by Lara Glenum on Jan.04, 2014
[I asked the women featured in the New York Daily News article if I could interview them about the public response to the article. I asked them each the same set of five questions. Some of the women preferred to answer specific questions; others chose to write their own essays. I’ll be posting their responses here serially over the next 24 hours.]
LISA MARIE BASILE
1) What was your approach to presenting yourself in the photo? And was it actualized?
I am someone who likes to flirt with the camera, even if it is a little uncomfortable. Presenting as a culturally recognizable image of “sexy” has been empowering. Fun. Really.
The photo was taken at the Annual NYC Poetry Festival where I was dressed to perform at the Poetry Brothel. I admit that the Poetry Brothel group has also been viewed as problematic because of the way it presents poetry. My views on it aside (and my views are always changing), I was dressed to perform.
However! No man, no woman, no photographer has ever disassembled my agency, commanded me or bullied me. If he had, I’d be the first to admit it. It was as actualized as it could have been.
2) Is visual cultural important to your poetry? if so, in what way?
My poetry is guided by aesthetic. I often create worlds of things–collectables, fabrics, decorum, objects, era-specific items of beauty. There is a strong feminine (stereotypical and subverted) thread throughout it.
My upcoming book, APOCRYPHAL, uses fabrics, designers and brands from the 60s and 70s as a character. I love playing on a visual field. Sometimes it influences my own style. It’s all an exercise in expression. Sometimes it’s misinterpreted and dirtied by the Public.
3) Do you consciously cultivate a public image that refracts, troubles, or adds to your poetry in some way?
I believe that the ways in which we present ourselves are quite deliberate, emotionally calculated and in sync with who we are as people and maybe as poets, consciously or subconsciously so.
I like to wear clothes that make me feel sensual. It feeds my creativity as a writer.
More simply, I dress in a way that makes me happy. I surely hope everyone also does.
I think, though, that whenever a woman does anything–specifically something that calls attention to her body in any fashion–there is the undeniable risk that it will complicate, reduce, silence or kill her accomplishments and ideas.
4) What have been your thoughts and feelings around the uproar over the article?
I want to be so over it, but it’s bigger than me.
& I really appreciate you asking this, Lara, because as many people as there were saying, “great poem,” “I’m glad to see women gaining attention,” or, “I am fucking happy the literary arts are being represented” (albeit the icky tabloid medium) there were also a lot of people deconstructing the photographs in a such a way that they blamed the poets for presenting as “sexy” or for somehow, like, acquiescing to the male gaze.
People should totally be wary of how women are presented in the media, but without being reductionist toward the agency of women…which is, ironically, what they’re fighting for to begin with.
A part of me knew this would happen. I think I even mentioned it to Lawrence. It doesn’t surprise me, because the way poets are presented is often not in this context–in a major tabloid, or “dressed up.” I’m ashamed (again, not surprised) that some people focused on this element more than the writing.
5) Has your experience with the article (and its reception) changed your thinking around poetry, media and/or celebrity?
It’s showed me how shit journalism can really reroute the discussion at hand. The NYDN article was inherently problematic.
While people’s support and love for writers is really so fantastic, the piece also confirmed how sexist portions of even the smallest, smartest and most creative communities can be.
When my magazine, Luna Luna (www.lunalunamag.com) published a reaction to the “uproar” it got thousands of hits in two days. That certainly said something. People have serious feelings about it, or they just love gossip.