There are many women writers who write good prose; in the novel especially women are the equals, if not the betters of men. Why have not more of them written good poetry?
Woman is emancipated now. She can vote, she can own property, she can work -- though not on equal pay; almost all professions are open to her if she can find the means to follow them. Then why does she so seldom follow that of the poet? The woman poet has always been a rarity; she is still rare today, yet all she needs is a few pieces of paper, a pen... and herself. Is it that last that balks her?She explains her concept of self as hindrance to women poets:
The womanly woman is beset with little [little has been clarified earlier as meaning personal and intimate - MrsDarwin] visions, and the poet needs a large vision. She is attached, and the poet must be detached. A poet must have the power to inhabit space, to float, to disappear, like Ariel, in an essence of himself; most women are too personal to disappear. Fo all woman's emancipation, for all the professions she may follow, she is still trammeled by herself. Ann [sic] Elliot's cry from the heart is still the cry of most women: "We live at home... (even if we are not there, even if we are out following our bent as lawyer, doctor, economist)... our feelings prey upon us." Ann Elliot is still right; it is, and always will be, very difficult for a woman to free herself, to leave the walls and hedges of her home, to escape whole from her feelings.
But, surely, feeling is the first essential for a poet? It is the first, but only the first. The rest must follow, and too often a woman can travel no further than the range of her own feelings.Rumer Godden, a gifted novelist, is no tool of the patriarchy, so as much as phrases like "little vision" may cause a knee-jerk reaction, it's worth parsing out what she is saying. To have a personal or intimate vision is not a sign of inferiority or a mark of weakness, nor is "most women are too personal to disappear" a pejorative statement; often those acclaimed for their large vision have lost sight of essential humanity. If women are responsible for much writing that is sentimental, schlocky, or trite -- "as warm, as sensuous, as easy as theatre organ music, syrupy sweet", as Godden says of the "poetesses" who stand in contrast to the serious woman poet -- it is men who tend towards writing that is impersonal, devoid of human characteristics and feeling, whether action-packed or abstract. As it is, many men who pride themselves on their hard rigorous writing would do well to remember that since God is both Love and Truth, any feats of cold logic which despise mercy as weakness and emotion as pathetic are little more than exercises in intellectual sterility. But such men do not tend to write poetry.
Speaking of Christina Rossetti, for whom she has great admiration, Godden says, "In the end, she married only her poetry, she lived with it, keeping herself for it. It is this, this wholeness of gift, this dedication, that marks the true poet; and I think this is the reason that so few women attain this stature."
A woman, leading a woman's life, can never be whole; she is constantly drained in a way that a man is not.To write a poem is an experience into which the whole of the poet must go; in it he must be reborn and one cannot be born oneself if one is continually giving birth. This is what a womanly woman does; she spends her days creating and re-creating...Godden does not contend that a woman with a family is necessarily cut off from the poetic muse, but she does believe that
The woman poet is more set apart from other women than the male poet from other men. No doubt women despise her because she is not deft. She is often a little inept, clumsy about the practical things of life... The woman poet has nothing to say to other women, except through her poetry. In proportion to her power she eschews herself with male detachment; she must consent to be unwomanly, she must consent to be apart. She may not like her loneliness, particularly when she is young. Perhaps it is that that gives to the best of her work a power of penetration, a pathos, that is like an inner voice, a voice like light rising from the sound of the poem, from the exquisite shell of its texture and shape.***
The rest of the magazine is a fascinating glimpse of literary life in mid-century America. The whole can be viewed here, ads and all. Of course there are many worthwhile articles, but I was particularly intrigued by the quality of the personal ads, compelled by space constraints to assume a Twitter-esque brevity:
ENGINEER, young, naive, moderately sincere, slightly weary only trees and mountains, would eagerly correspond carload lots female correspondence. Box 755-J
SLICK WRITER needs young man assistant 20-28 years, with serious ambition to write, college and research experience preferable but not necessary. Opportunity for expense-paid travel, independent assignments, U.S.-foreign. Complete resume, photo if possible. Immediate. Box 760-J
IS THERE mature male seeking feminine and interesting correspondence? Box 765-J
MATURE GENTLEMAN interested in music, theatre, cooking, ordinary pleasures, invites correspondence with lady. Box 792-J
YOUNG MAN, music lover, avocations audio engineering, furniture design; seeks exhange of ideas and suggestions for better design of audio equipment and furniture with young lady of like enthusiams. Box 784-J
GENTLEMAN, adventurous, bored, will not answer dull letters. Box 795-J
WOULD VENTURESOME lassie escape boredom corresponding mature but audacious male with widely diversified interests. Box 796-J