Writing about “best of” compilations has made me think about my own interests and preoccupations with regard to literature. A few weeks ago, I was asked by Clare Rossini (a poet whose work I admire a great deal; here is a sample of her work.) to contribute some thoughts for a talk she was giving at the MFA residency at Vermont College. The subject was very broad: women and poetry. I wrote enthusiastically about how important poetry by women—literature by women-- is to me. I’m using those thoughts as a jumping-off point today.
The poems that interest me the most are those by women, pure and simple. They’re my tribe, my people. Sure I read as widely as I can. Every writer should. But it’s clear to me that we're still in the beginning stages-- and I'm talking about American poetry-- of what is about to be a great and lengthy roar of literature written by women. Women have suffered, as we all know, in countless ways throughout history. And in many parts of the world, we still do. But American women living now occupy a demographic sweet spot. More than any other time in history, we’re blessed with better health, equal opportunities for education and many more professional opportunities than ever.
At this time, it appears to me that the first wave of female poets who garnered critical acclaim and a wide readership-- those educated white women (Dickinson, Millay, Moore, Bishop, Gluck, et al) has given over to a second wave-- women of color, women marginalized because of lack of education, sexual orientation, and recent immigration. What will the third wave bring when it comes? My hope is the third wave of women writing American poetry will be less focused on being the "other" and more on what is shared by women across time and geography.
Women have always had things to say. Now we have the means to say it memorably. Now we have the numbers to have the conversation with each other, and with men. Writing by women is writing by human beings.
Bring on the mother poems, the menstruation and menopause poems! And bring on, as well, the fuck-you poems, the elegies and the ruminations based in mythologies. Let’s write the poems about our aggression toward each other, not just about others’ aggression toward us. How much score-settling and bean-counting is enough? Yes, the best revenge is living well. And so is the fullest kind of life, one given to wholeheartedness and the very best work we can produce.
Or, as Elizabeth Bishop said in her interview with The Paris Review: “There’s nothing more embarrassing than being a poet, really.”