Filed under: Announcements, Nonfiction, Opinion, Poetry, Politics, Post by: Sheila M, Uncategorized
Former So to Speak Poetry and Blog Editor Sheila McMullin on the history of the StS blog and using online platforms to advocate for social change:
On March 8, 2011 I launched So to Speak’s blog with a simple one line post. No in-depth journal and provocative claim, just a quick message with the beginning word “Celebrating.” With this word began So to Speak’s interaction as an online open forum for discussing feminist issues as they pertain to art and artist communities. In those early days our editorial circle saw the blog as a supplement to the print journal, providing a space for our contributors to speak in broader terms on their creative process and artistic and feminist intentions in relation to their printed pieces. The blog was an opportunity for the community at large to engage with our activist-driven organization and find in us a community of peers who understand the importance of celebrating feminist dialogue, a safe space to explore identity relations, questions, and build new relations. It was a space for those curious to learn. A place for those skeptical to debate. It is no secret that women and those who don’t identify as cisgender are unproportionally harassed and denigrated on the internet. In launching a blog dedicated to feminism in the arts, I with Blog Co-editor Alyse Knorr were fulfilling a lack we saw in So to Speak’s organizational structure, and stepping up to fight against the notion that women aren’t allowed to play. Of course feminists and budding feminists waiting for a call to action were on the internet. And So to Speak needed to find them and bring them together. We believed that to meet the needs of our feminist allies we had a firm obligation to participate in the online community.
Today StS is still all these things under the care of the current editorial circle, and better, more expansive, more in-depth, more provocative. I am eternally grateful to Blog Editor Sheryl Rivett and her Assistant Blog Editor Paula Beltran for continuing and fostering StS’s online presence. One thing many people don’t really yet understand about encouraging online communities through dedicated and consistent blogging is that it takes a whole lot of energy and a s**t-ton of time. With open minds embracing online opportunities So to Speak has been able to be more of an engaged feminist advocacy group expanding its reach to promote gender parity in the arts and in our communities at large.
That beginning celebratory word on StS’s fresh blog, jumpstarted my personal endeavors of becoming more involved in utilizing web presences for social causes within organizations dedicated to advancing gender parity. I want to celebrate creative bravery. These days many of us engage in online communities through various social media sites that encourage surface level and sensationalist interactions. With sites like Facebook the tendency becomes to showcase only the most thrilling, titillating side of ourselves. These kinds of interactions can at times be a reprieve or fun, but if taken too seriously can interrupt crucial opportunities for empathetic human interaction. Similarly to how hyper-sexualized advertisements and media affect our collective conscious on definitions of “natural” and “beauty,” our most popular social media sites can actually make us feel more lonely, more isolated. Through these sites we have been trained to compare our behind the scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel, a well-worn yet accurate phrase. I don’t deny that sites like Facebook and Twitter play huge roles in providing low-budget socially-conscious groups opportunities to advertise, promote, and connect. These are often the hubs individuals go to see what’s the latest and check updates on news and events. But sites like these can also encourage an ego that denies the validity of another’s identity because of the lack of an ultimate goal of interacting in offline spheres. We forget the avatar on our screens represents a beating human heart, with just as many complex emotions and needs as we have.
I like using the internet very much. It is fun, serves a knowledge-based purpose, and connects me to like-minded folks and family and friends all over the globe. And while the internet allows me to stay in touch with people I love and explore the world without necessarily leaving home, it is still incredibly important to remember that the surface level of interaction while on the internet is through an inanimate object.
As I have become more involved in online communities I understand more the complete necessity for my online presence to directly influence my offline actions. The internet is a tool to make my material and physical life more fulfilling, more understanding, more substantial. So, for AWP 2014 I wanted to bring together creative literary thinkers who actively engage online in platforms they either built themselves because they saw a lack and wanted to fill that space with positive community-focused interaction or significantly monitor and update a unique platform with a socially conscious action-orientated mission for creative thinkers who want to learn to engage online in meaningful, nourishing ways and to talk about how to do so in productively.
On Saturday, March 1, the panelists and I will discuss building unique online platforms, or participating in already existing platforms to shape a cyber presence that provokes actual social change and propagates dissemination of educational materials in the physical world. We’ll discuss and explore opportunities for using our online platforms to evolve typical trite conversations, to change language, to vocalize inclusivity, reform out-of-date sexist traditions, and push out of comfort zones to empower individuals. Through our conversation, I hope we can come together to celebrate our unique visions and encourage users to create an internet that moves away from trolling, harassment, anxiety-provoking sites and moves toward representing the diverse cultures we participate in and the diverse human beings we are.
