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When I perform …

When I perform my poetry — and I purposely say perform instead of read -– I understand that I’m going to be measured against my looks no matter what, and I want that to be part of the critical discourse around my poetry. I know full well that my validity as an artist is undermined if I seem attractive, or worse, aware of my attractiveness, so I try to do my own beating to the punch by playing the target and the archer, thus hopefully making the audience aware of the patriarchy inside them.

The truth is, patriarchy is an insidious discourse, and both men and women tend not to expect much from a youthful, female body. I have to resist that kind of, um, resistance to a pretty genius all the time. It was so refreshing to read it confessed in Stephanie Young’s Ursula or University, which acknowledges the culpability of men and women in poetry “scenes” in reducing young women poets to bodies. I think my performances would like to dare the audience to do try.

The New York Daily News last month ran a piece profiling the careers of several young poems, female all, who “bring new energy to [the] world of words.” The article was accompanied by photos which provoked a strong response online. The response, no surprise, had to do with the appearance of the women pictured.

Lara Glenum of the multi-author Montevidayo blog reached out to the profile subjects, asking to interview them about the relative controversy. She asked each of the subjects the same five questions; the quote excerpted here comes from poet Monica McClure’s response to the question: “Do you consciously cultivate a public image that refracts, troubles, or adds to your poetry in some way?”

Click here to read McClure’s answers to all five of Glenum’s questions, or see the responses from the other poets profile in the article: Lisa Marie BasileAna Božičević, Camille Rankine, Trisha Low.

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