To celebrate International Women’s Day here at The Contemporary Small Press, our editors and reviewers have selected a few works by women writers to comment on and recommend. Day 2!
Lynn Michell, Run Alice Run (2015, Inspired Quill)
This novel may strike a nerve, but a nerve of injustice that still needs to be struck and remembered so we do not become complacent and feel the fight is over. It highlights the often collective, ever-knowing experience of gender inequality, prejudice and discrimination against women that traverses the sexual, political, professional and individual landscapes of many women’s lives from the 1960s to present.
The strengths, as well as weaknesses, of the main character, Alice, demonstrate the difficulties of living in a world designed for men – a time before women were fully aware of women’s liberation movements and believed they were born for domesticity, submissive to a husband or secretary to some big shot boss, lacking the ability to choose alternative future prospects. Alice rebels against her pigeon-holed existence throughout, not only through shoplifting – stealing from her oppressive society – but equally through gaining a higher education (even when her parents disapproved) and choosing to try and live her life her own way.
The duality of the past and present relaying of temporalities, spaces, mind-sets and experiences intertwine with her conclusory desire and driving force for freedom – the most priceless essence of humanity and one we rarely notice until we no longer have it.
Review by Isabelle Coy-Dibley
Out of Everywhere 2, edited by Emily Critchley (2015, Reality Street Press)
Almost twenty years after the original publication of Out of Everywhere: Linguistically innovative poetry by women in North America and the UK, Reality Street Press has commissioned and published Out of Everywhere 2, bringing together a new generation of experimental women’s poetry. Ken Edwards, founder and editor at Reality Street Press, has always been keen to champion experimental literature and has been publishing innovative writers from the UK and North America since 1978. Out of Everywhere was the first British anthology of its kind dedicated to woman writers, featuring 30 poets: the majority of whom were North American.
Emily Critchley’s selection of 44 new poets for Out of Everywhere 2 is a testament not only to the growth of women’s experimental poetry per se, but also to the increased number of innovative, ‘politically and philosophically engaged’ women writing in the UK, as ‘roughly half’ of the poets selected for this anthology are British poets (Critchley: 9).
Out of Everywhere 2 has the feel of a revolutionary war-cry for the twenty-first century: a sustained meditation on the philosophy of transgression; on the permeable and translucent borders between inner and outer, self and other; on the prisons and possibilities of language. This collection demonstrates what Trinh T. Minh-ha called in a different context (Elsewhere Within Here: 125) ‘a radical self-awareness in which words, language are not just an exercise of power or resistance but also an infinite act of creativity’.
Featured poets include: Sascha Aurora Akhtar, Andrea Brady, Elizabeth-Jane Burnett, Jennifer Cooke, Emily Critchley, Elizabeth James, Christine Kennedy, Frances Kruk, Francesca Lisette, Sophie Mayer, Marianne Morris, Redell Olsen, Holly Pester, Frances Presley, Sophie Robinson, Zoë Skoulding, Carol Watts
Review by Sally-Shakti Willow
Emmanuelle Waeckerlé, Reading (Story of) O (2015, Uniformbooks)
Waeckerlé is an artist and academic who is interested in artists’ books, the materiality of language, performance, and collaborative publishing. This work is both a reprinting of the erotic novel The Story of O by Pauline Réage (the pseudonym of Anne Desclos), first published in 1954 and translated into English in 1965, and a work about the activity and practice of reading. Both the original French version and the English translation of the novel are reproduced, with each page split between the English in its top half and the French in its lower. It is not only language that distinguishes the two parts, but so too do the typefaces, the colour of the ink, and the layout of each. The English part is laid out in conventional novel formation, while the French part is printed in two columns. However, unlike the conventional black ink of the French part, the English part is printed in the main in a faint grey, apart from every ‘o’ that occurs, which is printed in black.
All these devices draw attention to the physical act of reading – the reader’s eyes cannot fly over the page, she cannot forget that what she is doing is reading printed words on a white page. As she reads this version of The Story of O, the reader is forced to consider her body, not only in response to the difficult, disturbing and erotically charged content, but also in response to those usually ‘invisible’ aspects of reading – printed words, typeface, typography, layout, colour.
The novel is prefaced by three pieces of writing by Waeckerlé, each of which constructs the process of her reading of the novel as a relation between three women (‘A to O to E’) and between her embodied experience and written language. As she frames Desclos’ novel, Waeckerlé shows how writers are readers, as readers are writers, and how for both written language and the non-existent happenings of fiction have very real, very physical effects on bodies.
The list of Uniformbooks, run from Devon by Colin Sackett, covers the visual and literary arts, cultural geography, history, music and bibliographic studies. The books are beautiful, a pleasure to see, touch and read. The press’s care for the physical object of the book is clear throughout the list, and in its quarterly journal, Uniformagazine. While attention to the detail of printing and layout demanded by Waeckerlé’s book would be hard to find in a mainstream publisher, Uniformbooks has produced with Waeckerlé a pleasurable object, the reading of which involves a confrontation with the relations between pleasure, pain, reading, writing and the body.
Review by Leigh Wilson
We’ll be making our final recommendations in this series tomorrow. Which books would you recommend?