STEALING THE LANGUAGE: The Emergence of Women Poetry in America by Alicia Suskin Ostriker
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STEALING THE LANGUAGE: The Emergence of Women Poetry in America

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A great, powerful, forceful, masterly, violent and true critical work, offering phrases, lines, and passages which are compact and alive, witty, wild, wise, and vigorous, words which speak--swiftly and memorably--large and complicated realities. The above statement, a fair description of Stealing the Language, is couched in words usually reserved for men. More typically, when women poets are praised, ""Complimentary adjectives. . .shift toward the diminutives: graceful, subtle, elegant, delicate, cryptic, and, above all, modest; for the most continuous term of approbation for a woman poet from the early 19th century on has been modesty."" According to W. H. Auden, Adrienne Rich's first poems ""are neatly and modestly dressed, speak quietly but do not mumble, respect their elders but are not cowed by them, and do not tell fibs."" What poet could raise his pen again if praised such by Auden, the poet? Herself the author of six books of poetry, Vision and Verse in William Blake, and editor of Blake's Complete Poems, Ostriker calls Blake ""first among poets in my life. . .rulebreaker and revolutionary . . . Reading women poets whose insights are painful, threatening, and confusing has been a challenge comparable to reading Blake."" Her subject is ""the extraordinary tide of poetry by American women in our own time. . . a literary movement comparable to romanticism or modernism in our literary past."" Taking off from 1960, she studies, among others, Muriel Rukeyser, Anne Sexton, Adrienne Rich, Sylvia Plath, Denise Levertov, Margaret Atwood, Mona Van Duyn, H.D. and Diane Wakoski, as well as poetry by black, lesbian, third-world, and working-class women, poets whose work choses ""to explore experiences central to their sex and to fred forms and styles appropriate to their exploration."" Ostriker also creates an astounding anthology of bits and pieces of the most blistering women's poetry ever written, hot, glowing touchstones of woman with pen in hand, ""her/old self bleeding in pieces on the butcher paper,"" as Sharon Olds has written.

Pub Date: May 23rd, 1986
Publisher: Beacon