(tessera, no. 5, is available for $10, from Department of English, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, B.C. V5A lS6, Canada.)
after five volumes, six years? As you might imagine, the decision has been extremely difficult to make, provoked by major and unexpected depletions of time and energy for editing competing with the more private pull of one's own writing. Also, funding for our "modest proposal" has been nearly impossible, between an intentional page limitation and our peculiar hybrid of innovative poetry with feminist critical writing. However, there's been such a voiced disappointment among our readers that we are currently considering alternative solutions. Meanwhile, it is evident that women interested in new directions in writing are no longer isolated, urged on by the provocative legacy embedded in the texts of the modernist women preceding us. We've got a good start on building a much-needed community; the talent and invention of women poets is clearly burgeoning; and the once non-existent dialog among scholar/critics and innovative writers has warmed up. Surely there is more to come.
Perhaps unintentionally, Rena Rosenwasser's somewhat negative overview of Louise Bogan (HOW(ever) January 1988) creates a binary opposition of sorts with the notes on Marianne Moore that precede and follow it. While it's true that for many years Bogan wished to distance herself from the spectre of the nineteenth century "wailing" poetess, this was obviously a love-hate relationship. As Gloria Bowles points out in her book on Bogan, Bogan eventually came to celebrate the unbroken line of feeling that she felt characterized the American female lyric tradition. Her own collection, The Blue Estuaries, is itself indebted to this distinctly "female" school of verse; in fact, in Bogan, the tradition, modulated by currents of Modernism, may reach its most consummate expression.
Bogan's quandry, which leads to her density, stems from the need to accommodate more than one tradition--the "wailing poetess" as well as that of lyric modernists like Yeats and Rilke. It is in this essentially dialogic arena that she can re-enact the terms of her ambivalence, an ambivalence that has much to do with gender.
Consider, for starters, her oft-anthologized piece, "Women." Pitting two classically "feminine" attributes against one another--limited vision and emotional excess--Bogan moves from the (socially constructed) paucity of "Women have no wilderness in them" to the aural plenitude of "They hear in every whisper that speaks to them / A shout and a cry." Proscription yields to an excess beyond the ken of the practical, clean-cleft male world. Further, though we may initially assume men are privy to the wilderness denied women, Bogan perversely goes on to identify them with "so many crops to a field" and "clean wood cleft by an axe"--activities as tame in their own way as "eat(ing) dusty bread." If this is "life," women might just as well "let it go by"--though the poem can't quite tell us in favor of what.
As long as women suffer from the inability of their imaginations to make meaning of the world as it has been defined, they can only "use against themselves that benevolence / To which no man is friend." Bogan's vision is admittedly somewhat bleak, but, in counterpoint to her aesthetic of limitation, an intriguing thread of surplus, rather like the trickle of snow water she invokes in "Women," makes itself heard (hers is a perfect ear) when one attends her closely.
Bogan's lyrics, then, may lend themselves to an (im)proper reading as well as any (Moore) obviously avant-garde text: "Do not guard this as rich stuff without mark / Closed in a cedern dark," Bogan cautions us in "Memory." It would be a pity for feminists to denigrate excellence--and ways of getting at it--in any form, when we're still endeavoring to piece together women's writing.