Being a woman editor

After my earlier post about being a woman poet, I thought about my role as a woman editor.

Vida tirelessly counts the rates of publication between men and women in some of the most prestigious literary venues. Their 2011 count, located here, shows a huge disparity. Regardless of the potential reasons (“women write less,” “women submit less,” “women don’t write as well as men,” “editors purposefully choose work from more men than women”), the numbers are startling.

For the Spring 2012 issue of The Pinch which I was Managing Editor for, we published poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction from fourteen women and fifteen men. We published twenty-three pieces from women and seventeen pieces from men (this includes if we accepted two or more poems, fiction stories, or creative nonfiction essays from one writer). Of the art and photography we accepted, all were from men.

Of the ten major editor positions for the staff at the time (fall 2011), six were held by women (editor-in-chief, managing editor, assistant managing editor, senior fiction editor, fiction editor, and creative nonfiction editor). The strongest positions in the journal (editor-in-chief, managing and assistant managing editor) were all held by women. While we never looked at or discussed a work on the basis of the gender of its author, we did publish work from nearly as many women as men, and that somehow must be connected to the fact that many of us were and are strong women writers ourselves.

Other journals circumvent the subjective world of publishing by having only women editors and accepting work from only women writers. Many are listed here, and Southern Women’s Review should be included on that list as well. I have mixed feelings about “women” journals mostly because they are undervalued and underappreciated. No women’s-only journal has the same prestige as The New Yorker.

What are your thoughts?

Being a woman poet

In honor of Adrienne Rich’s very recent passing, I started reading her collection of essays titled On Lies, Secrets and Silence, which happened to be on my MFA Comps Reading List. When my thesis adviser asked me if I had in mind any questions I wanted to be asked, I suggested something about being a woman writing in a masculine tradition. I write a lot of violent narrative poetry, and my female predecessors are limited to poets like Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Sharon Olds, and Adrienne Rich. My poetry itself really follows more the veins of work by Frost (such as “Out, Out–“) and James Dickey (though I was writing this way way before I ever read them).

In her essay titled “Anne Sexton: 1928-1974,” Rich writes, “We have had enough suicidal women poets, enough suicidal women, enough of self-destructiveness as the sole form of violence permitted to women.” Women destroy themselves through “self-trivialization, contempt for women, misplaced compassion, addiction.” “Self-trivialization”=not taking ourselves or our work seriously enough. Producing work that imitates that of men. Not seeking opportunities for ourselves that we would push others to do. “Contempt for women”=mistrusting other women. Believing women’s desires are secondary to those of men. “Misplaced compassion”=the example she gives is feeling sorry for the rapist instead of the woman who was raped. “Addiction”= addiction to “selfless, sacrificial love,” addiction to depression, drugs, or alcohol, addiction to male approval.

I applied Rich’s idea of women’s self-destructive attitudes to my own work, particularly my manuscript, Predator’s Tongue. One of my most violent poems is directed at the speaker’s mother. In many of my poems that deal with or mention mothers, the mother is absent (emotionally or physically), neglectful, and/or violent. Many of my female characters are passive, constrained by their relationships and their desires, paralyzed in inaction. Two poems that deal with molestation and rape are told from the perspective of the man. In one case, rather sympathetically.

As a “woman poet,” how do I navigate these strong veins of “self destruction”? In her essay, “When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision,” Rich writes of her struggles with finding her own voice and identity as a “woman writer,” while also trying to carry the load of a normal “woman” (taking care of a house and three children). For her, it was a journey. I’m surprised that my work in this manuscript fits so neatly into her ideas of women only being able to be violent against themselves. I’m encouraged, though, by the fact that much of this work is old, that a lot of my newer work doesn’t play into these same ideas of violence between and against women. My awareness of this now also encourages me to keep looking at the models I turn to for inspiration. Are they propagating messages I don’t want to appear in my own writing?

Rich says, “Every woman who writes is a survivor.” The female characters in Predator’s Tongue, despite being mostly passive, are survivors. The quote for my last section is “What matters is what’s left of us,” implying an evolution from trauma to a newly created wholeness.

How does your gender work in your own writing? Does it have a place or is it more subversive? If you’re a woman, do you relate to or rebel against Rich’s ideas of women’s self-destruction?