Seeing Red (& Blue)

Posted: February 10, 2011 in Misc
Tags: , ,

Last year, more red poems appeared in literary journals* than blue poems. Look! There was much shock and fury when VIDATM‘s pie charts pointed out poems penned by penises enjoyed prevalent publication in 2010 whilst the virtuosity of vaginal verse was nigh vilified to the point of vagrancy via very thinly veiled institutional marginalization. Book reviews and editor genders shared similar ratios.


As a male author, it’s easy to look at such charts and shrug off the results as an exercise in subjectivity. After all, the published poems and reviewed books which comprised the male-weighted ratio obviously fit the issue/flow better, were of better quality, or spoke more personally to the editor in charge of fingering submissions for acceptance. Ah, but in that latter sentiment is the pet from the hand that consistently rubs the pussy’s fur the wrong way.

According to the pie charts, there were more male editors than female, so the likelihood of female poetry submissions appealing to the journals’ respective appraisers of literary worth meets a hurdle that should not be a hurdle. Some people, male and female, have an odd time identifying with the opposite sex and will put in no more effort than a quick read or cursory glance to fulfill their own sense of editorial duty if the content seems foreign or disagreeable. Humans are judgmental creatures after all, but poetry is built upon the notion of sympathetic imagination.

Illuminating a lack of such sympathy, VIDA’s investigations reveal a severely out of whack ratio with a male majority across the board in editorial staffing, poem publishing, and book reviews. The only possible recompense for these iconic journals/magazines (as well as those that would try to follow in their footsteps) is apology and infrastructure change. Such changes can be as easy or hard as the rag wants to make them.

For example, those assessing the merit of poetry submissions should be equally prepared to think (or at least attempt to think) from either sex’s perspective. If that’s not possible, then a person of the same sex of whichever gender isn’t represented at the judge’s table should be consulted. Annie Finch, with much more eloquence, offers some rather excellent guidelines for literary journals to help bring balance to the folds.

No-one should stare at red vs. blue pie charts and expect them to be neat halves. Some degree of swing should be seen towards both sides of the margin. But the obvious and consistent male dominance of elite literary rags, as exposed by VIDA, is a cry for change. There are plenty of immensely talented female writers out there, and it is a damned shame to miss out on their wisdom and wit simply because men and policies set in place/enforced by men fill roles of judge and executioner.

*Journals included in VIDA’s The Count 2010: The Atlantic, Boston Review, Granata, Harper’s, London Review of Books, The New Republic, The NY Review of Books, The NY Times Book Review, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Poetry, The Threepenny Review, The Times Literary Supplement, Tin House.


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