We are very happy to learn — belatedly — that Danette DiMarco won the 2009 President’s Award for Scholarly Achievement at her home institution, Slippery Rock University. The announcement notes her scholarly focus on Victorian and 20th-century feminist authors, adding that she has also published pedagogical work on the teaching of writing to first-year students (link). We are especially happy to see her work for the NPF singled out.
“‘Misfortune’s Monsters / The Human … Race’: Mina Loy’s American Lineage and an Urban Poetry of Economic Deprivation” appeared in a special issue of Sagetrieb devoted to women poets of the 1950s (Sagetrieb 19.3). As DiMarco notes, Loy spent many years living near the Bowery and was often consumed with money problems of her own. The four poems central to the essay’s argument — “On Third Avenue,” “Chiffon Velours,” “Hot Cross Bum,” and “Lady Laura in Bohemia” — are sharply observed and sharp in their address. DiMarco situates these poems in a lineage of critique that includes the work of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe (DiMarco pays particular attention to Denise Duhamel, Janice Erlbaum, and Maggie Estep). Here is an excerpt; the quotes come from John Kenneth Galbraith, The Affluent Society (1958):
Historically, sociologists and economists have two basic labels to describe the poor: case or insular poverty. Galbraith states that case poverty “is commonly and properly related to some characteristic of the individuals so afflicted.” It is due to “some quality peculiar to the individual or family involved” and assumes that the afflicted have not “mastered” their “environment.” Galbraith argues that people have assigned the term case poverty to describe those whose “sufferings” are the result of “deficiencies, including the moral shortcomings.” …
Unlike case poverty, insular poverty “manifests itself as an ‘island’ of poverty” where those involved “have been frustrated by some factor common to their environment.” Those suffering from case poverty often live amidst wealth while those experiencing insular poverty live among many of similar cast. … Although case and insular poverty are seemingly distinct, at least as Galbraith defines them, the separation is less real than one might like to think. In fact, when regions experience poverty because of environmental factors, the characterization of the population as disabled is often not long to follow. The group’s monstrous experience becomes naturalized as a necessary component or characteristic of that group.
Although Loy does not use “case” or “insular” to characterize the poor, her work reveals an understanding of the inner workings of both concepts. It is this effort to ever render the poor as monstrous that some of Loy’s later poems address. Her poems expose how stereotypes of the poor are reliant upon containment; in addition, her poems show that ideological boundaries must be maintained in order to perpetuate specific capitalist system.
It’s a great essay; DiMarco’s recognition is richly deserved.