May 04, 2007

THE POETRY REVIEW ESSAY – ‘Women and Tradition’ by Jan Montefiore

Poetry Review , vol. 94, no. 2, pp. 58 -68

Montefiore begins by quoting Adrienne Rich’s ‘Diving into the Wreck’ about her quest into oceanic depths in search of something lost which Montefiore posits as her unconscious self or a vanished collective of history. Montefiore recognises that Rich considers herself doing something ‘lonely, difficult and dangerous’.

‘Snapshots of a Daughter in Law’ is mentioned because Rich rages against the inherent flawed nature of a marginalized women’s poetry so that potential geniuses like Dickenson become gifted amateurs or poets are ‘seared by their own frustration and fury’. Tradition is thought of as an obstacle to such women.

Montefiore mentions John Donne’s notion of ‘masculine persuasive force’ and considers this to be an epitomy of the ‘damaging presumption of the great tradition of English poetry’. She quotes from Feminism and Poetry to repeat the point that women have a paradoxical relationship to tradition, since as readers and writers they belong, yet as women they are excluded through misinterpretation or simple omission. Montefiore laments the lack of women writers in her education. (Montefiore is not convinced that men’s portrayals of women are a major problem to women writers, but she is certain that lack of time, space, communication with peers or publication are factors.)

Montefiore points out that this has all changed; Carol Ann Duffy at A-level, Mary Shelly in place of Keats. Women’s poetry has a place in a series of intertwined traditions. E.g. Aemilia Lanier and Mary Sidney in medieval poetry. However, Montefiore suggests that the changes made in the canon are not that relevant to contemporary woman poets. The question is: how have woman poets situated themselves in relation to their available tradition? Montefiore makes the following suggestions:

1. Woman poets reinvent the past. E.g. Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘Casablanca’.

2. Storytelling is significant. Montefiore mentions Stevie Smith, Liz Lochhead and Anne Sexton in Feminism and Poetry. But political reinterpretations can deflect but not alter traditional meanings. Reinterpreted folk-tale or myth has famously become a feature of feminist poetry. Montefiore is a little critical here of Carol Ann Duffy.

3. The invocation of the rhetoric of domesticity is highlighted with gestures towards the tradition of Dickenson, Barrett Browning, Plath and Clarke.


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May 04, 2007

THE POETRY REVIEW ESSAY – ‘Women and Tradition’ by Jan Montefiore

Poetry Review , vol. 94, no. 2, pp. 58 -68

Montefiore begins by quoting Adrienne Rich’s ‘Diving into the Wreck’ about her quest into oceanic depths in search of something lost which Montefiore posits as her unconscious self or a vanished collective of history. Montefiore recognises that Rich considers herself doing something ‘lonely, difficult and dangerous’.

‘Snapshots of a Daughter in Law’ is mentioned because Rich rages against the inherent flawed nature of a marginalized women’s poetry so that potential geniuses like Dickenson become gifted amateurs or poets are ‘seared by their own frustration and fury’. Tradition is thought of as an obstacle to such women.

Montefiore mentions John Donne’s notion of ‘masculine persuasive force’ and considers this to be an epitomy of the ‘damaging presumption of the great tradition of English poetry’. She quotes from Feminism and Poetry to repeat the point that women have a paradoxical relationship to tradition, since as readers and writers they belong, yet as women they are excluded through misinterpretation or simple omission. Montefiore laments the lack of women writers in her education. (Montefiore is not convinced that men’s portrayals of women are a major problem to women writers, but she is certain that lack of time, space, communication with peers or publication are factors.)

Montefiore points out that this has all changed; Carol Ann Duffy at A-level, Mary Shelly in place of Keats. Women’s poetry has a place in a series of intertwined traditions. E.g. Aemilia Lanier and Mary Sidney in medieval poetry. However, Montefiore suggests that the changes made in the canon are not that relevant to contemporary woman poets. The question is: how have woman poets situated themselves in relation to their available tradition? Montefiore makes the following suggestions:

1. Woman poets reinvent the past. E.g. Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘Casablanca’.

2. Storytelling is significant. Montefiore mentions Stevie Smith, Liz Lochhead and Anne Sexton in Feminism and Poetry. But political reinterpretations can deflect but not alter traditional meanings. Reinterpreted folk-tale or myth has famously become a feature of feminist poetry. Montefiore is a little critical here of Carol Ann Duffy.

3. The invocation of the rhetoric of domesticity is highlighted with gestures towards the tradition of Dickenson, Barrett Browning, Plath and Clarke.


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