ARE WOMEN UNDERREPRESENTED IN THE SMALL PRESS
A DUELING ESSAY
By: CHARLES P. RIES and ELLARAINE LOCKIE
I became curious about women in the poetry small press when I noticed there were almost no female poets among the Beats of the 50's and 60's. I then found equally few female poets in a review Iíd written poetry anthology which focused on poets in the 70's. So I wondered, "How far have we really come?" When an e-mail query I sent to sixty poets, publishes and editors got me almost forty pages of replies, I thought I was on to something, but wanted see what a first rate female poet made of it all. Ellaraine Lockie was nice enough to jump into the gender equity hot tub with me and we agreed to disagree. Here is what we had to say about the current status of female poets in the small press. ~ Charles P. Ries
Are Women Underrepresented in the Small Press?
I had recently completed reading a poetry anthology entitled, Baby Beat Generation & The 2nd San Francisco Renaissance when I noticed how few women contributors were represented. I didn't understand why this would be the case, so I asked Kaye MacDonough whose work was featured about the status of women in the poetry small press, North Beach and the 70's:
"I think the North Beach lifestyle itself was hard on women. You had to be able to live poor and like it -- handle yourself in a bar, walk alone on the street at any hour, and rely on no one. You had to take care that you weren't an alcohol or drug casualty -- and that you could keep up with all those poets and what they read, and they read plenty. You had to be able to read your poetry to rooms full of mostly men who were not shy about giving you feedback. The womanizing was a definite minus. Where I came from, women did not go about unescorted at night, let alone into a bar, so North Beach wasn't exactly a place to settle down and start a family-- I'm not sure I knew what in the heck I was after - alcohol certainly played a role. I think I wanted to live like a man - a man who was a poet."
Maybe MacDonough's experience was just North Beach and the 70's, but when I looked at the popular Beat poets of the 50's and 60's almost none are women. I wondered if things had changed? I believe some sectors of our poetry world are still dominated by a male ethos. Yet I also believe women, write, read, and buy more poetry. I see a growing number of female editors; particularly in the booming electronic magazines sector, but it seems to me that men are more aggressive about submitting work and getting work published than women. I also believe that women are better represented in the academic MFA side of poetry, but still, I had this feeling there are fewer female voices in the poetry small press than male voices. So I invited poets, publishers and editors to send me their thoughts about what I felt was a race, gender, sexual orientation and socio-economic free zone called the poetry small press. As you might imagine, the replies were varied. Some agreed, and some didnít agree with my assumption. Here are a few observations that I pulled from over forty pages of responses:
Our first few issues featured more female than male poets. The reason for this is that we solicited female poets heavily. In recent issues, we haven't solicited as much and the result is that we've gotten more male poets over the transom. What does this mean? Women aren't sending us poetry unless we ask for it. So why don't women send us poetry? If I use the model of myself (a male) and my fiance (a female) then I notice that I will send work any and everywhere, and she is much more selective. I also tend to write more than she does, though her work is often stronger and more polished. Many women writers I know are very selective about where they send their work. The idea of social roles has been brought up; that women are still often relegated to the home and many women have children and so can't send work out/must be more selective. But the thing I find much more disturbing is the lack of minority submissions. CL Bledsoe ~ Ghoti Magazine