Sunday, June 22, 2014

Women Writing Intersectionality: Reading & Panel At Barnard College


fiction * poetics * memoir


Elisa Albert
Alena Graedon
Caroline Hagood
Wendy Chin-Tanner

Thursday, July 17, 2014
12:30 PM to 2 PM
Barnard College
Altschul Atrium

About the Panel

Elisa Albert is the author of The Book of Dahlia (a novel) How This Night Will Be Different (stories) and the editor of Freud's Blind Spot: Writers on Siblings. Her works has appeared in Tin House, Five Chapters, Lilith, Post Road, The Rumpus, and a bunch of anthologies. 

She received her MFA in fiction from Columbia University, where she sometimes teaches creative writing.

Read her essay On Loving and Leaving New York from Goodbye to All That: Writers On Loving And Leaving New York

Read her essay in Long Overdue Labor Day : True Birth Stories from Today’s Best Women Writers 

Alena Graedon was born in Durham, North Carolina, and is a graduate of Carolina Friends School, Brown University, and Columbia University's School of the Arts. She has worked at Columbia, Knopf, and the PEN American Center. 

The Word Exchange, her first novel, was completed with the help of fellowships at several artist colonies, including The MacDowell Colony, The Ucross Foundation, and Yaddo. It is being translated into eight languages.

 Her nonfiction has been published in The Believer magazine, and in French translation in Le Believer. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Read The New York Times book review of The Word Exchange

Caroline Hagood is a teaching fellow and English PhD candidate at Fordham University, where she has been the program assistant for Poets Out Loud and graduate editor of CURA, a multi-media literary magazine. 

Her poetry has appeared in Hanging Loose, La Petite Zine, and elsewhere. 

Lunatic Speaks is her debut collection of poetry. 

She's written on literature and film for the Guardian, the Economist, the Huffington Post, and Salon. Currently, she's working on her dissertation on the intersection of twentieth century film and poetry, which means she watches too many movies while
eating junk food and calling it "research."

Wendy Chin-Tanner is the author of the poetry collection Turn and co-author of the graphic novel American Terrorist

Her poems have been published at Vinyl Poetry, The Rumpus, The Mays Anthology of Oxford and Cambridge, and elsewhere. She is a founding editor at Kin Poetry Journal, poetry editor at The Nervous Breakdown, staff interviewer at Lantern Review, and co-founder at A Wave Blue World. Born and raised in NYC, she was educated at Cambridge University, UK and now lives in Portland, Oregon.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Deconstructing the Poetry Goddess

