Bowery Women Poems Bio Review Susan L- Yung

The Importance of Reading a Woman's Poem and Her Bio Reviewed by Susan L. Yung

"Bowery Women: Poems"Edited by Bob Holman and Marjorie Tesser YBK Publishers 150 pages $19.95

Bowery Women

As an autonomous entity, women are rarely recognized for their independence or creativity. Women must feel insecure under the care of men or else men would not feel needed. Bowery Women is an attempt for women to claim their independence and express themselves since the feminist movement of the 60s. Therefore, this book is a "catch-up" primer into the 21st Century of 76 women who are writing about inclusions and exclusions, lonely voices, sadness to rejoicings to struggles of being women. At least, one can read about their different lifestyles -- gauge their independent progress, experiences and social commentaries.

As an autonomous entity, women, rarely, are recognized for their independence or creativity. Women must feel insecure under the care of men or else men would not feel needed. Bowery Women is an attempt for women to claim their independence and express themselves since the feminist's movement of the 60s. Therefore, this book is a "catch-up" primer into the 21st Century of 76 women who are writing about inclusions and exclusions, lonely voices, sadness to rejoicings to struggles of being women. At least, one can read about their different lifestyles -- gauge their independent progress, experiences and social commentaries.

Bob Holman writes in his introduction to Bowery Women a description about gentrification on the Bowery:

"These days as huge, boring, blockading buildings waddle up and down the east side of Bowery across from the Bowery Poetry Club, we hearken back more and more to the wild nights of popular culture that marked the olde Bouwerie -- vaudeville, the Yiddish theater, saloons and dives and Five Points and McGurk's."

Upon looking up Luc Sante's Low Life, in the chapter "Saloon Culture", there is a paragraph where Sante mentions McGurk's as a suicide hall:

In Luc Sante's Low Life, in the chapter "Saloon Culture", McGurk's is described as a suicide hall:

By popular accord, the very worst dive on the Bowery in the 1890s was McGurk's Suicide Hall, on the East Side just above Houston St. (the building is still standing), and it did not conduct its business in secrecy, since it possessed one of the first electric signs on the avenue ... It was four stories tall, with a deep interior and a large back room, with a direct entry to the barroom for gents and one through a long corridor for women. ... "It was said," noted a contemporary, "that his (McGurk) business card reached every seaport in the world." ... McGurk's was nearly the lowest rung for prostitutes, ... hence the suicide craze that gave it its name and incidentally, its grisly lure as a tourist attraction ... .by then his business depended on the suicide for a good part of its allure. (pages 119-120)

Later it became:

... Bowery characters acquired a professional venue at Sammy's Bowery Follies, which opened at number 267, on the site of some notorious dives of the past, such as McGurk's the Mug.(page 140)

Following the clues of this building, the feminist Kate Millet who wrote the book Sexual Politics in 1971 had acquired an A.I.R. (Artist-in-Residence) status to live in the building and ironically, she is its last resident. For 10 years (1995-2005), a banner silently read "Save this Building" stretched across its fire escape where many passersby would ignore its significance. By the year 2006, a new slickly constructed building replaces the possible historic site of McGurk's "Suicide Hall" for women.

Following the clues of this building, the feminist Kate Millet, author of Sexual Politics, acquired an A.I.R. (Artist-in-Residence) status to live in the building in 1971. Ironically, she is its last resident. For 10 years, from 1995, stretched across its fire escape but ignored by the passersby below, a banner read "Save this Building". In 2006, a new slickly constructed building replaced the historic site of McGurk's "Suicide Hall" for women.

This is so emblematic of women's status and a setback in the beginnings of 21st Century when greed can supercede in the real estate realm and gentrification becomes the winner. Thus, there is a need to empower women again in many necessary professions, so that the fair gender can equally thrive in a democratic system.

Bowery Women is a collection of 76 merited women poets edited by Bob Holman and Marjorie Tesser. Perusing through the 150-page book, each woman has 1 1/2 pages for her poem and bio. The book's format is a vertical scroll cut up into pages. It is a simple, quick, inexpensive layout with a headshot of the poet, title of her poem, the poem and then the poet's bio which can be very extensive than the printed poem. Again, in Bob Holman's introduction, he explains the fair process taken to alphabetize the women's first name in the table of contents. Personally, the main reason to print women of the last half of the 20th century is to enumerate their accomplishments in a patriarchic literary mainstream environment. Thus, upon reading their bios, I find it quite tedious and extensive especially how much further white women's accomplishments (listings of books published) compared to the minority (Blacks, Asians, Hispanics, Mid Eastern, Native American, non-White) poets. Also, the reader can observe the differences of the poet's content of those interested in social change or just writing nonsense as a poet. For example, the difference of a Buddhist practitioner (layman) who writes about nothingness as oppose to women from a Buddhist family who can write ethereally as well as the mediocre material world which is filled with subtle oppressions.

