Monday, March 20, 2017

Jane Eaton Hamilton on Ntozake Shange

Booth Theatre. A January 1977 matinee when I was attending plays like a fiend because I was leaving NY, moving myself out to San Francisco. I saw all the shows, getting tickets in the way New Yorkers got tickets, by osmosis. My dance teacher, who was appearing in Pippin, knew this guy, Kevin, who’d broken up with his boyfriend, Sam, and had a singleton. You want it, Tuesday matinee? Or my prof—the one I’d always talked to about the white rats we lured through mazes, the rats with the coloured marker on their tails so we could tell them apart—she had a ticket because a friend of hers was an understudy. If all my connections failed, I’d go down to the half-price ticket booth in Times Square—when Times Square was the Times Square from Taxi Driver—right before the show.

I could smell pretzels on me that day, still had the paper from one stuffed in my jeans pocket, was licking salt and grease off my fingers. I had a blister on the back of my right foot because I’d hoofed from the upper west side to 45th Street instead of grabbing the train. I could still feel the vibration of the wolf whistles and the leering honeys and baby girls. What men said clung to my skin, a hundred men kissing their fingertips, rubbing their crotches, damn, girl, you’re so hot, the way the occasional one slunk along behind me like I just had to be leading him to my room. Smile, smile, smile, smile, smile, smile, they said. You want your face to freeze like that? The relief of the theatre, the safety, the anonymity, the darkness. I shrugged out of my coat, my mittens, my hat. But I could smell my own sweat, my period, and also what I was doing in order that men would leave me alone: sanitizing with FDS—Feminine Deodorant Spray, spraying it in the general vicinity of my twat, naked, and a second time outside my clothes for good measure.
           
You know how few times in life there’s a before and an after? That day was one of mine.

The curtain went up on Ntozake Shange’s ‘for colored girls who have considered suicide but the rainbow was enuf.’

On stage inside the most minimal set were women in tights and leotards, each character only identified by colour, such as “lady in red” or “lady in yellow.” Red orange yellow green blue purple brown. The characters wove in and out of each other’s poems and stories, swaying or dancing on the stage as each stepped forward to recite one of Shange’s choreopoems. It was simple—I had never seen such a simple set before—but it was electrifying.

These were not easy poems. These were poetries forged out of the sizzling, eclipsing pains of love and music, battering and racism, rape and motherhood and abortion. Some of these things had nothing to do with my life, and some of them had everything to do with things that had happened to me. But that was irrelevant. But what happened on that stage proclaimed that the personal was political. Ntozake’s poems coiled in me like veins, leading  me to the social justice issues I’d be fighting the rest of my life.

When I walked into the Booth Theatre, I was one hundred and six pounds and I joked I had thunder thighs. I thought that needing to spray FDS was a condition of my womanhood, and my only hope that I wouldn’t be found offensive, because I believed I was essentially wrong and ugly in a way that could never, never, never be fixed, no matter my mascara or my ironed shirts, no matter how carefully I shaved my legs. Just by who I was, I called down all the violence the world has for a woman. Yes, I had absorbed all the lessons from a lifetime of lessons in how to behave, how to carve off bits of myself so I could become agreeable and so stupid that I wouldn’t notice. I did not question insults and assaults, the anti-women messages of ads and the billboards, the messages that told me I was less worthy than a man, that I was not even worthy of the space that I took up, that I took it up only by the dint of a man’s assent. Go smaller, said life. No. Smaller, said life.

Be less and less. And still less.

Here’s the remarkable thing about Ntozake Shange’s writing. It gave me back my brain, the brain that had been turned out as a Stepford Wife, mashed into a pea-size pellet that could only receive instructions and obey them.

She gave me feminism. She gave me resistance.

Shange, a black feminist, won an Obie for “for colored girls.” She has continued writing and publishing even as illness claimed much of her energy. “for colored girls” was made into a movie and remounted many times.

I lived in NY in the 70s. I went to school in the Village. I walked out of “for colored girls…” a thinker and a writer, passionately engaged with the particular world that is the world for women, and I never looked back. I threw out my NY clothes. I stopped spraying myself with anti-stink products. I stopped shaving my legs and armpits. I didn’t move to San Francisco to reunite with a man I didn’t want to be with. I was a lesbian. I was a woman roaring with power and words, and now I knew it.




Jane Eaton Hamilton is the author of 9 books of cnf, fiction and poetry, including the 2016 novel WEEKEND. The Vancouver Sun called WEEKEND a “tour de force. Remarkable.” Publishers Weekly called it “propulsive.”

