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Juliana Spahr & Stephanie Young

Juliana Spahr and Stephanie Young co-edited A Megaphone, which collects responses about feminism, writing, and working conditions from writers around the globe, along with essays and enactments Spahr and Young performed together between 2005 and 2007.


"In these essays, the playful dogmatism of a feminist tradition that they call "crotchless pants and a machine gun" (obviously referencing Valie Export) is used in order to locate what might still be useful today about the somewhat beleaguered 'second wave' feminist traditions."

– Chain Links

“Welcome outpouring of shiny ludic incisiveness and awful fact. Rhizomatic tentacled global hybridity and voices of women on their poetry communities and projects. Expansive, best read in doses, to my mind. Feels productively circular.”

– Jeanine Webb



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A Megaphone

“At the top of my voice in the middle of the main square.”


Dear Ana,

I’m happy to let you know that A Megaphone has arrived. I spent the whole afternoon yesterday reading it, enjoying most of all the fact that this book of essays on the position of female poets in the society includes several essays by Croatian authors. I also remembered how you and I had started working together. At the time, I had been trying to persuade several Croatian poets to write on this topic, I wanted to publish their texts in the journal Tema and then send them on to you, for your research. I recalled how difficult it had been to persuade the poets, but still, I had managed to collect about twenty essays and publish them in the special issue of Tema: “Women Poets.” Later on I had sent them to you and gradually forgotten all about that. After a while you had told me that a book was in the making, texts being selected and translated. The editors Juliana Spahr and Stephanie Young had chosen the essays by Croatian authors who, with the exception of Vesna Biga, had never been included in literary anthologies. They had picked those they had considered the most interesting. Later on, it turned out not to be easy to explain the choice. A lot of questions had been raised: Why those particular authors? Who were they to decide? Etc.

But, all of that doesn’t matter now. A Megaphone is in my hand. I impatiently leaf through the book, looking for the explanation why this title. And here it is, I’ve found it. Poetas de Megafono (Poets of the Megaphone) is a group of feminist poets who work on the literary fringes of Mexico City. They meet at a café and read poetry through a megaphone. We usually associate megaphones with public protests, but what’s the point of reading poetry through such a device? The point is that in the social sphere women are usually unseen and their voices unheard so this way of reading poetry is the poets’ attempt to be “heard”, to attain a space of their own and to mark it with their art. Poetry spoken through a megaphone resounds like a rallying cry, goes beyond the expectations of polite recitation, becomes akin to protest speeches of disenfranchised workers. . . .

Poetry as emancipation — or is it merely a utopian inscription? I’ve recently received a book from Germany, titled Forgotten Future: The Politics of Poetry in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was written in English by a young Bosnian theoretician Damir Arsenijević. His main premise is that poetry has a re-politicising potential, since poetry, as Arsenijević points out, “lends voice and establishes relationships between alternative models of subjectivisation (feminist, gay, queer) and new, mutual solidarities, while at the same time opposing their exclusion.” Arsenijević constructs the notion of  poetry of difference, i.e. the poetry that acts as a critical voice in relation to a dominant ideology, since male and female poets who voice an excluded element’s position consequently create a new community, while simultaneously creating, as the author emphasises, a politics of hope which opposes the dominant model of manipulation through trauma, in Bosnia and Herzegovina either denied, or mythologized, or medicated. Poetry as an emancipative discourse, says Arsenijević, is above all the poetry written by women, who develop their voices and create a social space for women, but also — which has never occurred before in Bosnian and Herzegovian poetry — for homosexuals. Still, in spite of this poetics of hope, is not a poet, as Faruk Šehić writes, “a tumour on the healthy tissue of a techno-maniacal capitalism”?

