - Review of July through December 2008

I’ve written about the Donald Hall standard before here and here and here. It’s my semi-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 few years.

I’ve done an extraordinary amount of work in the past six months, but not all of it appears in this assessment, though much of it does. A few observations about my writing in the past six months:

  1. I am writing fewer reviews. Part of this is just that I am writing so many other things reviews are not prioritized as much. Another part of it is that I do that type of writing for school and so am less keen to do it in my general writing.

  2. I drafted a lot of poems in this six months, but many I am still revising and tweaking.

  3. I’ve submitted a lot of work, but I’m pickier these days about where I submit. I do want to be published in more “prestigious” journals. I have a target list of places where I want to be published and am working within that rubric. Consequently, I’ve gotten a lot of rejections.

  4. I’m writing more essays and scholarly things. I love this, but it does take away from the bread and butter things I assess in this review. That is, these are longer things on a longer time table and will take a while to get counted, though eventually they will all be counted as a part of this work.

So here’s the report on what I have done from July through December 2008:

1 poem in print journals (“My Father’s Mimeograph” in MiPOesias - sort of a hybrid between print and online, but I’m calling it print here.)
3 poems in an online journal (“Durio Zibethinus,” “Meeting the Dictator,” and “Altun Ha” at Babel Fruit:
1 column - for CIVILesbianIZATION
7 reviews
1 article - the introduction to the special issue of Sinister Wisdom that I edited on Lesbian Theories, Lesbian Controversies
1 conference paper presentations

I also wrote two scholarly papers and launched the Lesbian Poetry Archive. (More about that will be forthcoming.)

So the goal is to have 26 items published (an average of one a week which is what Hall said he was doing in his book) and I had 14 items published this six month cycle. I think it’s the first time that I’ve not made it with the number. I fear that I may have some more cycles like this, though I’ve written and submitted a lot over the break that may help me squeak by for the next six months. It’s challenging being in school, but more so to learn the balance between my creative work and my academic work. I think it is something that will evolve as time goes on.

New CIVILesbianIZATION column on the EDGE Network

CIVILesbianIZATION :: Caring for the Next Generation
by Julie R. Enszer
EDGE Contributor
Wednesday Jan 14, 2009

As Barack Obama prepares to take up residency in the White House and become the 44th President of the United States, I’m thinking about generational transitions.

President-Elect Obama is one example of a generational transition, as the first President born in the 1960s. The election of Bill Clinton was another moment of generational transition, then of people who grew up during the 1960s. It makes me wonder, what is the significance of generations and what do we owe younger generations?

My own thinking about generational transitions comes from my experiences as young lesbian (I came out in 1988), and what I felt at the time was a lack of leaders ahead of me who were role models and mentors.

Read the rest here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Poem by Wendell Berry


by Wendell Berry

I would not have been a poet

except that I have been in love

alive in this mortal world,

or an essayist except that I

have been bewildered and afraid,

or a storyteller had I not heard

stories passing to me through the air,

or a writer at all except

I have been wakeful at night

and words have come to me

out of their deep caves

needing to be remembered.

But on the days I am lucky

or blessed, I am silent.

I go into the one body

that two make in making marriage

that for all our trying, all

our deaf-and-dumb of speech,

has no tongue. Or I give myself

to gravity, light, and air

and am carried back

to solitary work in fields

and woods, where my hands

rest upon a world unnamed,

complete, unanswerable, and final

as our daily bread and meat.

The way of love leads all ways

to life beyond words, silent

and secret. To serve that triumph

I have done all the rest.

"VII" from the poem "1994" by Wendell Berry, from A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979–1997. © Counterpoint, 1998. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Leontia Flynn

The placement of New Year’s Day makes for a long weekend at home and I’ve been using it productively – I finished all of my Valentine’s Day cards yesterday, made candles and bath salts, and finished two book reviews. In addition, I’ve been in a poetry reading festival of my own making. I read two collections of Elizabeth Alexander, of recent inaugural poetry fame, as well as two recent collections of Sharon Olds, (Oh, I so want to write like her) though not the newly published collection. I also read, courtesy of my friend in Nottingham, Leontia Flynn’s second collection of poetry, Drives. I love this book and am a new fan of Leontia Flynn. Flynn has a keen ear for poetry and fantastic images. She also is thoughtfully informed by formalism. Drives is a fascinating collection of poems that cover travel, responses to famous poets, and other poems of everyday life. My favorite poems in Drives are poems about individual women. I include two here.


‘Why have the body and illness not taken their place
with battle and love as the primary themes of literature?’
Virginia Woolf sits back to admire her phrasing
when just at that moment, an aura – bright, seductive –
starts in one eye. Then voices are heart in the offing.
She leaps from the chair; she is thinking of Lear on the heath.

