August 31, 2006

ABSTRACT FOR KICKING DAFFODILS: Strangers to Themselves: The Woman Poet in the 21st Century

Writing about web page http://www.uwe.ac.uk/hlss/faculty/news/womenandpoetry/index.shtml

This paper uses a Kristevan model to explore the poetics of women poets. I use Wales as a case study in order to discuss the choice to move away from the privileging of traditional or familiar landscapes, cultural mores and literary tropes. The three writers to be discussed are Gwyneth Lewis, Pascale Petit and Deryn Rees-Jones, all of whom have an interest in creating a dialogue with landscapes, mythologies and tropes beyond or adjacent to their own culture.

My model derives from Julia Kristeva’s Strangers to Ourselves, in which she explores notions of the ‘foreigner’, ‘foreignness’ and the stranger within us. To Kristeva, it is important to recognise and empathise with the ‘foreigner’ or the ‘stranger’. When one realises that we are all strangers, the quality of ‘strangeness’, which causes fear, hatred and loathing, can be eliminated. As Kristeva states, ‘The foreigner is within me, hence we are all foreigners’. Through discovering the stranger in themselves, these Welsh women poets can write politically about difference.

The body of this paper explores the three poets in detail. First I compare three extracts from their statements of poetics and then I give a detailed analysis of a short poem from each poet. In ‘Dissociation’, Lewis explores how losing the Welsh-language and denying her Welsh self invokes a new identity Ė the archetypal mad woman artist. In comparison, I study how Petit projects her own poetic concerns into the biographical telling of the life of Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo (‘Henry Ford Hospital’). I juxtapose these with Rees-Jones’ poet-heroine of ‘Cemetery’, who projects herself into the persona of the English Victorian poetess. Finally I argue that these writers search for the strangers to themselves and in doing so, they create a poetics in which ‘every difference is significant’.


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