The 13th installment of Editor’s Corner — a VIDAWeb feature in which editors and publishers explore complex issues regarding sex, gender, race and sexuality as they relate to their projects — features Kim Bridgford, editor of Mezzo Cammin. Bridgford discusses forgotten women poets, the nature of publishing for women as opposed to men, and the importance of fundraising. She urges women to be more proactive in fundraising efforts for their projects. Bridgford is also the founder of Mezzo Cammin’s Timeline Project. This year’s Timeline event will be held in April in New York City. Read about past Timeline events below.
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On her project, role and publishing philosophy:
Founded in 2006, Mezzo Cammin is an online journal devoted to formalist poetry by women. In addition to poetry, we publish reviews and essays, and we feature a visual artist as well. We have done special features on translation and digital poetry. In June, we published our fifteenth issue.
Early on, we decided to highlight forgotten women poets in our essays section. It did not take long for us to realize that most women poets are forgotten women poets. As a result, we launched The Mezzo Cammin Women Poets Timeline Project, a comprehensive database of women poets, at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington in 2010. We wanted a symbolic national stage for this important project: Somi sang live; Alicia Ostriker gave the keynote address; Annie Finch wrote the keynote poem; Alice Mizrachi was the featured visual artist; Carleasa A. Coates gave a tribute to Lucille Clifton; and Rhina P. Espaillat, Molly Peacock, and Terri Witek read their work. The event was featured in The Connecticut Post, on NPR, on the website of The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, and in various headline news outlets.
Also, in Washington, we introduced our signature women poets roll call, where women poets in the audience stand as their names are called.It is always a moving experience, to see women poets of all ages stand together. One by one, we join each other, and in the end we are a force.
In March 2013, we held our second timeline event in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, in affiliation with the exhibition The Female Gaze, which featured over two hundred works of visual art by women. Rachel Hadas, Marilyn Nelson, and Sonia Sanchez read their work, and Suzzette Ortiz and her band performed live.
In April 2014, we will hold our third timeline event in NYC at Lincoln Center, in partnership with Fordham University, to celebrate the first fifty essays of the timeline. Anna Evans has been an invaluable partner as essays coordinator, in bringing the timeline to this stage, and Angela Alaimo O’Donnell has graciously secured our venue.
Mezzo Cammin strives to publish the best formalist poetry by women. Over the years, we have become more global, and I take that as a good sign. It is always exciting to find a new voice and excellent work.
For ten years, I was the poetry editor of a journal called Dogwood, and for seven years I was its general editor. We ran an annual competition, which was judged anonymously. Our selections tended to break down at about 60% women, 40% men, which accurately reflected the percentage of submissions by gender. Knowing the names and bios of poets can change those numbers, as VIDA’s work has shown.
I call myself a woman-poet entrepreneur, and one needs to be in this business. That said, I have found that women poets need to create much more out of whole cloth, as the existing structures may not recognize their contributions.
On the current publishing climate:
More women are networking and publishing than ever before. Yet the publishing climate is different for men and for women.
One of my other hats is as director of the West Chester University Poetry Center and the West Chester University Poetry Conference, the largest all-poetry writing conference in the United States. I realized early on that the decisions I made—in terms of readings, panel presentations, and workshops—affected people’s careers and lives. It is an awesome responsibility. I do my best to reflect not only the mission of the center and of the conference, but to showcase excellence from a range of constituency groups and from both genders. People from all groups need to see themselves reflected and honored on the national stage. Given the dazzling talents of artists working today, it is an honor and privilege to be inclusive in honoring gifts.
Mezzo Cammin‘s primary emphasis is gender. For thirteen years, I worked with Russell Goings, the author of The Children of Children Keep Coming, an epic poem of the African American experience. At the time, I taught at Fairfield University, where Russ returned to school in order to take poetry classes as well as several independent studies, all the while writing his poem. Russ, who played professional football, founded Essence, was the first black chairman of the Studio Museum of Harlem, the first African American to hold a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, and the close friend of collagist Romare Bearden, has been an invaluable influence on me, not only in terms of his dreams and ambitions, but in terms of his philosophy of opening doors and welcoming newcomers through the doors. (Of course, he opened a few himself.) I have appreciated both his collaborative projects and his friendship. It was an honor to join him in ringing the closing bell of the New York Stock Exchange, in celebration of the publication of his book, a week before the first Obama inauguration.
Only two percent of people in the United States read serious literature, and a small percentage of that number read poetry. We should all be helping each other get readers. Instead, because it is so difficult to get readers and get noticed within the establishment, poets review each other’s books, and they tend to be men. In addition, women need to be more proactive about financially supporting institutions they care about, as fund raising is a key factor in many literary organizations.
On VIDA’s Count:
I was not surprised when I saw the numbers. VIDA is doing important work in holding people accountable, and that is difficult. While I have found that, in general, the literary world is filled with people of good faith, we all need help sometimes being guided toward certain truths. I am grateful to VIDA for taking on that role.
On A+ Lit People:
Crab Orchard Review comes immediately to mind.
Editor, Mezzo Cammin
Founder, The Mezzo Cammin Women Poets Timeline Project