Frequently those who feel wronged politically, as in having been underrepresented in a canonical anthology, will wring their hands over who was not included. At the risk of reducing January’s exchange on “women’s poetry” to sophomoric and paranoid tallying, I found it odd that only a handful of living women poets were mentioned, with an equal number of dead women poets, and many, many dead men poets.
I wish to cast absolutely no aspersions on the distinguished women poets and editors whose discussion this was—all of whom I admire a great deal. Yet I found it strange that nowhere in the exchange did the WOM-PO (Women’s Poetry) listserv come up. Founded by poet, critic, and anthologist Annie Finch in 1997, the list of now over six hundred subscribers is hardly a secret and claims many distinguished women poets—and even a few men—as members. I have belonged to WOM-PO for seven years and can say that the list engenders plenty of healthy debate and scholarship which would have fueled the exchange.
While J. Allyn Rosser dismisses as unconvincing Alicia Ostriker’s concept of “exoskeletal style,” and Eleanor Wilner notes admiration for Ostriker’s concept of “stealing the language,” neither spends much time examining to what extent those theories apply specifically to women’s poetry.
I had hoped the exchange might touch on the work of such established contemporary women poets as Carolyn Kizer, Maxine Kumin, the three Marilyns (Hacker, Taylor, and Nelson); younger women formalist poets like A.E. Stallings, Deborah Warren, Kate Light, Beth Gylys, Chelsea Rathburn, Julie Kane, and Chryss Yost; and yes, the scholarship and poetry of Finch, Ostriker, and dozens of others who may be found either discussing or as the topic of discussion on WOM-PO, not to mention in Poetry itself. By failing to do so, much of the exchange trod familiar and well-worn ground, miles away from the poems and poets at issue.
I am grateful that Poetry dares to publish interesting work by anyone who is not part of that same old tired coterie of the usual suspects, but am disappointed that, in this case, Poetry failed to consider its own contemporary women poets. As one who relishes the old (and new) Paris Review interviews, I very much like the idea of Poetry’s “exchange” feature. I enjoy it even more when it thoroughly engages the question.