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As I finish researching the sexism faced by woman poets all through history, I am almost scared at the thought of being a woman poet, even in the 21st Century!
I decided to devour the two volumes of David Daiches’ A Critical History of English Literature some three weeks ago. It was a bright sunny day, the one bearing a lazy afternoon breeze. But my desperation to plunge into the depths of poetry insisted that I promptly begin the book.
I probed through its contents and laboriously marked the chapters concerned with poetry. All these sections were either titled after the name of the male poets or the era they could be categorized into. The fact that not one chapter out of the big-fat 29 displayed the name of a woman writer agitated me.
Deriving hope, soothing my heart that these were only contents, not the complete chapters, that there must be women poets inside the book, I immersed myself in its yellow pages. Hours passed, days went by, and I managed to conclude the ten lengthy chapters dedicated to poetry. But the triumph I conventionally experienced at consummating a book was lacking this time. Though the book was ripe with knowledge, it felt incomplete, it left me restless.
For reasons known and ignored. But the fact that other than a paragraph devoted to Christina Rossetti, no other woman poet secured a notable mention in David Daiches’ masterpiece distressed me in degrees inexpressible. Not able to believe in the verity of the information laid bare, I did a quick google search, ‘List of female poets up to the 19th century’.
I was relatively pleased with the sight of a Wikipedia list flashing on my screen, names still less than those of male poets. Gradually, on reading those names, I felt dispirited, guilty, and impoverished of my knowledge of poetry, precisely of women poets. Of all those names, I could only recall Sappho, Aphra Behn, Elizabeth Barret Browning, and a few others, perhaps that too owing to my literature background.
Those confidently presented names on my laptop screen proclaimed a sense of collective sadness as if shrieking their tales for the ears alert to subdued voices. They inflamed in me a fire, full of rage and questions, asking. Where were the women poets? What were they doing? Were they occupied conceiving and rearing Shakespeare’s and Milton’s? Were they made to act as the epitomes of sacrifice, assisting Johnson and Gray to write? I guess they were the obscured sensations, penning their afflicted narratives and restraints at night, they were the victims of patriarchy, poets trained by life, who, if liberated could have made their poetic flight.
Women poets have been the victims of this sexist bias such that sexism is ingrained in the definition of ‘art’ by its practitioners, who ironically preach it as ‘genderless.’ Despite everything, women fought. Their years of revolt effected a massive wave of ‘Women Literature’ in the mid-19th century, acquainting the world with poets like Emily Dickinson and George Eliot.
Women dared, the ripple made, the world changed. Literature too but stereotypes did not, because their roots remained intact, patriarchy retained. That is the thing with prejudice and oppression, once unleashed, it can never be reverted until its roots are abolished, wrecked, and dashed to be dealt with by nature.
As I put aside this book, lean back in my chair, close my eyes, and retrospect on the realities I learned, I am almost scared at the thought of being a woman poet, even in the 21st century. As the scale of gender bias went down through the years, up went the meter of mechanicality, hurling poets and their poetry in a never-ending fight. I repeat, ‘endless,’ because the roots are untouched and mechanicality ubiquitous.
I glance at the history of ‘women writers,’ the minute fragment of the entire English Literature it comprises and am baffled at the courage I dare to possess. I realize the seriousness of the path I desire of the aspiration to write my name in that brief history of ‘Women Writers,’ and to a slight fraction lengthen its part.
Considering this, I at times get scared of the journey I embark on, of the destination I am willing to reach, for above all the uncertainties in life, the uncertainty of being a woman poet.
Image Source: Still from the movie Band Baaja Baaraat
Muskan is an undergraduate literature student, an avid reader and a writer. Her areas of interest include gender, sexuality and psychology. She feels strongly for the things around and does not shy away from voicing read more...
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