28 March 2012

Canterbury Tales and Cows: Sheila Fisher and Susan Hawthorne on Woman-Stirred Radio

This morning, as I was getting ready to write the post for this week's show, I was struck once again by the fortunate fact that I get to read great books and then talk to the amazing people who write them.
photo by: Sonia Brand-Fisher
This week is no exception and I’m thrilled to welcome Sheila Fisher, who is garnering some attention with her new The Selected Canterbury Tales (Norton, 2011),  just re-issued in paperback, and poet Susan Hawthorne, whose collection, Cow, is a Lambda Literary finalist.

Sheila Fisher's interview starts at 4:15 p.m. (eastern).

“In the tradition of Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf and Marie Borroff’s Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Sheila Fisher’s The Selected Canterbury Tales is a vivid, lively, and readable translation of the most famous work of England’s premier medieval poet. Preserving Chaucer’s rhyme and meter, Fisher makes these tales accessible to a contemporary ear while inviting readers to the Middle English original on facing pages. Her informative introduction highlights Chaucer’s artistic originality in his memorable portrayals of surprisingly modern women and men from across the spectrum of medieval society” (WWN).

Chaucer has long been known as the Father of English poetry, who had a direct and significant influence on Will Shakespeare, but who does not enjoy  proportionate interest and popularity, let alone have a pop cultural resurrection. (I’m thinking Shakespeare in Love, the various Kenneth Branagh postmodern productions, Macbeth, King Lear, Midsummer’s Night Dream, et cetera.) 

But Chaucer is influential, and markedly so. Chaucer's influence resonates throughout the labyrinths of literary and artistic production and Sheila Fisher is working to further underscore that. Fisher's new translation of the Canterbury Tales is engaging and interesting, and in spite of the fact that the Church controlled every single aspect of a medieval woman’s or man’s life, Chaucer dishes up fascinating portraits into the medieval mind and character and insights into their life-circumstances. We also access the subtle and not so subtle social commentaries voiced through the likes of the Prioress, the Pardoner, the Wife of Bath, the Merchant’s, Reeve’s or Nun’s Priest (sic) about their time and place in history. The Selected Canterbury Tales are really good stories and traces can be found in current culture (I’m sure to the angst of Hilton Kramer) via the endless variations of heroes and knights against evil, dark villains, vulnerable maidens, and Disneyesque romances. Or the perfectly hilarious Knight’s Tale, with Heath Ledger.

Sheila Fisher, PhD teaches English and is associate academic dean at Trinity College. She specializes in Chaucer,fourteenth-century English literature, and medieval women writers.

That’s 4:15, Thursday March 29th, and if you want to join the conversation or have a question or comment, call 802.454.7762.

Then at 5:00 I welcome one of my favorite poets, Susan Hawthorne, whose recently published collection, Cow (Spiniflex, 2011) is a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in poetry. 

Last autumn, my dear friend Julie R. Enszer, sent me a copy of Cow, and several nights running, after reading another string of Hawthorne’s masterful reimaginations of a multitude of cultural myths, I would settle down to my nightly cigarette and let my own imagination out to pasture. There in the dark, grasses soft underfoot and fragrant, was Queenie, her long flanks and elegant horns, her face soft in the moonlight, her eyes waiting for me to accept her possibilities. 

This is the effect of Cow: one wants to really go there

Hawthorne conjures such vitality and cleverness in her language that Cow become a cinematic emersion into a carnal, spiritual world without parameters and expectations; it’s as if the original myths of all our cultures have come together, reconfiguring the violence and calculated control of patriarchy into a vast, quirky fantasia of imagination. It becomes a personal experience of myths exploded:

in another time
a later time
when gods and demons
had forgotten to be immortal
they joined forces to create a nectar of immortality
these boys took their time
they carried in Mount Mandara
turned it upside down
placed it on the back of the tortoise
demons on one side
gods on the other
and each held the world snake
twirled the mountain top for a thousand years
back forwards
back forwards
again and again
the best they could manage was deadly poison

So please join us at 5:00 for a live interview, all the way from Australie, for an interview with poet Susan Hawthorne. Feel free to call in with comments and questions: 802.454.7762, or email: merrygangemi@gmail.com.

Woman-Stirred Radio is underwritten by Sinister Wisdom, celebrating 35 years of  lesbian-feminist arts and letters. Woman-Stirred Radio broadcasts live on WGDR 91.1 fm and WGDH 91.7 fm, Goddard College's community radio station located in Plainfield, Vermont. 

22 March 2012

Stephania Byrd and Sheila Fisher Are Woman-Stirred!!

