June 11, 2007

Sheenagh Pugh on whether there is a woman’s poetry

It is hard to understand what the term “women’s poetry” is supposed to mean. Is it suggesting that there is a kind of poetry more likely to be written by women, or read by women? In that case, is there such a thing as black poetry, homosexual poetry, handicapped poetry? I hope not, because for reasons I hope I can make clear, I should prefer to see poetry as universal and unifying, rather than particular and divisive. Poetry is an exercise of the verbal faculty, and the only distinction which seems valid to me are those based on words. Hence there is clearly such a thing as German poetry, i.e. poetry written in the German language. Is there, however, such a thing as Swiss poetry - i.e. poetry in German, French, Italian or Romansch by Swiss persons and sharing some mystical component of Swissness which transcends language? I don’t know, but I seriously doubt it. The Swiss poets I know of who wrote in German have never struck me as being markedly different from Germans writing in German, and they certainly have more in common with the latter than the Swiss writing in French. This seems wholly expected, given that language, to an extent, structures thought. (30)

People’s habits differ, but it is in their nature, whatever their sex, race, orientation or culture, to laugh, to think, to feel pity, to get angry, to puzzle about their world. Of course each individual’s experience differs (and two men’s may differ as much as a man’s and a woman’s, or more), but such differences provide individual routes by which to explore the central core of our common humanity, not an excuse for hanging around on the periphery of it. Every poem which has ever impinged on my consciousness fro longer than a moment; which has struck me as being illuminating, or moving, or worth memorising, has addressed itself to what is universal in us, rather than what divides us. (31)

Poetry Wales. Vol 23 (1987): 30-37

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