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DANIELA GIOSEFFI - MILLENNIUM 2000 FEATURE  

  

The Cortland Review

2000 FEATURE

Yusef Komunyakaa
  An interview with Yusef Komunyakaa by David Lehman and a reading of some of his finest poems, all in RealAudio.

Chantelle Bentley
  Listening for the Whispers Above the Screams: The necessity of poetry in the age of technology.

Daniela Gioseffi
  From the Serious to the Silly: A review of three new anthologies of women's writing from the Stone Age to the Present Age.

Renee Bandazian
  Visions of Wheaties Boxes Danced in My Head: A report from the Poetry Olympics.

John Kinsella
  Next Door to the Racing Pigeon Clubhouse: The next chapter in John Kinsella's continuing autobiographical series.
 

Daniela Gioseffi

 

Daniela GioseffiDaniela Gioseffi is an American Book Award-winning author of twelve books. Her latest book of poems is Word Wounds & Water Flowers (Purdue University, 1995.) She has edited two prize-winning compendiums of world literature, and reviewed poetry for many prominent publications, including American Book Review, The Hungry Mind Review, and Independent Publisher. Gioseffi edits two e-zines: Skylands Writers & Artists Association, Inc. and Wise Women's Web which was nominated for "Best of the Web," 1998.

 
Daniela Gioseffi - Multi-book Review

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From the Serious to the Silly:
Three New Anthologies of Women's Writing

Voices of Light : Spiritual and Visionary Poems by Women Around the World, from Ancient Sumeria to Now
Edited by Aliki Barnstone. 
Shambhala Publications, Horticultural Hall
300 Massachusetts 02115.  
Cloth: $25.00 ISBN: 1-57062 283-3 (1999).

A Map of Hope : Women's Writing on Human Rights : An International Literary Anthology
Edited by Marjorie Agosin, with a foreword by Mary Robinson, U.N Commissioner for Human Rights. 
Rutgers University Press
100 Joyce Kilmer Ave.
Piscataway, NJ 08854-8089. 
Cloth: $49. ISBN. 0-8135-2625-6. 
Paper: $19. ISBN: 0-81135-2626-4. (1999).

Boomer Girls : Poems by Women from the Baby Boom Generation.  
Edited by Pamela Gemin & Paula Sergi
University of Iowa Press
Iowa City 52242. 
Paper: $15.95. 
Hardcover: $44.95. 255 pages. (1999)

 



Aliki Barnstone, who with the help of her father, Willis Barnstone, edited A Book of Women Poets from Antiquity to Now published by Schocken Books in 1981, now brings us this anthology of women poets on the theme of spirituality. These, we are told, are the voices of women who yearned for self realization and union with the divine, and these are their spiritual or visionary poems. The words of the first known poet, Enheduanna, a Sumerian priestess, were chiseled on cuneiform tablets four thousand years ago. Enheduanna, a woman of privilege, daughter to the King of Sumeria, wrote "From the doorsill of heaven comes the word; 'Welcome!'" That is, perhaps, the basic premise of this anthology which takes us from Enheduanna through Sappho to Louise Erdrich. Along the way we find Dantiki, Hildegard of Bingen, Catherine of Siena, Vittoria Colonna, Mirabai, Emily Dickinson, Anna Akhmatova, Marina Tsveteyeva, Denise Levertov, Wislawa Szymborska and too many others to name—nearly one hundred and twenty poets down to the present. But that's where the problem lies: in the present. The contemporaries included seem to have been chosen haphazardly, more for their notoriety than their illumination, or simply because they are poets the editor knows. The most appropriate poets of the past are well represented and some of the contemporaries rise to the occasion of visionary poetry. This anthology is a good endeavor, but perhaps, Barnstone should have stopped with the venerable, rather than arbitrarily include the contemporary. Choosing whom to include among the living poets is always a difficult task. Grace Paley, Maya Angelou, June Jordan and Adrienne Rich, are just a few of the voices that seem missing from the compendium of women's voices with a luminous purpose. There were other women poets among us who came to the fore in the 1970's whose work was central to the theme, and thoroughly about it, but never mind, Voices of Light is a book worth reading even if it errs in it's choice of contemporaries as did A Book of Women Poets from Antiquity to Now. The notes on the poets at the back of the book are absolutely essential reading. The average reader needs to know who these poets were or are, as well as their cultural origin or country. Only the dates are given above each poem placing the poets on the time line, and the book is arranged chronologically, which is an orderly way to go about it.  However, the average reader needs to constantly search at the back of the book to know who Tzu Yeh, Sangha, Sakula or Sisupacala were. A preface to the book explaining the editor's raison d'Ítre is essentially needed. Yet Aliki Barnstone has done us the favor of collecting many women poets from near and far, and the compendium answers Emily Dickinson's question, "Why—do they shut Me out of Heaven? Did I sing—too loud? With Carolyn Forche's query: "To what and to whom does one say yes? If God were the uncertain, would you cling to him?" One wants to know even more about some of these mystical and luminous voices. Notes on the poets over each entry would be very desirable, but reading many of the verses is a great pleasure.

