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A recent collection (2009) including poems inspired by the women's movement and poems which helped inspire it; the material here was written between the late sixties and the early eighties. Moore's intent is to contextualize the position of poetry in the history of that specific time of political action and to discuss what the movement did to poetry. She discusses both the emergence of a radical new form of female poetic speech and the re-evaluation of women poets of the past in light of later political ideas-- the politics of what goes into a table of contents, what gets critically discussed, and so on.

Mostly, though, this is a poetry collection, containing work (usually one or two short poems) by Marilyn Hacker, Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, Sylvia Plath, Olga Broumas, Muriel Rukeyser, Judy Grahn, Carolyn Kizer, June Jordan, Michelle Cliff, Jorie Graham, and a long list of others. As a poetry collection, it's a good snapshot of the women now considered important poets from that period, but its focus means that I am not always certain the poems selected are the absolute best of each poet; they are, rather, the ones relevant to the politics, which is often some of the best work of the poet in question, but sometimes not. Marilyn Hacker, for instance, is represented here by her elegy for Janis Joplin, which is a poem I've always liked but would not place in her top tier-- for one thing, it's wildly unusual for Hacker, as it's one of the few poems I've seen from her that does not have a formalist structure in any way at all, so as a representation of what she's actually doing most of the time it's an odd pick. I think it's in here because of its nature as a rumination on mourning and the nature of female celebrity, at which it does a fine job, and that's certainly a facet of women's experience one would like to see here.

I don't think there's any substandard work in this, I don't think there's anything that's only there for content and not quality, but I also don't think this would be the book to use if you want to find out whether you like any of these poets or want to know what mode they work in generally. Which I think is a bit of a flaw, though a minor one, in a book that is trying to represent two generations of poets to its readership, with their context, all at once. Maybe if there were another couple hundred pages?

Possibly as a result of that, then, and possibly as a result of my own tastes, I find the politics here more interesting generally than the poetry. There are very definitely voices here coming into their own for the first time, women talking about work, desire for other women or for men or for nobody, about race and class and history and other topics not generally as explicit in women's poetry before this. There's a lot of pain and a lot of joy (and it's nice to see a political book including some of the joyous work, thank you). But with some exceptions I find myself reading for the content rather than the language. Honestly, it is probably because I am a formalist, and twentieth-century poetry disliked formalism; and because I continually strive for clarity of language in my poetry and twentieth-century poetry enjoyed the baroque. Every so often, too, there is something like, oh, anything at all by Adrienne Rich, or Carolyn Kizer's 'Semele Recycled', or Joan Larkin's 'Rhyme of My Inheritance', which speaks the language I enjoy in poetry as well as respect. But generally I respect this book, and find it useful as a history, much more than I enjoyed it.

And here is Carolyn Kizer's 'Semele Recycled', because it took the top of my head off. She is wonderful and more people should read her. )


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March 2017

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