Jane’s books have been shortlisted for the MIND Book Award, the BC Book Prize, the VanCity Award, the Pat Lowther Award and the Ferro-Grumley Award. Her memoir was one of the UK Guardian’s Best Books of the Year and a Sunday Times bestseller. She is the two-time winner of Canada’s CBC Literary Award for fiction (2003/2014). She’s had a notable in BASS and BAE (2016) and has appeared in The Journey Prize, Best Canadian Short Stories and Best Canadian Poetry. Her work has also appeared in publications such as Salon, The Rumpus, The Missouri Review and was published this week at the NY Times. She has been the recipient of numerous Canada Council grants.


Jane edits for Many Gendered Mothers and is a frequent jury member for literature awards. She is working on her second novel SNOW with the help of BC Arts Council and Canada Council grants.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Elee Kraljii Gardiner on Betsy Warland

When I talk about Betsy Warland as a poetrymother I am talking about how Betsy taught me to listen. She is an exquisite listener. In writing, Betsy tunes in to what the text needs and thinks about how to create space for that. She demonstrates how to attend to the body of work on the page while taking care with the body of the community. Everything is connected, everything is in flux. In following her holistic model of how to write, how to be a writer, how to live a life of writing, I try to listen, too.

I met Betsy in 2006 when I called The Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University (TWS) for info. Betsy, the founder and director from 2001 to 2012, had created a community at TWS that was irresistible: it gave new writers training on and off the page for the panoramic situation of being a writer while inculcating the importance of mutual support.

And then I read Betsy’s work. Bloodroot: Tracing the Untelling of Motherloss (Second Story Press, 2000) zoinked me awake with what a memoir could be. The text shifts and wiggles across the page. In it she writes things that are unsayable, with tenderness even when she is angry, heartbroken. The book is intimate, and respectful and devastating. It’s one of 12 books she created over a long and ongoing feminist, queer, creative life of plunging in. Critical attention has been a slow boil but while that has been accumulating Betsy has been in constant motion. Aside from her dozens of collaborations and projects she has nourished at least eight different alternative writing instruction programs, including Thursdays Writing Collective, which I founded in 2008.

Through conversations, classes, margin comments, coffee dates and family dinners she taught me a problem should be written into rather than ignored. This piece of advice – to write into the problem – is one I have engrained in my writing reflex. I repeat it to any friend who is stuck or frustrated. In essence, Betsy is talking about using a judo flip on the text so its own momentum takes it to the mat. Use the problem against itself – if the text is too dense make it denser, write about the density itself, or reverse: cut the words into confetti. If the character is stuck, tackle that head on via an impossible impasse or metaphor. Turning the writing in upon itself turns writing into effortless effort, where creativity flows.

That tactic was at work when Betsy grappled with telling a family story of abuse in The Bat Had Blue Eyes (Women's Press, 1993). She turned that crux into a mechanism for sending the words slanting and sliding across the page, destabilizing the narrative centre and its traditional alignment.

This ability to score the page, a term Betsy uses to describe “how we shape or place a line or sentence on the page” (Breathing the Page, Cormorant Books, 2010) comes, perhaps, from Betsy’s visual arts training, another hint at the borderlessness of her creativity. She attended to an early draft of my book of poems, serpentine loop, with a suggestion I thin the blocks of text on the page, change the pace, allow instead of compress. In Breathing the Page she writes explicitly about leaving the page free, rolling a word or two in abundant space. Her page is a field where she mixes genres, elides forms so the subject matter slips into its own shape.

When Betsy wrote Oscar of Between (Caitlin Press, 2016), a memoir of betweeness of gender/genre, she didn’t imagine it would find an easy home with a publisher. She knew the memoir (shot through with a fictive element) needed community and conversation so she allowed needs to dictate form. She made a permeable and conversational online salon for Oscar of Between, where she engaged guest writers to respond to segments of the text and asked readers to connect, too. She brought me inside, literally called me by name into the text, and then invited me into the Salon, too. I was lucky to witness its gestation and think about these ideas of moveableness as I need them in my own work.

Reading her books and seeing how they take up what space they need confirmed my troubles with an early non-fiction book-length project while it illuminated possibilities. A year after I finished the non-fiction program Betsy called me urging – almost insisting- I work with Rachel Rose, the new TWS poetry mentor. Though I hadn’t written a poem before, I was curious and trusted Betsy. Her insight about my writing had always been accurate –she’s the fairy godmother I trust even if I don’t recognize the logic yet. Sure enough, Rachel became another crucial poetrymotherfriend and poetry became home base for me.