For you, in the cybersphere, who are ready to start using your online platform to advocate for social change consider what it means to blog with integrity, and focus on opportunities for offline activism by providing links at the end of your posts to others’ organizations or groups who argue for similar productivity you do and could benefit from a charitable donation or some type of volunteer action.
Now go write and share!
Headed to AWP? Be sure to check out the panel that Sheila is moderating!
So You Want to Build a Platform: But What is It & Why Do You Need One? Women Writers & Editors Speak Out (Sheila McMullin, Rosebud Ben-Oni, Molly Gaudry, Sheryl Rivett, Arisa White)
Room 608, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6
Saturday, March 1, 2014
10:30 am to 11:45 am
While women’s voices are underrepresented in print publishing, online activism can balance the scales. Cultivating an online presence is not as easy as DIY and shameless self-promotion tales make it look. Creative thinkers, to highlight minority and emerging voices, develop unique online resources to build ever-expanding communities and celebrate accomplishments. Panelists explore empowerment, utility of web-based writing, maintaining professionalism, and ways to keep viewers returning and sharing.
Filed under: Poetry, Post by: Sheila M, Reviews, Uncategorized
Melissa Schuppe’s debut chapbook Wild, But Not Lost (Finishing Line Press, 2013) finds itself in the good company of poets’ Sarah Vap, Rachel Zucker, and Arielle Greenberg: women writing motherhood and sharing women’s multifaceted experiences in the age of choice and women’s equality. Yet, as the many feminists reading So to Speak, we know choice not always has so many options and equality not so balanced. As a single woman, not yet a mother, but hoping to one day become, I am always appreciative of the poetic insights gleaned from poetry participating in adulthood theatrics and caring for aging folks and children. Schuppe’s collection acknowledges the all too familiar changing of relationships with parents and siblings, and struggles of keeping afloat in the dynamic landscape that is now our everyday lives.
Back-to-back poems “Note to Self” and “Nora” focus on beautifully complex relationships between mother and daughter, woman and elder. These pieces trouble static binaries of how one is assumed to react to and treat children and elders. From “Note to Self” to the end of the collection hold my favorite poems in the chapbook. Here I found a quickening pace of our speaker’s reflection on very present moments, creating uncanny collisions of material and thought, as in the husband who can no longer wear his wedding ring, not from lack of devotion, but of a changing of body. In Schuppe’s bio she writes herself to be “a wife and mother whose words reflect the exploration of her life’s event,” so I imagine Schuppe in “Note to Self” working with the elder woman who is growing “impatient with death,” who would “like to get out of here tomorrow,” and Schuppe noticing the body worked by age. I imagine when our speaker touches the older woman it both reminds her of her own fragility, reminds me of my fragility, and how that is scary. But overwhelmingly, we are provided insight through our bodies about the changing of time and how to look toward the future without so much fear. On the flip side of that, “Nora” a nine-year-old hugging her mother barefoot in the kitchen reminds us that one day children become adults, and although young they still carry agency. In this moment, our speaker is “afraid for what’s to come” and I am grateful for that honesty. It lets me imagine one day, in my own kitchen with my own daughter in my own version of this poem I will be afraid to, afraid out of protective love, but like Schuppe will have found inner strength to believe it will be alright. And with close attention, maybe then, I would hear “the whistle,/ clarity emerging” too.
Check out Melissa Schuppe’s guest StS post On Being Silenced
Sheila McMullin is an after-school creative writing and college prep instructor, supportsVIDA–Women in Literary Arts as part of their Membership Team, and is a contributing poetry editor and the blog editor for ROAR Magazine. She holds her MFA in Poetry from George Mason Univeristy where she was the 2012-2013 Heritage Fellow and the poetry editor and blog/twitter manager for So to Speak. During her final year at GMU, Sheila interned at the Library of Congress in the Poetry and Literature Center helping to create easily accessible poetry resources for the public through the LOC database. In 2010, Sheila lived and traveled throughout China, teaching English to university students in the Shandong Province. Winner of the 2012 Mary Reinhart Poetry Prize and 2012 Virginia Downs Poetry Prize, her work can be found or is forthcoming in HER KIND: Women in Literary Arts, YEW: A Journal of Innovative Writing and Images by Women, The Catbird Seat Blog at the Poetry and Literature Center in the Library of Congress, 1913: A Journal of Forms, ROAR Magazine: A Journal of the Literary Arts, Big Lucks, Counterexample Poetics: Assemblage of Experimental Artistry and Gentle Strength Quarterly.
