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Criticism's A Bitch

Criticism's a bitch, and flak often feels more acute in small press because our work often comes with some degree of sacrifice: time, money, energy. It is understandable that we can take negativity to heart, from people nit-picking about a crooked staple to the accusation that “Norwegian dog breeder poets” aren’t included in your anthology project. (Maybe you didn’t reach out enough?)

Sometimes it feels like somebody just told you that your baby’s ears stick out too much. You want to hold them closer lest the mutterings of the cruel world’s douches creep in. But then- you also have a roll of scotch tape behind your back.

Such is the nature of criticism and self-doubt.

Sometimes, in small press, that ugly baby’s all ya got.

However, that is better than offering up criticism from your armchair, because you have the free time to do it. “Those who can, do. Those that can’t… well, they stare at your baby’s ears.” They don’t have their own little bastards, see? They don’t do the work, so they don’t know about the challenges presented.

It isn’t easy to please everyone. Somebody is going to be pissed, which is not to say that some people don’t deserve to draw the ire. But in many cases, we are not talking about people who intentionally offend. It just happens.

Now I will throw out there that I am opinionated, and I might have thrown some “sausage fest” jokes around over the years because that can be a way to express frustration about a situation, in this case female participation, which is less about any particular individual and more about circumstances. In fact, the more you talk to editors and event organizers, the more you see that it is less a conscious act of omission- more a slurry of small press dynamics that should be subject to some exploration on all sides without the defensive posture undertaken in response to your pointed finger. Accusations push people apart. Asking questions can get people together on a problem. And isn’t that what we want?

I started to ask about the problem of representation, asking editors to share their view of what accounts for the gender disparity in their publications. Can anything be done about it? Do they want to do anything about it? Do we want them to do anything about it?

“You say that writing is writing, but then you wonder if I reach out to the women? Wouldn’t it be sexist of me to deliberately seek out submissions based on gender? Or worse, to factor that into the mix of acceptance standards just to round out some score card?”

That is an interesting question. I don’t think that I am suggesting that.

“Then what ARE you suggesting?”

Shit, if I know. He tells me that 10% of his submissions come from females, with some plus or minus for names he can’t decipher. Does R.J. have a vagina?

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About Lynn Alexander

Lynn Alexander is the producer and editor of web and print content for Full Of Crow Press And Distribution, which includes Full Of Crow, Blink Ink, Fashion For Collapse, MUST, and other projects in addition to distribution of zines and independent publications. Visit <a href="http://fullofcrow.com/">Full of Crow</a>.
Donna Snyder    19 months ago
Small presses are institutions, no matter how transgressive or counter culture their intent, and institutionalized sexism (as well as racism) is still thriving and striving to self justify. There is no need to reduce standards and practice what right wing politicos think of as affirmative action, exceptional...read more and merely competent women writers are every where. True affirmative action is more about an even chance than an unfair preference. Moving away from the "frat boy" mentality is always a good thing in any endeavor. "Reaching out" is more about paying attention, removing one's own blinders, reading more widely in different sources, and, well, yes, holding out a hand or opening the door of invitation. It means not skipping the titles written or edited by women, maybe occasionally clicking the like button or leaving a comment, or even dropping a line saying you enjoy their work and encouraging them to submit. These not time consuming or burdensome steps, but small indications of potential welcome and appreciation. It's the 21st century and essays and articles such as this one are still relevant and important. What a shame. I'mglad Lynn wrote this and that Red Fez published it.
Crawdad Nelson    19 months ago
I've been a small press writer, editor and reader for quite a few years and the one thing that has always struck me is how open small presses are to everyone. As an editor I didn't consider gender and wouldn't really understand the rationale for making gender-based selections, if there...read more is one. One conclusion I can draw is that men are more likely to be loud, obnoxious and mean-spirited in their small press work than women are, which tends to draw attention where it really doesn't belong.

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