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This review is taken from PN Review 118, Volume 24 Number 2, November - December 1997.


Writing against the Whale, contemporary women poets have often stripped their lines down to a bare minimum. In Meadowlands, Louise Gluck uses words like stones taken from the mythic castles - among them modern marriage and male odysseys - she deconstructs. Eavan Boland, as she describes in her wonderful Object Lessons, rebelled against the male authority embodied in Irish poetry in part by allowing herself only two or three beats per line as she worked her way to a more expansive verse, one written on her own terms. Recently, Adrienne Rich has divided her lines with a deep caesura, deliberately silencing them to signal women's silencing (it's also a moment of silence, in memoriam) and then, in resuming, to write out of the silence, asserting a woman's voice. Anne Carson, who as a classicist has written incisively on the stigmatization of the female voice, gives a lapidary concision to her poems which occasionally devolves into shorthand: 'The landlady. / The doorlocks. / The plumbing -' While male writers strip their language to avoid emotion and self-scrutiny, fearing both, for these women poets chastened language is an act of avowal, the sharpening of an instrument for stabbing through the joins in power's armour. Conversely, turned inward, toward the self, feminist concision is a consequence of self-awareness, a refusal to accept mystification, obfuscation, and evasion. Often difficult, when not actually painful, these poets' verse is the new model army for an engaged feminist aesthetic.

Against this writing, Jorie Graham ...

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