A Graph Review, 55 with highpoints to 70
Edited by Joseph Parisi and KathleenWelton
978 1 56663741 1 hardback 290 pp published: Ivan R Dee, 2008
From page 5: “the anthology offers a concise Lives of the Poets along with the poems, forming a capsule chronicle of the evolving story of the art of poetry as practiced over fifteen decades by women throughout the English-speaking world.”
I could stop there as this is exactly what the book succeeds in doing. However, to expand a little: 100 poems (strictly speaking more, as some are snuck in through the bigraphical pages), by 48 women.
As in all good books, start from the first page. The introduction sets the reason and formula. You will have the explanations, historical and poetical, all beautifully, concisely explained of 150 years of women in poetry. An ideal start for a student, or any reader.
The journey starts in 1830 with the birth of Emily Dickinson and moves through to the most recent with writings of Louise Edrich, born 1954. Most are USA born or resided there much of their lives but several other nationalities do appear including Edith Sitwell and Stevie Smith. The beauty of this book for me is that by reading the biographies and then the selected poem, or two, sometime more, you follow a history of change as well as poetry. Joseph Parisi gives superbly written brief lives, working style and fulsome bibliographic details for each poet. Times were changing and he points out their creative strengths within their settings with clarity and objectivity. The literary world in which many lived often shows contacts with writers and artists that create eddies and pools of thought in the reader’s mind. Ezra Pound and T S Eliot seem to have an influence in many of these writers progress.
Historically I have been mostly an ‘English’ reader though not entirely ignorant of USA et al poetry so this title, with its format of information and poetry is an ideal way of expanding my awareness. The biographical and historical context given makes it ideal to integrate with the readers initial knowledge and the bibliography offers a choice to read poets’ work chronologically if preferred. Also, it is refreshing to have the variety of poems in this style rather than in a ‘subject themed’ anthology. No disrespect to the other anthologies as they serve a very useful purpose but in this book we have very readable information on poets and their poetry. I could pick out assorted names but I must highlight a beautiful poem, ‘the pomegranite’ by Eavan Boland and the three by May Swenson that are each different but together are able to demonstrate the palpable emotion of poetry.
All in all this book will almost guarantee to enthuse the reader to further reading of these modern women, modern poets.
Do I have a grumble? Maybe I would have liked a few more poems but that is just greedy. Possibly a note listing key poems not included? Probably included in the bibliographies, just read them. Anyway, what is better than discovering your own favourites than by starting here?