September 25, 2006

Oxford Poetry Conference: Vicki Bertram

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Bertram suggests that woman writers are never able to transcend sex specificity and that this leads to anxiety about or avoidance of the lyric ‘I’. She cites Sarah Maguire who suggests that the ‘fiction of a desiring I’ is difficult for women and that it contradicts femininity. Wordsworth’s phallic ‘I’ is not the answer. Neither is the confessional ‘I’ that becomes distorted. Helen Kidd describes the lyric voice as ‘the great masculine ‘I’ ’ while Jo Shapcott thinks of it as ‘the ‘I’ as Roman numeral’.

Bertram believes that women writers find the lyric ‘I’ coercive. They question whether they agree with what their lyric is saying, if it is embarrassing or if it wants something from them. The lyric is sometimes seen as indulgent presenting a hungry self that does not have space for readers. There is also the problem of display – how can a woman occupy a public space, or ask to be listened to? Isn’t this also sexualised display and how does one assert one’s right to speak in the public sphere?

Luce Irigaray writes of our culture as founded on a repression of the feminine. ‘He’ is equal to all humanity. Women are always different and metaphors for human suffering often use women’s experience. Bertram suggests that as a result we should use the terms ‘male poets’ and ‘female poets’.

Irigaray writes of a female divine much larger than the feminine self. The male divine is made up of male stories and histories and a female version is needed. Bertram suggests that Carol-Ann Duffy’s Feminine Gospels offers suprahuman female subjects that fulfil Irigaray’s demand.

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