Menstrual Poetry Slam to Be Held Next Month at Upper East Side College

By Victoria Bekiempis on May 22, 2013 9:14am 

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 The reading event will take place during a menstruation conference at  Marymount Manhattan College .
Menstrual Poetry Slam
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UPPER EAST SIDE — Feminist artists are coming together for a poetry slam that would make Gloria Steinem proud — the "world's first" menstruation session.

The slam — dubbed Red Howl Moon — welcomes "poets, performers & menstrual enthusiasts" and will feature the works of writer Sylvia Plath, among others, an event flier notes.

The event, at Marymount Manhattan College, 221 E. 71st St., on June 7 at 8 p.m., is part of the biennial Society for Menstrual Cycle Research Conference.

The conference runs from June 6-8.

The Society's 20th meeting, organized by Marymount Professor David Linton, will also honor Steinem for her work in taking down social taboos toward menstruation, including the belief that women are weak, dirty or inferior to men because of their cycles, organizers said.

This is the first time, however, that the conference has featured a verse segment, which is set to include several poets and an open mic section, they said.

Karina Billini, a Marymount grad and slam organizer, got the idea after taking Linton's class on the social constructs of menstruation during her last semester of college, she said.

"We had to do a final project. I said, 'I really want to do a collection of menstruation-themed poetry, kind of like a detailed anthology,'" said Billini, 23. "I put together this collection and David was really impressed."

Linton later asked Billini to write a piece for the Society's blog, she said. Not too long after came the decisive moment in the slam's development, Billini said.

"David was like, 'You know what, it would be awesome if we could do a menstruation-themed poetry slam for the next conference.' I was like, 'Of course!' That's how everything started, and here we are."

Linton, who teaches communication arts and has been studying the topic for about a dozen years, said the poetry portion fits in perfectly with the conference's 2013 theme, "Making Menstruation Matter."

Linton became interested in the study of menstruation after Camillagate — when a phone recording came to light in which England's Prince Charles said he wanted to be Camilla's "tampon," Linton explained.

"Prince Charles made me do it," Linton said, adding that the notion of periods "in an erotic context" spurred him toward further study.

Linton said his wife "pointed out how weird it is for people to associate tampons with sexual activity."

"I began to do more research on this," he said.

Linton's interest in this academic area hasn't come without some push-back.

"People get a little weird," he said, adding that he often hears the question, "What can a man know about that?"

"When you come down to it, it's a funny question," he said. "There are a lot of women right now who have become sports broadcasters and announcers. If a woman is working as a journalist at a men's football game, it's inappropriate to say, 'Why are you interested in men's football if you're not a man?'

"We don't say to men, 'Why would you be an obstetrician? Why would you be a gynecologist? Why would you deliver babies?' That very question says a great deal about how we construct this phenomenon. It's part of the taboo."

Linton himself is presenting two poems with a menstrual motif, he said. The setting for one of the poems takes place in a supermarket.

"It's about a man who's charged with the responsibility of shopping for a menstrual product," Linton said.

Asked whether focusing on menstruation — even in a positive way — might prompt people to associate women with their periods above anything else, Linton said he didn't think so.

"It's not that every woman should run around waving a tampon in the air or should be having a 'period party every month.' But the idea is about acceptance of one's body and a social acceptance," he said.

For Billini, she hopes that the slam will get people to treat menstruation without shame.

"Menstruation is seen as a handicap for women," she said. "I hope the slam opens the minds of women and men.

"I want people to see that poetry is not something that's flowery and that it can make an impact on our societal norms. It can cause change and it's not just about putting beautiful words and imagery together." 

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