As a poetrymother Betsy provides these vital connections, these considerations based on her care for writing. I listen to Betsy when she talks about self-care and word-care – how to best support the thoughts’ transition to the document. Aren’t the two (self- and word- care) intertwined? I witness Betsy let herself and her words be just as they must, without facile and restrictive categorization. This care, this acceptance.

This slow down and take care of what the writing needs even when the ideas are coming fast.

The pinkie-length pencil she stashes behind her ear when it isn’t tucked into a palm-sized notebook. The lesson to be ready to catch the words on the page and to let them grow into every form they choose.




Elee Kraljii Gardiner is the author of the book of poems serpentine loop (Anvil Press, 2016) now in a second edition. She is the co-editor with John Asfour of V6A: Writing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2012), which was shortlisted for the 2012 City of Vancouver Book Award. Elee founded Thursdays Writing Collective, a non-profit organization of more than 150 writers in Vancouver and she is the editor and publisher of eight anthologies. Her second book of poems is forthcoming in 2018. www.eleekg.com


Monday, March 6, 2017

Robin Richardson on Anne Frank

I didn’t begin reading until seventh grade; having battled a dyslexia so severe even Dr. Seuss was out of the question. So, at twelve-years-old, The Diary of a Young Girl was the second book I ever read, after Jack London’s Call of the Wild.
I remember sitting in the courtyard outside the little special school I attended, devouring this girl’s deepest, most intimate thoughts. She was, like myself (yes, in spite of my dyslexia), an aspiring author. In a world where, it seemed to me at the time, interactions remained relatively on the surface, in which conversations skirted the weather, or the complications of one course of action or another, Anne Frank’s unabashed sharing was revelatory, drug-like even. I couldn’t get enough of it, sat devouring each page, reveling both in the fact that I could now read on my own, and that I could, in private, share in the most explicate details of another girl’s psyche. Anne Frank was vulnerable, brash, contemplative, passionate, and extraordinarily devoted to the written word.
The brave, blatant manner in which she was able to both face herself, and offer that self up to the page was an instant, and lasting influence. I was in that attic with her, learning from her, fearing with her, lusting with her. I didn’t know, until then, that others thought and felt as deeply as I did. No one had shared so much. No one had risked some idealized self image in order to cross the space between humans with something true, vulnerable, unflattering even, no one, that is, until Anne Frank.
Not only was she a literary influence, but she was a guide of sorts, for surviving. If this little girl could so gracefully face her own mortality, the loss of her worldly comforts, and of most of her friends and relatives, than any small setback I was to face in life would be more than manageable. Nothing should stop me from feeling, from longing, and most importantly, from writing.
I began keeping a diary that year, reading for an hour or so, then writing for several. The girls at school made fun of me for wanting to be like a holocaust casualty, said I was only keeping a diary because Anne Frank had kept a diary. They were right, of course. And there was nothing wrong with that.
Anne Frank taught me that writing could be a revelatory act, that through it one could share the things day-to-day conversation made no room for. One could ruminate, confess, pine, whine, and be as petty as one is deep. I loved her for this, and I loathed the world that let her die.
When I write now I imagine myself as an extension of Anne Frank. I am the “what if?” to the question of her survival. I aim to write with the same candidness, the same reverence for mortality, for sacrifice, for the necessity of sharing what’s too warm, too real, to be kept, for propriety’s sake, inside.




Robin Richardson is the author of two collections of poetry, and is Editor-in-Chief at Minola Review. Her work has appeared in Salon, Poetry Magazine, Hazlitt, Tin House, Partisan, Joyland, and The North American Review, among others. She holds an MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College, and has been shortlisted for the CBC, Walrus, and Lemon Hound Poetry Prizes, among others. Richardson’s latest collection, Sit How You Want, is forthcoming with Véhicule Press. Poems from the collection have been adapted to song by composer Andrew Staniland for The Brooklyn Art Song Society. Richardson’s memoir Like Father is forthcoming.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Laura Mars on Daphne Marlatt

Reading her long poems

Reading her poems begins in 2006. I am a girl of thirteen at a garage sale in the city of North Vancouver. There are stacks of books on the table in front of me. The woman who owns the house approaches and explains that she is a retired English teacher. I have been reading the Beats so I tell her I can recite the first part of “Howl” by heart and she smiles. Within minutes there is a shoebox in my hands full of Shakespeare’s plays and a book titled The New Long Poem Anthology, edited by Sharon Thesen. I tuck the shoebox under my right arm and extend a $5 bill with my left. She doesn’t accept the money.

