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This article is taken from PN Review 212, Volume 39 Number 6, July - August 2013.

'She Can, If Anybody Could': The Poetry of Marilyn Hacker Janet Montefiore
Readers of contemporary poetry know Marilyn Hacker as a virtuoso of the complex stanzas and metres invented by medieval French and Italian poets, who uses their intricate patterns to write in ‘plain American that cats and dogs can read’ about her own life and times as a Jewish lesbian in New York and France. True as far as it goes, but this oversimplifies the poet, whose work is deeply informed by her dialogues with the earlier poets (Shakespeare, Guillaume Apollinaire, Ezra Pound and Auden, to name a few); with the American feminist women poets of her own generation; with her contemporaries Hayden Carruth, James Fenton, Eavan Boland and Mimi Khalvati; and with French and Francophone poets, many of whom she has translated. Her work – especially since the mid-1990s – is also informed by her perception of the historical tragedies of Europe and Eurasia during her lifetime (she was born in 1942).

Yet the stories which Hacker has made of her own life and times make a good place to begin thinking about her poetry. As an urban cosmopolitan who writes lovingly of the pleasures of New York, Paris and London (not for nothing was her debut collection in 1974 called First Cities), she has celebrated the pleasures of conversational or flirtatious meals in good restaurants, getting drunk and dancing in gay bars, and wandering the streets observing neighbours and fellow citizens in streets and parks. In more recent poems, the flâneuse is often aware of losses – a ...


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