A f t e r w o r d

 

When Dale invited me to guest-edit what was then termed the “Three Women” Issue, I understood our objective: To publish more women. I fervently supported that goal and was so happy to curate the project for right hand pointing. I’m still thrilled to be a part of this undertaking. Working with Dale was a wonderful experience in every way. When he let me choose six women rather than three, I knew he was ready to put his money where his mouth was, so to speak.

 

The work submitted for these issues was incredible. I was delighted by the depth, heart, and range of the poems that I read. All in all, I found the experience to be both joyful and inspiring.

 

Yet through it all, I was still left puzzling over what it really means to “publish more women.” Don’t get me wrong. I get it. At its base, it means equity. But beyond that, the idea of publishing writers as women is vexed for me.

 

It brings to mind my eighth birthday. I was gifted a collection of Emily Dickinson poetry, the book jacket of which was adorned with hideous Pepto Bismol-colored carnations. Truly a Hallmark card from Hell. My older sister Mary pulled the jacket off and handed me back the unadorned book. “Emily Dickinson’s got nothing to do with roses,” she scoffed. I understand now that she wanted me to encounter Dickinson’s sharp edges and extraordinary strangeness, minus the cheap and minimizing marketing ploy to attract “girl readers.” Which makes me think about how sometimes, the idea of the writer as woman can be, at its worst, a quick and lazy-minded way of understanding the complexity of art through the simplistic terms of cultural stereotype.    

 

Last spring, as I wrote the afterword for Words to Cure the Tameness, all my thoughts tended toward blooming. Mental flowers capered on my cheek.[1]  I was caught up in the idea that the poems in that collection were new sprouts, pilgrims[2] in the fresh ground. I played at length with the idea of tender things being strong. I wore short sleeves when the temperatures still had not risen above 50 degrees.

 

Lately I feel less sprout than bitter root. I spend many of my free moments brooding about Janae Rice, Feminist Frequency and “boobs on the ground.”[3] My thoughts turn acrid.

 

At times I dream my root is jutting in the side of power. May my sharp points pierce the thorax of male privilege in all its many forms.

 

In such a state of mind, I find the poems in this collection to be good company. There is something solid, unapologetic, unwavering about these three poets.  They make poems that, in turn, make no apologies. They are a whole world more substantial than such flimsy terms as anger, politics, or even woman.

 

Kelly Fordon writes in her poem, “Bitter Root,” from which the title of this collection is drawn:

 

No dead nettle 

this one. 

No ghost flower. 

No swishy horsetail. 

Mine was a bitter root, 

with leaves as sharp 

as tacks.

 

I like this image for the way it breaks with the tired old association between women and nurturing, between female creativity and reproductivity.  I like the idea of creation as a root, a nettle, a thorn.

 

All this has something to do with gender representation in poetry, I’m sure of it.  If I can figure it all out, I’ll be sure to let you know.  

 

Sara Biggs Chaney

 

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[1] This is a paraphrase of Dickinson’s poem XXIV, from Section 3: Love in Complete Poems.

 

[2] The word pilgrim here refers to Dickinson’s poem 35: “Nobody knows this little Rose--/ It might a pilgrim be.”

 

[3] For those who are not aware, I’ll provide a quick breakdown of these three recent events: Janay Rice is the wife of NFL player Ray Rice. A security camera captured Ray Rice punching out his then-fiancee, Janay, in an elevator. Feminist Frequency is an award winning video series that examines gender representation in the video game industry. The series is hosted by Anita Sarkeesian, who was recently deluged with death threats from anonymous male gamers. Among other things, these trolls threatened to “rape her to death.” The final quote is drawn from the recent comments of Fox News Anchor Eric Bolling, in reference to the United Arab Emirate’s first female airforce pilot.