April is National Poetry Month, which was founded by the Academy of American Poets in 1996 to honor the art of poetry, and to increase awareness and appreciation of poetry in America. In today’s day and age where technology rules and texting and email are our most pervasive forms of writing, poetry seems to have taken a back seat in most of our lives. So, when we decided we wanted to learn more about women in poetry, we turned to poet, former president of the Poetry Society of America and Woman You Should Know, Molly Peacock for a lesson.
Women In Poetry
by Molly Peacock
One of the best things to happen to poetry in the 21st century is women. Of course, women were the best things to happen to poetry in all times, the subjects of some fabulous love poems from the Psalms to John Donne. But when women kidnapped poetry in the 1970’s and 1980’s, suddenly women’s bodies were the subjects of their own songs, and that famous male gaze we talk about in movies became the female gaze, both at ourselves and at the men around us. Women have explored every inch of their bodies and psyches, revolutionizing the subjects of poetry, poking underneath taboos. For National Poetry Month try some of these women: Sharon Olds for poems about fathers, Louise Gluck for poems about lovers and ageing, Beth Ann Fennelly for poems about childbirth and mothering, Julie Sheehan for poems about a young woman living a 21st century life, Megan O’Rourke for trying to make sense of a family, Lorna Crozier for sex in age, Marilyn Chin for the snappy wisdom of a daughter, Marilyn Nelson for a savvy look at history, Marilyn Hacker for poems about breast cancer, Rita Dove for a look at generations, Phillis Levin for a dreamscape of mental life, Rachel Hadas for poems about losing a husband to dementia, Rebecca Wolff for a wiseass look at life in general. If you want one single book of poetry for National Poetry Month, I’d try the brand new and adorably sized little book from Everyman’s Library edited by Annie Finch and Marie Elizabeth Mali called Villanelles. It’s a bouquet of poems from both women and men that make a kind of handbook for living.
And as for the woman’s gaze on her own body, here’s a poem about a Sheela na Gig, one of those amazing and shocking Irish gargoyles that show a woman’s sex up close in stone, linking woman to woman to woman through centuries.
Sheela na gig, lady on her haunches,
squats with arms down, pulling her pudenda
away from her clitoris, which launches
out of her stone sculpted body a
prow that even when wind and hail blast a-
way her dugs and ribs and ears and bald head
snorks past any dilemma
of what it is: sex flung wide above a
church door, a masturbating gargoyle wed
to worship, her bulging eyes popping in
an orgasm, or death, or warning, or in
the puckered surprise of the release of
her god inside – old, old among the folds. Of
wraith-wisdom this: self-love.
Molly Peacock is a poet, essayist and creative nonfiction writer. Her latest work of nonfiction is the The Paper Garden: An Artist Begins Her Life’s Work at 72, at once a biography of an extraordinary 18th century artist and a meditation on late-life creativity. She is also the author of the memoir Paradise, Piece by Piece. Her most recent collection of poems is The Second Blush, love poems from a midlife marriage. One of the creators of New York’s Poetry in Motion program, she co-edited Poetry In Motion: One Hundred Poems From the Subways and Buses. She is also the editor of an anthology of essays, The Private I and a book about reading poetry, How to Read a Poem and Start a Poetry Circle. She serves as a Faculty Mentor at the Spalding University Brief Residency MFA Program in the US and as the Series Editor of The Best Canadian Poetry in English. A dual citizen of the US and Canada, Molly Peacock is a former New Yorker who makes her home in Toronto with her husband, two cats, and a jam-packed terrace garden.
For more poetry, the Academy of America Poets has a wonderful program that will deliver a Poem-A-Day to your email, register here.