While collecting essays for an issue devoted to feminist poetics, I asked myself the most rudimentary question: What is a feminist poetics? I was reminded of a panel of African American poets Fence brought together to answer a question in a similar spirit: What is African American about African American poetry? To this, poet Elizabeth Alexander answered, “Well, the first thing I want to say is that what’s African American about African American poetry is that black people have made it.”1 I admit I was tempted to start with the same basic foundation: a feminist poetics is made by a woman. That’s one place to start, but two thoughts quickly butt in to trouble this instinct, and they must be mentioned: 1. In my immediate memory from my country’s immediate political history are swarms of women sporting “Women for Romney” stickers and buttons—an image with a frightening factual corollary. In 2012, Republican vice-presidential candidate, Paul Ryan, described rape as a “method of conception,” and those same “Women for Romney” described their distance from feminist goals by casting a vote for him. Women’s bodies, safety and rights are still routinely threatened, and some women still readily surrender to that threat. I must reckon with the grave fact that to be female-bodied does not equate to an internalized commitment to one’s own human rights. A feminist poetics is not inscribed in all female writing. 2. As evidenced in the Trans issue of Evening Will Come edited by the magnificent TC Tolbert, some of our greatest allies are otherwise bodied, are trans, or are performing as queer or hetero men. I love them. I am thankful for the many ways in which our hopes overlap.
So, what is a feminist poetics? In a recent conversation with poet Julie Carr we talked about writing as an instrument of wandering. For the feminist, that writing, that wandering is an exercise of and toward freedom. That freedom makes it possible to reclaim, defend, demand and hope for that which we have traditionally, institutionally or privately been barred from. This is feminist. To ask questions as a way to crack open discourse or to call others to account. This is feminist. To write—and so substantiate—the inhibited female body with its true functions, its gore, its strength, its limits, its lust. That’s feminist. To gather the chorus of our forebears into our writing. That’s feminist. To write in order to constitute a place for our meaning to be seen, really seen. That’s feminist. To build passable bridges between multiple possibilities. That’s feminist. To point to the rigidity and absolutism of patriarchal language and frames, and then blur contingencies. That’s feminist.
We—engaged readers and writers—likely know by now why it’s critical for women to write and why it’s critical for us to listen to them. For millennia women have been shouldered out, written over, ignored, made invisible to institutions, shamed, called filthy, blamed, abused, intimidated, killed. Cixous told us in 1986,
“Woman must write her self: must write about women and bring women to writing, from which they have been driven away as violently as from their bodies—for the same reasons, by the same law, with the same fatal goal. Woman must put herself into the text—as into the world and into story—by her own movement.”2
The nemeses to our equality and safety are many, sometimes subtle, and indefatigable. The work is continuous. So, for you, dear reader, to listen is a gesture at rescuing a past we can’t really recover. To listen is a gesture at an alliance with the claims we cast forward onto the future. It’s our love letter to the next generation of girls, but it’s for all of us, really. The call is fairly simple, but it’s as urgent as ever. In a recent interview, Canadian poet and editor Sina Queyras says it well: “Read women’s work…Throw your hooks back through time and dig up a woman’s texts…Bring these voices forward. Jam the networks with women’s voices. Don’t apologize. Just take up space.”3
Here is one such space full of women. These writers are a sliver of experiences, bodies, performances, political thrusts and traditions, but a glimmering one. Please listen.