Marjorie Agosin has done a very commendable job of gathering women's voices in both poetry and prose on issues of human rights worldwide in A Map of Hope. A professor of Spanish at Wellesley College, Agosin was honored with the United Nations Leadership Award for Human Rights and has published other books with similar themes, including Ashes of Revolt. She's done a fair job of making her current compendium internationally comprehensive in scope, though doubtless there are far more women's writings she could have included, but a book such as this can only be suggestive of the wealth of literature on the subject. Among the authors of the seventy-seven representative works are Anna Akhmatova, Claribel Alegria, Isabel Allende, Nadal Saadawi, Anne Frank, Nadine Gordimer, Wislawa Szymborska, Christa Wolf, June Jordan, Petra Kelly, Hattie Gossett, Eva Hoffman, Barbara Kingsolver, Grace Paley, Adrienne Rich, Nelly Sachs and Aung Sam Suu Kye. A notable omission is that of any writing by Helen Caldicott, an Australian pediatrician, and one of the world's most articulate voices on the suffering of women and children caused by nuclear pollutants and the world's militarized economy. Yet in this important anthology, eloquent women writers from varied cultures, names known and unknown, explore the tragedies and atrocities of war, giving voice to terror and resistance, courage and sorrow. The works transcend national boundaries and attest to our common humanity and desire for peace, harmony, equality and justice worldwide. These women's voices appeal to our conscience, arouse our dedication, and put an individual human identity on our sufferings, making us all comrades in the struggle. The creative writers included have the power to portray the issues with the profound and visionary observations of poets and story tellers who give reasoned as well as emotional responses. The chapters are labeled thematically with titles like "War and Resistance," "Imprisonment and Censorship," "Childhood," "Exiles and Refugees," "Domestic and Political Violence," "Resistance and Refusal." The poems and stories of children's sufferings in war, and the plight of non-combative women and refugees is most touching. "The Universal Declaration of Human Rights," is used as a preface to the selections, and in her introduction, Agosin writes: "Literature is more than a witness to the passage of time and its shadows. It is a documentation of the experience of being human in times of adversity and resistance." She also says: "To my knowledge, this is the first anthology ever to be published that focuses on the way in which specifically women writers have spoken about human rights issues in which the writers are themselves victims or survivors, or witnesses to their own cultural experience." A Map of Hope is handsomely designed with an illustration from a painting by Liliana Wilson-Grez "Pedazos" and a cover design by Carolina Harris which gives resonance to the books serious intent. This is a book for a permanent collection. Libraries and readers of all types of literature need to have this very vital book on their shelves. 

"Where were you between Betty Crocker and Gloria Steinem?" pose the editors of this anthology of poems from eighty poets born between approximately 1945 and 1964. Though Boomer Girls : Poems by Women from the Baby Boom Generation, is an interesting premise for an anthology, and though some of the poets who should be included are, one imagines that my generation of women's rights advocates and war resisters—the poets who fostered this generation of poets—would be unhappy with the photo on the cover, which gives a silly slant to the book. It displays a photo of two screaming girls, faces contorted by frenzy at what, one assumes, is probably a rock concert. The rather garish cover, orange, purple and red, doesn't say clearly that this is a generation of poets fostered by the likes of Marge Piercy, Alicia Ostriker, Carolyn Kizer or Lucille Clifton as the editors state in their preface. There is plenty of a complaining in the poems about mistakes made by parents, creating too much of an overall whining voice to the selections. I had hoped for more of the legacy of the poets of my generation mentioned above, but this anthology seems to represent more of a "me-generation" of poets than the previous poets hoped to foster. I don't think it's the writers included, but the selections from each that gives this tone to the book. Still, the editors have compiled a book worth reading for some intimate glimpses into the lives of women of the so called baby boomer generation, now in their forties and fifties. The last two chapters, titled "The Music of the Rest of Our Lives," and "Above the Chains of Flesh and Time," are perhaps the most vital. Here, Elizabeth Alexander's poem with concerns beyond herself, titled "Affirmative Action Blues," about the persistence of racism in the work place of our time, resonates for the members of my generation who were active in the Civil Rights movement of the early 60's. Harriet Jacobs' tribute to Harriet Tubman, is rich with a legacy of emotional strength passed down from pioneering movers and shakers like Tubman. Laura Stern's "Ice Cabbages," with its resonant line, "we are the daughters who want to heal our mothers," offers poignancy to the plight of immigrants, or displaced persons who struggle to assimilate into American culture. Denise Duhamel's poem "Feminism" has charm and universality. The premise for the anthology is good, but one longs for more such poems which reach beyond self-concern into the issues of vitality voiced by these poets' forbears. The poets of my generation did not tend to be the screamers at rock concerts depicted on the cover of this collection. They were more likely the audiences at poetry readings and socially conscious Pete Seeger concerts, and anti-nuclear, anti-war demonstrations. Writers like Rich and Piercy voice vital issues and worldly concern in their poems. I can't imagine Adrienne Rich, Grace Paley, Marge Piercy, or Maya Angelou's faces, contorted in screams, fawning over rock stars. Perhaps, many girls of our generation did that, but the poets were the serious ones, and when we complained about women's lot, we tried for wit and irony as Carolyn Kizer did in "Pro Femina." It's not that there are not any good poems here. Donna Masini's and Jill Bialosky's dramas about their mothers are poignantly wrought. However, the main thrust of this book of "baby boomers" celebrates sisterly feelings and complains that fathers are not very good, and mothers are rather difficult. Men are either not present or unpleasant, and sexuality and it's discovery are generally a bad experience. There are exceptions, but the editing or selections do not fulfill the promise of the generation of women poets who came before, though there are some good poems and poets included which do transcend the "me-generation" mode. 

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