Jun 8 2012 4:00pm

Intersectional, Feminist, Diverse: The Moment of Change, edited by Rose Lemberg

During poetry month, I spotlighted the queer special issue of Rose Lemberg’s speculative poetry magazine, Stone Telling—and now, her first anthology has been released by Aqueduct Press: The Moment of Change. This anthology is a reprint collection of feminist speculative poetry aimed toward gathering together and foregrounding these sorts of voices for a receptive audience. As Lemberg says in her introduction, “it is not enough for our voices to simply exist; poets writing from marginalized perspectives must also find venues sympathetic to their work, spaces in which to be heard and engage with their readership” (xi).

The anthology includes poems originally published in magazines that would be considered literary, as well as familiar genre publications like Mythic Delirium, Ideomancer, and Goblin Fruit, as well as Lemberg’s own Stone Telling. The contributors range from luminaries of the field like Ursula K. Le Guin to newer writers, and cover plenty of ground in between—in particular, Lemberg is explicitly interested in an intersectional definition of feminism that takes into account race, culture, sexuality, ability, and a multitude of other factors of identity. She quotes Flavia Dzodan in her introduction: “My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit” (xiii).

I often feel that I lack the critical vocabulary to discuss poetry—that the mechanics are more opaque to me than those of fiction or nonfiction. But what I can say, I mean; my reactions to The Moment of Change are mediated as much by emotional response as by the usual close analysis. (There’s a whole potential post about criticism and what it does implied in that sentence, but let’s move on and save that for another day.)

First, I will say that there is a great deal of anguish in this book: the anguish of silenced voices, of the belittled and ignored, the anguish of suffering as well as the anguish of circumscribed success. However, there is also a sort of wild, free-wheeling determination bound up in and spurred on by that anguish—a desire for freedom, a desire for recognition, a desire for the moment in which the poem transcends mere text and speaks truths. This tonal resonance—the conflict between themes of anguish/containment and freedom/wildness—is struck by the opening poem, Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Werewomen,” and continues to resound throughout the entire collection, scaling up and down in intensity but always somehow present as a shapely concern within the poems and their organization.

Another thing that sets the tone for the text is the fact that the book opens with, and is titled from, an Adrienne Rich poem about the nature of poetry: the poet, poem, and the moment of change in which the poem exists are all tangled up together as one object, as one thing. This tri-natured sense of poetry informs and guides The Moment of Change, where poems are the poets writing them and vice versa, where the consciousness of feminism and intersectional identity blends with the written form to capture a moment of shifting—a moment of change. As such, most of these poems have a sense of movement; they are not simply lovely snapshots with an argument made via resonance, but have narrative, emotional pressure, and a sense of development or epiphany.

Combine the two overarching themes of the text—the moment of change that is a poem, and the conflict between the themes of freedom and containment—and the end result is an evocative, provocative, deeply layered text that has so many voices in tension and in harmony that it cannot be dismissed as “yeah, feminism, whatever.” The problems with feminist writing—including poetry—are addressed both explicitly by Lemberg in her introduction, where she insists on dealing with issues of race, ethnicity, nationality, age, sexuality, and ability among other things as they intersect with gender, and in the poems themselves. These poems are international; some are in translation. These poems are not the exclusive purview of white middle-class women; not by far. These poems are about professional women, poor women, women of color, women in history, mythical women (like Draupadi, in a poem I particularly enjoyed for its cultural-historical milieu: “River of Silk” by Rachel Manija Brown), queer women, powerful women, broken women, and even dead women.

These poems are howling, and they are whispering, and they are calmly—or madly—telling stories about what it means to be a woman, any kind of woman, any person who reaches out for the name “woman.” I appreciated the inclusivity of this text, and the concern with gathering in as many voices as possible to put them in tension and in conversation.  Some of the best poems of the text—and, having heard them performed, I may be biased—are JT Stewart’s “Say My Name” and “Ceremony,” one short and one long, both poems dealing with issues of race, immigration, and self-definition Also, it goes without saying, but: they are beautiful, wrenching, astounding pieces. Which is not to say that the whole book isn’t fabulous, because it is. With enough time, I would review every single poem of the approximately 70 pieces included here.

This is a book that can be welcoming for readers new to poetry; though there are difficult, complex pieces, the effort to read them is definitely worthwhile. There are also straightforward pieces that smash like a hammer into restrictions and prior ill depictions of women. Lemberg has managed, in The Moment of Change, to incorporate both a large spectrum of voices all vying for different themes and re-visions—and to create a perfectly coherent whole that sings together, as one. That is no simple task, and the way in which this anthology flows from one piece to the next without pause, without stumble, to create a resonant whole out of a choir of different voices—well, it brought me to heights of delight and to lows of despair. I’m glad for having read this book.

Brit Mandelo is a writer, critic, and editor whose primary fields of interest are speculative fiction and queer literature, especially when the two coincide. Also, comics. She can be found on Twitter or her website.

Amal El-Mohtar
1. amalmohtar
What a beautifully articulated review. Thank you!
Pamela Adams
2. PamAdams

My to-be-read stack is about a mile high- and you want me to add to it!!!!
Mike Allen
3. Mike Allen
I'm in the midst of reading this; it's challenging, heartfelt, rewarding. The Le Guin poem that opens the book brings down the house.

Thanks so much for the review!
Mike Allen
5. Ceridwen
I haven't read more than this review, but this choice makes me wary: "Another thing that sets the tone for the text is the fact that the book opens with, and is titled from, an Adrienne Rich poem about the nature of poetry." While as far as I know Adrienne Rich didn't say anything in public about trans women, Janice Raymond thanked her in the acknowledgements of her extremely transphobic hit piece The Transsexual Empire, "Adrienne Rich has been a very special friend and critic. She has read the manuscript through all its stages and provided resources, creative criticism, and constant encouragement," and quoted her as describing trans woman as, "men who have given up the supposed ultimate possession of manhood in a patriarchal society by self-castration."

As Rich never publicly disagreed with Raymond's characterization of her views or rejected what Raymond expressed in her book, I think Raymond was probably accurate about what Rich believed. If this were a dead issue, if everyone knew of Rich's connection to Raymond and almost all feminists were cheerfully accepting of trans women, I don't think it would make me nervous. Unfortunately, neither is true: I lost count of the number of obituaries of Rich I read that didn't mention Raymond (and whose authors, when it was brought to their attention in comments, said, "I didn't know that,"), and there's still active transphobia directed against trans women in the feminist community.

So, I have to ask, how does the book handle the experiences of trans women?
Brit Mandelo
6. BritMandelo

I totally understand your concern. To assuage your worry, though: Lemberg is an actively trans* (& non-binary) inclusive/positive editor - this text has at least two poems that I can think of off the top of my head, and the issue of her magazine (#7) that I previously reviewed consisted of a great deal of trans*, genderqueer, neutrois and intersex poetry.

Contemporary feminism is certainly not free of the transphobia that was rampant in the second wave, I agree. But Lemberg is both aware of and addressing this tendency in her editorial work, and if I remember correctly, she actively solicited poetry from trans* folks for this book when it was in the submissions phase. (I also know that she's expressed to me personally the fact that she wanted to find even more trans* speculative poetry than she did for the book.)

(Related: I find the issue of the second wave immensely complex: so many brilliant thinkers, who did great work, were also racist, transphobic, and classist. I find that for the most part I prefer to acknowledge their failures and take what is still useful out of their work, but that's an individual decision that no one else can mediate for a person.)
Mike Allen
7. Xyrie
Yeah, Rose actively sought and published trans and genderqueer artists for this collection. It's on her Livejournal and in the book's introduction. :)

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