A Note From the Editor
It’s hard to believe that it’s been six months since we launched Quaint (and three since Issue 1 was released). What began as a quiet but persistent anger (the kind that smolders, the kind that stirs) flared into something bright and beautiful, something of which I and the editorial staff are extremely proud. We were stunned and humbled by the response to Issue 1, and continue to feel honored that we have the pleasure of reading and publishing so much truly exceptional work by strong, remarkable, and talented writers.
This month, April, is National Poetry Month in the United States. Issue 2 reflects this, with a particular focus on outstanding, unsettling, and experimental poetry. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the place women occupy in the poetry world. There’s a sense that poetry is somehow feminized, a more sensitive, docile, and sentimental form of expression than prose. If that’s so (which, for the record, I strongly contest), then why is it that women are so underrepresented in the world of publishing (particularly if they, shock horror, write about their feelings)? It’s as if there’s room for sensitivity in poetry – room to engage the stereotypically girlish and feminine – but only to a point. The literary world applauds men for inscribing their bleeding hearts onto the page while in the same breath denouncing women for being hysterical, narcissistic, self-absorbed. The iconic image of the tortured poet is almost exclusively male: he is Byron, Keats, and Shelley. He is Dylan Thomas and John Berryman. When women adopt this role, they are condescended to, dismissed as neurotic. Not for nothing is Sylvia Plath dubbed “the Patron Saint of Teenage Girls”: Plath’s pain, like her art, is tagged as juvenile and self-indulgent. Her work endures, but there is a stain. Plath doesn’t get to be brave or tortured: instead she is weak, crazy, a coward.
In one of the last interviews he gave prior to his death in 2009, confessional poet W.D. Snodgrass spoke to Hilary Holloday about Plath, and about fellow confessional poet (and his former student) Anne Sexton. Of Plath, Snodgrass said, “some of [her work is] pretty good, but it isn’t that good,” and he hastened to comment that his students quickly grew “sick and tired” of her work. Of Sexton, he was even more damning, calling her work “derivative” and expressing distaste for the emotion she would display during her readings. “She would write me and say, ‘Here’s a new poem. Tell me…is it the real Anne?’ and I would feel like, ‘For Christ’s sake, let’s hope not!’”
It would be pleasant to imagine that this kind of attitude, the gaslighting of women (both in the world of literature and, indeed, the world at large) when they dare express themselves is a thing of the past. But we know otherwise. We know it every time we are asked if it’s that time of the month, if we could just please calm down, because we’re being irrational. We know it when we write poems where the gender of the speaker, or the gender of the addressee is assumed: when the default setting is “white male until proven otherwise.” We know it when, in the classroom, we are encouraged to write in modes and forms that have been sanctioned by androcentric institutions, when we are asked to step not into the shoes of Emily Dickinson or Elizabeth Bishop, but into Shakespeare, Robert Frost, Walt Whitman.
The work in this issue – poetry, prose, and CNF – rips apart the traditional idea of gendered writing. These women, these writers, are not pandering to anyone’s notion of the feminine poetic. When they look inward (and they do – and they should) it is not floral or sentimental. It is neither weak and insipid, nor brooding and maudlin in the manner of those canonized saints of poetry, the men of the Romantic period. They cast their gazes upon our literary idols, tearing them down from their pedestals with a ferocity that will frighten and awe you. Their works are powerful. They are real. They might unnerve you, might disturb, might make you see red. At times, they might delight you. We hope that they might even stir something in your gut, a little flame, something you can nurse and kindle until the burning becomes too much. Until you, too, must stand and speak.
It is an enormous privilege to publish these women. I am grateful every day for the community we are building with Quaint: to the women we publish, to the women who work with us, and to the beautiful people who are out there and listening, who are reading these words. Thank you so much for what really has been the very best six months. Cheers to it, and here’s to many more.