Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The lives of poets of the twentieth century





Even if you are not interested in poetry you may still be entranced by the lives of the poets portrayed in these fascinating anthologies. Many of these poets did not make a living writing poetry and this “double life” makes them, in my opinion, much more interesting.   
 
  Such was the case of William Carlos Williams, a pediatrician who jotted down his poems between examinations and house calls, often on prescription pads. His friend Wallace Stevens also had a double life.  Wallace Stevens was as forward-thinking in insurance as he was original in poetry, but he kept his two lines separate.
   T.S. Eliot presented himself as a businessman. His most important works of poetry emerged from his intellectual struggles and the emotional crises of his private life.
  Other poets whose lives I found interesting and somewhat chaotic were Ezra Pound, Hilda Doolittle, Anne Sexton, Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Plath and many others. This is an excellent selection of English-speaking poets of the twentieth century that kept me turning the pages. The individual introductions provide biographical details with historical background that are followed by samples of their work. Their poems piqued my curiosity to read more by them. The selection and writing of  this book was done by Joseph Parisi, former editor of Poetry Magazine.
 

     
Another great anthology I borrowed from the library is called The Poetry of Our World. This one brings together poets from all over the world (Europe, the English-speaking world, Latin America, Africa and Asia). The presentation of the poets resembles the one of the book I discussed above.
  We are invited to understand the circumstances of their lives, challenges and historical setting.
    This book, however, has an important flaw in the selection of Latin American poets. Nothing is said about Gabriela Mistral, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1945. Gabriela was a poet from Chile who was ostracized in her own country for being honest and straightforward in her writing and also for being a woman.
   Other important poets that were not even mentioned are Alfonsina Storni from Argentina and Juana de Ibarbourou from Uruguay
    It dawned on me that out of the 15 poets from Latin America that are included in this anthology only one is female: Claribel Alegria. And the reason why she was included was that she had met the writer of this section in person. The writer of this section is Carolyn Forche.
   This past weekend I contacted Carolyn Forche, award winner poet and professor at Georgetown University, to ask her why they had ignored these remarkable poets. I also pointed out the bias against female poets. There is no reason to believe that these women are less talented than their male counterparts (Pablo Neruda, Cesar Vallejo, Jorge Luis Borges and others).
    Forche said that she had not made the selection herself and was unable to provide any more information. At least I sparked her curiosity. (Now she is also wondering about this bias).
    If you can read in Spanish, feel free to read the articles I wrote about Gabriela Mistral and Alfonsina Storni two years ago. If you don’t read in Spanish and are interested in them, you can google their names. (You may end up finding the reason why they were not included in this anthology).
   What I learned from this experience is that these poets who had to endure gender discrimination in their own countries during their lifetime, continue to endure it now that they are dead.
  Perhaps it's time for a discussion on elitism in literature.
  Till my next post. ( I may not post on Sunday because I will be busy working on a deadline, but I will try).


20 comments:

  1. I'm a poetry lover, so both these books sound appealing to me. Lately I've been trying to include more poetry reading in my day, so I'll look for these. Thanks for the thorough reviews. It's good that you brought the second book's omissions to the attention of Carolyn Forche.On another note, my husand and I are studying Spanish, so I've bookmarked your two articles and will try to read them. Have a good day.

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    1. Hi Elizabeth. Thank you very much for your interest in my articles. Let me know what you think. I'd appreciate your feedback.
      I'm glad that you find these reviews useful. Take care.

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  2. I'm fascinated by the lives of artists. They usually don't have it easy.

    I'm not sure why the bias against women poets, if there is one. But, there are a lot of things I don't understand in this world.

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    1. I think it is the same reason why these women were shunned, censored and criticized in their own countries.
      Feel free to borrow this book from your local library to check the data I mentioned here.
      Thank you for your comment.

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  3. Hi Julia,

    When it comes to poetry, it certainly can be subjective. I reckon that's the beauty of it. I'm intrigued by your links and your reading choices. Time permitting, I shall peruse further.

    A bias against female poets is somewhat akin to the bias towards female science fiction writers. Quite preposterous.

    Be well and until next time you post, I shall now go.

    Gary

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    1. Dear Gary,
      When subjectivity is biased by gender, I call it discrimination.
      How does Julius sound for a pen-name?

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  4. Interesting post. It inspired me to check one of my favorite poetry books, which was given to me on January 2, 1959. (According to my inscription on the inside cover.) The book is called "Other Men's Flowers", copyright 1945. It's a nearly 400-page book chock full of delightful poetry, but it wasn't until I read your post that I realized how few of them were written by women. (How could I not have noticed that before?) It's a stunning revelation, and I'm a little stunned I was so dense not to have noticed that before, especially since I fancied myself a poet at the time.

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    1. Wonderful, Susan! I love to read this. It makes it all worthwhile.

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  5. Julia I love reading things like this so I think I would love to learn more. I love learning about how the great writers of the world lived and functioned. I also agree with Gary in that poetry is very subjective and that's one of its great beauties :)

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  6. Hahaha.
    I love your sense of humor, Optimistic.

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  7. Julia, I find the “double life” of poets very interesting, too. I like the approach of anthologies that examine the nuts and bolts of the lives of poets beyond their works of poetry. Disappointing, however, that “The Poetry of Our World” neglected to mention those important female Latin American poets, especially Nobel Prize-winning poet, Gabriela Mistral.

    Thank you for standing up for Latin American women poets and contacting Carolyn Forche about this. Well, I found her answer to be a little weak, but perhaps once the writer’s job is done, the selection is done by the editor or publisher. I sure hope your call has sparked her curiosity! I wish I could read in Spanish. You’re bilingual? That’s fantastic!

    Totally agree with your summation that female poets who had to endure gender discrimination in their own countries in life now continue to endure it in death. Yes, I think it is time for a discussion on elitism in literature.

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    1. Jersey, thank you for acknowledging this important matter.
      To answer your question: yes, I'm bilingual.
      I'm glad you share my concerns. I know some people may get nervous when they have to face the truth, but I think it is the first step to change a situation. I agree with all the statements you made...

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    2. Another interesting paradox is that Gabriela Mistral influenced Pablo Neruda and other male writers, so it makes no sense to omit her name. (It has nothing to do with subjectivity).

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    3. Julia, I completely agree!

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  8. Though I am fascinated with poetry, I have never tried writing it, Julia.

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    1. If you try it, you may find it addictive.

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  9. Hi Julia .. I have this post still to read - and having just mentioned Felicia Hemans, poet, in my recent post .. I need to come back and read properly. Felicia was popular in the States .. her Wiki page makes informative reading ..

    It's always so interesting how posts tie back and the links arrive - I know so little, but each smattering adds in to the brain of knowledge ...

    Cheers I'll read properly during the week - Hilary

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    1. Thank you Hilary. I will read about Felicia Hemans then.
      Your new profile picture is beautiful.
      Happy Sunday.

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  10. I went to the library recently and picked up a compilation of poems. It's 500 pages thick. It is a treasure.
    R

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    1. You intrigued me, Rick. You will have to share more about that on your blog now...

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I appreciate each and every comment. Thank you.