The recent VIDA count of the Best American series got us thinking: we claim to value diversity. How are we measuring up when it comes to gender?
At the 2008 festival, we had 28 featured poets. Of these, 2 were unable to attend, Lucille Clifton and Sharon Olds. Of the remaining 26 features, 12 were women (46%)
At the 2010 festival, we had 26 featured poets. Of these, 1 was unable to attend, Bruce Weigl. Of the remaining 25 features, 12 were women (48%)
For our 2012 festival, we have 7 confirmed poets, of which 6 are women (85%).
In our ongoing reading series, Sunday Kind of Love, we presented 91 poets between 2006 and 2010. Of these poets, 54 were women (59%).
In our Poem of the Week Series, we have posted 83 poems on this blog. 45 of these poems have been by women (54%)
So what does all this actually mean? For us at Split This Rock, it means that we are working toward our intent: To call poets to a greater role in public life and to bring the vital, important, challenging poetry of witness that is being written by American poets today to a larger and more diverse audience.
When we provide poets of both/all genders with a platform, we provide audiences with a way to hear and see multiple points of view. We provide audiences with diverse interests diverse speakers. When people see themselves reflected in who is speaking or writing, they may pay more attention to the language. And the language is what matters, what we believe can change the world.
Contemporary poets and other writers are telling the story of what it means to be alive today. But when women writers are slighted – in publications, prestigious readings, contests, teaching jobs, and the like – the experience of the majority of us is not reaching a wide audience. This significantly narrows the culture’s understanding of itself and reinforces the male perspective as the central one. We want young women to see our poets and think, "I have something to say, too. And I can say it. If she can speak, so can I." We want all people to be empowered by poetry, and that means thinking critically about who we uphold, who we feature, who we post, and who we read.
VIDA's stats reveal biases that we all need to examine within ourselves; even if our conversations aren't about gender, even if gender is not a criterion we examine, we still need think carefully about our assumptions.