Later that day I open the anthology to Daphne Marlatt’s Touch to My Tongue, a series of prose poems written in 1982. An epigraph by the writer H.D. from her Notes on Thought and Vision reads, “The brain and the womb are both centres of consciousness, equally important.” The dedication reads “For Betsy.” I read the poems out of order. My favourite is about eating a kiwi in bed at 4am. It seems like every third word of this poem is ‘flesh’ or ‘tongue’ or ‘wet.’ I know that these are probably erotic poems but I do not linger on their meanings, more interested in their phrases: in the way they look on the page, and their sounds. I read the annotations, noting the allusions to Sappho, Demeter, Kolaba, etc. I am bored by these definitions and by this style of readership. Without understanding their intended meanings I read the poems aloud to myself and cry in earnest. They make me feel like I know beauty I try to write my own poems in mimicry.

I re-read Touch To My Tongue as a student of English literature and Women’s Studies at university. My reading style at this point is heavy and labourious; I am bent on understanding everything. How they have trained me! I annotate, research, and dissect every allusion and symbol. At this point I am captivated by the politics and sexiness of these poems. They are lesbian poems and I think I might be a lesbian. I decide that one day I am going to write lesbian poems myself. I lend the book to the first lesbian I meet in real life and I never get it back and have to order another copy for myself on eBay. It arrives bare and open to me and I read it over and over throughout my time at university, to myself and to the women I fall in love with.

Years later I am moving across the world and can take a maximum of 40 books. Daphne Marlatt makes the cut; I pack Two Women in a Birth and The New Long Poems. Both contain Touch To My Tongue. In my apartment in Belgrade I read the poems again. I think of the other books of her poetry, 9000km away in a box at my parent’s house, the same house I read her in when I was thirteen. I am in my mid-twenties and I understand the allusions and the politics but do not obsess over either. I am writing poetry of my own, focusing heavily on form.

In the present I am heavily buried in the project of writing. This is a state of perpetually surrendering to movement, a lustful pursuit of stimuli, affect, thought, and memory. Readership is its condition. On the shelf of my thinking Daphne Marlatt sits alongside Rich, Lorde, O’Hara, Plath, Borges, Robertson, and others. Touch To My Tongue represents a relic of readership’s potential. I will always hold this close, this most sacred and secretive of pleasures. The words in these poems have been influencing my writing for a decade. What becomes clear from this pattern is the inseparability of writing and reading – they are dialectical, constituting and reforming each other endlessly. I want readership to be known this way more widely, as a form of art in itself.



Laura Mars is a writer interested in the between of readership and cultural production. She lives in Belgrade, Serbia and catalogues the banal at twitter.com/sucmurasto.

Photo of Daphne Marlatt in Kitsilano by Kit Marlatt, provided by D. Marlatt,

Monday, February 20, 2017

Evelyn Deshane on Angela Carter

Gender Negotiation

During the last year of my undergrad, I didn't think I could be surprised. I was completing the last requirements for an English Literature and Gender Studies degree, and enrolled in the one course I'd been waiting for since I picked these majors: Gender in Literature.

I was mostly disappointed. Not that the books we read weren't good—how can anyone argue with Virginia Woolf and Kate Chopin?—but I'd already discovered them. I'd already consumed Woolf's entire oeuvre and dozens of critical essays on each author's groundbreaking books. The professor was wonderful, but even she wasn't wowing me with knowledge that I hadn't already found on my own time. As the class dragged on, I figured I would quit academia altogether (I'd been preparing my application for grad school, but tossed it aside come February) and take the manager position at a used book store someone had offered me in my hometown.

Then we read Angela Carter's The Passion of New Eve. I devoured the entire novel in one sitting, completely captivated. The story is the stuff of B-movies (warning, spoilers ahead): Evelyn, a male professor in an American Wasteland, is captured by a gang of militant feminists, given a forced operation to change his sex, and becomes the "New Eve" who's going to save them. Eve escapes, is taken prisoner by a nihilist called Zero, and then escapes once again to find a movie star named Tristessa. Eve (now using she/her pronouns) soon discovers that Tristessa is also trans. The two fall in love, but Tristessa dies, and Eve decides to accept her fate in her new gender role as she floats into the sea. 

So yes—the story is trashy and horribly problematic in all the trope-y ways for trans people. The use of a forced feminization surgery as a major conflict point (and implied punishment) should have been enough for me to stop reading. But at the time, I had no conscious awareness of the trans community. All I knew was that I'd never read anything so poetic and earth-shattering about the dimensions of gender. Gender was mutable, it was changeable, and there was some negotiation about the body that every single person in the book had to go through. That's all gender was for Carter: a negotiation. Evelyn, the English Professor, took his gender for granted, but then it was changed, and the New Eve had to negotiate a way to be in the world after the fact. To me, the book was perfect—and what I'd needed to hear at the time.

