I’m trying to write some responses to these questions about women’s writing.

These are only a draft. I’m still thinking.


1.In your opinion, have women writers responded in any

discernibly patterned way to the cultural changes women have

experienced as a population group since the beginning of the

Twentieth Century? If so, has this been a

conscious/deliberate response?

If a pattern is not discernible, can it be said to exist?

The passive voice’s implicit in “discernible,” and twice as insidious.

Is not the key question “discernible to whom?” and for what reason or with what motivation?

Patterns are discernible in everything. That’s the wonder of the universe! Brink me some ink and a fresh sheet of paper.

A bra that is discernibly patterned will show right through a thin blouse.

The pattern of vulnerable cells that make up a breast, a pregnant bulge, a group of grapes — or a green pepper from the back, hunching over and crumpling for the camera…

Run! Quick! Get me my spirograph!

More women are writing more and more publicly. That’s true.

No woman writing now writes as well as the women writers of the 19th century — Elizabeth Barrett Browning and George Eliot to name two. It’s not our fault but the fault of the continuing transformation of our culture into something mainly visual and bliplike. We just can’t concentrate.

Now we are doomed to a lot of creative recyclings and conceptual explorations, for the time being.

Writing is always a response and always — even when “automatic” — conscious and deliberate. So in that sense the patterns we choose to notice in women’s writing are conscious and deliberate and forms of response.


2.As a women writer, how do you define contemporary

womanhood? How does your interpretation of it, or its

challenges and rewards, reveal itself in your writings

and/or in your interpretation of other women writers’ work?

“Contemporary Womanhood” (sounds like the name of a magazine or a store) is a highly culturally specific phenom.

How I define it doesn’t matter.

It keeps getting defined for us by those-who-empower-themselves-by-defining (hating them).

I feel sorry for women in America, although we arguably “have it better” than women in trad cultures. Not because we have so many choices; that is arguably a good thing. Rather it’s because “contempo-wo-hood” is just as fetishized as the old kind of womanhood, but harsher, busier, and vapidly hedonistic. A svelte oiled woman’s eyes glaze over, she sucks a piece of her frosty hair and a hunk licks her diamond — who cares?

In key ways we are more trivial. As we lose our roles as “sacred reproducers” (to be distinguished from “reproducers for the state”) we become less profound, not as writers but as biological entities in the looping chains of being. But perhaps I speak only for myself. I don’t think I want to be a mother….


3.How would you define “innovative” writing?

Again, my definition of “innovative” doesn’t matter. Glad to see the scary quotes.

In literature now (by which I mean the pomo — frequently misread as porno — period) anything can only be “innovative” in the context of a particular reader’s or writer’s development and exigencies.

“Innovative” is a branding term like new and improved. It helps define a target market. It is characterized by a set of instantly recognizable textual effects — brand qualities — especially forms of dislocation and disjunctiveness. It’s useful as a handle for distinguishing it from the writing that is branded “mainstream” and that is inherently and (OK, I’ll through in an almost for good measure) invariably bad bad bad, evilly banal, and boring.

However, there’s nothing inherently interesting about “innovation ” or “innovative techniques.” It’s just a category, formed partly by market forces and partly by social networks.


4.Do you believe that a “feminine rhythm” exists? Or

feminine sounds? Or feminine forms? Etc.? Why or why not?

A feminine rhythm most certainly exists, but it isn’t necessarily connected to prosody. It’s connected to menstruation.

I write the most intensely during the two or three days my period is coming on.

There is a branded “feminine rhythm,” for sure. It’s vague and floaty, Faux-elegant sometimes and wispily sensitive. I don’t feel so friendly to this kind of rhythm. Mannerism can be lovely and so even can affectation, but the kind of “feminine rhythm” to which I’m referring is just lame. It lacks DECISIVE PUNCH and NECESSARY (to me) AESTHETIC VIOLENCE. I don’t want to give any examples because there are many many writers (women as well as men) who aim for just such an effect, and I have nothing against them personally except that, well, they form a certain network of social approval from which I find myself (and this is my own fault, I admit) excluded — maybe better to say I exclude myself.

Looking for rhythms that are passionate, silly, angry, wise, halting, whirling, etc. They’re not gendered.

Feminine sounds — yes, of course: vowels. And “L”… and “M.”

Feminine forms: see discernible patterns. There are so many vulvas in woodgrain! Check it out!


5.How do you feel that the theory of essentialism, the idea

that women’s writing always reflects some essential

characteristics of the population group, impacts the thesis

that women writing unconventionally may be doing so for

their own purposes?

I don’t know how a theory or idea can impact a thesis.

