Final Thoughts from StS’s Poetry and Blog Out-Going Editor, Sheila McMullin

June 29, 2013 by So to Speak · 1 Comment
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 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

Book Review: Arco Iris by Sarah Vap

May 8, 2013 by So to Speak · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Poetry, Post by: Sheila M, Reviews 

“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.”

and later

“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


Arco Iris and other books by Sarah Vap are available for purchase from Saturnalia Books as well as digital download to Kindle from Amazon.

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.

April News Round-Up

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.

•  To-Be Blog Editor Sheryl Rivett debuted on StS blog with two incredible stories of raising children and giving birth at home: What? You Birth at Home AND You’re a Feminist?I AM WOMAN

•  VIDA Features So to Speak in its Editor’s Corner!!!

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.”

•  Our fabulous feminist Sarah Marcus writes “Women Are Just More Emotional” and stirs the fight in us!

Looking forward to what’s coming next!

With love as always,

Sheila ♥

Friday, April 12th Will Read For Women Donation Drive

Tonight, at the Black Squirrel in Adams Morgan (2427 18th Street NW Washington D.C.),we will host our second annual Will Read For Women Donation Drive to benefit the Bethany House women’s shelter of Northern Virginia.

Starting at 8:00 PM guests are asked to bring  toiletry items and other pantry necessities as “price of admission.” Suggested items include: Baby wipes, Adult wipes, Lotion, Shampoo, Conditioner, Combs, Bleach, Dish detergents, Dishwasher detergents, Razors, Tweezers, Lip balm/Lip gloss, Vaseline, Brushes, Toothpaste,   Toothbrushes, Mouthwash, Bath soaps, Laundry detergents, Toilet paper, Paper towels, Napkins, Diapers (size 3-6), Pull-ups (size 2T-5T).

Our performers for the evening will include Kim Roberts, Kyle Dargan, Nicole Idar, Jill Leininger, and Mel Nichols.

Looking forward to seeing you there!

March News Round-Up

So to Speak had such a fun month! We traveled to Boston for AWP, met new friends and reunited with old! Our Favorite Feminist Reading at Sonsie with Danielle Pafunda, Lara Glenum, Julie Marie Wade, and Moira Egan was fantastic and we partied hard! Our submissions period closed on the 15th and we are all nose deep in tremendous feminist writing and art! We look forward to sharing our final selections with you in the next few months!

Look forward to our annual Will Read For Women event at the Black Squirrel in Washington D.C. on April 12th starting at 8:00pm with readings from Kyle Dargan, Jill Leininger, Mel Nichols, and Kim Roberts and Nicole Idar. Price of entry is a pantry neccessity or tiolettry to donate to the Bethany House Women’s Shelter.

Check out what else happened this month at StS by following these links!

Former StS editor, Alyse Knorr, review’s contributor Paul David Atkin’s book The Upside Down House

and also

We recapped and expanded our understandings of men and feminism, both separate and together.

Happy April!
Sheila M

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