The theory with which the professor paired the reading was Donna Haraway's Cyborg Manifesto—something I'd never read before, either. I sped through that text and patiently waited for my lecture so I could hear more. And when that wasn't enough, I googled Angela Carter and fell in love with her work on my own time.

I had already missed the deadline to apply for graduate school that year, but I decided the year off in a book store would do me some good by allowing me to explore Carter all on my own. I read every book she ever wrote, including her kid's title Sea-Cat and Dragon King and her collected journalism Shaking a Leg. From these, I pieced together snippets of her biography, each time realizing I loved her more. When she won a prize for her first literary work, she used the money to leave her husband and went to live in Japan. Her time in Japan clarified her gender to herself, she wrote in a subsequent essay, and so did her time writing The Passion of New Eve. After her first husband, she never remarried—but eventually had her first child when she was in her 40s with her second husband, a man she met while he mended a roof across the street. After years of literary and academic achievement, she had a family—but only after her successes, never apologizing for living according to her own rules. She wrote about the topics I'd always wanted to write about—gender, sexuality, and the private sphere—and seeing her career trajectory as I waited to start my own in academia was wonderful.

When it came time to start my Master's Degree, I thought I was going to be an Angela Carter scholar. Not so much. During my gap year of exploring Carter and her world of gender, I also discovered the trans community. The real one, not the mixed up version in Carter's dystopian California. And I realized, deep down, why Evelyn the male professor who was forced to be female, suddenly meant so much to me at twenty-one.

I was trans. I never wanted to be a woman in academia, or a man for that fact, but something else all together. I wanted to negotiate my gender, render it poetically, and move on from there. Carter allowed me to see, for the first time, that negotiation was an option. Even if the world she attempted to create in The Passion of New Eve has its problems—the forced feminization surgery being one of them—it was still my first glimpse that a world beyond my birth gender was even possible. She gave me the tools to question and re-establish my desires, and not apologize for them.

Now, I'm a PhD candidate in trans studies, doing just that.




Evelyn Deshane has appeared in Plenitude Magazine, Strange Horizons, and Lackington's Magazine. Their chapbook, Mythology, was released in 2015 with The Steel Chisel. Evelyn (pron. Eve-a-lyn) received an MA from Trent University and currently studying for PhD at Waterloo University. Visit them at: evedeshane.wordpress.com

Monday, February 13, 2017

Emily Izsak on Mina Loy


The first time I met Victor Coleman, poet and founding editor of Coach House Press (who would later become my mentor, editor, and friend), he asked me which female poets I was reading. I was sort of taken aback. We were at a pub in the Annex (in Toronto) at a big table full of male poets and at the time, I wasn’t sure why he didn’t ask me which poets in general I was reading— why I, the only woman at the table, should be the recipient of that gender specific question. After I named the usual suspects (Plath, Stein), he recommended some women I hadn’t heard of before, among them, Mina Loy.

Later, Victor would lend me his copy of The Lost Lunar Baedeker. I would flip through the pages haphazardly until I got to:

Spawn   of    Fantasies
Silting the appraisable
Pig Cupid     his rosy snout
Rooting erotic garbage

I stopped— because she had done it. Everything I was trying to do with words she had done already nearly a hundred years earlier. I finished reading “Songs To Joannes” and thought, all I want to do is write like Mina Loy. From then on, whenever I sat down to write a poem, I would open one by Loy in a browser tab on my computer. I would check my own work against hers; if I didn’t want to read my own poem as much as I wanted to read hers, it wasn’t good enough. I am still reaching for “erotic garbage.”

Loy’s surreal and unusual images spill over each line, accumulating sparkle and strangeness with momentum. In her poems, multisyllabic Latinate words stand alongside moments of simplicity in protest against the unpoetic. When her work becomes difficult to navigate, sound takes over, makes you forget why you ever tried to make sense of anything when you could just sit back and enjoy the music. My boyfriend once told me that “Mina Loy” sounds like something that Doodle Bob would say— and I like to think that she would appreciate her sonic resemblance to composition come alive. 

