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 .) 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.
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.