Sheila Fisher (sonia Brand-Fisher)

Today on Woman-Stirred Radio, we start off at 4:15 with Sheila Fisher's new translation of the Canterbury Tales, by  Geoffrey Chaucer and then move into the twenty-first century with African American lesbian-feminist poet, Stephanie Byrd, whose work is a powerful challenge to the ubiquitous and insidious racism and misogyny---the double burden of oppression---that continues to haunt the lives of African-American women---or any woman who does not fit into the category of white and male hegemony.

And what does a privileged white guy from London who was born in the early 1340s have in common with a black lesbian-feminist American? Ostensively none---except if we consider the creative force and social conditions that underpin the connective threads. Chaucer was "the most sophisticated voice for the kinds of intricately varied topics, themes, and content that make their way... into medieval poetry" (Fisher, xvi).

Stephania Byrd

Stephania Byrd's poetry "locates [her] in a particular place to excavate" (Enszer 2012) and thread together the commonalities of experience in her time and place.

If Chaucer told tales of enforced gender roles, theocracy, and economic and political conditions that were determined and enforced by men, then Byrd deconstructs the compromised status of Black, lesbian-feminists---enforced by men but actively being dismantled by women. And if Chaucer's work "meant adopting and adapting previous written authority" (xxxiii), for Stephania Byrd, writing and making literature is claiming the right, if not the moral imperative, NOT to adopt or adapt to previous authority.

While Chaucer's pilgrims seek redemption and safety within the bounds of the dominant Christian culture, Byrd looks beyond the borders of dominant white male Christian culture to break free of it. Both writers, however, question the order of things in the world and the authority through which world order is maintained.

The kitchen is inviting
The summer epochal
It's a shame Burley
died such a way
Hanging there
the flesh being plucked
from his bones                  (Byrd)

       But since you speak now of such gentleness
As descends to you down from old richness,
So that, because of it, you're gentle men,
Such arrogance is just not worth a hen.       (Chaucer)
So please join us today from 4 to 6 p.m. on Woman-Stirred Radio for two very different and yet prescient discussions with Sheila Fisher at 4:15 and Stephania Byrd at 5:00 (eastern. Want to join in the conversations? Call the air-studio at 802.454.7762, or email merrygangemi@gmail.com with your questions and comments.

Woman-Stirred Radio is underwritten by Sinister Wisdom, celebrating 35 years of  lesbian-feminist arts and letters. Woman-Stirred Radio broadcasts live on WGDR 91.1 fm and WGDH 91.7 fm, Goddard College's community radio station located in Plainfield, Vermont.

15 March 2012

Ellen Ullman is Woman-Stirred!

Ellen Ullman
Thursday, March 15th---the Ides of March---at 5:00, Merry Gangemi welcomes  award-winning author, Ellen Ullman, to Woman-Stirred Radio.

Ellen Ullman's new novel,  By Blood  (2012), set in 1970s San Francisco, is "absorbing" and "atmospheric," centering on a thirty-something analysand, her German-born therapist, and a disgraced university professor who has no idea what a personal boundary is.  The wall between his office and the therapist next door is thin; one of the patients hates the white-noise machine; and so the professor listens in, learning about the life and the complicated history of his "beloved" patient's adoption in the aftermath of World War II. This is a novel that gives new meaning to the term "triangle."

The dilemmas that unfold in By Blood are not alien and, given present-day political and cultural extremism, the history-bound back-stories heighten the tensions and emotional connections between analysand, therapist, and voyeur professor---who is invisible, dis-embodied, if you will, trapped in the malaise of American hypocrisy and the recalibration of American society and culture in the aftermath of the Holocaust.

By Blood, explores the constructions of identity and veracity, the vagaries of fate, the contradictions of a pliable moral landscape---and how the mind and soul fare in a world that constantly bombards one with rationalizations, the placebo of self-importance, and wishful happy endings. 

Ellen Ullman was a software engineer for twenty years when she began writing about her profession. Her interests are the effect of computing on its practitioners and on society at large. She is the author of the memoir Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its Discontents. Her essays, reviews, and opinion pieces have appeared in Harper'sSalonWired, the Washington Post, and the New York Times. Her novel, The Bug, about a programmer's battle with an elusive bug, will be published in spring 2003.

So please join us on Thursday, March 15th at 5:00 for an interview with Ellen Ullman.  Want to join the conversation? Call the air studio at 802.454.7762 or email merrygangemi@gmail.com.

Woman-Stirred Radio is underwritten by Sinister Wisdom, celebrating 35 years of  lesbian-feminist arts and letters. Woman-Stirred Radio broadcasts live on WGDR 91.1 fm and WGDH 91.7 fm, Goddard College's community radio station located in Plainfield, Vermont.