Like most people I know, I had a lot going on during 2020. I was very conscious of which people and things I made time for, as well as the people and things that took my time. Most of my preferred activities were not literary; but a few were, and one such occasion memorably occurred when I found the time to experience the anthology Erase the Patriarchy, edited by Isobel O’Hare and published by University of Hell Press. I was stunned and delighted by the spectrum of aesthetics that this anthology manages to embrace. After spending some time with the collected work, I eventually interviewed the editor and several authors who have work in the book. It was a pleasure to encounter this collection, and as well a pleasure to listen to these folx discuss their work and the processes by which it came to exist. The interviews will run on the Agape blog over the course of the next six weeks.
Fox: How did your idea for this anthology come about? Were there any specific experiences, literary or otherwise, that helped precipitate it?
Isobel: The idea for Erase the Patriarchy came about immediately after my own book, all this can be yours, was released by University of Hell in the Spring of 2018. It felt like a natural progression of the energy that spurred the first book, especially because so many people responded to my work at the time with erasures of their own—not just of men accused of sexual assault, but of people in positions of any kind of authority abusing their power. It felt important to open the conversation up to different kinds of experiences from different sectors of society and parts of the world.
Tell me a little about your experience with erasure as a form. How did you come to it? What have been your most rewarding experiences using it as an iconoclastic medium for your art?
Although I had been exposed to the idea of erasure through Tom Philips’ A Humument many years ago (thanks to my old friend Daphnis Moon for first introducing me to this book), I didn’t know the term erasure or start playing with it myself until I attended Vermont College of Fine Arts for an MFA in Poetry, in 2013. Both Jen Bervin and Mary Ruefle were on the faculty at the time, as well as Jody Gladding whose work is sometimes erasure-adjacent, and being surrounded by these more experimental poets had a huge influence on my work. I dove into all of their books, studied their different approaches to erasure, and started working on erasures of my own. My creative thesis was a book-length erasure of Robert Duncan’s The Opening of the Field (my erased title was hinge) which I started after attempting to erase Duncan’s Roots and Branches (erased title Roar) but found that I connected more strongly with the former book.
I loved this project because Duncan’s use of language is so lush, drawing from so many occult and mythological sources, whereas my approach is much more economical and sparse. Plus, Duncan is one of my favorite poets, especially because of our differences, and so I felt like I was engaging in a posthumous collaboration with him. Instead of removing his words from the page, I greyed out his poems and made my selections black so they would rise from the text as a separate piece. This way, our poems could be read separately and together. This project, combined with all this can be yours, eventually led to the development of my workshop Erasure as Conversation, which explores the many different ways in which poets can converse and collaborate with their source texts.
It has been important to me that people understand erasure isn’t always an angry practice by which one redacts the words of someone whose actions they despise. It isn’t always a statement of protest but can also be a reverent exercise of swimming around in someone else’s words to find something only you can see is lurking there. Ten people can erase the same source text and come up with ten wildly different results.
While curating the book, what guidelines did you give yourself? How did you balance your selections? How did you organize the work you chose to include?
I didn’t want the book to look like a mirror image of my own, only with erasures made by other people, so I tried not to include too many erasures of the usual suspects (famous men accused of sexual assault in 2017). I wanted there to be some of that, but I didn’t want it to be the main focus, and I was happy to find that most submissions were of people occupying different areas of society. As much as possible, I prioritized work from disabled, queer, transgender, and/or POC contributors, as well as men whose own experiences of abuse had taken a back seat in 2017. The organization of the book occurred pretty organically and was eventually dictated by the pieces I knew I had to include. I saw common themes in erasures that were specific to the experiences people have in different industries (science, education, media, etc) and I grouped those pieces together and chose one from each category to pull a quote from to introduce its section. For example, “I am a man who has history” for the Government section, and “fuck tender beauty” for Literature.
What kind of experience(s) do you hope for readers to have of this book, as they make their way through it?
There are two kinds of experiences I hope for readers to have, one more political and the other more artistic. First, I want readers to see that issues of patriarchal and authoritarian abuse occur at all levels of society and in every country on the planet. And I want people to see how that abuse affects not just the category of women who were the focus of the 2017 #MeToo movement but also people who occupy one or more marginalized categories related to race, ability, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status, and on and on. Secondly, I want the vast possibilities of the art of erasure itself on full display. I’ve seen criticisms of erasure that it is what writers do when they run out of ideas or “can’t write,” but I’ve been working with erasure and interacting with other erasure artists for so long that I know how false this idea is. I was delighted to receive submissions from people working with materials as varied as paint, embroidery, collage, makeup, dirt, kitchen spices, menstrual blood, etc.
It’s important to note the profound impact of each contributor’s process statement on the overall experience of the book. This is what truly makes the book what it is. The pieces can certainly stand on their own as statements and works of art, but part of the purpose of the anthology is to provide a space for survivors to share why they chose the pieces they did, what the pieces mean to them, the overall cultural context of the work, as well as what materials they used and how they used them. I read the book dozens of times before it went to print, but it wasn’t until I held the complete printed work in my hands and read through it as a physical book for the first time that I truly felt its impact, and that is as much the result of the process statements as the erasures themselves.
What are you working on now? Any new projects you’re particularly excited about?
For the past few years, I’ve been working on a hybrid/lyric memoir project in relation to my father’s suicide in 2018 (which actually occurred right after I put out the call for submissions for Erase the Patriarchy, and is the reason it took so long for the book to eventually appear in 2020). It started out as a more straightforward narrative memoir, but the more I worked on it the less I wanted to tell the “story” of his death and the more I wanted to communicate the insanity, disjointedness, and fractured irreality of suicide and grief. I hoped to finish it by the end of 2020, but I’ve had to learn the skill of allowing myself to work at a new pace, one that allows for the grief and healing process to take precedence over finishing a writing project before I and it are ready. I had a strong feeling that there was still more living I needed to do before I could finish writing this book, and now that I’m pregnant with my first child I feel like that is truer than ever. My daughter Thea Ramona is due to enter the world at the beginning of March, and she has certainly been the project I am currently most excited about since my fiancé and I found out we were expecting in June. I look forward to seeing the influence she will undoubtedly have on the culmination of that work.
🟣 🟣 🟣
Isobel O’Hare is a multi-genre writer working in poetry, essay, and lyric memoir, and the founding editor of Dream Pop Press. They are the author of all this can be yours and editor of Erase the Patriarchy, both from University of Hell Press. Isobel earned an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and they are a Helene Wurlitzer Foundation fellow. Read more at isobelohare.com, or find them on social media @isobelohare.
Fox Henry Frazier is a poet, essayist, and visual artist. She holds an MFA from Columbia University and a PhD from the University of Southern California, where she was also a Provost’s Fellow. Fox created Agape Editions. She lives in upstate New York with her daughter, her dogs, her gardens, and her ghosts.