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.

And revery.

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.

 

Typical Lowell:

 

They brought me a quilled, yellow dahlia,

Opulent, flaunting.

Round gold

Flung out of a pale green stalk.

Round, ripe gold

Of maturity,

 

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
Strike straight….

 

From “We Real Cool,” by Gwendolyn Brooks

(Photo: Carl Van Vechten, 1948).

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.

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