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The Question of “Women’s Poetry”

December 4, 2009

One hell of a post up at Women’s Voices for Poetry Friday today. Not so much a poem, as bringing up questions about what “women’s poetry” actually means, does it exist, is it relevant? Musings by Jo Shapcott intrigued me.

Do women write or want to write “female poetry”?…I think I am in love with the word “deft”, which seems to me to describe exactly how a poet should be – but apart from that I was intrigued by the idea of art that might not declare gender. When I applied the idea to poetry I saw how prescriptive we can be – particularly as readers – in our assumptions about the influence of gender on writing.
A related question has been knocking around in my head for the past few weeks: “Do women genuinely write different poems from men and, if so, what could be said to characterise the ‘female’ poem?”

Read the full post at Women’s Voices, great stuff, and looks like the comments are going to get interesting as well.
And it’s making me wonder- I’m a woman, who has written poetry in the past (further past than I like to think about- guilty look at my notebooks!) Is my poetry by definition of name and birth and femaleness, women’s poetry? Leaving aside for the moment, the persona poems- a ringmaster, Kalypso from the Odyssey, or the time when the persona is not so concrete, but still definitely not mine.
Questions of topic- I’ve written all over the place, from artichokes to subways to love to Persephone to sign language to cats. Gendered? Who knows. Some things I love that are pretty solidly positioned in the male-typical universe (football comes to mind) I know I’ve never discussed in a poem. (I know what I’m doing on Sunday!)
Quick roll call of the bookshelves- got a pretty mixed group among my favorites- Billy Collins, Andrea Hollander Budy, Marie Ponsot, John Berryman, Elaine Equi. So it can’t be a question of like reads and writes like.

Feed in a steady diet of the rock poets in my music playlist, and gender questions get even more thrown around. I grew up listening to the Rolling Stones, the blues filtered through them, lyrics full of mythic lusts for larger-than-life women. That’s the rock and roll tradition after all. But a whole other gender question.

The more I think about it… I think I’m completely mystified. But I also think I will be digging out the notebook and the pen and seeing what happens.

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