The notion of the poetry goddess is as far-reaching as it (she?) is elusive, coy, erudite, and sensual. So much of this construction depends on usage and context -- as is de rigueur for many things we associate with femininity. The poetry goddess can be both empowering and marginalizing to women who produce and consume poetry; but what or who exactly is the poetry goddess? Is the notion of the poetry goddess, in its simplest form, the idea of The Muse? And if so, why do we feel the need to assign gender to artistic inspiration? Plato kicked the poets out of The Republic, that spitfire Eve got us booted from Eden, and poor, mad Sappho, that erotic dilettante responsible in the Western tradition for giving us lyric poetry, met a horrid fate.
Even in these modern times, the idea that within poetry, traditional versus experimental forms are gendered (traditional attributed to male, as experimental to female) is somewhat of a tired distinction -- an old conversation we had when we burned our bras or whatnot. Still, as in with any movement for change, there are institutional hierarchies in the publishing world that marginalize female voices. Organizations such as VIDA and Girls Write Now, feminist presses like The Feminist PressShe Writes Press, Seal, and Cleis, advocate to close the publishing gap, but do these efforts end up putting women in binders? Haven't we learned that separate -- even when that separateness takes on preternatural qualities is not equal? Who or what is the poetry goddess and what place, if any, does she have in the world of contemporary American poetry? I spoke with some of today's fiercest women poets to try and figure this out.
Who is the poetry goddess?
Wendy Chin-Tanner: Athena? Or Polyhymnia, the Muse of Poetry? Or maybe this question pertains to the idea of the canonized or established female poet. But a goddess is, by definition, immortal, so she couldn't possibly be a real person.
Rachel Eliza Griffiths: I think Edna St. Vincent Millay would agree if I said she was a poetry goddess. If I said this to Emily Dickinson she might sigh and tell me she found me disappointing. A goddess may be experienced as a fence to render a woman as distant, invisible, perfect, impenetrable, dangerous, and unknowable. For me, the notion of a goddess also plays with the ironic relationship of a woman, her scale or proportion to the world, and how she is observed or valued as Muse.
Caroline Hagood: The most liberating and tricky part is figuring out how to be your own muse. That venerated old image of the male poet invoking the muse in some Greek setting has now been replaced by little old me in front of a computer in Brooklyn, wearing pajamas with animals on them, trying to make creative things happen for myself.
Nancy White: The poetry goddess is the collective force of our word-women forebears, calling us forward as writers, and maybe she is also that energy that transcends gender altogether when we are moving deep inside the words themselves.
Is the notion of the poetry goddess helpful to women writers, poets, in particular?
Amy Lemmon: This discussion of male critics or poets arguing that women's poetry or women writing about women's experiences not being as valid is an old discussion, a relic of the 20th century's 'poetess.' I'm thinking of Robert Lowell in his introduction to Plath's posthumously published Ariel where he writes of her, "Hardly a woman at all, certainly not another 'poetess.'"
Wendy Chin-Tanner: I would agree that the notion of the poetry goddess isn't of much use to me in any of those capacities. Poetry is one of our oldest forms of expression. It's primal and contains elements of the pre-verbal. Poetry attempts to say the unsayable and at its best, poetry wrestles with the contradictions of the human condition with one foot in the gutter and one hand reaching for Parnassus. It is deeply human, embodied, living, and breathing. So why limit the definition of a poet, and a female poet specifically, to something that sounds like a statue on a pedestal?
Lisa Marie Basile: The idea that female poets are writing explicitly feminine poetry is ridiculous. I'm not afraid to write about menstrual blood, but I can, however, write about whatever I want. The poetry goddess is just a lazy construction about women writers.
Miranda Field: Can a notion do much in the way of reparations, for those stuck in the other corner by this culture and this language? I'm not convinced by the power of notions anymore. Notions seem like cake decorations compared with actions.
Do you identify as a woman poet, or a poet? Is there a difference in the two identities both within the publishing world and your readership?
Caroline Hagood: I've been thinking about this question a lot as I write my dissertation on American women poets. I guess I think of myself as a woman poet in the sense that there are particular subjects I write on that might sound familiar to some women or that may even help them through their day, but not in the sense that I need to be cordoned off from male writers for fear of inferiority or contamination. I hope you can hear humor in that last statement.
Nancy White: I identify as both 'poet' and 'woman poet.' Like so many terms, it really depends on your tone when you say 'woman poet.' I know some who can make the label 'woman poet' sound dismissive, but the range of what women can experience is just so much more extensive than what men experience today. Men's lives in America now, typically, are the ones that are limited and held back by their biology and the confining gender roles, which is a switch, I think, compared to a hundred years ago. Okay, men may still make more money, and that's insane, but their relationships to their bodies and their senses just aren't as complex. Their ability to approach language from so many angles simultaneously is so much less likely to develop early and fully, and their ability to think outside the box can leave them living such narrow lives. So it seems obvious to me that poetry's god is a goddess.
Wendy Chin-Tanner: The poet's individual world is a prism through which we see the universal. In my case, that prism happens to be female and Chinese American. I also identify as a mother, a wife, a daughter, an academic, an editor, a community member, etc., etc. We all have multiple identities, but we have a tendency to reduce people's identities, especially non-mainstream identities, to just a couple of easy labels. We should be very careful of these labels. We should understand that they are not innate or objective, but they in fact function as part of a cultural landscape that's been shaped by money and history and hierarchies of power. The way this plays out in the publishing world is that it can influence which cultural narratives sell, what writers write, and even who gets to write.