As an English teacher I have a lot of trouble with this question. Sentence logic! (whistle blows)

First of all, it seems that there are two questions sandwiched here.

First, do women writing unconventionally do so for their own purposes?

Unquestionably they do. Why else would someone write — unless they were writing propaganda or ad copy — and in that case why would they write unconventionally?

(A subquestion here is whether women who write “innovatively” really are writing unconventionally.)

And how does writing for one’s own purpose obviate the possibility that some kind of biologically essential qualities might HAVE AN IMPACT ON the kind of writing that a writer does?

I don’t have empirical evidence to argue for or against essentialism. Common sense might help me to argue for (what might be) “essentialist” tendencies in many of us.

The problem with essentialism is of course that it relies on CATEGORIES. Categories are problematic as they are defined by “those-who-empower-themselves-by-defining” (and categorizing). I don’t have a big problem with, for example, the notion that gender is a continuum rather than strictly defined as two distinct groups, “males” and “females.” I have a little bit of a problem with the idea that “gender” is only a social phenomenon, as most of us fall pretty clearly (and empirically) on either side of the continuum. The fact, though, that most of us have as regulatory agents inside us ALL of the possible hormones, argues pretty strongly for the continuum idea. It’s certainly possible for a woman who is externally extremely feminine to have a higher level of testosterone than an average guy. I’m not sure what essentialism would mean given such facts.

I’m not sure either how we would isolate — scientifically — specifically what effects in writing have their genesis in “essential” female qualities and what effects have their genesis in “socialized” female qualities. Deborah Tannen’s work in this area is fascinating, but it still tells us very little about whether those qualities started in the hen or the egg that hatched her. Why do we need to know this, anyway? Why do we keep talking about this?

About one thing I feel very sure: “essentialism” should not be used as a weapon of discrimination, unless it can somehow prevent someone, usually a woman, from suffering undue pain or violence.


6.Who, in your opinion, are the leading contemporary women

writers in so far as “innovation” and “cultural expression”

come into play? Why?

Ecch. What an awful question. Really ladies, you should know better than to stoop to such hegemonic popularity contests.

If I reel off the names of the women in power (regardless of whether or not their writing has meant a lot to or moved me), it will do nothing but give them more of the publicity I’m sure many of your responders are already giving them. The fact is that the literary world, now more than ever, is a great machine of social networks and personal ambitions. I don’t exempt myself from this machine, but it doesn’t mean I want to set down here some cartography of spheres of influence. I hate that.

Of course, you can detect here that I am very very angry and resentful that I haven’t attained such status.

(insert smiley)

(makes a little peace sign)

(feminine wiles)


Some of my “summer immersion” students, inspired by the swirly word-galaxies in Cecilia Vicuña’s Instan, grew these gorgeous constructions out of prefixes:

Chiharu Koike

Yoon Jung Kang

Hyun-Jin Kwon

Tae Eun Kim

It’s a little hard to read the last one. Note that it’s composed of words that start with “multi-” lined up in the form of the many boroughs of NYC.

My Grandmother’s Hands

My grandmother’s hands

all covered with sticky goo!

and anteriorly with whitish bristles

My grandmother’s hands —

loose alabaster skin, soft as kid gloves

covered with deep-fried pork strips

My grandmother’s hands

zipping open pale skin

in a metal bowel

She then flies to art, and puts on a Perriwig

valuing herself an unnatural bundle of hairs

all covered with Powder

My grandmother’s hands recognize grapes,

the damp shine of a goat’s new skin

all covered with sharp chips

My grandmother’s hands are canaries

ready to collapse in on themselves

going screaming and weeping over the facts of the universe

her tentacles all covered with ashes and ink

exhaustless and copious, showing forth through dandified forms

the same absence of special purpose as in nature…

My grandmother’s hands are sibilant Persian canaries

pulling an unborn egg

into the light.

Some wisdom from my students:

Art sublimes every bad meaning in the name of art.

Art is nothing but the action of people.

It overwhelms me that all junks turned into germs as if they were suddenly charmed.

When we contact with new works, we have to be prudent.

For making some extra space of heart, we need a vitamin like art.

Kristin Prevallet, ranteuse extraordinaire! has a new blog.

Her description of it:

I’ve been writing a lot of letters to the government lately. But, since the government is busy, I keep on getting form letters (or no letters) in return. So, I decided to set up this blog to chronicle my letters and, hopefully, use it as an incentive to write even more letters. I’m just trying to stay informed, and to voice my opinions to the powers-that-be, rather than to just my friends, who are all on my side anyway.

Gloriously indignant!