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A leading American literary journal, The Hollins Critic enters its 50th year in 2013 with essays on writers like Michael Parker by Allison Seay, Jamaica Kincaid by James R. Saunders, and Carl Carmer by Duffie Taylor. Plus book reviews and poetry by poets new and established, and cover art by Susan Avishai.
The Hollins Critic, published five times a year, presents the first serious surveys of the whole bodies of contemporary writers' work, with complete checklists. In past issues, you'll find essays on such writers as John Engels (by David Huddle), James McCourt (by David Rollow), Jane Hirshfield (by Jeanne Larsen), Edwidge Danticat (by Denise Shaw), Vern Rutsala (by Lewis Turco), Sarah Arvio (by Lisa Williams) and Milton Kessler (by Liz Rosenberg).
The Hollins Critic also offers brief reviews of books you want to know about and poetry by poets both new and established. And every issue has a cover portrait by Susan Avishai M.A. '02.
"Survival of the Feminist: The Socially Lived Poetics of Denise Duhamel"
By Julie Marie Wade
According to Jennifer Harper's May 2013 article in The Washington Times, "Feminism may be dead; 72 percent of Americans say they’re not 'feminists.'" A new Economist/You Gov poll released at the end of April reports “it is negative associations people carry regarding feminism that cause Americans to shy away from the label. People are twice as likely to consider calling someone a feminist to be an insult (23 percent) rather than a compliment (12 percent)."
But when I think of feminism—and third-wave feminism in particular—my first impulse is to smile. This is because I am thinking of the prolific and prodigious body of work of Denise Duhamel, poet and feminist exemplar, which commenced with the 1993 publication of her first full-length collection of poems, surprisingly titled—and with an exclamation point no less—Smile!
Elizabeth Alexander, a fellow feminist and the 2009 inaugural poet, notes in her back-cover blurb: "Denise Duhamel is the only poet in the world who would dare to name her book Smile! The title alone is characteristic of Duhamel's work, which has a sense of irony, humor, and flamboyant detail . . . Duhamel is not just bold, she is brave, and that is the quality we need desperately in poetry today."
That today was twenty years ago, and brave, feminist writing is still desperately needed, perhaps now more than ever. While feminism as a significant force for social change isn’t beyond resuscitation, Harper’s commentary on the recent poll is disheartening: “Americans apparently associate feminism with things other than, say, equal rights, [including] man-bashing and the erosion of . . . family structure.” However, despite the negative connotations of the word feminist in popular culture, pollsters found that “when given a neutral dictionary definition . . . as ‘someone who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes,’ 57 percent of Americans proudly proclaim themselves feminists.” It stands to reason, then, that if more people had cause to smile at the concept of feminism instead of shrugging their shoulders—or gritting their teeth—the real-world applications of feminism could be more fully realized.
But what about poetry? Is poetry a viable vehicle to carry such feminist strivings forward?
In a January 2013 article in The Washington Post, columnist Alexandra Petri explores the provocative title question, "Is Poetry Dead?" She writes, "You can tell that a medium is still vital by posing the question: Can it change anything? Can a poem still change anything?" Positing an answer, Petri suggests, "I think the medium might not be loud enough any longer. . . . I think what we mean by poetry is a limp and fangless thing. . . . It is a parroting of something that used to be radical. It is about as useful as the clavichord."
These are, of course, the very criticisms that contemporary feminism must face in the mirror each morning as well. Can feminism still change anything? Is it merely a parroting of something that used to be radical? Whether we view her as an avowed feminist whose feminism takes poetic form, or a widely published poet whose poetry embodies feminist ideals, Denise Duhamel is an underdog. She is working in literature's most marginalized genre to illuminate a worldview that three-fourths of Americans purport not to care about or understand. This would appear to be an impossible mission, both formally and ideologically. Fortunately, Duhamel is the perfect person for the job.
Cover portrait © Susan Avishai 2013
The Hollins Critic will not be reading poetry again until September 15, 2015. Poetry must be submitted online to The Hollins Critic. There are no rules about style or subject. One to five poems may be submitted.
The Critic pays $25.00 per poem, upon publication. All rights revert to the author following publication, but if the poem is reprinted elsewhere, the Critic should be credited.
Besides poetry, the Critic publishes an essay on a contemporary author in each issue, and book reviews as space permits. The Critic does not accept unsolicited essays. Rarely do we accept unsolicited book reviews. When a review is published, the author receives a copy of the issue, and two copies are sent to the book's publisher. Only poetry may be submitted online.
The Critic does not publish fiction.