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« Kate Hagerman Photographs Shelley Jackson's Words | Main | Heredities, by J. Michael Martinez: A Book Review [by Emma Trelles] »

February 26, 2011


I have realized for some time that many of the books I buy are written by men or boys. Why is that? I suppose didn’t want to seem like I’m a pussy myself. I suppose I wanted to be taken seriously as a poet – not a female poet.

Did you truly buy the books for this reason? Or is it possible that there's something about a male voice, or a male frame of mind inserted into something poetic, that is...forgive this...ultimately stronger on the page? I think your answer might lie in this:

males have very little problem talking themselves up, especially at a place like a writer’s conference. “Here’s what I’ve done. Here’s where I published. Here. Look. Look at me! Acknowledge I exist.”

At AWP, I was pretty much too shy to talk to anyone I didn’t know already, which is a huge shame because I’m a raconteur.

We're both generalizing, but men tend to be more unapologetic for not only what they've done - but who they are. You can find weakness on the page as easily as you can in person. So perhaps this strength of self is cause for gravitation towards the male voice, and the male - unapologetic - experience.

You make very good points! Thanks for the comment.

I love generalizations about men
but only when I make them.
I love generalizations about women
but only when I make them.

I'm dedicated to my own aesthetic in poetry, and I search out poetry that I think is good. I've noticed that the female poets I like have a sort of masculinity in their voice. I think what I find so compelling about JMH's poems is her unabashed intelligence. Many people study history and are awed and made small by it. She's like a smart boy in math class. Willing even to make a mistake if only it be her own.

Now that poetry in America has mostly a feminine audience, poets are subject to the tastes of that audience. One thing that is out of style in poetry is for a man to express his sexuality in masculine terms. Visit Billy Collins. To become acceptable to his audience he has had to bleach his poems of masculine sexuality--like a poodle that's been fixed--he has cultured his work to a feminine sensibility. Any man who attempts to write love poems must do so only in the most feminine terms (Yusef Komunyakaa).

Contrarily, it is perfectly acceptable for a female poet to express sexuality in masculine terms. For this reason, Adrienne Rich wrote heroic masculine love poems which are lovely and even noble.

The last man I can think of who wrote honestly about sex from a masculine perspective was Irving Layton. Women hate his work or ignore it.

I'm not sure any of the male poets I read express themselves with a feminine sensibility, but perhaps a masculinity removed of aggression. I hate reading Collins, but mainly because he's boring, not because of a feminine voice.

Thanks for bringing up Layton, though. I've never read him, but now I'm certainly going to. Any works you'd recommend to start?

The easiest book by Irving Layton to find is "Fornalutx." Its his selected works. I find that he included a lot of very difficult works in this. He is much more accessible than this collection makes him appear, but his folios and full volume books are out of print, rare, and collectible. One of his best books, and most famous, is "The Improved Binoculars." You might be able to get a copy through an interlibrary loan. Good luck. Layton is very important to post modern Canadian lit. and studies in masculinity, and is one of my very favorite poets.

You can sample some Layton on google books: Fornalutx: selected poems, 1928-1990
By Irving Layton

Thanks much, Peter.

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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