A FEMINIST POET'S POETS: APPRECIATING SCHEMING WOMEN [ Scheming Women: Poetry, Privilege, and the Politics of Subjectivity --Cynthia Hogue SUNY Press, 1995 ]

      Cynthia Hogue is a feminist poet. So analyzing the strains and "schemes" through which women have historically written verse seems -- dare I use a term so rightfully suspect in feminist theory? -- almost natural. In Hogue's recently acclaimed book, , this critic's own technical mastery of poetic convention, subverted and subtended by feminist-language experiments, controls her subtle close readings. Hogue's mastery creates a rereading of canonical and yet often misunderstood women's poetic texts from the American tradition, beginning with Emily Dickinson and concluding with Adrienne Rich. Such "mastery" leads us, ironically and refreshingly, to unmastering conclusions. Hogue's poets write, she teaches us, through "equivocation" -- Hogue's inventive term for women poets' purposeful, strategic deviance through language.

      "Equivocation" explains the work of what Hogue calls "the scheme" in women's poetic subjectivity. Revisiting the Kristevan linguistic revolution and notion of the abject, Hogue proposes that a syntactic deviation, a "scheme," allows these women to scheme, defying the supposedly "universal experience" of "the lone male poet as visionary" dominating post-Romantic poetic convention (4). Equivocation is the means by which women refuse to unite -- here Hogue quotes a letter of Dickinson's -- the "'fracture within.'" Through this equivocal scheme/scheming, a radical, diverse, divergent female subject emerges.

      These well-anthologized women poets -- the ones we read in high school and in college intro-to-literature classes -- do speak a language of/for the patriarchy, the language of "proper" white womanhood. But Hogue shows us how such language operates as female masquerade. She shows us how to view the invisible agoraphobic Dickinson, for instance, robed in white and pent up in the upper chambers of her father's Victorian Amherst house, exploding through the very device of public invisibility she chooses to mark a rhetoric of class struggle. (Dickinson, as Hogue writes, evaded and equivocated the "controlling gaze . . . of sexual politics" by remaining physically, literally invisible [33].) And Hogue shows us how to view the ladylike Marianne Moore, needling into the lacework of an intricate poetic schema, in works like "Virginia Britannia," a poetic reproduction that blasts the mirror of American ideological reproduction. Through Hogue's highly structural and yet lyrically written probings, we come to see Moore as a closeted Althusserian, decrying an American national identity built upon colonialism and aboriginal genocide.

      Hogue's general notion that white women poets subvert white patriarchal constructions of power, masculinity and "womanhood" is, of course, not completely new. She gives almost heavy-handed credit to the many feminist theorists who have come before her, beginning with classic works like Madwoman in the Attic, by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar. But one can only appreciate the astounding level at which Scheming Women analyzes, gives structural weight to, a specific strategy by which these particular American women writers found their way, their voice, against enormous and threatening odds. They did so by both gendering and racializing a political poetics. Hogue knows these poetics from the inside out, a working/ publishing poet herself since the 1970's. I recommend a further exploration of Hogue's own poetic "equivocations" and schemes, in her multiple poetry volumes.

--Laura Hinton     

Bio: Laura Hinton is an Assistant Professor of English at The City College of New York, where she teaches feminist theory, women's literature and the postmodern novel, as well as film studies. Her pieces have appeared in Women's Studies, Eighteenth-Century Studies, Film Criticism, Private Arts and Women Poets of the Americas, ed. Jacqueline V. Brogan and Cordelia Candelaria (Notre Dame Press, 1999). Hinton's first book, a study of the sentimental novel's development into the mass media, is entitled, The Perverse Gaze of Sympathy: Sadomasochistic Sentiments from Clarissa to Rescue 911 (Albany: SUNY Press, October 1999). She is currently working on a second book, tentatively entitled, Reconceiving the Romance: Contemporary Women's Fiction and the Fetish of Desire.

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