During Women’s History Month, it is only natural that our Poetry Sunday musings would linger on the women poets who have stood the test of time, whose words are embedded in memory, whose power to evoke emotion remains strong. It is a joy to present some of them—with the request that you forget Rolling Stone magazine as you read on. By that we mean that this is nothing like the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time” issue. The following list (arranged in no particular order, to further underline the sitting-around-a-table-offering-up-names nature of these choices) is a simple sampling of some of the women who come to mind when Great American Poets is the topic at hand. As always, it is quite a joyful topic to contemplate, just as each of these poets is a treat to read and an honor to call a fellow countrywoman.
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886). The Godmother of American Poetry and the poet we have featured the most here at WVFC, Emily cannot be overestimated in her powers of expression nor her power to fascinate. Google her name and you’ll find there are over 7 million entries. Enter “Emily Dickinson Seminars 2012” and you’ll see over 180,000 results. Through the miracle of public domain we are able to present one, perhaps unexpected, work of hers from 1755 here, in appreciation for and tribute to what the rest of the world of poetry could only aspire to after she put pen to paper.
To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.
Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979). Genius is a word often used in description of this troubled and brilliant poet, long regarded as obscure and a “poet’s poet.” Never one to cave to the confessional, Ms. Bishop held herself to high standards of form and image, and dazzled at both. In the 1970s she was rediscovered and placed in the pantheon of literary greats—a position justly deserved.
A sample of Bishop brilliance:
The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
From “One Art,” by Elizabeth Bishop
Amy Lowell (1874-1925). Born to prominence, with blood as blue as it could be in the Boston of her time, Amy Lowell had access to the 7,000-volume library in her home. After a premier private-school education, she chose to dwell therein to become an outspoken and influential polymath who was both formal imagist and pioneer in free form. She was legitimately a scholar and practitioner of prosody at the highest level.
They brought me a quilled, yellow dahlia,
Flung out of a pale green stalk.
Round, ripe gold
From “Autumn,” by Amy Lowell
Hilda Doolittle (1886-1961). Where to begin when talking about the illustrious “H.D.”? Probably it’s best to start with the incredible. In 1911, as a single woman of age of 25, she traveled to Europe and never returned. She became part of the most fascinating artistic circle of the era—one that included the notorious and enduring Ezra Pound, who influenced her, though she outgrew his restrictive philosophy and went on to write book-length poems and be widely regarded as one of the most original and gifted poets of her generation and well beyond.
Hearken to H.D.:
Fruit cannot drop
through this thick air–
fruit cannot fall into heat
that presses up and blunts
the points of pears
and rounds the grapes.
From “Heat,” by H.D.
Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000). The most highly regarded during her lifetime of all the poets presented here, Gwendolyn Brooks was first published at age 13; she was recognized for her gifts from the publication of her first book when she was 28 years old. She won a Guggenheim Fellowship shortly thereafter and a Pulitzer Prize (the first awarded to an African American for poetry) for her second book. She was also what would now be called United States Poet Laureate, a teacher, mentor, and spokesperson for her art and her race.
The power of Brooks echoes in these famous lines:
We real cool. We
Left school. We
Lurk late. We
From “We Real Cool,” by Gwendolyn Brooks
Marianne Moore (1887-1972). What a joy it is to remember the sports fan who once threw the first pitch at Yankee Stadium. A spinster who mentored the likes of Allen Ginsberg and others, Ms. Moore understood the power of precision and the eloquence of specificity. She could elevate an image to existential example and played with form in signature ways that are still imitated.
A bit of Moore:
Fanaticism? No. Writing is exciting
and baseball is like writing.
You can never tell with either
how it will go
or what you will do . . .
From “Baseball and Writing,” by Marianne Moore
Next week: Some more of America’s women poets with a place in history.
