September 25, 2006

Oxford Poetry Conference: Helen Farish

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Helen Farish talks about the difficulty and confusion of ‘I’. She criticises the way that some poetry is dismissed as ‘merely personal’ or purely personal’. Thinking about the Confessional Poets, she notes how Lowell is praised for his prosody, syntax etc. while Plath is damned and her poetry is described, to use that phrase again, merely personal. Farish describes the case of Olds, a poet that she gave a talk on at the Poetry and Politics conference at University of Stirling this summer. She writes how male critics find the baring of the woman’s body in Old’s poems disgusting and how they identify the speaker in her poems directly with her.

Farish criticises the postmodern phenomenon of the subject-in-process. She cites Nancy Miller who suggests that the gap left by the unitary subject raises questions of agency for women. Did women writers have a self to begin with? Farish describes how in her own practice she has dropped the dramatic monologue and given herself ‘permission’ to use the lyric. She uses the example of her poem, ‘Resurrection’, from Intimacies .

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