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(1.7) Feminist Poetry

- there has been a lack of a continuous tradition of women's poetry until 1950s or 1960s

- female poets who managed to publish were viewed as a rarity: Anne Bradstreet in the 17th, Phyllis Wheatley in 18th, or Emily Dickinson in 19th century

- feminist poetry was enabled by the struggle between 1840 and 1920 for women's civil rights and freedoms in the USA, which gave women the right to vote (1920), and admitted women to universities

- pre-1950s female poets were restricted by the patriarchal order in society as well as in literature, were in "double-bind", i.e. tried to find a specifically female voice but had to use typically male aggressive methods to succeed as poets

- female poets were repressed by the conventional representation of women, had to resort to subtle metaphors instead of the later post-1950s direct and dynamic representation of the realities of a woman's experience

- the Modernist female poets tried to rebel against the patriarchal structures: Gertrude Stein's formally and thematically radical poetry, including lesbian subjects; Marianne Moore's sophisticated syllabic poetry on exotic landscapes, animals, or philosophical and metaphysical themes; H(ilda) D(oolittle)'s poetry

- 1950s in society were the period of social conformity, growth of popular culture, but also the continuing subordinate role of women as housewives and mothers

- 1950s in literature introduced various avant-garde movements as the New York School, San Francisco Renaissance, Beat Generation, Deep Image School, later in 1960s the Projectivist Poets, Confessional Poetry, etc.

- the rise of Women's Liberation Movement helped to introduce specifically female subjects into poetry which were earlier ignored: sexual harassment, menstruation, domestic violence, sexual and marital problems, hetero- versus homosexual preference, mental disease, suicidal thoughts, etc.

- since late 1960s and 1970s there was a rise of radical feminist poetry written by women ethnic minorities

- influential publications: feminist philosophy of Simone de Beauvoire's The Second Sex (France 1949, USA 1953); poetry collections as Muriel Rukeyser's The Speed of Darkness (1960), Anne Sexton's To Bedlam and Part Way Back (1960) and All My Pretty Ones (1962), Adrienne Rich's Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law, or Sylvia Plath's Ariel (1965)

Elizabeth Bishop (1911 - 1979)

- writes in a personal, but not necessarily autobiographical tone

- interfuses the metaphysical and the confessional, but is not as emotional as the most other confessional poets

- preoccupied with lonely individuals who find refuge in natural landscape

- often writes about animals, especially fish, about exotic landscapes, New England sea-coastal landscapes, etc.

- characteristically employed subtle irony and understatement

- in her exotic nature subjects and in her formal precision resembles the Modernist poet Marianne Moore (1887 - 1972)

- in her choice of coastal and fishing themes may resemble the Projectivist poet Charles Olson (1910 - 1970)

- in her creating the specific atmosphere of natural settings is similar to the Midwest poet James Wright (1927 - 1980)

- published but four collections in her lifetime, known for careful repeated revisions of her poems

- unlike the many of her radical fellow female poets refused projection of political ideas into poetry

- influenced many other, especially female poets

- received the Pulitzer Prize for poetry (1956)

> North and South (1946):

- her first collection, presents seemingly simple images of everyday life, but with a rich inner life underneath

>> "The Fish":

- the speaker catches a fish which does not struggle

- the speaker finds the fish admirable, she discovers a wonder in the familiar when the familiar is observed closely

- the fish has already survived several attacks, the speaker comes to pity him and drops the fish back to the water

> Questions of Travel (1965):

- her third collection, portrayals of American South and of Brazil where she lived some fifteen years

- the title poem presents travelling abroad as parallel to looking for one's identity

> Geography III (1976):

- her fourth collection, the last published during her lifetime

>> "One Art":

- a villanelle on a similar subject as John Berryman's "The Ball Poem"

- moves from a smaller to a larger loss, but takes them all stoically

- ironically belittles the pain of losing by claiming that "the art of losing isn't hard to master"

>> "In the Waiting Room":

- an adult woman recalls accompanying her aunt to the dentist in the year 1918 when she was seven

- from the point of view of a child-anthropologist meditating on what we are and where we come from

Muriel Rukeyser (1913 - 1980)

- a Jewish-American poet, pioneered inter-war left-wing political poetry

- emphasized also the subordination prescribed to women by the Jewish religion

> "More of a Corpse than a Woman" (1936):

- a formally precise poem with a regular stanza pattern and rhyme scheme

- ironically comments on the conventionality of a high-school girls reunion

- rhetorically sends her regards but takes a distanced view of the "leaden friends"

- rejected the identity of a subordinated woman accepting the convention while killing her own self

> "The Poem as Mask" (1968):

- viewed as a woman's declaration of independence from the repressive patriarchal structures

- supplied the title for Florence Howe's influential American feminist poetry anthology No More Masks! (1973)

- urges female poets to throw away the false glittering masks in favour of a faithful representation of the crude realities of women's own lives

Maxine Kumin (b. 1925)

- represents the relatively conventional "domestic feminism"

- writes intimate poetry on the experience of middle-class wives and mothers

> "After Love":

- captures the atmosphere after the act of making love

- observers that the temporary moment of reunion vanishes immediately after the act

Anne Sexton (1928 - 1974)

- represents confessional poetry, suffered psychical problems throughout her life, committed suicide

> "Her Kind" (To Bedlam and Part Way Back, 1960):

- the speaker expresses the feeling that nobody understands her

- compares herself to a supernatural creature, to a witch

> "The Truth the Dead Know" (All My Pretty Ones, 1962):

- the speaker tries to comes to terms with the deaths of her parents which followed closely one upon another

> "You All Know the Story of the Other Woman" (Love Poems, 1969):

- the poem presents a confusing surreal intercourse between a dominant man and a suppressed woman figure

Adrienne Rich (b. 1929)

- began with writing personal poetry

- in her early stage a conservative formalist poet

- wrote in the tradition of John Donne, W. B. Yeats, and Robert Frost

- later shifted to social and political poetry and feminist activism

- gave up traditional forms in favour of open free verse

- started writing on women, racism, lesbian sexuality etc.

