THE FEMINIST CAUCUS – SELECTED MEDIA

 

Imprints and Casualties: poets on women and language, reinventing memory, Vol. 2 (Broken Jaw Press, 2000)

“A worthwhile project. It presents the papers, letters, thoughts and poems without comment, letting readers draw their own discussions and conclusions.”
New Hope International Review (UK)

PRAISE FOR Imprints and Casualties

Anne Burke titles her work “imprints,” because the volume reproduces texts that have “made their mark” elsewhere, mostly in the Living Archives series published by the Feminist Caucus of the League of Canadian Poet and “casualties” for the many there were: the deaths of contributors Bronwen Wallace and Anne Szumigalski, the lack of certain written records and a damaged friendship.

The first half of Imprints and Casualties reproduces two years’ worth of correspondence between poets Erin Mouré and Bronwen Wallace, largely concerning plans for a workshop at the next AGM of the League. Mouré floods Wallace with essays by feminist theorists and her critique of them in letters bristling with capital letters, strings of exclamations and interrogatives, and an insistence on what women must/should/have to do. Wallace sidesteps the questions, arguing for a narrative poetics of the particular that speaks to the larger experiences of “women.” In her foreword of 1993, Mouré has the final word: the letters represent “a struggle to know” and the friends’ parting was “amicable.”

It’s a tricky business, tying up loose textual ends for a friend who has passed on. Contra Mouré, Wallace’s final position in Imprints and Casualties is that this discussion of women and language alienated the two poets. At the very least, the vigour of their exchange echoes in the ensuing farrago of poems, essays and reflections. Marie Annharte Baker’s “Raggedy Shawl” and “Circling Back Grandma-To-Be Writing” are bold reminders that racism is also a defining and slippery force in the production of Canadian women’s writing. While the entire text reaches for a symbolism that is up to the task of representing “women,” contributions by Penn Kemp and Lola Tostevin, especially, treat the contentions of language. Memory is the focus of the final section; in my reading, the reflections by Anne Szumigalski and Sarah Klassen particularly resonate. Taken whole, Imprints and Casualties is a provocative documentation of the growth of the Caucus and a helpful introduction to the work of its members.

–from “Wary of Angels” by Marilyn Iwama, Canadian Literature No. 184, Spring 2005

Imprint and Casualties edited by Anne Burke, attempts to capture the spirit of the Feminist Caucus of the League of Canadian Poets in the late ’80s and early ’90s. It is thus an important document, a “living archive” that immortalizes in print the women involved in these proceedings.

In a series of letters written between 1985 and 1987 (the most compelling part for this reader), Erin Moure and Bronwen Wallace discuss feminist theory and the underlying assumptions that went into the 1987 panel, “Illegitimate Positions.” Moure defends the language philosophers (particularly Wittgenstein) who “show us that the way we speak, the concepts we can form in language, largely governs what we can know, and finally, how we can act” (24). She says, “in poetry, language conveys values. If we don’t examine it, we duplicate the eyes of the Father” (25).

Wallace resists the assumption that language-centered writing rescues women from the patriarchy, claiming that it can be “just as easily co-opted by the patriarch as any other kind” (28). Wallace believes that “we must begin with what we are, with what we have already learned, with how we have acted and continue to act in the world, as well as from theory” (28).

The section on memory and poetics is particularly thoughtful, including an insightful essay from editor Anne Burke.

–review by Lily Iona MacKenzie, Prairie Fire, posted by Carolyn Zonailo at www.carolynzonailo.com

Imprints and Casualties documents some of the debates, obsessions, and urgent questions of feminist poets between 1985 and 1993. Assuch, these selections from the Living Archives of the League of Canadian Poets’ Feminist Caucus make for fascinating reading, giving us some much needed historical grounding in the face of a hypercapitalist barrage of cutbacks and consumerism which seems to be reimposing patriarchy faster than we can say ‘no.’

Marie Annharte Baker’s feisty words always give heart, “My oxygen use will be for creating a better society and not for extolling decadence and whatever lies 500 years of European settlement has brought to our Turtle Island.” From her perspective as a “raggedy shawl,” a First Nations woman who keeps on fighting, Baker challenges us to understand the political effects of our words.

