Friday, October 24, 2008

Poetry Cheesecake

My dear friend and co-editor of Weave, Laura Davis, talked about a very interesting topic over on her blog, Laura Without Labels a few weeks ago at this point - women as both smart and sexy, and is it possible to effectively present yourself as both at the same time.

Laura wrote about this topic primarily as a member of the skeptical community, but her post got me to thinking about how, from my experience, I am perceived as a woman off the page in poetry.

As you may or may not be aware, I run and host a poetry cabaret with my darling friend Crystal called The TypewriterGirls, and I must say that we have had some pretty darn lovely ladies and gents at our shows. Crystal and I always find some kind of costume to wear for our shows, often ones that could arguably be described as "sexy".

Anyway, whereas Crystal and I often look oddly sexy at TypewriterGirls shows, we stopped short of doing a show about sex where we wouldn't mention herpes or necrophilia, but rather would try to actually be sexy. We (or maybe it was just I) even had an idea for a flier that would have involved strategically placed typewriters.

In the end, as I said, we opted not to do a show about sexiness, in part, I think, because Crystal writes very lewd, weird, semi-offensive comedy, and it probably wouldn't have worked out anyway, but mostly because we didn't want to reduce the TypewriterGirls to poetry girl cheesecake. I don't know if this is at all a common occurrence in the poetry world, this idea of pretty poet girl as primarily pretty girl and secondarily poet (I do recall the great Fence debacle of '05), but especially where readings are concerned I see where it could be problematic.

To be fair, we do, I think, get a somewhat larger audience in part because we're cute girls who (sometimes) dress cute, and in that way it works to our advantage. However, I know that Crystal and I both desire to be seen as poets first, cute girls second, and while most men don't have short skirts to take advantage of on stage, they do have an establishment that they still seem to have a majority stake in.

Men also seem (whether this is accurate or not) to either be more confident than women about their writing or have a greater desire to publish. Laura and I probably receive twice as many submissions from men and as from women for Weave. I have been told by a male editor that for every ten submissions from a man, he receives one from a woman. To that I say - DANG.

I know a lot of amazing female writers, but it's true that many of them just don't send their work out, and I'm not certain why that is because honestly, it's a problem I've never had. I've been submitting my work regularly since my senior year of college.

I would, of course, be interested to hear others weigh in on this -- is this disparity because men are encouraged to publish more than women? Is it because there are just more men writing than women (I seriously doubt this)? Is it because women do see publishing as male dominated? Or is it because Laura and I are just so cute that men want to be near us via their poetry?


niina said...

I'm not sure what the stats are for other genres, but At-Large gets about fifty-fifty in terms of poetry. Since the beginning, though, we've published a lot of young feminist writers -- are people actually reading issues before submitting? Ghastly!

Margaret Bashaar said...

I certainly hope they are reading issues before submitting. It's just depressing to see people submit pretty much knowing they never even really checked out the journal.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps it has something to do with men and women's different shopping styles. A man will rush into a store, grab what he needs and leave. A woman will go into a store, circle an item over and over again and walk out with nothing, unsatisfied. Maybe men submit their work in this way: boom, done, submit; whereas women go round and round, never satisfied. My work is never finished. And rejection can be emotional turmoil.

Margaret Bashaar said...

Rejection is emotional turmoil at the start of the submissions process - I totally agree. Maybe it IS true that men just plow on through it while women tend to be more careful and delicate about the whole idea of submissions.

I remember when I first started submitting I was crushed by each rejection. My boyfriend had to comfort me as I declared myself not-a-poet. It is mildly embarrassing to admit this.

A large number of rejections later, I'm starting to be a lot more okay with it. I still get that pang in my stomach when they come in, but then I can shrug and go on with my day, happy that my submission was at least replied to.