Filed under: Nonfiction, Opinion, Poetry, Politics, Post by: Sheila M
I don’t have a firm definition of feminism. I have an emotional understanding. Feminism as a verb, noun, adjective, with a short descriptive sentence—I draw a blank, but wish I could share the images in my mind with you.
One image: A person holding a floating jellyfish with one tentacle as a balloon string, like feminism is this beautiful ethereal, living, and surviving creature that also stings.
I know. That’s kind of weird. A former poetry & blog editor of a feminist magazine who currently curates a feminist blog, and self-proclaims feminism on a daily inter-personal and inter-net basis can’t give a proper response. I know, I know.
But I guess, in the same way that poetry’s definition freely extends from lyric to narrative, to prose, to strict traditional form, so can my feminism. I don’t yet know my truest understanding of feminism, but I am engaged in a full fledge career of finding it out, and I assume this will take a long time. Time is the point, though. Time allows us, when we are honest and dedicate the leeway to question and search, try and fail and try again, to feel proud of our accomplishments. So far in my life experiences, I have some ideas of where really empowering feminism is taking place, and I have some ideas as to where I find my feminist call: through positive feminist education for our children and online venues. Post-MFA you will find me working primarily in these fields, and the best part of it all is that it is super, duper fun.
To compliment my lack of a proper feminist definition I’ve been collecting old-school bell hooks quotes—that apply more than ever today—to keep in our back pockets and integrate into future conversations.
She says: Women should “bond with other women on the basis of shared strengths and resources. This is the woman bonding feminist movement should encourage. It is this type of bonding that is essence of Sisterhood.”
A single definition of Sisterhood, like a single definition of feminism, can be complicated because we’re all so diverse, but diversity does not mean we can’t be empathic and broaden our horizons.
“Racism teaches an inflated sense of importance and value, especially when coupled with class privilege. Most poor and working class women or even individual bourgeois non-white women would not have assumed that they could launch a feminist movement without first having the support and participation of diverse groups of women.”
When working with StS the essence of this quote has been hugely important to me. I’ve wanted a richly diversified demographic in our poetry section and on our blog. Of course I could have done better, but I believe with my beginning steps I helped quieter voices become braver and speak louder.
Much feminist rhetoric implies “that men ha(ve) nothing to gain by feminist movement, that its success would make them losers.”
We’ve also reached out far and wide to help men feel 100% a part of our feminist goals. As always, together we are stronger. I hope StS feels like a safe place for men and transgendered individuals. And if it doesn’t, please reach out and support us in doing better.
“Feminist movement can end the war between the sexes. It can transform relationships so that the alienation, competition, and dehumanization that characterize human interaction can be replaced with feelings of intimacy, mutuality, and camaraderie.”
Equality activism has many names: peace, humanitarianism, environmentalism, feminism. At the core of So to Speak’s activism is the representation of the many names of equality through writing and a focus on gender and sexuality. I was drawn to StS because of this diversity and by naming myself a feminist, working for a feminist organization made me feel proud and honorable. While I am saying goodbye to my position within So to Speak, I am continuing my feminist activism through my own writing, through being myself in the world, and through the curating of my feminist resource and website, Moon Spit. I define Moon Spit as “a collective project figuring out ways to be the best, happiest, empathetic, and fulfilled people we can be. Moon Spit is the feminine grit. My main goal on moonspitpoetry.com is to provide transparency on a feminist poet trying to provide feminist positive options–all in the effort of creating gender, cultural, and racial equality. I want this blog and website to be a space of us learning about us in all of our grace and humiliations. How to overcome prejudice with honor and intellect. To share our triumphs and provide examples of when we failed and tried again to succeed. We all deserve respect. I hope we create a space here of praise and dedication to a happy, happy future.”
