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This review is taken from PN Review 177, Volume 34 Number 1, September - October 2007.

THE GENDER REMIT JANE DOWSON and ALICE ENTWISTLE, A History of Twentieth-Century British Women's Poetry (CUP) £50

The comprehensiveness of this book is impressive. The puff by Professor Isobel Armstrong on the back cover could not have put it better: 'A work of energetic and scrupulous criticism, its generous pluralism embraces Welsh, Scottish and Irish poets, American settlers, black, and British Asian writers.' The book can be read as a historical narrative with an argument, and also used as a reference source with factual surveys, individual critical assessments, a chronology, and a very full bibliography of primary and secondary sources. The argument, compellingly developed, is about a journey from the marginalised, isolated voice, through the dramatic monologue, to the multivocal, from the inhibitions of the 'traditional' lyric, to the liberated utterance of communal speech, from say Charlotte Mew to Carol Ann Duffy. The journey starts with the manoeuvres and deceptions necessitated by a literary establishment, to the embracing of demotic utterance. I oversimplify of course, and the authors are at pains not to pigeon-hole or over-schematise individual talents.

Though Dowson and Entwistle are alert to the pitfalls of their gender remit, and avoid an easy oppositional relationship between female and male poetry, a fuller consideration of that relationship would have been welcome. No doubt space did not permit, but at any rate the arguments and ideas of this book got this reviewer thinking. For instance what were the effects on its male counterpart of the burgeoning of women's poetry written over the previous century? Is it possible to trace the cause for some of ...


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