Monday, June 06, 2005

Gendering Poetry

This weekend I read a review of Gendering Poetry: Contemporary Women and Men Poets, Vicki Bertram, Pandora Press - 2004 p. 256. The review, written by Renuka Rajaratnam, quotes the poet Elizabeth Bishop, "art is art and to separate it into two sexes is to emphasize values in them that are not art." The reviewer, in pointing to Bishop's quote seeks to establish this view as a traditional benchmark from which to start and suggests that Bertram with this book is challenging this assessment. Rajaratnam presents the potential for invention and interpretation as a point of Bertram's argument against such traditional view.

This seems fair enough to me as I fail to see how a person, writer or reader, can implicitly divorce themselves from life experiences, long held views and gender influences when it comes to poetry. You simply are going to bring these things with you to some degree and impact poetry with it both on the creation side and the consumer side, even if it is unintentional.

The review presents Vicki Bertram's work as a responsible look at gender studies and an attempt to put the issue on the map of mainstream criticisms. Of course, I would like to read this work first hand in order to adequately form my own assessment of her contribution to such.

In the grand scheme of things, I believe this is an element of poetics worthy of debate. What happens beyond that discourse becomes a whole different animal. I am always fearful that the outcome of such dialogue can lead to categorizations within poetry that can detract from the art itself. That may well have been what Elizabeth Bishop had in mind.

Still, there seems to be some benefit to the acknowledgment - (if only a personal one for each of us) that we bring a part of ourselves to each poem that no one else carries with them. This is true of both the poem's author and reader.

literary review
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