The poetry party guest list – week 2

Day 1.

I picked up a volume of poetry to browse – A Book of English Poetry, first published by Penguin in 1937, this version printed 1972, bought by Malcolm sometime in 1974-1977.  Poems by 61 poets – ‘Chaucer to Rossetti’.  How many women included?  None.  Not one.  The anthologist says in the preface that (I assume, he, though we aren’t told the full name or gender) “I have aimed at gathering a gallery of poems, typical and representative of our English poets from the fourteenth to the nineteenth centuries.”  Shame then not to have noticed the complete absence of women from this collection.  Sigh.

Still, onwards, and I think I will try to begin to address / redress the balance this week.

But then again, I picked up the next book on the pile, another vintage Penguin – Children of Albion: Poetry of the ‘Underground’ in Britain (published 1969).  A collection edited by Michael Horovitz, including 57 men, 3 women, 2 not immediately clear to me.  I’m driven to counting now.

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My eye is drawn by a title that includes references familiarly local to where I live: Bathampton Morrismen at the Rose and Crown, by John James.  I’ve never heard of him, so go online to see what I can find out.  And come across another of his poems, set in (presumably) the same place: An Open Letter to Jim Workman, Landlord, at the Rose and Crown, Withy Mills, North Somerset.  In it John James describes a man I can see and hear, though I’ve never met him and never will.

So that’s two poems for today, but no women.  So far.


Day 2

Thank goodness, I’ve found a woman poet.  It’s a bit like looking for a needle in the haystack.  Today I searched through another vintage Penguin volume we have on our shelves – Poetry of the Thirties, published in 1964.  More counting: of the 46 poets who appear in this collection, only 1 (yes, just the one) is a woman.  Anne Ridler.  She has three poems in the book.  I chose to read Zennor, because it was written in 1939, and shortly afterwards, in 1940, my mum was evacuated from her London East End home to another village near St Ives.  The poem made me remember mum’s stories about her evacuation, and about the impact on her of suddenly moving to live by the sea in such a (to her) strange place.  I really enjoyed reading this poem.  I couldn’t find much information online about Anne Ridler, but the best I found was this, her obituary from The Guardian.

I think I need to move forward in time, all this 1960s female invisibility is getting me down.  It takes me back to when I first discovered feminism, back in the 1970s, and reminds me why we needed it so much (and still do).


Day 3

Ha!  So much for moving forward in time.  My slow walk to Bristol reminded me of the Flower Fairies books I have for the lovely illustrations, so this morning I went straight to Flower Fairies of the Spring, by Cicely Mary Barker (published in 1923).  Looking through I realised that I had seen almost every one of the flowers during the course of the walk.  Although perhaps a little ‘twee’ I find these illustrations charming, and she captures very well the essence of each of the flowers.  Personally I think it’s stretching it a bit to describe the accompanying rhymes as poems, but I’m no expert.  She was however primarily an illustrator not a poet, and I think to be fair that is how these books should be viewed.

2015-04-14 10.27.46

2015-04-14 10.29.10

Windflowers on the Railway Path

Windflowers on the Railway Path

Day 4

‘anyone lived in a pretty how town’ – E.E. Cummings.  I’ve always loved the rhythms of this poem, and the way the words take up up and down, like the ringing of a bell.  It was one I often read to my children.

In my mind, E.E Cummings was a woman (probably named Emily).  In reality I discovered today he was a man named Edward, with some rather unpleasant political leanings (e.g. McCarthyite in the 1950s).  Oh well, I still enjoy the poem.

I wonder, should we take art for itself in a vacuum, or should we always see it through the prism of its context? Discuss.


Day 5

‘maggie and milly and molly and may’ – E.E.Cummings – another poem I’ve long enjoyed.  Very short, summed up in the last couplet:

For whatever we lose(like a you or a me)                                                  it’s always ourselves we find in the sea.

And for someone of my age in England, the title will always take me to the Milly Molly Mandy books by Joyce Lancaster Brisley, which I loved and loved to read to the boys (and they loved too).  Those sweet innocent stories, and the illustrations.  But no poetry.


Day 6

Song – Adrienne Rich.  A poem from a book (Diving into the Wreck, I think) given to me many years ago by a still dear friend.  For me it’s an ode to the joy of solitude, which is something I’ve come to appreciate and value more and more as the years go by.  That lovely last phrase:  ‘wood with a gift for burning‘.  I can’t find the book, but the poem remains with and in me.

{and then there’s the beautiful print of those same words, made for me many years ago by the same dear friend, which I planned to add in here but now somehow can’t find.  I do hope it comes to light soon – I think it’s in one of those ‘safe places’ that seem obvious when you put it there, but somehow later aren’t obvious at all}

Day 7

Mushrooms – Sylvia Plath.  What a happy find!  The title of this poem caught my eye because of this recent post, and then to find that it is by Sylvia Plath, a poet I know by reputation but not by her work, is the icing on the cake.  If that doesn’t mix my metaphors too much.  This is beautiful both on the surface and in the deeper meanings below the surface.  A bit like mushrooms themselves then.

So, at the end of week 2, I have at last begun to redress the gender balance.  3 out of 7 strikes me as pretty good, and have met some new poets and poems.  Let’s see what week 3 brings forth.

About deborah @ the magic jug

Now I've passed 60 I'm still doing all sorts of things I haven't done before, as well as carrying on with the things I already love. I live a happy life with my long term love Malcolm. In my blog I explore local and low tech ideas, food, growing, making, reading, thinking, walking, and lots of other words ending in 'ing'.
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