A KIND OF RIOT GRRRL POETICS

by Emily Critchley

My situation as both a writer and a feminist involves my trying to think carefully about how interior/private and exterior/public ‘realms’ constantly mutually inform one another.

Though I am sceptical about the explicit social/political power of poetry, I believe the thinking done by and through it, and other art forms, may have implicit and incremental social effects; as Leslie Scalapino put it: ‘poetry is society’s secret interior’.

I see my writing as constituted of and by third wave, especially Butlerian, feminist thinking, not simply because this is the feminist landscape to which I belong generationally, but because of third wave’s focus on cultural performativity, and its refusal of a homogenous feminist project per se.

My engagement with écriture féminine, by contrast, is always at least partly sceptical. By embracing, rather than seeking to cancel the ‘doubts, complications and distractions (Rosmarie Waldrop) that are crucial to poetry, that surround us in living, that keep is eternally vigilant in criticism, third-wave feminism allow for the discursive and radically shifting natures of gender, race, sexuality, class and other social categories thought formerly to be essential and fixed.

This poetry objects to already-gendered subject positions as the poet finds them and everywhere tries to upset such narrowness. It combines the ‘feminine’ and ‘vulnerable’ with the aggressive, the combative, and this is not all in defence, but sometimes explicitly offence—a deliberate querying of why female personae (or a female writer) should not display bad, even alienating behaviour (a kind of Riot Grrrl poetics).

Its only ‘aim’, if you can call it this, rather than to assert equality but separateness between genders, is to depict how shifting, uncertain and merged gendered positions are, whilst critique those who seek to shore up their position by behaving in stereotypically gendered ways.

Emily Critchley is author of Love / All That / & OK (Penned in the Margins, 2011), and editor of out of everywhere 2: linguistically innovative poetry by women in north america & the uk (Reality Street, 2015). She will be reading in Norwich on Thursday 22 October at 7.30pm. Venue: Take 5, 17 Tombland, Norwich NR3 1HF; entrance free.

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