I now run a series on my website called “New Recruits” in which I invite poetry “newbs” (people who don’t typically read poetry) to read a poem by a contemporary poet and answer some questions about it. The readers are mostly my family and friends, people I know pretty well, and I try to choose poems that fit each reader’s tastes and personality. I want new readers to enjoy the experience of reading contemporary poetry and I want that experience to be different than being forced to read poems in high school. As curator of the series, I’m very aware of expectations to maintain a gender balance, and to feature a diverse lineup of contemporary poets. I have noticed, however, that I typically match female readers with female poets—and I think this is because there aren’t as many of them—us (being published in book form anyway) and if we only get a few and if I’m not planning on featuring a poet more than once, I’m going to give an excellent poem by a female poet to a reader who can not only appreciate her use of language but also share in the gendered experience of the world that her language falls out of. That is not to say that male or non-binary readers can’t appreciate work from a female poet. Of course they can, and they do. But ladies, let’s get our fix where we can. Which female poets are you reading? Not because you should or because you owe it to your sex, but because you’ll like it. I promise you’ll like it.



Emily Izsak is in her second year of U of T’s MA in English and Creative Writing program. Her work has been published in Arc Poetry Magazine, The Puritan, House Organ, Cough, The Steel Chisel, The Doris, and The Hart House Review. In 2014 she was selected as PEN Canada’s New Voices Award nominee. Her chapbook, Stickup, is available on woodennickels.org and her first full-length collection, Whistle Stops, will be out in April 2017 from Signature Editions.


Monday, February 6, 2017

Susan Rudy on Nicole Brossard


Nicole Brossard:  Writing what exists

I want to see in fact the form of women organizing in the trajectory of the species.
-          Nicole Brossard These Our Mothers 1983.


I first met Nicole Brossard in an airport departure lounge in Frankfurt in 1988. We were en route to a feminist conference on writing and language in Dubrovnik. As I recall, Brossard gave a talk on the power of the word “lesbian” and I argued, via deconstruction, for a post-gender, post-feminist theory (Rudy Dorscht 1988). I was poststructuralist and straight.  She was feminist and lesbian. I was drawn to her and terrified. 

*

In 1988, I was married to a man. I had a PhD. And a baby daughter. I had just taken up a tenure-track position at a university and moved thousands of miles from the rest of my family and friends. My husband had moved with me.

This morning I reread an English translation of the paper Brossard delivered at the Dubrovnik conference. I can’t find the word “lesbian” anywhere.   

There are words that return. There are words that always return to find us in the very place we seek for them. […] There are words that are irreducible: to write I am a woman is full of consequences,
-          Nicole Brossard “Corps d’énergie / rituels d’écriture,” 1989

This is what I knew in 1988:  I wanted connection with other women and I didn’t want to change. I wanted a different life but I didn’t know how to get there.  I couldn’t be a lesbian.

*

For five decades, Nicole Brossard has been investigating questions of multiple identifications, affiliations, and kinships.  For her, writing the word “lesbian” was an “exercise in deconditioning,” a means by which to assert her existence and acknowledge her “legitimacy” (These Our Mothers 16).

In the 1970s, Brossard’s site of investigation was her relation, as a lesbian mother, to other bodies. In “Poetic Politics,” she speaks of “living the most common experience in a woman’s life which is motherhood,” at the same time as she is “living the most marginal experience in a woman’s life which is lesbianism”:

[m]otherhood shaped my solidarity with women and gave me a feminist consciousness as lesbianism opened mental space to explore. (77-78)

“If patriarchy can take what is and make it not,” Brossard writes, “surely we can take what exists and make it be” (“From Radical to Integral” The Aerial Letter 103).


*

53% of white women voted for Donald Trump. I might have been among them.


*

Nicole Brossard has been a key figure in my intellectual life for thirty years. In 1997,  Lynette Hunter, Marta Dvorak, and I co-organised a conference on “Women and Texts: Languages Technologies Communities”  under the banner: “Coming together to work on expressing what is valued in our daily lives.”

Our inspiration came from Nicole Brossard and we cited her on the conference poster:[1]

I imagined my thought that day: attentive to movements that spread out in a spiral in books written by women. I was virtually struck by the internal logic which constantly beckons women to merge/to expel themselves.

For Brossard, the spiral opens “and the new circulates, circulates, producing emanations such as those at the gates of an initiatory path” (Translated and quoted by Gould 83; from Le Sens apparent 14).


Even into the mid 1990s, we believed that the new was opening before us. I took the following celebratory photograph: Brossard with her arm around writer Audrey Thomas, alongside Jeannette Armstrong and filmmaker Alanis Obamsawin.



Left to right: Audrey Thomas Nicole Brossard Alanis Obamsawin Jeannette Armstrong at the “Women and Texts: Languages Technologies Communities” Conference University of Leeds 2-5 July 1997.  Photograph by Susan Rudy.


In 2017, we again need solidarity yet our trajectories are different. As feminists and/or trans we want to identify as women and yet we want alternatives to the symbolic order in which the category of woman has been so narrowly constructed.  

