Monday, June 14, 2010
I love browsing around in second hand bookstores; I usually find something that catches my fancy. I even snuffle through the well-used and abused sections of second hand department stores, Salvation Army shops, Goodwill, Value Village and the rest.
Not long ago I came home with a volume titled 20th CENTURY WOMEN”S POETRY, edited by Fleur Adcock and published by Faber. What caught my attention was the blurb on the back claiming, “This anthology of women’s poetry is destined to establish a canon by which other, more partial anthologies will eventually be judged.” Inside I found a good representation of British, American, some Canadian, and a few other English language woman poets. After perusing through the contents, some familiar and some not, I carefully read Adcock’s introduction to discover the thought process behind the collection.
Adcock admits there is no special tradition in women’s poetry, nothing that should make it be seen as something different or separate. The fact remains that for many years men, men who didn’t take women seriously, dominated publishing. The feminine suffix added to poet, producing “poetess,” almost becomes a diminutive; no wonder women poets have dropped its usage.
Women were writing. Some lived in social isolation; some flourished in the limelight of a man; others gained attention by being outrageous, even scandalous. This does not take away from the power of the poetry. There is an excellent mix here of well known poets and those not well known. Some have been almost forgotten. Some seem somewhat dated. All have a quality that still appeals at the turn of another century.
Today women poets are being published without preference or reference to sex. Female poets are being read and taught. They seem to have reached a real equality in the literary world that they never had before.
Still, I believe there is some cause for concern, a trend we should watch with care. The work of women poets, of women writers, may get shunted into the lit section of “women’s bookshops.” In larger stores they may be relegated to the “women’s” section rather than with all poetry. And there is the dismaying trend in universities to make female poets part of “women’s studies,” and thereby creating an unwanted ghetto.
Men and women are one in their humanity, one in their dreams and perceptions, one in their use of language. A poem in itself has no gender. If it does it is as a result of the reader, not the writer. When the waters of two streams come together to form a creek, how can you separate them again? Women have moved from poetesses to poets. There can be no greater injustice than to marginalize them again.