- Remember that special teacher who gave you courage to go on in later years? Most of us do, but Katha Pollitt has a memory that may beat all of ours, and she shares it at Poetry magazine: what it was like to study with the iconic Elizabeth Bishop. “She was a wonderful teacher, the perfect blend of formal and free, just like her poems,” Pollitt writes. “She seemed to enjoy teaching, and was clearly amused by her students, a typical Harvard combination of the bow-tied and the tie-dyed—young fogies and hippies—but I don’t think it was a calling, part of her identity. . . . Toward the end of the semester, in office hours, she said to me, ‘You should take your poetry very seriously.’” Pollitt did, publishing poems (some collected in this book) while building an impressive career as a journalist. We’re guessing that those seven words from Bishop have kept her warm in many cold times.
- Is New York Fashion Week over already? That’s what we hear from fashion bloggers, some of whom shared funny stories of the week past and present with Cheryl Wischhover’s Fashionista.com. It’s a slide-show, so click over and enjoy the pictures and the stories, like this one from a model, about her first Fashion Week: “It was very busy. I lost I think, 20 pounds of hair!” But we checked in with WVFC’s own fashionistas—including DivaDebbi, who gifted us with our latest Fashion Friday. She and our Stacey Bewkes went to Fashion Week together, and Debbi’s post on the Diane von Furstenberg show makes us feel like an insider. “We were able to enjoy the hospitality of the IMG VIP suite, aptly decorated like a cozy chalet.” For her perch, here’s who she spotted in the front row: Anderson Cooper, Oscar de la Renta, Barbara Walters, Ann Duong, Anna Wintour, and Carine Roitfeld; Brad Goreski and Rachel Zoe; Tatiana von Furstenberg, Hamish Bowles, and Diane Sawyer. Click over for more, with images and sharp commentary on the collection.
- “Romance novels are feminist documents.” That sentence, from Maria Bustillos at The Awl, was pointed out to us by Feministing, and we’re not sorry we followed the link, which centers on the original Harlequin series. “They’re written almost exclusively by women, for women, and are concerned with women: their relations in family, love and marriage, their place in society and the world, and their dreams for the future. Romances of the Golden Age are rife with the sociopolitical limitations of their period, [but] they can be strangely sublime.” We wanted to send Bustillos WVFC’s “What’s Wrong with a Little Romance?” by the inimitable Tamar Bihari, which approaches the question from the point of view of a novelist, not a scholar. What do you think?
- “What might it look like if . . . a cable news discussion about religion and birth control was led by a feminist political scientist, with an honorary doctorate from Meadville Lombard Theological School?” asks Jennifer Pozner at Women in Media and News. “We may soon find out.” Not hard to guess who she means: Melissa Harris-Perry has been on our radar awhile (see Diane Vacca’s coverage here of a November forum). In the post, Pozner hails the debut of Harris-Perry’s MSNBC talk show, which featured as its very first guest attorney Edward Cox (son-in-law of the late President Richard Nixon). “This couldn’t be more welcome—or more unusual,” continues Pozner, adding that “men outnumbered women by a nearly 2-to-1 margin last week in all debates about contraception on MSNBC, CNN, Fox and Fox Business. [Many] seemed shocked to learn that female experts were sought out as commentators only 38 percent of the time on a story about women’s health.” With Christiane Amanpour out of the mix (sob!) we’re hoping Harris-Perry’s admittedly wonky show can find enough Saturday and Sunday morning viewers to stay on the air.
- We’re looking forward to liveblogging this Sunday’s Oscars, and if previous years’ experience holds, there’ll be plenty to see and say. And we’ll likely have a more diverse crew than the pool of Oscar voters, which turns out yet again (by the numbers) to be almost exclusively composed of older white men. We’re also grateful to pop-culture philosopher Anita Sarkeesian for putting together the video below, at her site FeministFrequency.com, applying the Bechdel Test to the current Best Picture nominees. (The criteria, as a reminder: Two women have to talk to each other, and NOT about men. Unsurprisingly, all but one movie fails.) Noting the single qualifying scene in Hugo, Sarkeesian shakes her head: “If while at the theater you drop your box of junior mints, and by the time you pick em up you’ve missed the one scene in the whole film where women actually talk to each other, there’s something clearly wrong.” Watch it before joining us on Sunday, whether or not you’ve seen those movies.