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This review is taken from PN Review 43, Volume 11 Number 5, May - June 1985.

AN ESSENTIAL SONG The Writings of Anna Wickham, Free Woman and Poet, edited and introduced by R. D. Smith (Virago) £6.50

Anna Wickham's verse runs the gamut between rhyming polemic and good poetry. It is disappointing, then, to find her weaker pieces such as 'Nervous Prostration' which opens


I married a man of the Croydon class
When I was twenty-two.
And I vex him, and he bores me
Till we don't know what to do!


being quickly collected into current feminist anthologies, whilst altogether more radical and interesting poems are ignored. Indeed, 'Nervous Prostration' typifies her poorer work. Although the jaunty anapaestic metre is at first appealing and promises a strong, iconoclastic vigour, in the end the poem is not much more than a shallow tilt at conventional marriage and the bourgeoisie. She could do better than this, so it is equally irritating to discover that in a recent newspaper article a slightly mawkish biographical sketch replaced any serious consideration of her work. She has already been too easily assumed into extremes of being - either the dispenser of diatribe or the artistic feminine sensibility that cannot cope with life (she killed herself in 1947 at the age of 63). In R. D. Smith's The Writings of Anna Wickham, Free Woman and Poet we have for the first time a reasonably comprehensive selection of her work. She must be judged afresh within the tradition of women's writing.

What first strikes the reader is her very prolific output - she produced over 900 poems in less than four ...


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