Do you feel like you're a confessional poet? Is there any other kind?
Caroline Hagood: The impetus behind my work is to show people they're not alone. Whatever it is, I (or one of my personas) have done it, too, and probably in a more embarrassing manner.
Amy Lemmon: I certainly feel that the persona or 'I' in my poems is not exactly me, the person, though there is a very close correspondence. The term 'confessional poetry' strikes a sour note with many poets -- and in fact M. L. Rosenthal, who coined the phrase to refer to Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath, among others, was not using it as a compliment.
Nancy White: Yes, to some degree, though I love a great persona poem as well, and probably value image and metaphor over my own story. You do need to let go of the particulars of your story or personal experience in order to "hear" the poem you are creating and help it happen. The tension between the drive to confess (Me! Me! Me!) and the drive to find out something new is where the poem really starts to happen.
Leah Umansky: My favorite women writers are confessional poets. Of course, there are other kinds. I know tons of poets who do not write about themselves in any shape or form. My first book, Domestic Uncertainties, is a memoir of my marriage and divorce told through poetry. In my Mad Men and Game of Thrones poems, I'm writing about gender and power through the lens of pop culture. Khaleesi and Peggy or Ned Stark and Don Draper take over. But I'm still in there. The poet's always there.
Miranda Field: I really don't like (or maybe understand) the term 'confessional poet,' but I know a name's just a name. I don't consider myself confessional because I think for something you say to be a confession you must feel guilty about it. I think the term 'confessional poet,' though it's definitely used in interesting ways, more properly belongs in another era. But that said, I have to confess I don't like the idea of 'kinds' of poet either.
Rachel Eliza Griffiths: On the page I share so much but I don't feel it comes across as "confessional" in the tradition that Sexton, Plath, or Ginsberg. I'm not interested in dragging other peoples' lives or private relationships into my poems in ways that could be misinterpreted, exploitative, and might be considered harmful or reckless. That doesn't mean I'm not risking my life when I work at a poem. I'm always risking everything.
In a world where we take on personas all the time, how are you separate from your writing?
Miranda Field: 'I' is a near relation, but not she who brushes her teeth with my toothbrush. She's fiercer, more of an ecstatic; at the same time she's stiffer, more dissociated; she's a bit of an underworld dweller; she hits dogs with sticks - I don't do that. She's artificial, made of language and rhythms; and she's more outspoken but more naive than I am, because - I think - she's quite a bit younger. She mixes up fact and subjective truth. She's a false self, an aesthetic veneer, but she's also, at least partly, my own spirit, so she's naked and honest to the point of pain, but she also plays at all times with irony, since she grew up in England, with me. And sometimes wears masks without a thought. I, the writer of 'I', am more guarded, and more conscientious maybe, and I know where a dream ends and daytime begins.
Wendy Chin-Tanner: It's important for my mental health and for my ability to remain productive to maintain a certain level of separation or differentiation from my writing. One of the ways I do that is to view myself as more of a craftsperson than an artist. When I'm making a poem, I do my best to make it as good as I can while it's in my hands, but once I've sent it out into the world, I try to let go of how it might be perceived.
Nancy White: There's a practical answer to that, I suppose: I have to stay organized, pay bills, shop, plan, eat, socialize, work. Very uncreative. But there's another answer, which is really what poets think about: once I start creating, the poem moves outside me, and I can't let my limitations hold it back. I may have to chuck my personal narrative for the good of the poem. I may have to junk the poem because I can't figure out how to enlarge it past my first impetus. I may have to wait and wait to get to the mystery of what in the world is happening in this poem. And all of that requires both pouring yourself into it, and holding yourself back. A paradox that maybe only artists understand?
Amy Lemmon: You have an experience, you deal with it. Going back to Dickinson, 'After great pain a formal feeling comes.' You're living and writing through it. If you're writing about your life, you have to go with the changing course, things happen and that shapes the plot.
Does the notion of the poetry goddess influence how you think readers perceive you or for whom you are writing?
Lisa Marie Basile: When I did a photo shoot to accompany a feature on emerging women poets in the New York Daily News there were also a lot of people deconstructing the photographs in such a way that they blamed the poets for presenting themselves as 'sexy' or for acquiescing to the male gaze. When people give attention to female poets for being beautiful, they are limiting the work.
Rachel Eliza Griffiths: Some readers want 'real' poems and are simultaneously attracted to and repulsed by confessions, secrets. Ultimately, the poet is the source from which the poem sprouts. I think it's about voice and what gets on your nerves (as a reader).
Caroline Hagood: I like secrets. I'm interested in the bizarre, hilarious, offbeat, the simultaneously funny and sad. I like to write about the things you think and then think you should never tell anyone. That's the juicy stuff. That's what I want to read -- those strange statements that somehow remind you of your deepest self. We do enough presenting of the selves we want the world to see. I like to present the world with selves nobody admits they want to see, but that they want to see most of all. Basically, my ideal reader is a rubbernecker.
Nancy White: I'm having a bit of fun exaggerating here, but probably we owe it to men's growing awareness to kindly refer to them as 'men poets' in a sad, patient voice for, oh, a couple of hundred years. Then maybe the Goddess will share her light with a co-God.
Amy Lemmon: I like to think that I'm writing for my best readers. I'm writing to feel less alone in it and to dispel this moment of solitude.
Originally published on Huffington Post Books, May 5, 2014