*

In the 1970s Brossard identified patriarchal motherhood as the place where the concept of woman was most fraught. The problem lay in the fact that, in Brossard’s words, “patriarchal mothers” (18) are “able only to initiate their daughters to a man”:

There is no confidence between us. Sold-out at a loss. Split in two. (18)

In contrast to the misogyny perpetuated by patriarchal motherhood, Brossard’s experience of lesbian motherhood offered an alternative based on loving connections.

On the same day, she “caresses” the body of her lesbian lover and washes the body of her daughter: “[c]yprine juices urine. Orgasm and labour as two sides of the same entity” (18):

I write so I won’t engulf and hurt your bodies and so as to find in them my void my centre. (13)

Instead of reproducing the mother-role of patriarchy, Brossard creates “her own locus of desire,” finds “her own place at a distance” (18):

She who is writing in the present between barbed wires remembers her past. Maybe they’ve been forced to cut the current. She goes through.  (These Our Mothers 18)

She goes through.

*

I think of a photograph on Facebook of an African-American woman at the New York City women’s march. She carried a placard reminding us that 94% of Black women voted against Trump:

Black Women Tried to SAVE Y’ALL!!! #94%


*

I almost missed meeting Nicole Brossard that day in Frankfurt in 1988.  I had read The Aerial Letter in a feminist theory graduate course. But when I spotted it atop a pile of feminist theory books beside a handsome woman on the ottoman across from me I thought, she must be a colleague.

I looked again and recalled seeing the photo of Brossard with translator Marlene Wildeman at the end of The Aerial Letter.  Could it be her? 

She caught my eye and smiled. I was tongue-tied and brave. I took her hand and said what I could. She listened and spoke. We became friends and moved forward, at first haltingly, then with confidence, over many years, together.

*

I’ve been thinking recently about what we – in our radical differences – are going through now. In 2006, I finally came out. I have very short grey hair and am middle-aged. I’m often addressed as sir. Yet the pull of family and motherhood, the privileges of middle-class whiteness and cisgender, and conventional ideas about what women are supposed to be still shape me. 

I didn’t attend the women’s march in London because of a long-standing family commitment.
It was my lesbian partner’s mother’s 70th birthday and a gathering in Shropshire the weekend of January 21, 2017 had been planned months ago, when the idea of a Donald Trump presidency was still a sick joke.

Trump’s presidency is now a terrifying reality. And the pull of family still shapes my queer life. To what extent am I still overdetermined by patriarchal structures?  What role have my choices played in the election of Donald Trump?

More overtly than I have seen in my lifetime, patriarchy is taking what exists and making it not. Yet as I reread the work of Nicole Brossard in 2017, I no longer feel terrified or alone. We will get through.


For the ongoing global feminist work of the artists, writers, and academics who participated in the 1997 Leeds “Women and Texts” conference including:



Virginie Alba & Flora Alexander
Paula Bourne
Monique Boucher-Marchand,
Tilla Brading
Di Brand,
Susan Brook,
Helen Buss,
Maggie Butcher,
Pauline Butling,
Rosemary Chapman,
Sally Chivers,
Kwanesook Chung,
Marie H. Clements,
Cynthia Cockburn,
Lorraine Code,
Rachel Conner
Susan Croft,
Barbara Crow,
Pilar Cuder-Dominguez
Asma Dalal
Eva Darias-Beautell,
Martine Delvaux
Ralitza Dimitrova
Beth Donaldson
Helen Douglas
Rachel Dyer
Julia Emberley
Heather Fitzgerald
Louise Forsyth
Danielle Fuller
Carolyn Fyffe
Geetha Ganapathy-Dore
Carole Gerson & Veronica Strong-Boag
Barbara Godard
Hiromi Goto
Michele Gunderson
Faye Hammill,
Susan Harwood
Claire Harris
Barbara Havercroft
Maria Henriquez Betancor
Jacqueline Hodgson
Susanna Hoeness-Krupsaw
Valerie Holman
Lakshmi Holmstrom
Coral Ann Howells
Isabel Huggan & Connie Steenman Marcuse
Vivien Hughes
Lesley Jeffries
Surinder Jetley
Manina Jones
Edwige Khaznadar
Christine Klein-Lataud
Barbara Korte
Celine Labrosse
Jaqueline Lamothe
Bronwen Levy
Marie-Linda Lord
Cathy MacGregor
Erin Moure
Lianne Moyes
Sarah Murphy
Suniti Namjoshi
Miriam Nichols
Uma Parameswaran
Janet M Paterson
Alexandria Patience
Jeanne Perreault
Mireille Perron
Velma Pollard
Susan Prentice
Monique Prunet
Eleonora Rao
Valerie Raoul
Verna Reid
Yannick Resch
Helen Richman
Deb Rindl
Caroline Rooney
Hilary Rose
Sasha Roseneil
Jacqueline Roy
Marie-Josée Roy
Lori Saint-Martin
Louise Saldanha & Aruna Srivastava
Krishna Sarbadhikary
Kim Sawchuk
Danielle Schaub
Kersin Schmidt
Gail Scott
Barbara Sellers-Young
Jane Sellwood
Lesley Semmens & Lynette Willoughby
Sherry Simon
Theresa Smalec
Gaele Sobott-Mogwe
Eugenia Sojka
Susan Speary
Marjorie Stone
Cath Stowers
Simone Suchet
Laura Sullivan
Sharon Thesen
Audrey Thomas
Neelam Tikkha
Valerie Traub
Anirudh P. Trivedi
Jacqueline Turner
Jeanette Urbas
Aritha van Herk
Christl Verduyn
Shobha Verma
Anna Veselovska
Coomi S. Vevaina
Nicole Vigourous-Frey
Anea Vlasopolos
Louise von Flowtow
Wendy Waring
Agnes Whitfield
Gillian Whitlock
Carol Williams
Marion Wynne-Davis
Marta Zajac



