Women Poetry and Poets At Issue

At Issue

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature, Critical Edition)

The relationship of women to their own poetry is a problematic one. One issue is the female poet’s marginal position with regard to literary tradition. Is she a part of it? Can she use its images and figures, myths and history, to express her specifically female experience? How has she done so in the past? Does her revisionary work allow her greater expression? How does the inclusion of women’s work provide a more complete picture not only of the history of poetry, but also of cultural history? A second problem concerns a great irony in the history of women’s poetry. For women to be considered as artists, they have had to claim modesty, for becoming a public figure (a published writer) was as good as bringing shame on one’s family for illicit behavior. Moreover, when the public has approved of a female poet, it has often been exactly for her modesty: Even Adrienne Rich’s first volume was said by W. H. Auden to contain poems “neatly and modestly dressed.” Female poets also have been praised for the gentle virtues embodied in the Victorian ministering angel: delicacy, spirituality, and grace. Genius and originality displayed by female poets often have been seen as accidental or masculine, and the recording of women’s experiences as inferior because it is not universal. Female poets have been seen as neurasthenic oddities, as strident Amazons, and as the angels of the house of literature. Rarely has their work been considered without the application of...

(The entire section is 436 words.)