Suddenly I know why my love is a clinched fist -- Why I can only love like this. ("Samchun in Grocery Store," Ishle Yi Park)

One can cross-reference and determine a few of the early history of women in print, especially the minority women who remain as minors. Even their poems have minority subject matters that relate to growing up and identifying original feelings of outcast. Alternatively, is it the editors' preferences?

The 76 women had been struggling with words for a long time and had developed through the years a history of chapbooks, small press publications, monetary awards, co-founders of open mics, performance divas or gained professorships. However, they remain unknown in mainstream's publishing world. They might have a following in the small literary world based in Lower East Side and expanded west to Bowery Poetry Cafe. The majority of women are white and for this book to be diverse, minority women are included. Subject wise poems of minorities are very different. They are usually writing about their ethnicities and their traditions that become a subculture while the others can express spiritual epiphanies, trailer trash stories, political criticisms, and failed relations.

Topographic economic Industry and warA box of longing with fifty drawers. ("America," Jen Benka)

In 1978, the presently out-of-print book of women poets Ordinary Women had evolved with minority women collectively and collaboratively submitting their works in order to make a stance that they exist and could write as well as their contemporary white feminists. They profiled themselves as ordinary when American society bombards women on a pedestal as beautiful, skinny, motherly, sweet and innocent. Thirty years later, in Bowery Women, we can read their bios and observe the overachievers and the underachievers. Naturally, the dominant White women have the upper hand with their leaderships, found camaraderie, and shared role models. Upon reading their bios, most had networked, joined religious cults or have their own upstart small press publications. They have the power to alleviate social change among major male writers as referenced by Kathryn M. Fazio's excerpted bio:

She is a member of the National Association of Poetry Therapists ... . designed multimedia groups for the blind at Goldwater Memorial Hospital ... . (and) has a Master in Rehabilitation Teaching of the Blind and graduated from Study Abroad on the Bowery in 2005.

Meanwhile the minority women might have received public art fundings (government welfare for artists), published in other anthologies, academic achievements (PhD), came from overseas academia, or just writes in her mother tongue of her extraordinary experiences in America. The lonely women of color often has to go underground, be anonymous, and unheard of unless she does a one woman's performance highlighting slavery, victimization, injustices, immigration, language barriers, traditions, and other social deviances. We only get receive a mere glimpse of their writings and their world of attritions.

Surprisingly, twenty-five years later, White women versus women of color are still a comparison of accomplishments for recognition. However, most of these women remain in the small press mode, rarely published by Norton Press, Simon & Shuster, Putnam, Scribner, etc. For this reviewer, small press's popularity faded in 1979 during Reaganomics. Interest and participation had diminished to a minimal where lately maybe five book buyers would be present. This happened 2 years ago in Park Slope's Small Press event. This anthology, Bowery Women, printed by YBK Publishers (another small press located in Soho) is dependent on women to gain merits worthy to be printed, to be read, to be promoted, and continue to be writers who might have a chance for the Noble Prize.

Who would you prefer reading? The woman who can teach you to write sexual fantasies so that you may be published and enjoy extra income collecting royalties? Or on the other hand, read about the woman who slipped through the groove tube of ghetto streets getting her tricks, drugs, clothes, hair and make up done as well as support her children, pay the babysitter while being a domestic care taker, finding food and shelter?

Some outstanding women poets in the book are Anne Waldman, who writes about nothingness; the recently deceased Diane Burns; Joy Harjo; Suheir Hammad, writes "like it is" for a Palestinian living in America; Wanda Coleman; Patricia Smith; Marty McConnell, and Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz, who reminds me why she prefers to be a poet.

So buy this impressive book, and read the vicissitudes of what makes a woman poet tick. I am sure there will at least be one poem that pleases. However, keep in mind that there are other resources, other expressions that will not be recognized or be put into print for women unless she is given the merited opportunities that these 76 women have gained.