Saturday, February 8, 2014

7 Beauty and Style Tips From Real Women

I am a diehard style junkieI devour trends and tips I see in Vogue; have spent years scouring the streets, boutiques and blogs and often, fashion can seem ridiculously inaccessible, even to a style lover like me. And although I’m not going to cancel my glossy subscription any time soon, there are times I need a little reminder that there’s no way I’m going to look like the eleven-year-old modeling the spring line I covet (but can’t afford) – and that’s okay. 

Don’t get me wrong; part of what I love about fashion is the fantasy it fosters. But back in the real world, I need tips on how to look amazing without a time machine and someone else’s bank account. My best beauty and style resource has always been other women. Luckily for me, I have fabulous friends. I’ve culled beauty and style tips from 7 of them, all sensationally stylish women who are industry insiders and tastemakers. And psst! All these women are in their 20s and 30s and have never looked better. Check out their secrets to looking fresh below.

All photography by Matt Licari, an arts and fashion photographer at large in New York City. 

Cayli Cavaco Reck
Cayli Cavaco Reck has been in the fashion and beauty worlds her entire life. The daughter of a stylist and the Creative Director of Allure magazine, Cayli grew up on set and spent time behind the scenes watching the pros work their magic. Cayli has been an editor at many publications including Teen Vogue and Elle Accessories and has worked closely with designers including Zac Posen. She's currently a creative director and brand strategist specializing in fashion, beauty and accessories. In 2012, she began documenting her musings on

Tip: Leave it to the pros. By "it" I mean the important beauty procedures like color, skincare, brows, and nails. Professionals look for that one minuscule tweak that can take a look from great to next level. If you don't have direct access to a professional, then use the products they use. Pros are professional for a reason: For example, a professional make-up artist understands the geometry of the face and can perceive the most beneficial lines for you. Pros know that using products with better ingredients, the better the outcome. It used to be that only a certain select group of fashion and beauty elite could have access to pro tips, but not anymore. Follow make-up artists on Facebook and Instagram and see what they're using to achieve their looks. We now have access to all this information, so let's exploit it. The advent of all these technological tools allows us to have access to these people in a much more intimate way. Some of my favorite pro products include the Dangene 1 2 3 Skincare program and Harry Josh's ProDryer 2000.

Lauren Rayner
Lauren Rayner is a New York based creative producer for stage, film, and multi-media events. She founded her own production company, Lauren Rayner Productions, where she enjoys the challenge of producing seemingly impossible projects in various media. She describes each day as a hustle, whether she’s crowd-funding or working with artists to develop marketing strategies. Work consumes much of her time, but like many professional women, looking put-together is part of her job: her style must convey her creative aesthetic to clients. She cannot stand shopping – as in, at all – so she tends to wear her clothes and shoes to death. When she falls in love with a pair of shoes or finds the perfect jeans, she’ll double up and buy two pairs.

Tip: Do things for you no matter how hard that might be. Impress yourself. Take risks with your beauty. For years, I was told by friends, family, and lovers to keep my hair long. "Oh, it looks so pretty long," they'd say. "No, don't cut it!" All along, I really wanted it short. This went on for years. Recently, I cut it into a short bob after the end of a long relationship and felt liberated. Finally acting on my own impulse gave me such confidence in my beauty. Jump in. Do what feels right to you and don't necessarily worry about how other people see you.

Jo Anna Mclean
Jo Anna Mclean is an art enthusiast, jeweler, model, and craftsperson. When she is not designing custom jewelry with Peter Hofmiester in his East Village studio in New York City, Jo Anna volunteers in Habitats for Humanity ReStore Mural Project. She photographs street-art and is often photographed herself by style bloggers for her chic downtown style. A staple in the New York party scene, Jo Anna is the quintessential gal about town.