> "Aunt Jennifer's Tigers" (A Change of World, 1951):

- an early formalist poem from her first collection

- the aunt cannot fix the pattern of tigers in her knitting because of the burden of her marriage

- despite her oppression, the aunt creates a pattern of wild tigers

- anticipates her later preoccupation with feminist themes and her awareness of the tension between the sexes

> "Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law" (Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law, 1963):

- an open-form poem with many transitions, also formally divided into several sections

- a classic of early feminist poetry, a ground breaking poem on the experience of women trying to live independent lives

- a portrayal of the 1950s upper-class woman who gives up her own life after her marriage in favour of the service to the husband and the household

> "A Valediction Forbidding Mourning":

- takes the title from a poem by J. Donne, but undermines Donne's original

- portrays a breakdown of communication in a relationship

> "Diving into the Wreck" (Diving into the Wreck, 1973)

- describes both physical diving into the sea and descent into the depths of her own soul to her roots and origins

- assumes the identity of more selves, unifies the male and female elements in diving ("merman" and "mermaids")

Sylvia Plath (1932 - 1963)

- represents confessional poetry, preoccupied with pain

- married the British poet Ted Hughes, was separated from him in 1962

- attempted suicide several times, killed herself a year after the separation from her husband

> "Tulips" (Ariel, 1965):

- the speaker lies in a hospital after miscarriage and projects her surroundings into her thoughts (Plath actually miscarried)

- associates the hospital whiteness around her with purity, longs to die, to merge herself with the purity

- associates the redness of the tulips with life and with her responsibilities as a wife and mother

- seeks to leave her body and disconnect herself from life

> "Daddy" (Ariel, 1965):

- one of the most famous hate poems of any time

- the 30-year-old speaker addresses her dead father, a Nazi official, and transforms private suffering into a public drama

- interfuses autobiography and fiction

- appropriates the facts of her own life into the poem (her father's death when she was about eight years old, her attempted suicide when she was twenty, etc.)

- thinks herself into being Jewish and assumes the role of a Nazi victim (the poet herself was of non-Jewish origin and did not personally experience the Second World War)

- the daughter suffers the Electra-complex arising from the communication problem with her authoritative father

- the strong emotions and strained approaches contrasts with the relatively conventional form

- the rhyme scheme overuses one rhyme group, exploits especially the /u/ sound

> "Ariel" (Ariel, 1965):

- the poet rides her horse Ariel in the English country during the absence of her husband

- turns even the most peaceful images into violent ones

> "Elm" (Ariel, 1965):

- a meditation on the many aspects of life

June Jordan (1936 - 2002)

- an Afro-American poet, a radical militant feminist drawing on her experience of an exploited and abused black woman

- frequently uses the motifs of rape and search for one's identity

> "Case in Point":

- a free verse poem in two distinct sections, the first presents the claim of the poet's friend that silence in not peculiar to women, the second presents the opposite opinion of the poet herself

- the speaker presents her two experiences of being raped, first by a white man, for the second time by a black

- when experiencing the rape, the speaker was silent, but she is not silent about the fact in her poem

> "Poems about My Rights":

- her characteristically militant indictment of American racism, male chauvinism, and violence committed on women

- an extended free-verse poem with a long poetic line and an angry direct language

- interrelates the private and the public, the oppression of an individual black woman and the oppression of a whole race

- employs the motif of the rape, both in the literary and in the figurative meaning

Ai (b. 1947)

- an Asian-American poet, of Japanese parents, and Irish, Afro-American, and native Indian ancestors

- a radical feminist author of dramatic monologue poems

- preoccupied with pictures of violence, often in the relationship of lovers with man as the subordinate one

> "Woman to Man":

- a woman speaker asserts her difference from man, her mastery over him, and her superiority

- describes the situation of lovers in bed, comparing the man to snow and herself to coal

- in the act of love she temporarily gives the man the taste of her power but then she takes it back immediately

> "Grandfather Says":

- the speaker recalls the not quite innocent "hide-and-seek" game with her grandfather when she was ten

- the girl enjoyed the game but knew that it is bad and stopped it, but the memories return to her some thirty years later

Molly Peacock (b. 1947)

- represents New Formalism

> "Couple Sharing a Peach":

- a brief poem in two stanzas comparing two lovers to two halves of a split peach

> "So, when I Swim to the Shore":

- a sexually explicit poem on an abandoned woman both enjoying and pitying herself

Ellen Bass (b.1947)

> "In Celebration":

- a sexually explicit description of the speaker who enjoys the pleasure she gives to her lover

Základní údaje

  • Předmět

    North American Poetry 1945 - 2002.
  • Semestr

    Zimní semestr 2008/09.
  • Vyučující

    Jiří Flajšar.
  • Status

    Volitelný seminář pro III. blok.


Flajšar, Jiří. Dějiny americké poezie. Ústí nad Orlicí: Oftis, 2006.

Jařab, Josef. American Poetry and Poets of Four Centuries. Praha: SPN, 1989.

Jařab, Josef, ed. Dítě na skleníku. Praha: Odeon, 1989.


© 2008-2015 Všechna práva vyhrazena.