Thursday, October 8, 2009
Tim Atkins Responds
Tim Atkins is the author of Folklore 1-25 (Heart Hammer), To Repel Ghosts (Like Books), 25 Sonnets (The Figures), Oriental Tapping (Penguin), Horace (O Books), and Folklore (Salt). A forthcoming volume, Petrarch, is due in the new year from Barque Press. He is editor of the online poetry journal onedit, senior lecturer in creative writing at the University of East London, a practicing Buddhist, practicing father, and is lousy at multitasking.
-How do you see yourself as a participant in feminism?
My participation in feminism is (as with all my various engagements in this incarnation) inconsistent, at times comedic, somewhat impressionistic & generally informed by my primary view of my self &, subsequently, all sentient beings, as empty & imbued primarily with non-gender-specific Buddha-nature. A Buddhist prays for the alleviation of suffering in all living beings, & I therefore don’t experience the world as divided along gender lines. This is not meant to be disingenuous – I know that there are many & various discriminations practiced along these lines & I am equally aware of the fact that my view may stem from the fact that I belong to the sex which has traditionally been the oppressor – but I’m of the opinion that all sentient beings are equal & should be accorded equal respect whatever aspect of human incarnation they chose to identify with. As a Buddhist it is important to work towards a world where difference is acknowledged, & discrimination eradicated, but it is my belief that the root cause of suffering & oppression comes from one (always oppressor; occasionally oppressed) having an incorrect (&, again, non-gender-specific) view of the world as opposed to one being of an incorrect gender. There is indubitably plenty of suffering in this world & just because it comes from having an incorrect view doesn’t make it invalid. One Buddhist path is that of compassion (love fixes the world) & another is understanding (see things as they are & you’ll be free). Understanding is said to be higher but I must confess to being reasonable at the former path & in occasional trouble with the latter. It seems to me that Feminism is about love, knowledge, & freedom. How is it possible to be in the world (in Buddhism, all beings are connected) & not be a participant?
-How do you support feminism in your role as teacher, mentor, editor, publisher, blogger, poet, etc.?
I hope that I’m a passionate advocate of all writing which I like. My poetry models are Bernadette Mayer, Eleni Sikelianos, Lisa Jarnot, Alice Notley, & Joanne Kyger. Bernadette & Alice have been particularly important in my understanding of what a poet can write, & I hope that my love for them demonstrates & disseminates their work. (Alice once said “All poets are girls!” & I love that quote, though it’s evident that she didn’t spend too much time in the British poetry scene of the 80s & 90s.) Just as important have been Ted Berrigan, Clark Coolidge, Jackson Mac Low, Bruce Andrews, and Miles Champion. I’ve never thought “is this a man or a woman?” when I have picked up a book. I hope that my writing & poetry presence demonstrates a complex yet ultimately joyful relationship with language & the world (of all genders). Affirming the world & believing in the positive has got to support feminism. …Unless I’ve got my head in either the sand or my ass.
-How & when did you first recognize the importance of feminist issues?
Feminist issues are human issues. It is hard to take the curriculum of being human without seeing injustices perpetrated against people of all types of recognised groupings; & hoping to see an end to those injustices & sufferings. I can’t remember when I first felt that things were not all well with the gendered world, though. One book which changed how I looked at women (& men) was Marilyn French’s The Women’s Room but I already knew (growing up in Worcestershire in the 1970s) that much was wrong.
-What branch of feminism, model of feminist poetics, feminist icon, or etc. informs your poetry? Or, from which of these does your poetry diverge?
Bernadette Mayer is my absolute poetry idol. What branch is she on? Eleni Sikelianos has for many years been my poetry soul mate & my life changed enormously when I met her. I don’t know if it is a coincidence that they are women: to me they are first & foremost my friends & fellow travellers. I loved The Slits, X-Ray Spex, The Raincoats, Patti Smith, & Meredith Monk when I was a kid & their DIY & unshaven ethics excited & inspired me enormously. & then I loved the Japanese court poets, Nina Simone, & Gertrude Stein. But here, again, they were all just a part of a world which I grew up in. I was perhaps lucky to find myself in a world (or an imaginary world of my own making) where gender wasn’t an issue: I simply saw people (or at least my role models) as artists. As far as branches of feminism go, I can’t say I can get much from angry people of any persuasion. The world is most definitely not running on love alone, but it is something which helps it run better. Louise Labe and Sophie Robinson are current enthusiasms as far as poetry goes, but all the folks listed above continue to excite & inspire me.
