Let's be clear about one thing: VoiceCatcher (Lulu Press, $17.25, 244 pages) deserves to be read. This anthology is a labor of love—the 10-woman editorial board sifted through 300 submissions from Portland's female writers before settling on 60 or so poems, stories and essays. Since publishing the first anthology last year, VoiceCatcher has created a supportive community for female writers. In addition to holding the Portland Women Writer's workshops, the organization funds two annual scholarships at Write Around Portland, a nonprofit that provides writing workshops for recovering addicts, abused spouses and other disadvantaged Portlanders.
No doubt about it, VoiceCatcher is doing good work by encouraging women to write openly about themselves. That being said, the actual artistic work these writers are producing is, well, not that great. Some stories and poems in VoiceCatcher have their moments, but the complete collection is inconsistent, ranging from overly sentimental short stories about Athena-like mothers ("One Goddess") to utterly compelling poems about a child's tragic death ("Interment").
Take the anthology's two introductions, each written by a member of VoiceCatcher 's editorial collective, as an example. "The Origins of VoiceCatcher. " by Diane English, comes first, and is about the Mother Earth-loving, touchy-feely part of womanhood that makes men cringe. In one particularly mystical sentence, English writes, "Meditating one day to music with a steady drumbeat and the repetitive phrase, she who hears the cries of the world, voicecatcher enters my view and refuses to leave." But the other introduction, written by Jennifer Lalime, is smart and simple: She quotes Victorian novelist and proto-feminist George Eliot while discussing the challenges and satisfaction of publishing a female-only anthology.
But it's writers like Stacy Carleton who make VoiceCatcher worth reading. Her essay "Txt mg+tech+BF=OMG modrn luv" humorously documents how technology changes modern relationships. When Carleton divulges that her boyfriend first professed his love via text message and then admits "there was something about that [she] just couldn't take seriously," it feels honest. The best stories and poems in VoiceCatcher don't use flowery language and loom-weaving main characters to embrace femininity; instead, they simply tell a story from a woman's perspective.
Anything written by a woman, in some way, is about womanhood. Even though Eliot (real name: Mary Ann Evans) chose a male pseudonym to publish Middlemarch a century ago, the book became popular because it realistically—and in plain language—addressed the position of women in Victorian society. Thankfully, women no longer need fake names to get their writing published, but sticking to "I am woman, hear me roar" poetry and Earth-mama fiction isn't getting women anywhere. VoiceCatcher would do much better to step away from the loom and embrace a simpler, more modern, idea of womanhood.
Editor Sara Guest and contributors Paulann Peterson, Amy Minato, Sage Cohen, Kristin Berger, Jo Barney, Amanda Sledz and Cynthia Richardson read from
at Powell's City of Books, 1005 W Burnside St., 228-4651. 7:30 pm Tuesday, Nov. 27. Free.