Eva Salzman and Amy Wack bring up the question of whether or not a poet’s gender matters in the intro to their anthology Women’s Work: Modern Women Poets Writing in English. After all, a poem is a poem, isn’t it?
Salzman points out that even in the best situations, women have not reached 50% equity in terms of publication in regards to number of volumes published by a press or the number of women included in anthologies and literary magazines. So even though we wouldn’t refer to Mort Marcus as a man poet, women poets still struggle to have their voices heard and must contend with the label “woman” as though it refers to something inferior, rare or exotic. Sometimes a women’s anthology is necessary to present the range, wealth and variety of our creative work.
Salzman and Wack’s volume seeks to celebrate and note the extensive quality and quantity of poetic works by women this past 100 years or so. They couldn’t span a 100 years and the entire world, so the volume focuses on women writers in the US, Ireland, and the UK. Born in New York and educated at Columbia, Salzman crossed the ocean in 1985 to take up residence in Britian, and her personal US/UK sensibility drives the volume. Both emerging and established authors find homes within these pages, and though I’m not familiar with most of the Ireland and UK poets, the US list is one of stellar accomplishment and writers of great talent.
One American writer who sneaks in quite a bit is Emily Dickinson, even though she is prior to the volume’s purportedly 100 year span. However, there cannot be any disagreement that Dickinson is viewed as a central poetic inspiration for women writers, and so the volume places Dickinson poems next to those written by contemporary poets. The range of US poets is extensive and perhaps a few of your favorites are included: Kim Addionizio, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lynn Emmanuel, Louise Glück, Adrienne Rich and many more contribute to the volume’s breath and scope.
What allows the juxtaposition of time periods and nationalities to thrive is the volume’s organization according to thematic concerns. Instead of listing the poets alphabetically, the table of contents presents thematic chapters with titles such as: “How Love Works,” “Heroines & Rebels” and “The Work of Art.” One subtitle that captured my attention was “The Meaning of Life.” I’m always searching for insight on that one!
Eva will be in town this week. She’ll be spending time in Santa Cruz conducting a workshop and reading from the anthology. On Sunday, she leads a poetry writing workshop open to all; there are still open spots—for more information go to the Poetry Santa Cruz web site. Then on Tuesday, September 11, Eva Salzman, Brenda Hillman and Siobhán Campbell will read at Bookshop Santa Cruz beginning at 7:30 pm. Hope to see you there.