Joseph Edwin Haeger reviews Erase the Patriarchy: An Anthology of Erasure Poetry edited by Isobel O’Hare. (University of Hell Press)
Isobel O’Hare made a splash with their erasure poetry back in 2018, rapidly catching the attention of literary and non-literary audiences, including Harper’s Magazine. For the uninitiated, erasure poetry is the process of taking pre-existing words, often in the form of a statement or original literary text, and blocking out the majority of what’s written to create a new meaning. O’Hare’s book, all this can be yours, applied erasure to the apology statements of high-status, celebrity men accused of sexual misconduct, assault, and rape. The poems culled the fabricated emotions and overly wrought “apologies,” wringing out underlying truths from each.
Now, O’Hare is back, again championing the power of erasures, with an edited anthology, Erase the Patriarchy. Including work from Sarah Gerard, Joanna C. Valente, Alex Vigue, Abigail Zimmer, and so many more, O’Hare’s anthology takes aim at patriarchy as an institution. How has our tacitly accepted patriarchal culture impacted modern culture, and who gets swallowed up and discarded by the process? By subverting the words of powerful men, Erase the Patriarchy lets us hear it straight from patriarchy’s mouth.
Erase the Patriarchy starts with a focus on government. I expected to spend a bit of time here, especially with Trump looming so large and his influence so powerfully felt and I was pleasantly surprised to see that O’Hare is not just focusing on the American perspective, but instead shares a global perspective, including the UK, South Africa, Australia, and more. On top of a wide-reaching geographical representation, we also get a variety of time periods. As we look at current leaders, we’re also looking back, including one notable erasure of Thomas Jefferson. The effect is powerful, illustrating how deeply embedded our patriarchal society is, and how ingrained the pattern of power, corruption, and abuse.
O’Hare is not just focusing on the American perspective, but instead shares a global perspective, including the UK, South Africa, Australia, and more.
This is not strictly a #MeToo-era problem, nor is it isolated to one period of time or a few specific countries—it’s everywhere, and perpetually reborn. This is where Erase the Patriarchy succeeds in setting the perfect tone: this is a book that aims to dig up ancient and powerful roots. Why is this the natural order of things? And what does it mean to question it? Moving past government, we see from the perspectives of media and entertainment, religion, education, and more. Patriarchy infiltrates every facet of our lives, and O’Hare made it a point to include work that illuminates that.
In O’Hare’s collection all this can be yours, the poems were presented without context; they let the redacted apologies speak for themselves. Frankly, there wasn’t any need for context, even if a part of me wanted more of an inside look into O’Hare’s process; I wanted O’Hare to crack open their intention and the approach they took with each piece. The introduction to all this can be yours explains that it was a deliberate choice to omit who was responsible for the original statements, a further redaction of these abusive men and any women who chose to defend them.
In Erase the Patriarchy, each contributor is given an opportunity to explain their rationale; each erasure is accompanied with a statement from the contributor. On the one hand, it’s what I wanted from all this can be yours: I got an inside look at each contributor’s thought process for why they erased specific statements. On the other hand, it did remove any mystique; it wasn’t as ambiguous, where I was challenged to consider each piece on my own. I could have skipped these explanations to achieve that mystical effect, but in the end I saw that the reader was welcomed into the world of each contributing artist and what their erasures mean to them. The combination of erasure poem with contributor’s statement makes for a powerful mix.
One of the contributors, Kip Shanks, sums up the concept of erasure poetry aptly—especially when it comes to naysayers who believe that you can change statements to align with your own bias—“while it involved placing thick black bars over most of his and his lawyers’ clinically selected words, [erasing it] did not make me feel as if I were altering anything. It only illuminated what was truly there when I read his statement.” This has always been the intention of erasure poetry, and we see it clearly in this collection. Oftentimes, statements are saying the opposite of what the words are supposedly conveying, and some of these dudes are so slick you wouldn’t even know it—that is, until you start placing those thick bars over all the bullshit.