Cutting the cloth to fit the wearer, recent press about women poets.

This post is a short form critique based on recent media coverage of those women poets who had not alone dared to hoist their poetic-petards, but to have achieved a popularity which is altogether more meaty than winsome domestic. Last week, I alluded in my Tweets and indeed in this blog to the issue of poetic critique. I am taking the idea of critique a step further now, and examining the acreage of press devoted to a negative representation of women poets that somehow manages to generate column inches but ignores the actual material :  the poems that the women write.

Unlike Rita Dove,  Helen Vendler, and Alice Oswald, Carol Ann Duffy has (this time) escaped the pariah-like status conferred on women poets by a media more interested in looking for gossip than adequately reviewing their books. The recent rows between Dove and Vendler, have, I believe, been generated by a bored media that needs to play fire with the writers rather than examine the middle ground in what has become a race row. Very few editors looked at the Dove/Vendler row in its proper context; anthologies nearly always involve controversial choices. Nope! Far better to  have a bit of mud-wrestling between two women editors of great merit, than to question the limits on their editorship, or why indeed so few women attain the level of literary acceptance to achieve an editorship in the first place. It is all about the row between the women, and not the relative merit of the two women’s work and what they both have contributed to literary America.

Alice Oswald had the temerity to withdraw from the T.S Eliot prize, and for this acres of column were devoted to examining the finances of poets and the perceived silliness of her principles. The issue of her withdrawal even made it into a paragraph in the Loose Leaves column of the Irish Times. The book itself, Memorial, has not achieved a critique within some of the very papers that reported her  withdrawal from the T.S Eliot prize. Memorial apparently has no merit for the poet critic, but the row is highly important to the people who collate the gossip inches. Of course I thought to add in here the link to the poet’s protest about the ACE 2011 funding cuts.

Is this is what it is about ?

Women’s poetry becomes a reductio ad absurdum in terms of what editors consider to be marketable variety, whilst also ignoring the books, the work and their devotion to their medium? Where is the discussion on the Iliadthe discussion on the merit of editors like both Vendler and Dove ? I am only glad that commissioning editors in these cases actually mentioned the books, I’ll do my own reviews and reading rather than be led by low gossip mongers and silly headlines.

The question of the visibility of women writers raised by Boland in God’s Make their Own Importance can indeed be qualified with ‘maybe sometime they will actually review the books  of those authors that they so casually traduce in their (er) newspapers‘.

Edit January 20/01/2012: More incisive critique in the London independent today by Boyd-Tonkin, using a stock-image of Alice Oswald, and of course reminding the reader that T.S Eliot was a banker (as the Telegraph did in December 2011)

EDIT January 31st 2012 : Some incisive Sir Geoffrey Hill nonsense, courtesy of the Telegraph

Women Poets from the Blog (page) 

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Cutting the cloth to fit the wearer, recent press about women-poets. by C Murray is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

7 responses to “Cutting the cloth to fit the wearer, recent press about women poets.”

  1. you are so right… had no idea about this, here in spain poetry is regarded somehow as a creature lacking faculties, not to speak about women poetry…


    • I am slightly more mollified, having been to an evening of women’s poetry. We need more such events. There is absolutely nothing wrong in accepting that a woman’s world view is sometimes different to that of a man’s. Vive La Difference (etcetera) Chris


  2. I believe it was Denise Levertov who said that poetry written by women is not cosidered to be as important as men’s. Just read a history of poetry by David Perkins. He gives the male poets many pages, brushes over most of the female ones.

    In anthologies, once in a while a cowboy poet will be included. I have yet to see a cowgirl poet included in any anthology as well.


  3. In the context of this morning’s attack on Carol-Ann Duffy, Geoffrey Hill is just echoing 341 years of tradition. The tradition that refused women laureates on the flimsiest of grounds.

    (including refusing the great Elizabeth-Barrett Browning who could write rings around her male contemporaries, and who is one of my favourite writers , alongside Ágnes Nemes Nagy, Sylvia Plath and Mirjam Tuominen)


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