Note: This incomplete list of participants is taken from the Abstracts published by the University of Leeds. My memory tells me that Caroline Bergvall and Daphne Marlatt were also in attendance.  Please email me at S.Rudy@qmul.ac.uk if you attended the conference and are not listed above.  I am preparing an archive of conference materials and for the historical record will add your name to the list.

References

Brossard Nicole.  The Aerial Letter. Trans. Marlene Wildeman. Toronto: The Women’s Press 1988.
---.  Fluid Arguments. Edited and with an introduction by Susan Rudy. With translations by Nicole Brossard Anne-Marie Wheeler Alice Parker Susanne de Lotbinière-Harwood Patricia Claxton and Marlene Wildeman. Toronto: Mercury Press 2005.
---.  Le Sens apparent. Paris: Flammarion, 1980.
---. “Poetic Politics.” In The Politics of Poetic Form: Poetry and Public Policy. Ed. Charles Bernstein. New York: Roof 1990.  
---. “Rituels d’écriture: L’écriture comme trajectoire du désir et de la conscience.” Writing and Language: The Politics and Poetics of Feminist Critical Practice and Theory. The Inter-University Centre for Postgraduate Studies Dubrovnik Yugoslavia 1988.  An early translation by Alice Parker appeared under the title “Corps d’énergie / rituels d’écriture” (1989). A later translation appears in Brossard Fluid Arguments 101-107.
--.  These Our Mothers. Trans. Barbara Godard. Toronto: Coach House Quebec Translations 1983. Translation of  L’amèr ou le Chapitre effrité. Montreal: Les Editions Quinze 1977. 
Gould, Karen. Writing in the Feminine: Feminism and Experimental Writing in Quebec.  Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1990.
Rudy Susan. “Nicole Brossard.” The Literary Encyclopedia. 5 December 2005. [https://www.litencyc.com/php/speople.php?rec=true&UID=5302] Accessed 18 January 2017.
Rudy Dorscht Susan. “Telling the Difference: Postfeminist Theory and Practice.” Writing and Language: The Politics and Poetics of Feminist Critical Practice and Theory. The Inter-University Centre for Postgraduate Studies Dubrovnik Yugoslavia 1988. Published in revised form as a chapter in Women Reading Kroetsch: Telling the Difference. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press 1991.




Susan Rudy is a London-based researcher, writer, and editor. Currently a Senior Research Fellow in the School of English and Drama at Queen Mary University of London, she taught in the Department of English at the University of Calgary from 1988-2011. Susan’s research expertise is in contemporary experimental writing and feminist theory and she has published widely in these areas. In 2016, she published blogs at The New Statesman on what gender and gender equality mean in the twenty-first century. She and Georgina Colby are developing a Salon for Experimental Women’s Writing (SEWW) in London. This piece is from Queer Openings, Rudy’s new book. For more, go to http://www.sed.qmul.ac.uk/staff/rudys.html.
Nicole Brossard (left) and Susan Rudy at the “Women and Texts: Languages Technologies Communities” Conference, University of Leeds, 2-5 July 1997.


Photograph of Nicole Brossard provided by Nicole Brossard. Used with permission. 

[1] Poster for the 1997 “Women and Texts” conference at the University of Leeds.