Bone Bouquet Volume 2, Issue 1, Winter 2011

In “20 Questions” (which is collected in The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Book), Barbara Barg ironically presents the following multiple choice question:

12. Women writers
      a) are only concerned with content      b) don’t have happy       marriages      c) should always have men edit their       works      d)   are naturally gullible   d) [sic] are always referred       to as “women writers”

Obviously, the correct choice is no choice at all. Or it would be to abandon the multiple choice format altogether since such choices (especially “a” and “d”) delimit and hypostatize what women’s writing can be. Bone Bouquet: A Journal of Poetry by Women is a new venture that intends to fight such delimitation and is, according to the editorial statement in the inaugural issue, “not a venue for feminine poetry or the poetry of ‘women’s issues.’” Rather, it “seek[s] to highlight the best new writing being produced by artists both established and emerging.”  This is a welcome mission particularly in light of the 2010 stats just released by VIDA: Women in Literary Arts that indicate huge disparities between men and women in terms of contributors and books reviewed in a range of high profile publications (the tally for Poetry, for example, counts 246 men and 165 women).  VIDA committee member Amy King writes, “We’re ready to invest our efforts and energy into the radical notion that women are writers too.”  Bone Bouquet is, then, concerned more specifically with advancing the liberating notion that women that are writers are not just “women writers.”

If the poetry found in the first print issue of Bone Bouquet engages with content that is recognizably “feminine,” then it is content elaborated within the high-pressure crucible of poetic form.  Or it is content made performative by means of a savvy conceptualism.  Take, for example, Dana Teen Lomax’s “Lullaby” which concludes the issue:

You want your ears pierced.
You want your ears pierced.
You want your ears pierced.
You want your ears pierced.
You want your ears pierced.
You want your ears pierced.
You want your ears pierced.
You want your ears pierced.
You want your ears pierced.

Compared to James Tate’s “Lewis and Clark Overheard in Conversation” (Tate’s poem is simply the line “then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs” iterated 23 times), which is content to frolic in the bone-headed silliness of male homosociality, Lomax’s poem is concerned with gendered normativites and ideological interpellation (which is particularly insidious when cast as a lullaby).

Including front and back matter, Bone Bouquet (Volume 2, Issue 1) is only a slim 31 pages but if more conventional print journals have the advantage of volume, then Bone Bouquet has the advantage of a well orchestrated coherence and a tight editorial vision. The disparate pieces in the volume by Carolyn Guinzio, Emily Skillings, Jennifer H. Fortin, Leigh Stein, Dawn Pendergast, Arielle Greenberg, Claire Hero, Becca Klaver, Jennifer Firestone, Tamiko Beyer, Kara Dorris, and Dana Teen Lomax seem to nicely harmonize with one another that this textual object seems not so much a journal but a smart, multi-authored chapbook (Claire Hero’s prose poem “ruining Dolly” ends “& the bones of my bones lullaby my limbs,” resonating not only with the title of the journal but with the closing Lomax poem that I quoted above).

If one can generalize about the range of writing here then it is marked by a lyrical obliquity and an eccentricity of voice. There is a focus on imagined worlds, on what might emerge from what Becca Klaver (perhaps referencing Brion Gysin) calls the “DREAM MACHINE.” There is a concern with the subjunctive possibility of the “if”; Leigh Stein’s “Autobiography” claims, “If she were a man, she would have sex / with the cactus for the cactus’s birthday.”  All of this surprising work represents a great riposte to those who think they know what women’s writing sounds like or should look like.

I end, following Barbara Barg, with a multiple question of my own:

Bone Bouquet is
a) meant to show that special pooch how much you care by sending a gift of crunchy bones that will have him begging for more   b) a reference to Stéphane Mallarmé   c) a gorgeous grouping of delicate bone china flowers arranged in a white vase that can be had for the “Buy it Now” price of $28.99 d) a journal to watch

The Unpublishables

Here’s a link to Publishing The Unpublishablean incredible project that’s “edited” (although I would call it curated) by Kenneth Goldsmith. Goldsmith writes:

What constitutes an unpublishable work? It could be many things: too long, too experimental, too dull; too exciting; it could be a work of juvenilia or a style you’ve long since discarded; it could be a work that falls far outside the range of what you’re best known for; it could be a guilty pleasure or it could simply be that the world judges it to be awful, but you think is quite good. We’ve all got a folder full of things that would otherwise never see the light of day. 

Invited authors were invited to ponder to that question. The works found here are their responses, ranging from an 1018-page manuscript (unpublishable due to its length) to a volume of romantic high school poems written by a now-respected innovative poet. You get the idea. 

The web is a perfect place to test the limits of unpublishability. With no printing, design or distribution costs, we are free to explore that which would never have been feasible, economically and aesthetically. While this exercise began as an exploration and provocation, the resultant texts are unusually rich; what we once considered to be our trash may, after all, turn out to be our greatest treasure. 

The series will conclude when the 100th manuscript is published. 

Please note that the series is by invitation only. 

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Mailboxes, Recommended

letterstopoetsA century after Rilke wrote his famous letters to Franz Kappus, the literary-epistle game has changed. We want more than a holding-forth by the master alone; how about hearing from the tenderfoot, too?

Letters to Poets, a remarkable anthology of correspondence by 28 writers, gives us both sides of the conversation. These letters between emerging and established poets are non-hierarchical exchanges, debates, ruminations on all kinds of topics—fear, love, ambition, jazz, feminist poetics, writer’s block, academia, the Bush administration.

Editors Jennifer Firestone and Dana Teen Lomax have gathered smart, revealing letters from a wide-ranging crew of poet-pairs, including Judith Goldman & Leslie Scalapino, Brenda Coultas & Victor Hernández Cruz, Anselm Berrigan & John Yau, Truong Tran & Wanda Coleman, and Karen Weiser & Anne Waldman.

The resulting volume is a richly tangled map of the interior—a rare chance to climb inside writers’ heads and listen.