-Are there specific feminist tactics you employ?
Read without prejudice. (Try to) be here now.
-Do you think of your work as queer or gender-variant, &, if so, do you think this supports feminist poetics?
In my little world, how your heart moves about is more important than whether your bits go in or stick out. I think, also, that the term “feminist” is as vague & open to contradiction as, say, “Hinduism”: one can always find a statement which offers a different view of the world or approach to it. Lumping loads of different streams of thought together seems very often to be both patronising & dangerous. The poet Czeslaw Milosz said “generalisation is the enemy of mankind.” ..& yet we all do it. …& it is often how the world is best changed. My most basic sense of poetry & self is one of emptiness. I want to be filled more than I want to (or feel capable of) doing any filling. I hope that my work (in its openness, doubts, & lack of a solid identity) is pleasing & supportive to beings of all genders. My current work (versions & perversions of the love poems of Petrarch) depicts women as absurd & idealised (only) because they are seen through the much more absurd & idealistic eyes of men. But I hope that this dance is at least as happy in its absurdity & linguistic pleasures as it is harrowing: & I don’t think it’s hetro-specific.
-Have you ever felt conflicted about your relationship to feminism?
Many of my friends have much stronger & more particular views than me. I disagree with many of those views when they advocate a strong / permanent gender separation or essential difference. But I love swimming in these friendships & arguments. What do I know? All labels trouble me, including that of Buddhist. I think it’s more important to be happy & open than consistent.
-Do you have any concrete suggestions for altering the gender disparities in the poetry world (or perhaps the greater world)?
Comrades! Read & write good poetry, have strong opinions, &, in a world where billions of people are starving, keep those opinions in perspective. To have the time & economy to write poems & debate aesthetic (compared to ones of basic human survival) questions vociferously & ridiculously is an incredible privilege. For me, poetry is a utopian practice. If we decide to fall out with one another over differing publication agendas &/or line-breaks, then how on earth can we demand that others behave with any grace or equanimity? Workers owning the means of production is one of the great strengths of poetry. Part of our task is to create the world we want. & we do.
-What are some things men can do to account for male privilege (either in poetry or, if you're feeling ambitious!, the greater world)?
Read beyond one’s comfort zone, read beyond one’s nationality, read beyond one’s gender, & read beyond one’s language. I suspect, also, that it is more pressing that men engage with feminism than women. Ornithology (to mangle a lovely phrase) may well be of greater import to humans than birds.
-Can these be applied to other categories of privilege (white, hetero, without disability, etc.)?
Yes. By extending one’s vision, it is impossible not to see all beings as interconnected. I believe that (almost) all inequality stems from ignorance: people in power not having a right view of the world (& as a result not acting accordingly) as opposed to people having a right view & then acting deliberately wrongly. Only by seeing the world correctly can all beings become equal. But what is this world? & what is equality?
I write to assure you that I have not yet felt from whom I & all the   world await   her final bites
Women who imitate birds
Women who assume knowledge in men when there are none
Women who are searching for some sense in the journey when they meet which may or may not happen
Women   unseen   may produce the same effect
Women who favor soap
Women who speak to animals in order to have sex
Women who remember the name of 9 to 13 sided shapes
Women who sleep and women who do not
Women nameless to the nearest twitter
Women whose love folds the hole in the stone
Women in Durer
Women adrift in an organ of something’s lightless glare doubt-dried & dreamless
Women who exist versus those in whose Laura   possibly   don’t
Women whose ovaries contain pearls   cars   broken off syllables   existence & great books
Men who dream of children and are satisfied to languish
Men who embrace shadows and lie down with therapists in order to embrace them
Men who swim a sea that knows no depth or shore
Men who insist on the beach   high & mincing
Men who live in cocoons   & ride scooters
Men who read about glaucoma and are forced to give up yoga
Men who buy books of lists of 10000 stupid things and then do them
Men who struggle with the violence in surrealism
Men who live in ridiculous vivid   or South London light
Men whose hypochondria reaches its apex in the hours after midnight
Men who like the smell of sweat on women   perfect for Poulenc
Men whose 20 years of long & heavy labour say they have won only sorrow this star bait & the hook
Men who do not see the beauty of the world
Men who tremble before men who tremble before women   & those who lose it