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  • Belladonna Books
  • Rachel Levitsky (bio)

In 1999, I began to organize Belladonna* under the following mission statement: "Belladonna* is a feminist avant-garde event (Belladonna Series) and publication project (Belladonna Books) that promotes the work of women writers who are adventurous, politically involved, multi-form, multicultural, multi-gendered, unpredictable, dangerous with language (to the death machinery)."

Rather than address a lack of representation of women poets in anthologies or poetry readings or book titles, Belladonna* sought and seeks to address the way in which poetry is organized. We hold no contests, and we offer no prizes. We don't even have an official submission process. What we do instead is precipitate poetry production by relationship, correspondence, aesthetics, and community. We pursue poets everywhere and in every community who are doing work that we think is important because of its innovation of form and political demand.

These are some of the features of our production that I think offer a model for building a meaningful, non-hierarchical writing community:

  1. 1. Conversation. We work with poets with whom we are in conversation. When poets who we don't know approach us for a book or a reading, I encourage them to keep in touch with us about their projects.

  2. 2. Anarchy. Often, eventually we end up producing with, making something unexpected with, these (mentioned above in the first bullet) very poets who approach us because they admire us or want us to make them a book. Our organizational structure is open; anyone who feels aligned with what we are doing can come in and do something, without supervision or in conjunction with us but guiding us, not us guiding them. As my story at the beginning shows, this is how we ended up organizing Four From Japan. The longer I do this, the more people I work with, the more I am convinced of the futility of controlling and managing others.

  3. 3. No rejection. Once we and a poet agree to work with each other, we accept whatever he or she gives to us to publish. We already know we want to support the poet, and we know that, often, interesting work is unrecognizable to editors.

  4. 4. Collaboration. Not only do many of our poets collaborate with each other, we collaborate with them on how things happen.

  5. 5. Aesthetic Desire. I mentioned before we don't have a submission process and our purpose is not to redress gender inequality. Our collecting of the work of the feminist avant-garde into a visible aesthetic community is an endeavor of passionate longing.

  6. 6. Parity, Diversity, Translation. Of the 150 poets that are included in our list, one may find a wide demographic: women, men (a few), lesbians, transsexuals, poets writing in English, French, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, black poets, Latina poets, poets from Mexico, Canada, Chilé, Argentina, Puerto Rico, Ireland, India, China, Philippines, Korea, Japan, the Middle East, Middle America, urban America, old poets, young poets, working class, poor, rich....

  7. 7. Aesthetic Clarity. Diversity/inclusivity is central to our effort, but it is perhaps matched in equal measure by singularity/exclusivity. We engage a certain kind of poetics, a poetics that is notable for its political and critical engagement, for formal innovation, for hybrid experimentation, prose that is situational not plot-driven, poetry that is intersubjective or performative or witnessing, not personally revelatory, work that reaches across the boundaries and binaries of literary genre and artistic fields. Work that questions the gender binary.

Belladonna* is a far cry from the only avant-garde poetry collective producing books and other literary forms by these means of meandering, rhizomatic, non-hierarchical, non-merit-o-cratic correspondences. Ugly Duckling Presse, Switchback, Booklyn, Krupskaya, Sous Rature, Palm Press, etc., etc., all come immediately to mind, but there are tons of others. Each year, Poets House, a fairly small organization that helped us a lot with Four From Japan, hosts a showcase of 4,000 or so volumes of poetry and poetry-related material produced independently that year. To see it, to be at this event, is to witness the non-capitalist life that, in the US, flourishes outside a hegemonic market model.

For me, as a producer of text...


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