Gender Divide In Poetry and Hiring

Picture of Monica L. StorssMonica Lita Storss is an author, internationally renowned performance poet, and literary publicist. She currently runs Storss Publicity, where she serves as a consultant to some of the world’s most important epicenters of creativity and community. At the center of Storss Publicity is the ethos that creative community is integral to the health of our communities at large. She is the curator of Venom & the Anecdote.  She has worked with Small Press Distribution, Literary Death Match, and is a founder of The Shanghai Tunnels Project.  Her poetry appeared recently in Dash, Unshod Quills, The Southern Women’s Review and at IF NOT FOR KIDNAP.  She has taught at UC Davis, Portland State University, and more.  You can find her at monicastorss.org

Dear Monica,

Why do boys at colleges so blatantly hire their broet friends? And why, after they didn’t even green light your application for a measly interview, do they show up at your poetry reading and think you’ll either date them or give them a free book? Is it acceptable to resort to violence in these situations? Just wondering.

– Overqualified, Underemployed Poet Chica

Dear Overqualified, Underemployed Poet Chica,

There are so many ways to start this letter, but we will start like this:  it is never acceptable to resort to violence, although we empathize and you have our deepest sympathies.

Each college or university has its own hiring culture, so without knowing more, I cannot speak directly to why the men in your area seem only to hire other men that they have worked with in the past.  I can tell you it is a terrifying thing to be working at a school that is anti-woman, or anti-you.  You want to make sure the institution has faculty support and that you will be respected.  Period.

I can (and will) address the concerns of this question directly, but I feel the larger question being asked is, “What’s up with the gender divide in Poetry World?”

First, remember we are in Poetry World.  What is at stake is artistic integrity.  Nothing else.  And, as I was taught by my unlikely mentor, Joe Wenderoth, “There is room in Poetry World for everyone.”

Everything I could say was summarized in an interview for this question with the poet Anhvu Buchanan, a founder of the Bromanticism movement (yes, it is actually a poetic movement): “U NEED FEMALE BROMANCE (sic).”

It’s too easy to blame patriarchy and sexism.  Those things exist, more than we can bear to look at.  I’m going to ask something much harder of you:  I’m going to ask that you paddle out into the lineup and claim your place.

I’ve watched the phenomenon with my beautiful brothers, with friends, and in the literal surf line-up.  A gorgeous male tribalism that reaches deep through shared history and experience, to a place beyond the snap of a hot August cross-breeze and tilted beers. I write about this beauty in my own work.  I lump it in with mysticism. I’ve watched it in ghettos, in punk bands, in Chinese monasteries, and by firelight in countries even farther. I watch it like an anthropologist.  I romanticize it.  And I love it.

The Sparrow Ghost Collective used to put on an event called “Broetry.”  It was awesome. Inclusive of all, music, spoken, written, and visual arts; its name derived from the three founders, all men, and their love for each other and poetry. “Broetry” was not a pejorative, but rather a regulator: that art shared should be done so in the spirit of brotherhood (/sisterhood).  I recently leaned on someone at a book release party (for Leah Noble Davidson, Poetic Scientifica, University of Hell Press) because my heels were too high. This person told me “Broetry” was the best artistic thing they had ever experienced.  Unpack that experience.

The Bromanticism movement, started in San Francisco, was actually derivative of film & hangouts.  There are women included in the original Bromanticism movement, such as poet and musician Diana Salier. Who says you have to be male to be a bro? Bromanticism captures more of an esprit and joie de vivre than any kind of exclusionary quality.  The zeitgeist of Zeitgeist (a famed San Francisco bar where the artist Mission kids slummed it).

So men, as writers, do not hesitate to share that.  So why do we?  Why don’t more women get more of that camaraderie on?  Child rearing and domestic burdens often fall heavier on the shoulders of women. This is undeniable. But I propose this: we’ve forgotten how to tribe.

We’ve forgotten how to ask our girls over, bring the kids along, don’t worry about anything.  We can’t always go to the bar or coffee shop, but we have kitchen tables and living room floors.  We can bring the hangout just as easy. We need female bromance & brodowns.  We’re Joans and Peggys and Bettys living in a Don Draper world.  No, wait, we’re past fourth-wave feminism.  You will be persecuted for what you look like.  For laughing too loud.  Pretty girls never get asked to dance.  So make your own dance party.

Let me show you what Publishing World looks like-ish right now:

http://www.vida web.org/the-count-2012

You can also read it summed up by the inimitable Amy King HERE.

I’ll give you a few minutes to process that.

WHO RUN GAME?  We don’t run game.  But we could.

We need more women writing.  More women publishing.  More women running publishing houses, small and large.  More women doin’ the damn thang.  More women-run reading series.  Women are not being represented. We make up over half the world’s population, so why aren’t the numbers reflecting that?

Since it does not exist, we have to create it.  Some women have paved the way, even recently.  Jennifer Joseph of Manic D.  Anna Joy Springer.  Anyone who did Sister Spit ever.  Dena Rash Guzman and Unshod Quills.  Jenny Forrester and Unchaste Readers Reading Series.  Laura Moriarty at Small Press Distribution.

Write me and tell me who your favorite women changing Lit World are.

As for free books, if you don’t want to give ‘em one, don’t.   Tell them to go through the appropriate channels for review copies.  If they are not a reviewer or the like, they are more than welcome to purchase one.

As for dating: it is a terrible idea for poets to date each other.  Be friends to each other.  Support one another’s work. But dating?  Rarely works out.  Just pretend you didn’t hear him and wave at someone he can’t see.  Is “dating” a euphemism in your question?  Just asking.

And for the serious conclusion:  hiring at the college level, as with many things in life, usually boils down to two things: qualifications and nepotism.  The nepotism part is just who you know.  Do you want to work with those people? If it is a bunch of self-congratulatory bros teaching with other self-congratulatory bros, maybe not.  But maybe.  Universities have a vastly different system than colleges.  Public v. private institutions.  Remember how each has its own distinct culture?

Make sure you have the qualifications for the job you are applying for.  If you need more experience, volunteer where you can get that experience.  Organizations like California Poets in the Schools (CPITS) exist nationally where you teach creative writing in a k-12 capacity as a special guest instructor, as do organizations where you teach creative writing classes in women’s shelters, prisons, senior centers, and other community organizations.

Publishing is key.  Having a strong record of teaching and publishing is going to put you at the  top of the list, but be aware that your creative and career life can get all tangled up like flotsam if you choose to write and teach.  Carry a dive knife.

I remind our attractive readers that many poets have made it successfully not working in academia.  My favorite poet worked at the grocery store while writing their now canonized books.  Another is a copywriter.  One’s in insurance, just like ol’ Ted Kooser and Wallace Stevens.

You don’t have to go the academic route.  Just putting that out there.

I’m not pretending there are not gender differences.  This pretty thug was taking care of me after a surf injury and I told him about your question posed.  He suggested I answer it exclusively in Jay-Z lyrics.  Then he said “Poetry is sexy!” and got indignant.  “Industry shady / need to be taken ova. – Jay-Z.”

Our genders are not at war.  Who says as a woman you can’t join, or heck, BE the Good Old Boys network? It’s not the Freemasons, and gender is a construct.  It’s just other people who write and love poetry, just like you.

Love,

Monica