I find the name of a friend of mine in A Megaphone, Dubravka Đurić, a poet and critic from Belgrade. I met Dubravka at Women’s Studies in Belgrade nine years ago. She gave me a book then, a collection of poetry and essays by women who reflected on their poetic position called Discursive Bodies of Poetry: A New Generation of Women Poets’ Poetry and Autopoetics. That was my first glimpse into the female poetry writing in Serbia. For a long time Dubravka had organised poetic workshops at the Women’s Initiative Association. During the war both male and female authors who thought of poetry in terms of activism and collective work gathered there. It had been a kind of sanctuary in those not at all poetic years, when young people had become hostages of aggressive politics, unable to travel anywhere as their country had been boycotted. In a rented flat in the centre of Belgrade they had not read their poetry through a megaphone, they had no connection whatsoever with the city’s cultural life. Completely marginalised, they had been reflecting on and revealing links between poetry and politics, those two usually disparate notions. But, as Maja Solar, a young poet from Novi Sad remarks, isn’t any place of speech by definition a political space, therefore, is it at all possible to take poetry as mere transcendence or aesthetic game?

I think about all of this while impatiently leafing through A Megaphone. It is warm in the room, I can see dark clouds through the window, there’s going to be a storm. They aren’t rare here anymore, dear Ana. The days of light drizzle are gone, instead we have brief outpours and in the background, like stage settings, thunder and wind that can uproot a tree or at least blow a few tiles off roofs. But I’m no longer scared of such “storms,” they have become predictable just like the threatening sound of sirens used to be during the war, they don’t yet alarm of chaos, although they announce it. I remember people started ignoring those general danger alerts after a while, because in our parts they didn’t signal attacks or direct aggression. I somehow feel that in recent years people have been trying to forget the nineties, like they never existed, that some even wish to label them as obscene years. I find it strange, I don’t like it when people renounce their former passions, when they try to erase memories. Sometimes everything seems so simple — everybody’s the same, we are all the Balkans barbarians. But what about Americans and all those superpowers, isn’t it possible that were we just pawns in their games? I’m giving it a lot of thought, because lately I’ve felt like the nineties were back: people protesting in squares, shouting through megaphones messages to the “unjust world” which passes judgment on and sentences our generals while the crimes committed by superpowers remain unsanctioned. Our independent state doesn’t in fact exist, it’s been sold out, all that is left are the memories of the dream of independence and a bitter aftertaste.

I think of the great poet Boris Maruna and his beautiful poetry about the loss of the dream of a state, about disillusionment. His poetry is so very different from those cheap, sentimental little patriotic ditties, which haven’t survived anyway. Unlike the authors of patriotic pamphlets, Maruna stresses:

“But a Croatian poet has a right
And a patriotic duty
To say what’s bugging him.”

Another Croatia he so passionately depicts in his verse, imagining it at the end of the world, powerful above graves, equivalent to the Good and Love – there is no such Croatia today. The metaphorical sea upon which it was supposed to rest has withdrawn and Croatia got stranded. As well as the illusion of justice and pride. How to reawaken hope and enthusiasm? Poetry as the politics of hope. . . . Today poetry is read in closed circles, at poorly attended recitals. The lovers of poetry don’t read it through a megaphone but withdraw into the intimacy of their homes. Squares are no longer agorae. Can this be changed, even though we have already lost our pride? Maybe there remains the strength to take a megaphone, to show our dignity and defiance?

I read Celan writing about black milk and black flakes: “There isn’t anyone anymore to mould us of soil and clay, to talk of our dust. . . .” Ana, I feel like quoting so many poems by so many poets, I feel like saying them at the top of my voice in the middle of the main square, among the crowds of people carrying bags with groceries. While I’m closing this letter, the sound of a commercial comes through the window, spoken through a megaphone. Cheap fried fish and fun in your town, come, come, says the voice that drowns all others on this Sunday afternoon, alluring through the megaphone.

Well, Ana, all I’ve wanted to say is that the book has arrived, and look where it’s led me. To the true reality. Maybe that’s for the best. Both the calm before the storm and the storm have ended, the roofs are intact, the books are waiting, not yet read, but new meetings can be glimpsed.

Take care,

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