Women and poetry
I thought that, because today is the international Women’s Day, I would post a poem from a different woman poet every day of the week. The problem is, I hardly ever read (or enjoy) poetry written by women. Chronologically, my list of adored women novelists starts in Jane Austen, two centuries ago, and then there’s the Brontës and plenty of 20th century ones. But poetry, not really. I find the discovery surprising. Why aren’t there more excellent female poets, if there are plenty of excellent women writers? I think these are some of the reasons:
- Women not being allowed to learn to read and write. This applies mostly to the times in which only the upper classes wrote. So, upper-class women with artistic inclinations before the late Middle Ages might have learnt to compose poetry, but not write it.
- Women being able to read and write, but not receiving any further education. This applies from the late Middle Ages to the early 20th century.
- Women receiving some education, but not in the fields that everyone around them considered relevant for a poet. This is relevant most of all in the Renaissance and the couple of centuries that followed: 16th to 18th centuries. The idea is that women did not know much about classical antiquity or dead languages, and the current trends of the time were for poetry that imitated classic models. Therefore, women who wanted to express themselves poetically knew that their message was faulty.
- Women being told that having ovaries is an obstacle to good writing. Read the introduction to The Madwoman in the Attic if you want more information, as I can’t say anything you won’t find there.
- Women who finally can write and feel confident about their skills don’t turn up until the last couple of centuries. Hardly anyone can make a living out of poetry, and besides, someone who is painfully earning the right to be heard would rather write about stuff more immediate that lyrical poetry. Novels are ideal: wide readership that can provide an income (writers need to eat too), and a way to express ideals and at the same time tell stories.