As I encountered the preponderance of surveillance on women, I began to think about how to write about the collective whole while addressing the extraordinary diversity of women.
My poetic material—language—is socially made: all my words are words I’ve heard or read (except the occasional neologism!) Sometimes I emphasize this fact more through collage, and I’m employing that technique in what I’m still referring to as my “she-poem,” a poem comprised entirely of sentences and phrases I’ve located throughout the files that begin with the word “she.” The language comes the range of documents, including surveillance reports, newspaper clippings, and promotional materials from the groups themselves.
I’ve performed early versions through Pocket Tones event and at the Switch Reading Series curated by Allison Cobb and Paul Mazier on August 9 at the Hazel Room in Portland.
As the poem grows, I am struck by the chasm of privilege represented by the women these investigators seemingly feared. They surveilled high-profile women who had access to media and political figures, dangerous because of their leadership. They gathered materials on leadership of the National Organization of Women, for example, or Helen Caldicott, the physician who has worked tirelessly to address the dangers of nuclear power.
But so too did they watch women who were crime victims. The police focused on the tremendous activist work on behalf of victims of violence. In the late 1970s, for example, Oregon was one of the several states to Oregon re-classified rape laws to allow the prosecution of spouses, and the files demonstrate that such strides were deemed threatening. (The Salem-based 1978 Rideout trial was the first trial in the United States where a woman charged her husband with rape while they were living together).
And so I add line by line to this particular collective biography of women who represented threats to power. I will hammer this text into metal index cards for passersby to flip through as part of our installation work.