Poetry News

Confessionalism & Feminism at Coldfront

By Harriet Staff

anne sexton

Coldfront has an up essay today about Confessionalist writing rendered in feminism, beginning with Adrienne Rich for whom: "...the traditional domestic goals of a woman’s life conflicted with the life of the imagination." They also go on to discuss Anne Sexton and Lucille Clifton's work through the sixties and the second wave:

By her third book Live or Die (1966) Sexton’s voice had become stronger, more direct, less timid. Her poem “Menstruation at Forty” unabashedly tackles the subject of the female body and “That red disease.” By 1966, second-wave feminism had begun to make its impact, as it focused much of its effort on sexuality, reproductive rights, and marital rape laws. The birth control pill was approved by the FDA in 1960, and the female body became a battleground.

The Confessional movement began to construct a literary environment in which other voices of difference could write about their experiences. Black female poets like Lucille Clifton borrowed from the Confessionals and moved toward a poetry located in identity. Like Sexton and Plath, Clifton took up issues related to the female body, but she extended her poetic voice to cover her sociocultural experience as an African American woman. Rich notes the importance of African American female voices: “without the sharpening of a black feminist consciousness, black women’s writing would have been left in limbo between misogynist black male critics and white feminists still struggling to unearth a white woman’s tradition.” In 1980, with second-wave feminism drawing to a close, Clifton celebrated the female body with her poem “homage to my hips.” And later, in 1991, Clifton wrote “to my last period,” eulogizing her final menstruation as though saying one last goodbye to an old friend:

well, girl, goodbye
     after thirty eight years
     thirty eight years and you
     never arrived,
     splendid in your red dress,
     without trouble for me
     somewhere, somehow.
now it is done,
     and I feel just like the
     grandmothers who
     after the hussy has gone,
     sit holding her photograph
     and sighing, wasn’t she
     beautiful, wasn’t she beautiful?

In “When We Dead Awaken,” Rich also comments on the importance of addressing the difficult position of the lesbian writer. She states, “without an articulate lesbian/feminist movement, lesbian writing would still be lying in that closet.” Contemporary poet Eileen Myles has become a strong voice for just such a movement, and her poetics seem to follow the intensely personal poetics of the Confessional movement.

For how the Confessional landscape drifts currently, read on at Coldfront.