She is thinking of women in Bedlam, raving, forgotten.
Voices are rising. The tide goes over her head.
As she casts around the desk for some kind of anchor
she is calmed by the solid round of her paperweight.


Oliver Schreiner, survivor of four infant siblings,
works just a handful of days in the Royal Infirmary;
she fumbles a test tube, career going nowhere fast
as Edinburgh sparkles outside: great buildings and radical politics!
She will suffer with asthma, from “asthma of the stomach’,
from heart trouble, wanderlust, bouts of the blues for decades;
‘Oh it isn’t my chest, it isn’t my legs, it’s myself’,
she will write in distress to ‘sexologist’ Havelock Ellis.

Meaning? God doesn’t exist – and Olive Schreiner:
author, progressive, free-thinker, feminist
will burn, like a fuse, from one end of her life to the other.
Her sister is dead, dead too her one-day-old daughter
(her hands quake with passion). . .
the flame is lit, then extinguished.

Here are some places to read more about Leontia Flynn online.

Leontia Flynn at Contemporary Writers.

Leontia Flynn on Wikipedia.

Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to getting a copy of her first book, These Days.

Sinister Wisdom: Lesbian Theories/Lesbian Controversies

From Sinister Wisdom #75 - an issue that I guest edited.

Notes for a Magazine

For me, the sites and moments of controversy are where some of our most important thinking and forward motion happen. They are also times that require extraordinary personal and community risk-taking. They create discomfort and, inevitably, pain. They also open new opportunities, new futures, and new ways of seeing the world.

When Fran Day asked me to guest edit Sinister Wisdom, I was honored, and in the issue that I agreed to edit I wanted to tackle some of controversies in the Lesbian community. Controversy is an important part of our community and has been no stranger to these pages during their august history. To me, many of the controversies arise out of our theories about the world and Lesbians in the world. Sinister Wisdom has a long been an incubator of important theories in the Lesbian community.

Theory, while sounding high-falutin’, is just a word to describe an analysis of a set of facts in relationship to one another. Lesbians have always had a profound stake in theory because we have so often been excluded from analysis. Here at Sinister Wisdom, theories begin, end and are grounded, ultimately, in Lesbians—Lesbian lives, Lesbian experiences, and Lesbian perspectives. Placing Lesbians in the center of theory, that is taking Lesbians as a starting point and the focus of the journey in thinking about theory, is a radical act. This radical act of Lesbian centrality has been repeated, explicitly and implicitly, throughout the history of Sinister Wisdom. The journal is a space where Lesbian ideas and Lesbian theories are expressed and explored by Lesbians and for Lesbians. Here in these pages Lesbian theories have been created, expanded, evaluated, and discussed, and with the Lesbian theories, controversies have also erupted. This issue continues that important dialogue about theories and controversies in our community.

One of the first people I spoke with about the issue is Catherine Crouch. I wanted to include her story about what happened with her film The Gendercator, which was a flashpoint in the controversy about transgender people and Lesbian communities. Catherine’s interview with Robin Epstein as well as information about her film, The Gendercator, is included in this issue.

Also tackling transgender questions are Carolyn Gage and Bev Jo. Carolyn’s one act play, Bite My Thumb, is a provocative exploration of gender and identity. Interestingly, the play has been optioned for a film by Catherine Crouch. Bev Jo’s article INSERT TITLE also grapples with the controversies surrounding transgender people and inclusion.

Three contributions from Australia provide important perspectives on controversies that may be less familiar to North American readers. Jean Taylor writes about Lesbian solidarity with aboriginal people in Australia. XX writes about XX. Chris Sitka contributes a compelling piece about Parthegenosis.

Finally, fiction and poetry are included in the issue. I am quite excited about the excerpt from an important book that Undine Pawlowski and Donna Giancola are writing titled Her Underground. This book builds on important work of Mary Daly and others in remembering and envisioning a world in which patriarchy is no longer.

Putting together this issue of Sinister Wisdom was an honor and a wonderful experience. I am grateful to all of the contributors for their work in the journal. I also honor the people who declined to contribute to the journal in solidarity with bisexual and transgender people who do not have a voice in these pages. Finding a space to sit in this work as a writer and activist who cares passionately about both the Lesbian community and also about a broader community that is bi and trans inclusive has never been easy for me, and I appreciate the loving challenges and opportunities given to me while assembling this issue. Finally, I thank Fran Day for the opportunity to participate in this community in this way and for her work in sustaining the visions and commitments of Sinister Wisdom.

Julie R. Enszer
September 2008

You can order a copy by emailing me, or subscribe online at