The correspondence between Erin Moure and Bronwen Wallace provokes me to investigate my relations to a language that speaks me even as I speak it. Wallace suggests that “we don’t just speak for  ourselves, ever: lyrically or otherwise;” the implications of this statement hold both promise and terror. In her poem “Bones,” Wallace offers us the moment “when the listener re-enters/ the country of her damage/ from a new direction.”

The contradictions that mark women’s relations to the dominant discourse can be both generative and frustrating. I think of Moure’s insight that, “To use this language, ouch, to speak truly what our needs are, without reflecting the male image of ourselves (and here I don’t mean the most obvious objectification), magnifies the distance that is in words, that are not our words. One can’t claim what is not one’s own merely by saying one claims it.”

I invite you to read this book. The conversations it instigates are food for the soul, a wake up call for the tired and hungry, a reminder to fight the distortions and historical injustices that are embedded deep in the structures of our very words today.

–review by Rita Wong, Herizons, July 1, 2002

The contents of this book include essays, letters, poems, and drawings by female poets on the subjects of gender, writing, and remembering. Unique in structure, the book is part of a Living Archives series begun in 1991, arising from annual feminist caucus panels held at meetings of the League of Canadian Poets. This volume brings together excerpts from those meetings and from correspondence leading up to the meetings, from1985 to 1993. Critical years for feminist writing in Canada, the period is chronicled with intelligence and care in these selected pieces, providing a sense of the struggles, triumphs, and disappointments of a vibrant part of recent history. The 16 contributors create a nice diversity of voices, and since celebrations of diversity were a starting point of much feminist activity then, the volume is an accurate record. The optimism of early feminist writing becomes tempered with very real differences of opinion, particularly in the exchange of letters between Bronwen Wallace and Erin Mouré that makes up the long opening section of the book. Theories of gender and language much debated in those years, theories imported largely from continental Europe, are explicated, analyzed, practised, condemned, and redeemed in the epistolary section in a way that really distinguishes this book. In fact, the volume may find use in women’ studies classrooms as well as those in Canadian literature or contemporary poetry, for it not only anatomizes the debate surrounding language and gender theories, but it also locates the theories in practice, in the lives of recognizable women—friends—who work in words. Can women get outside of the dominant discourse to find a language of their own? Is literary theory useful to the feminist cause or simply another, subtler form of domination, with its obscure terms and difficult concepts? Do women already have a unique form of discourse? Questions such as these, on which the academic feminist movement was often divided, are articulated here in lucid, deeply felt prose. The fact that the books in this series have appeared regularly, and that they contain such compelling work, is a triumph. Showcasing the writing of such Canadian female poets as Lola Lemire Tostevin, Penn Kemp, and Sarah Klassen, the series itself speaks eloquently for the presence of a women’s voice in Canadian literature. At times moving or funny, always thoughtful, often startlingly insightful, and never self-pitying, the pieces entertain…the book repays not just reading but studying.

–from the Canadian Book Review Annual

Siolence: Poets on Women, Violence and Silence, Volume 1 (Quarry Press, 1998)

“The essays discussing peace/violence and silence [-siolence] range from philosophical to practical in nature. They are well informed, insightful and thought provoking. Several cite other resources. The poems are wonderful; they beautifully and strikingly illuminate the ideas presented in the essays.I highly recommend this book to teachers, teacher-librarians and resource professionals… Siolence is a “must-have” resource for any Canadian Literature course, as well as any poetry class. It provides a brief, intense introduction to excellent contemporary Canadian poetry in an attractive, easily accessible format.
— Terry Vatrt

PRAISE FOR Siolence: Poets on Women, Violence, and Silence

“In order to combat silence, we all must first combat the silences we impose on ourselves.”

Penn Kemp writes “Every witness leaves gaps, deliberate or not. A biographer learns to listen between the words for the potent silences . . . the work is to decipher that anxiety, not to smooth it over too soon or to bury it. Robert Bly describes a similar gap in his book, appropriately called The Silence of Snowy Fields, as the denial of his father’s drinking . . . In the late seventies I wrote a novel, Falling Towers, which was . . . never published. Now I understand why. In it, I could only deal obliquely with the topic of family violence and its effect on children. The cares and the fears were still too fresh for me to deal directly with this topic. There was a gap in the writing.”

