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This article is taken from PN Review 165, Volume 32 Number 1, September - October 2005.

Gendering Poetry Kate Clanchy

Our critical practice needs refreshing. On this, at least, we all agree. We need clearer, closer ways of reading and writing. We want to read nimble, exact, iconoclastic criticism, criticism which gives the poem back, enriched, to the poet and the reader - but where to find it? Not many readers of PNR, I'd hazard, would turn to a book called Gendering Poetry by Vicki Bertram, from the radical Pandora Press. Not even me, and I've always called myself a feminist.

What is it we fear from such a title? Theoretical jargon, perhaps? Certainly, feminist criticism has produced plenty of this in the past - but so have the Marxists and the Lacanians. Censoriousness, rather. We dread the vaunting of writers for the politics they seem to represent: conversely, we do not want to read writers we admire being corrected for their views, or to be told off for enjoying them. Or are we afraid of being behind-the-times? There is a much-inflated myth, deftly punctured here by Bertram, of a time (several decades, it seems, between 1975 and 1976) when the women's movement sponsored or spawned thousands of bad poems about the body, and it was 'impossible' for women to write about anything else. Women writers may now feel the need to distance themselves from that, or to shy away from what they fear is special pleading: men poets, despite what is actually a fairly uninterrupted dominance of the field, may ...


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