Friday, 3 July 2009

The debate continues

There was an interesting letter to the editor in the latest Poetry Review. A collective of 15 women poets, including Kate Clanchy, Patience Agbabi, Katrina Porteous and Eva Salzman to pick some from the high profile signatories, were questioning the 'gender divide' of the review section of the previous Poetry Review, they also claim that less space is given to women essayists and poets.

The editor, Fiona Sampson, while correcting the stats they present, argues that PR cannot publish work on a quota basis, the poetry world is unbalanced and suggests women are 'disproportionately reluctant to assume literary authority through regular reviewing'. She talks about responsibility. And heralds the news (at least to me) that Poetry Wales and Poetry London both have new women poetry editors - Zoe Skoulding and Colette Bryce, respectively.

Certainly in regard to the submissions we receive at Flax I agree with Fiona's conclusion. And, like her, we do not select on a quota basis or with an eye to gender representation. Our criteria is quality and diversity. As I have said at most of our launches, what excites me is the tensions that arise from disparity, the electic nature of the collective voice and laying open of different interpretations and experiences. This comes from gender and age.

Perhaps we are lucky here in the North West of England that there are so many fine women poets, because our poetry anthologies and collections have published 18 women poets and 9 men. Not that it is a competition. In fact I hadn't even considered counting the contributors until reading the letter and its response.

And so perhaps I should consider that other experience: age. We have published 7 poets under the age of 4o; 20 over the age of 40.

Is there a correlation to these stats? There is the classic cliche of the woman snatching time to write at the kitchen table (Fay Godwin memorialised this in her photos of Fay Weldon), but is the reality that simple? The TS Eliot prize was won this year by a women poet who has only just turned thirty.

Maybe there is no clear-cut answer or interpretation. Except to keep writing, to add voice to the debate, to think deeply and share ideas and arguments. The poet laureate is a women for the first time in its history. There is only one certainty: everything changes.

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