ed. Emily Critchley
Hastings: Reality Street, 2015
reviewed by Jonathan Catherall
A sequel is a rarity in the ‘innovative’ poetry community, though not in the mainstream with its cycles of marketing. Out of Everywhere 2 recalls the original Out of Everywhere edited by Maggie O’Sullivan and published by Reality Street in 1996.
O’Sullivan took the quote ‘you are out of everywhere’ from a question asked by an audience member at a talk by Rosmarie Waldrop. It figured as the mark of a double exclusion: from what O’Sullivan describes as ‘conventional, explicitly generically committed or thematic anthologies of women’s poetry’; and from the male-dominated innovative poetry scene. Yet at the same time, this mark points to its own transvaluation: Waldrop’s answer to the questioner is, ‘I take that as a compliment. I’ve more or less claimed this is the position of poetry.’ Being out of everywhere encompasses being outside, on the margins, resistant, going deeply into the exclusion; being indeed for queer writers ‘out’, and also ‘from’ everywhere. This new anthology maintains the sense created in the first one, of an explosion of diverse voices articulated and generated even under the proper name of one poet or in the space of one poem, let alone in the diversity of poets who, in O’Sullivan’s words ‘have each in their own imaginative way committed themselves to excavating language in all its multiple voices and tongues, known and unknown’. There is a potential for change in the exploration of the way in which our language and our experience are not, and need not be, limited to representation by a single, stable, dominant voice. A line in this anthology from Marianne Morris might serve as its guiding light: ‘but a severed also moment I crave’.
There are more poets in the new anthology (up from 30 to 44) and there is a corresponding increase in length. This increase attests to the presence of a greater number of women working successfully in the field, with the expansion particularly evident in the UK, and what Critchley calls ‘a contemporary wave of confidence and camaraderie’ which she locates in the speed and complexity of the connections facilitated by the internet. Many of the original contributors to the first anthology are still producing powerful work, and several whose absence is noted in the first anthology feature, twenty years later, in Out of Everywhere 2. The title, then, suggests a flourishing tradition and community, for all the caveats we might attach to those words; and for all that any anthology, even one which purports to represent those outside, is also a kind of a leaving out, in choices and constraints which Critchley does not discuss.
Out of Everywhere 2, long in the making, is justified not just as reflection of the challenges still certainly faced by women writers as doubly ‘outside’, by virtue of misogyny still found even in supposedly radical scenes, and the predilections of the mainstream. It also functions as a celebration of the scale and quality of the work, of the webs of mutual attention and support that sustain and stimulate these writers, and of the continuing bravery of addressing the ‘severed also moment’. Although the diversity of the work gathered here resists simple encapsulation, this anthology creates a space for resonant conversations.
Explorations of the outside and inside of gender, of masks, performed roles and bodies, inevitably remain a key theme across many writers here. Jean Day’s speaker and her companion are ‘buried in our dresses’, whilst Jennifer Cooke invokes a ‘kittenista’ who ‘proud, tall/womb removed, lifts out / feather-sprouting lips / speaks:’ to figure a kind of playful though heartfelt abject, in which the monster she figures returns as the harbinger of a potential new gender construction. In similar vein, channelling and challenging Donna Haraway’s reflections on the potential for women’s agency in the technological age, Andrea Brady conceives of ‘a cyborg, pinioned to tubes’, where ‘the agency has allocated to you a set of limited/functions’.
Out of Everywhere 2 feels particularly inflected by Critchley’s own interest in questions of the phenomenological. As she told the audience at the London launch in August, reading the first Out of Everywhere had played a crucial role in shifting her PhD from the study of John Berryman to the US women poets included in that anthology. What is important for Critchley, as expressed in her contributions elsewhere, is the way in which contemporary feminism is able to find itself ‘embracing, rather than seeking to cancel’ what Waldrop called the ‘doubts, complications and distractions’ so crucial to poetry.
In much of the poetry there is a frequent delight in going over and calling into question the supposedly small, day-to-day things: a recognition and reclaiming of their stakes. As Kennedy and Kennedy have argued in their book Women’s Experimental Poetry in Britain, 1970-2010,
cultural and critical visibility is a matter of who is allowed to be big and who is allowed to be little. And, of course, it is no coincidence that work constructed as little is often that which addresses things that are too big to be assimilated within the dominant orders of representation.
In a book which is a rather hefty physical item compared to its predecessor, we can trace an exploration of the little. In the anthologised poem ‘Draft 39: Split’, which itself alludes to an original of ‘Draft 1: It’ (not included), Rachel Blau DuPlessis speaks of ‘Where “it” / splits and doubles between the little (unspoken) and the looming / (unspeakable)’. After talking of a peace protest round a missile base, she both laments the failure of and situates resistance in the tiniest of marks:
Where and how can we speak of
this moment or method,
infiltration, blackout, provocation, disenfranchisement –
It is this:
You made a dot because you are a dot.
For Critchley herself, in ‘Still Life’, that desire to trace the potential in the almost infinitely receding possibility hints at a ‘point’ in which the tiny redeems the instrumentally purposive:
… closer & closer, & backwards & backwards, we come to the point: there is always this something not quite ticked off the flow chart…. How beautifully epistemic, how it robs us of hope and despair, prompts us to dive & fly this petite object
& this not quite object (so petite you mayn’t even have missed it) …
how we are gather stories unto ourselves, little appendages, that work necessary under water.
Likewise, Zoë Skoulding’s series of rooms, which play in part on the long-standing feminist questioning of the domestic space of the room as a woman’s sphere, alight on a similar recursive perspective which embodies both constraint and response, as in ‘Room 401’:
When entering the room in a memory
that holds inside it yet another room
inside it another
another inside that one
down to the smallest imaginable
cell in the skull
This is not a themed anthology. The minutely balanced and unbalanced, refractory, provocative, productive poetic explorations of Out of Everywhere 2 build into wildly different architectures. Yet that is its greatest strength: it opens the door to an even larger body of work by calling for renewed and subtle attention to the smallest movements of language and sense.
Jonathan Catherall has reviewed for The Literateur and The Wolf. He currently gives money away for a living.