I believe our values are always deeper and more sophisticated than we think. We are constantly fine tuning as we experience life with more and different people. I am learning everyday about what I believe, more specifically how I believe in feminism. At the center of feminism, I believe, is honesty. To be honest is to be trusting that others are honest. It is an unending circle of empathy. Without this we lack a basic and beautiful humanity. An honesty which promotes positive contributions to our communities helps us understand ourselves and our place in the world. I hope you will continue to interact and share in discussions with me here in the comments section, on my site, or on Twitter @smcmulli.
Take care, happy writing, and as always,
♥ Sheila M
“I move/ to keep things whole,” writes Mark Strand, “wherever I am/ I am what is missing.” The paradox of having a complete experience is knowing time moves. To move, to also remove. To speak in the past tense, to recognize we can never be in that moment of time again.
Absorbing every millisecond becomes so much more intense when I think like this, and so much harder.
Does routine allow ourselves relaxation? What does it feel like to not think about a life in the past tense, but a continual be-ing? I think routine makes time seem less important, or relatively non-existent. En route we are reminded to think of the passage of time, again. Notice how our bodies have changed. En route we see the evolution of landscape; we compare to the day before, create new associations, begin to change ourselves, change our routine, get comfortable if we’re lucky and relax for a moment. If we stay in one place too long, we start to measure time through the dust collected. A new routine then. Notice how the things have aged, how we’ve gotten older, more experienced. We move to keep ourselves a part of the world. We remove to keep ourselves apart from the world.
Sarah Vap’s 2012 collection Arco Iris moves our speaker with Lover and ghosts through a foreign-to-her, sometimes wild and perfect, sometimes manufactured electricity-dominated and commerce landscape. We are in South America on the Amazon and in markets. Our speaker travels by bus for a whole day and wants coffee. She is hungry and starving to be touched by Lover, and frequently by Lover. Perhaps Lover can show her how she is feeling. She knows Lover cannot actually do this. She is mass and lonely; she is desperate and learning; she is moving to keep things whole.
“It was hard to tell what was important” ends the opening poem “Ghost.” This “Ghost” is the first of many poems samely titled. In this first “Ghost” we are given a vague map— told “We moved pretty slowly down,/then across, then up, then across, then down.” With a book cover of a rotting skeleton head decorated with wilting blue hydrangea, pink roses, and rose petals are we in the underworld, do we praise the dead? Because our speaker finds herself in an usually new place we have no sense of what is “important” or “not-important.” So the book opens as a blank slate for the traveler to make a connection and establish herself as an importance in the new landscape. Vap exemplifies the emotional work of traveling well with repeating title motifs showing the infinite variations one moment holds. Through the collection we see our speaker become acquainted with South America: “We saw, at our beginning, what is furious/ become part of how we would love. Quite a bit of fuss/ at this market.” Furious at first at what traveling is—frustrating, exhausting, and confusing— our speaker comes into loving the constant movement.
Through traveling we learn to love the confusion as a part of the learning. This book, at its heart, is dealing with conflicting and simultaneous emotions and physical responses when interacting with otherwise lovely people. Like every great book, readers should be asked to reevaluate how we treat those around us, no matter the situation. Arco Iris asks us to reevaluate and encourages us to become more empathetic, especially when it comes to participating in other cultures.
The Smithsonian’s March 2013 magazine published an article on the “Lost Tribes of the Amazon.” This piece profiles tribes hidden in the deep forest purposefully wanting nothing to do our Western or modern cultures. In recent efforts, South American governments are beginning to respect the tribes’ privacy, arguing in order to create private rain forest boundaries they have to pursue and locate the tribes. Inherent in the desire to protect and eventually leave alone is the necessity to observe. A similar tension is found in Arco Iris. Our speaker wants access. More specifically, wants access to those she sees every day living their lives in South America. In the markets she walks with those selling goods she “imagine(s) how we might touch. I find more way I want even more ways to touch—whoever you are who think that I don’t want you—here. Take this money. Give me something beautiful you have made.” She cannot fully have and feels regretful of an incomplete experience. Many of us, I believe, feel this way when we travel significantly and to places where we don’t fully speak a shared language. Becoming so visibly the other while traveling can be exhilarating when you are not feeling the fear of being lost, how to get what you need, embodying the ripped-off chum. Typical reactions, and reasonable ones as well, are to accuse globalization and tourism markets for denying world citizens a full experience, and only providing a curated and non-negotiable fringes tour. At the same time blaming yourself for not having studied harder during language courses could have been that blanket access key into an entire, most beautiful, more perfect world. This perfect world would claim you and hold you and finally give you your home. Travel over the rainbow into this magical world where everyone loves you just because you came here. This isn’t overly-dramatic pith, it is a real urge to understand and participate fully.
