Anne Sexton was born in Newton, Masachusetts in 1928. Sexton was the youngest of three daughters and quickly earned the title of the wild child. At seventeen, her parents sent her to Rogers Hall Boarding School in Lowell, Massachusetts to try and cure the rebellious side in her. After graduating from school, Sexton attended what she would later call a "finishing school" before she met and eloped with Alfred Sexton II in 1948. For a short time after their marriage, she modeled for a small agency. But after her husband was sent to Korea for a time, Sexton gave up modeling to be like a typical '50s housewife—but she was anything but.
I’ve always felt poetry to be above me, something I could not connect with or fully understand. Or that poetry by women was always sappy (I've since realized that learning about poetry through a white male canonic lens brainwashed me into thinking that way). After hearing my friend Lisa Wells read from her new chapbook Beast I knew there was something incredibly deep and moving to be gained from not only reading more poetry but actually being able to listen to it. In honor of National Poetry Month I asked Lisa to compile a list of her top five recommended poetry collections for me (with a special tribute added for Adrienne Rich), and asked if I could record her reading some of the work so I could listen more closely. Here's what she had to say.
CALYX Journal begins its 36th year of publishing fine art and literature by women with its winter 2012 issue (vol. 27, no. 3). This self-described feminist literary journal allows women’s voices to be front and center, which is why its four female founders created it in 1976. Referencing a recent survey conducted by VIDA: Women in Literary Arts the introduction in the summer 2011 issue of CALYX points out that women’s voices are still highly marginalized in the literary journals and magazines, making their mission as relevant as ever.
Dorianne Laux's fifth book of poetry, The Book of Men, was released earlier this year. Spoiler alert: It is NOT ACTUALLY A BOOK OF MEN. It is a book of earth, and sex, and war, and food, and even a book of Cher. Yep. Cher. After reading The Book of Men I immersed myself in Laux's other books, and have emerged remembering what is best about reading poems.
Even in the male-dominated world of classic literature, Sappho has long been considered one of the greatest lyric poets of all time. The scholars of Hellenistic Alexandria named her (in the company of eight men) as one of the nine melic, or musical, poets worth studying, and in a loaded compliment, Plato famously dubbed her "the tenth muse." She served as the inspiration for countless paintings and sculptures, but unlike the mythical muses, Sappho did not exist to facilitate anyone's art but her own.
I am in awe of feminist author and activist Dorothy Allison.
Born in South Carolina in 1949 and now living in California, Allison has attracted numerous accolades in the last thirty years for her six published books. (They include Lambda Literary Awards, ALA Awards for Lesbian and Gay Writing and a ridiculous number of others.) She is the rare writer to reach, in my opinion, wonderful heights in nonfiction, fiction, and poetry, though her two already-released full-length novels, Bastard Out of Carolina and Cavedweller, are her most famous works.
April is National Poetry Month in the US, so libraries, schools, and booksellers are banding together to celebrate the importance of poetry. Here at Bitch HQ, we're excited to have an excuse to sit down with some feminist poetry.
Who are your favorite feminist poets? What are your favorite feminist poems?
Here is the semi-embarrassing circumstance that resulted in the more-than-semi-embarrassing-realization that I haven't yet written about Maya Angelou for this blog: I was watching the first day of OWN's (Oprah Winfrey Network, duh) new programming with my mom, (...nope. Can't even come up with a sarcastic parenthetical. I just was.) and saw that Dr. Angelou would be featured on an upcoming series called "Master Class." Actually, I saw that a new show on OWN would feature Maya Ang—, which is all I saw before I bolted off the couch to my computer and yelled back to my mom that we needed to figure out DVR recording before Sunday night at 10. She was surprised by my new enthusiasm for the Winfrey gospel, needless to say. And I'm surprised I haven't yet waxed adoring on this writer, this poet, this actress, director, dancer, professor, activist, this woman who more than any other artist makes me glad to be American, to be female, to be human at the same time as her.