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This article is taken from PN Review 224, Volume 41 Number 6, July - August 2015.

Forms of Self-Exposure Elaine Feinstein
There have always been women poets, and their themes and passions have been as various as the cultures in which they wrote. So I am not seeking to describe the nature of poetry written by women in general.

However, I have lived through a half-century in which the status of women poets has changed out of all recognition. In Britain fifty years ago we might have been caricatured as spinsterish, faintly comic. Women poets now have a place in the public world – they are Professors of Poetry in great institutions and indeed the three present Poets Laureate in these islands are all women. The genders which seemed so immutable in the post-war world have slipped and shifted. My question this morning is this: Has the entry of so many fresh voices into the art significantly changed the nature and form of poetry in our time? Should we expect that? I don’t have a ready answer, but I have a few questions and a tentative proposition.

Let me start with the thoughts of Eavan Boland, one of the finest and boldest poets of the last half-century. I begin with her because no-one has articulated with more poise the dilemmas of being a woman poet in Ireland. An early feminist, she wrote with her young children around her, finding poetry among the early morning bottle-feeds. She has other powerful themes: emigration, exile, the violence of Irish history, deaths in famine. But at her best she explores the stoicism of daily life, and the intensities of a long marriage.

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