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.
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 Iliad, the 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 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/9050038/Poet-Laureate-compared-to-writers-of-Mills-and-Boon.html
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.