We all know this is desire. This desire isn’t restricted to travelers. We know, though, no matter how much language we studied, a brief exploration anywhere couldn’t lend itself so completely to you. We resign to “okay” because building a home takes a long time—we know that. But we can wish it didn’t take so long.
Linguistically, the poems contain beautiful lyric lines and build tremendous memory waves: “This morning, rainbowlight-cerebellums in the arc of water that is spitting out from the engine.” Our speaker is constantly questioning the affect of memory: “would you call this remembering./ Would you ask: did the garden become a market. And did the mountain/become a station.” And while our speaker resists memory in trying to build it in a new landscape, she is constantly reflecting back to a spinning ballerina in a music box she owned as a child.
“Begin with the memory of collapsing the ballerina back into the music box after she twirls in her white plastic dress slower then slower to somewhere over the rainbow. Her feet glued to the spring, she moved, I thought, as much as she possibly could. Loneliness across a whole life. Even here, in Guayaquil.”
“Fuck me, or something like it I said every night. That lock, the click at the plastic bent over. He wanted to—at the spring she was glued to. The plinks, and the crank that turns her.”
and finally she tells us of when the dancer broke, but stayed in the box, and she lost the key. “It is a stupid memory, it was a stupid song./ It is the worst-possible thing to have loved.”
Desiring touch, company, and experience complicated, our speaker mourns. Perhaps the ballerina and the song is stupid, but I can’t believe the memory is. This memory is what connects the present with the past. The beautiful constantly rotating girl but never moving. See, the ballerina cannot be whole, and then broke and melted into a ghost memory. Our speaker felt like this once—spinning but not moving with a limited 365 degree scope of the world. But our speaker is not broken and it quite alive. As she becomes more familiar with Guayaquil her thinking ribbons part past and part present mixing the ballerina with Lover. Who is our speaker now? I see her changing. She’s not someone else. She’s more her now.
For those with the heart to travel I recommend Arco Iris. Even more I hope those who have travelled read this poetry for contextualization of the emotional return to our home lands. Know we all felt binary and conflicting emotions when we first got back, we still feel this way and it isn’t wrong. Reading Arco Iris for the first time let me grieve over my own time in China and how sad I am today to not still be there with my friends. This book helped me remember, maybe, one day I can go back. Coming home isn’t the end of the travel, but the start of our figuring out why we came back and “what are we supposed to that about that.”
♥ Sheila M
Sarah Vap is the author of five collections of poetry. Her first book, Dummy Fire, was selected by Forrest Gander to receive the Saturnalia Poetry Prize. Her second, American Spikenard, was selected by Ira Sadoff to receive the Iowa Poetry Prize. Her third book, Faulkner’s Rosary, was released by Saturnalia Books in 2010. Her fourth book, Arco Iris, was released in November, 2012, and was named a Library Journal Best Book of 2012. Her book End of the Sentimental Journey is just released from Noemi Press. She is a 2013 recipient of an NEA Fellowship for Poetry.
Happy May, everyone! We had a stellar group of blog posts this past month and a really terrific Will Read for Women donation drive in Washington DC. This month the StS team will make the final edits for our 2013 Fall issue and prepare the rising staff to take over their new roles as current editors charge to graduate with their MFA degrees from George Mason University!
This month we will say goodbye to Editor-in-Chief Kate Partridge, Managing Editor Mike Stein, Poetry & Blog Editor Me (Sheila McMullin), Nonfiction Editor Chrissy Widmayer, and Fiction Editor Dan Hong. We will be heartbroken to say our farewell, but so proud to be sending such strong feminists into the world and see what good work they do next! We all feel so thrilled for the rising staff and can’t wait to see what projects and goals they accomplish! Look forward to StS interviews with out-going staff members at the end of this month and beginning of June.
• Friday, April 12th Will Read For Women Donation Drive was a great time with readings from Kim Roberts, Mel Nichols, Nicole Idar, Kyle Daragan, and Jill Leininger in support of Virginia’s Bethany House women’s shelter.
• Spring 2013 fiction contributor, Sarah Seybold shares her thoughts on writing her piece “Empty Cases.”
Looking forward to what’s coming next!
With love as always,