Here is an excerpt, semi-autobiographical fiction, of a woman dealing with familial ongoing violence: “Carole could talk to no-one. She could not talk. When she tried, once, twice, her father reminded her of family pride, her friends reminded her their business was not to interfere. Not to know. . . . Guilt, shame, Carole wrapped those qualities around her to keep warm, as if they were her own, protecting her from the eyes of neighbours, hiding the black and yellowing bruises under sleeves and stockings.”

The author mentions, “That story I could not tell because . . . it did not exist in the positive noise of ordinary living. The action of violence upon articulation might best be expressed in a neologism: siolence. . . . I’m a writer and not easily squelched, and yet I was silenced for twenty years, by fear, by shame. Violence stuns: the mouth opens and after a while no scream emerges.”

I bought this book and “After the Silence: Rape and My Journey Back” weeks ago, but I delayed reading them. Silence and extinction are powerful weapons. They can effectively kill creativity and activism.

The contributors to this book were asked to not use poetry. Fortunately, some contributors disobeyed and altered the instruction, and did speak.

“The subject is violence. It might as well be love. It’s that broad. And it’s that basic. Violence is the absence of love. Not that people committing violent acts are unloved, not that they love too little. During acts of violence love is forgotten. Other things flood in. Self-loathing. Jealousy. Impatience. Anger. Sometimes hate. And sometimes not feeling at all, except a curiosity, a dullness, a forgetting. The absence of feeling, but especially the absence of love.”

Brenda Niskala’s essay is worthwhile because of the uncommon independence of her suggested solutions, suggesting that true change is not caused by violent revolution, but rather by systemic, cultural, and political structural changes “fire, agriculture, language, the wheel, which also r/evolves . . . a world where:”
a) Structural inequalities do not pit man against woman, race against race. A world where power is something offered to your community, not held over it as a fist.
b) Healing is achieving
c) “Not feeling” is a sickness, not a desirable state, or a factor of survival.

She agrees with The Beatles’ sentiment about the word ‘revolution’: “The word ‘revolution’ has been tarnished with overtones of violence.” As with The Beatles, ‘revolution’ is not about radical, violent and quick change; rather, it is about planned, incremental, openly argued, and paced transformation.

This book promotes cultures “where acts of gender violence, or economic or cultural violence, or violence of any kind at all are viewed with disgust and horror, instead of the veiled approval they often receive today.”

“Encouragement is a safe place, a silence that is attentive and welcoming, so that all our stories may be heard. Let those bones speak.”

Amazon product review

PRAISE FOR THE FEMINIST CAUCUS

In at least two areas in particular, new and radical writing is very strong: feminist poetry and poetics have become a major source of poetic power, especially since the groundbreaking Vancouver Women and Words/Les Femmes et Les Mots conference; and poetry from such previously marginalized groups as African and Caribbean, Japanese, Chinese and Native Canadians….

The rise of feminism and theory in the poetry of the past twenty years can be traced in such projects as the continuing Women and Words/Les Femmes et Les Mots writing workshops, the rise of such journals as Room of One’s Own, CV/2, Fireweed: A Feminist Quarterly and Tessera, the Feminist Caucus of the League of Canadian Poets and its publications, many lesbian publications, and a few wholly feminist presses.

Many of the writers who have made the greatest mark as feminist poets have worked in collaboration with similar poets in Québec like Nicole Brossard. Feminist politics and poetics reaches far wider than those few name writers associated with feminism in the public’s mind, and many writers, both male and female, have benefited from the feminist push. Writers of colour and First Nations writers have also made a strong impact, and…have seen a striking rise of published poetry from writers with a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds.

Best known among these poets are Dionne Brand, whose No Language is Neutral was short-listed for a Governor General’s Award, George Elliott Clarke, Claire Harris, Daniel David Moses and Marlene Nourbese Philip, but many other, younger writers are appearing in their wakes. As the country continues to argue about the merits and dangers of multiculturalism, and conferences like Writing Through Race, held in Vancouver, create their own controversies, these writers and their works simply insist that they have a place in the Canadian literary mosaic.

by Douglas Barbour, from an essay on poetry in English, published at Historica Canada