Tip: Go au natural. I like wearing my hair just as it comes out of my head and have never felt better about it. As part of my return to nature beauty approach, I use only natural products, like deep coconut hair masks make my hair happy. I’ll apply the mask, take a Pilates class, and then sit in the sauna allowing the heat to activate the coconut oil, so it really seeps in. Some of my other favorite natural products for hair and skin include olive oil, Shea butter, rose infused witch hazelArgan oil, and vitamin E.  In addition, I’m careful about what I put into my body. The more I understand about food and nutrition, the better. I’m loving Vegetal Silica supplements to add suppleness and elasticity to skin, and strengthen hair. And, I’m eating a ton of cabbage for its antioxidants and skin healing properties.

Stephanie Owen
Stephanie Owen has been designing jewelry for over a decade. Elizabeth Cole jewelry has recently been on the runway during Paris and New York Fashion Weeks. Stephanie is best known for her collaboration with designer Zac Posen and her designs for Elizabeth Cole have graced the pages of numerous publications including Vogue, Bazaar, Elle, Allure and Vanity Fair. Elizabeth Cole Jewelry can be found at fine boutiques and department stores around the world.

Tip: Remedy dull skin by adding a pair of sparkly earrings. When choosing earrings, I like to play off the eyes: lavenders bring out the green in your iris and blues look spectacular with blues. Jewelry is a quick way to change your entire look, accentuate your features, and brighten skin. Never underestimate the beautifying power of a statement necklace. I especially love nude necklaces because they highlight your natural skin-tone and lift the complexion. 

Kelly Rae LeGault
Originally from the Midwest, Kelly Rae LeGault is an actress and model currently based out of New York City. In her work, she’s particularly drawn to dark or alternative projects that explore the edgy complexity of women characters in film and macabre editorial. Not afraid to get ugly or weird, she loves to embrace unusual characters. Upcoming projects include the independent feature film "The Gilgo Beach Murders," the short film "Baggage," the "In Fear Of" horror web series, and "Painkiller."

Tip: You don't have to spend a ton of money to have a highly curated look. I wear $5 jewelry and $10 dresses and get compliments all the time on my style. The lipstick I have on, the nail color I'm wearing; people want to buy what I have because of the way I wear it, not because it's a label. H&M makes up about 95 percent of what I own and is my favorite store for my "signature" look.  Wear what you like! People feel like they have to have the outfit and the bag in the magazine, but you don't need designers to get the look. Have the confidence to own your style every single day, no matter what. If you feel self-conscious about what you're wearing, other people will see it. A professional woman can rock it out on a budget; I am living proof.

Melissa Osborne
Melissa Osborne is the co-founder of Ash + Light, a fashion forward bridesmaid dress brand. As such, she spends a good deal of time devoted to making women look their best and feel even better. Forget the "always the bridesmaid" pity party; she thinks bridesmaids are warrior princesses. In her own words, her designs allow women to focus on being “badass” rather than worrying about wardrobe malfunctions on the dance floor.

Tip: Follow the 15 percent-85 percent Rule. Let me explain, I’m mostly put together at any given time, except for that 15 percent. For example, I planned my outfit for this photo shoot in advance and still managed to get cupcake frosting all over the front of my dress on the way to the shoot. I don't even know how I could accomplish such a feat. I used to be hard on myself for continually falling short of perfection until I learned to ride it out. Since my mishaps are always a surprise, usually funny, and ultimately keep me from taking beauty too seriously, I embrace them, and even count them as part of my signature style.

Elizabeth Ward
Elizabeth Ward calls herself a Social Media Ninja who has worked for such companies as 5Boro, Torro! NYC Skate Sauce and BOX Creative. In her work she creates a cohesive brand identity for clients across all social media platforms. A former child and teen print and commercial model for various brands in both South America and the U.S., Elizabeth has spent time both behind and in front of the camera. She holds degrees in fashion design, with a concentration in street wear from the Fashion Institute of Technology and photography from the School of Visual Arts.

Tip: Add a pop of color to any outfit with a statement lip. My signature pop of color is a red lip,  which turns a daytime outfit to a nighttime outfit with little effort. But not all reds are created equal and you have to find the red that works with your skin tone. As a Colombian woman, I have an olive skin-tone that looks best with a warm, fiery red as opposed to the blue reds, which are for fair-skinned women. And, when shopping for the right red, always try the lipstick on your wrist first. If it looks too pink on your wrist it will make your skin on your face look washed out. It takes practice to get the red lip precisely. As for liner, if you use it, go a shade darker than your lipstick shade you're wearing and blend.