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This review is taken from PN Review 65, Volume 15 Number 3, January - February 1989.

BROKEN DREAMS Jan Montefiore, Feminism and Poetry: Language, Experience, Identity in Women's Writing (Pandora), £4.95 pb.

This is an over-ambitious and rather inconclusive book. Jan Montefiore has two aims: to investigate 'what is specific to women's poetry' and to chart 'the ways in which women poets engage with the masculine discourses by which poetry is normally defined...'. She tries to avoid being reductive, asserting that 'women's poetry is much richer and more various than has been generally recognized', but the slightness of the book and the enormity of the task (who would care to define what is 'specific' to men's poetry?) are an unhappy combination. The result is an author who drifts uneasily between the radical feminist Scylla of essentialism and liberal humanist Charybdis of transcending gender through art.

Feminism and Poetry opens with an 'introductory' (sic) which presents several issues as relevant for consideration. Jan Montefiore briefly defines the psychological difficulties faced by the woman poet who has culturally been perceived as Muse and subject-matter by her male counterpart and sketches some subversive strategies, one of which is to appropriate male symbolism and revitalize it: the vivid sexuality of Plath's 'Poppies in July' starkly communicates one woman's rejection of self as mere flowery feast of beauty and mutability. The author's point, which owes much to Cora Kaplan et al., is that the 'poetic tradition needs to be seen not only as a defining context, but as an area of perpetual struggle, both political and intellectual'. There follows a brief foray into the canon and women's relative absence from it, but it seems ...


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