A Review of the New York City Poetry Festival 2013 by Theodore Weaver

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Feminists rectified innumerable social problems in the twentieth century but many writers still suffer from the long term and usually invisible symptoms of sexism. When poets and editors were asked about the pandemic of sexist discrimination on July 28, 2013 at the Governor’s Island –       New York City Poetry Festival, many acknowledged that it has become worse. Image“I’m super marginalized,” said Angel Nafis, author of Black Girl Mansion. “People receive you differently in different communities, especially when you are Black and a Woman.” Of the poets interviewed, Nafis was the most negative about the alienating consequences for writers who are open about having been discriminated against. “If you’re saying anything, you’re too loud.”

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The venerable poet Ron Kolm read a poem about the destruction of Super Storm Sandy in his 2013 Divine Comedy. When asked about sexism, he suggested that fears of it were well founded. “In the poetry world there’s not so much discrimination but in general were back to the fifties.” His most famous book The Plastic Factory was published by Red Dust in 1989 and reissued in 2011. It’s about a plastic factory whose unhealthy atmosphere was as bad for the workers as its products were for the people who bought them.

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Matthew Moseman, who was working with James Browning Kepple at the table of Underground Books, said they didn’t solicit authors by gender but wanted high quality poetry. “You need to know the difference between good poetry and bad poetry,” he said. “It’s like obscenity. You know it when you see it.” Kepple – who founded Underground Books in 1997 – handed out flyers for the New York Browning Society and sold books, some of them about the size of a receipt.

High quality and professionalism dominated the thinking of editors. A representative of Uphook Press was doubtful about literary sexism or discrimination. Their most recent anthology Gapeseed includes 52 poets and spoken word performers from all over the United States. “We haven’t really looked at the gender divide until we’ve chosen the work,” said Jane Omerod, an editor at Uphook.

Women poets outnumbered men poets about 115 to 99 at this year’s Poetry Festival organized by the Poetry Society of New York. The readers were members of 57 groups, some identified by a non gender specific nom de plume.

Only one poet was very skeptical about sexism in the poetry community. “It is a myth that it is still unbalanced but I think that it is better,” said Steve Dalachinsky whose A Superintendent’s Eyes waspicked up by Autonomedia in 2000. His poetry and photo-collages are inspired by William S. Burroughs. He said the first edition of Burroughs’s Junkie was printed upside down and on the back side of Maurice Helbrant’s Narcotics Agent. When asked if he would like to publish more of his material at commercial publishers, he said, “You know, I’m in my sixties,” and then he rushed off for his appointed reading time.

-Theodore Weaver

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2 thoughts on “A Review of the New York City Poetry Festival 2013 by Theodore Weaver

  1. Sorry to have missed the Festival, and kudos to Mr Weaver for his summary and for raising the gender question. Always good to see old rabble-rousers like the “venerable” Kolm and the relentless Mr Dalachinsky still at it. As for a gender imbalance it is always, like the poor, with us, but it seems to me that an semi-underground community like the DIY poetry scene is more egalitarian than most. For structural chauvinism we needs look to the so-called MSM and Big 6 where the old-boy network still firmly in place.

  2. Sorry to have missed the festival and kudos to Mr Weaver for a fine report, and for raising the gender issue. I am always glad to hear that rabble-rousers like the “venerable” Kolm and the irrepressible Mr Dalachinsky are still carrying the banner. As for the gender imbalance it, like the poor, is always with us, but it seems that a culturally marginal community like the DIY poetry scene at the festival is more egalitarian than most. For sexism on a structural level we need look no further than the MSM and the so-called Big Six publishers, where the white old-boy network remains firmly dominant.

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