THREE NEW FEMALE VOICES I ADMIRE, AND WHY IT MATTERS
Every poetry teacher I’ve ever encountered has stressed the importance of reading much and reading widely; of exploring voices similar to your own alongside poets you may struggle with; of delving into the poetry of past decades and centuries as well as your contemporaries who have grown out of or pushed away from them. I’m embarrassed to admit it wasn’t until a graduate workshop with Marie Howe that I realized how few of the poets I sought out, encountered, or clung to, were female—and how that had affected my ability to find my own voice for sharing my experience of the world. I will be forever grateful to those poets who, early on, changed and expanded what I understood a poem was capable of. But it was when I actively began reading female poets as a female poet that I began to understand what I was capable of in a poem. I will always return to the poets in whom I found a sort of permission to talk about the female experience as I knew it—Linda Gregg, Louise Glück, Sharon Olds, Dorianne Laux, to name a few—but my excitement grows every time I come across new female voices, and with them come new possibilities and permissions and corners I’m less afraid to venture into. Here are three first books, published this spring, by female poets I fully intend to take a lesson, or ten, from (plus lines I love and some further reading).
Eyes, Stones by Elana Bell
LSU Press, Spring 2012, Winner of the Walt Whitman Award
When I gave this book to a friend, the response I got back was, “I love what this book does, and what it doesn’t do.” I carried this comment with me, lovingly, back into the collection, realizing the content itself has its own sense of white space—a strength of both the author and the book. Elana Bell’s award-winning debut collection explores, through myriad voices, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I say “explore” to honor what the book “does not do”—it does not tackle or attempt to solve the conflict, it does not try to explain or justify. It neither lauds nor demonizes the writer, the speakers, or the reader. Here, the poet acts as witness, as medium for the stories of others’ experience as well as her own. The granddaughter of Holocaust survivors and a teacher of poetry in both Israel and Palestine, Bell lends her richly lyric voices to even the darkest corners.
“City of bones, I return to you with dust on my tongue. Return to your ruined temple, your spirit of revolt. Return to you, the ache at the center of the world.”
After the Witch Hunt by Megan Falley
Write Bloody, Spring 2012
If there’s one thing Write Bloody does best, it’s bring voices to the page we might not have encountered otherwise, but often are sure to see again and again. Megan Falley is a masterful storyteller, as skilled at portraying unmistakable tone as she is with the narrative’s unfolding. From just plain dark to the darkly humorous, Falley remains in-your-face without being afraid to let some vulnerability shine through, making those moments cut even deeper. Though the collection is heavily populated by violence—men against women, women against themselves—the voices in these poems are so steeped in an almost uneasy honesty that even when we start to feel a soapbox beneath us, Falley quickly kicks it out from under our feet.
“I am melting my brass knuckles down into tiny trumpets. I am singing this forgiveness song over and over, until I believe it.”
Good Grief by Stevie Edwards
Write Bloody, Spring 2012
The publisher’s description of the books says, “Stevie Edwards stumbles over foal legs through Chicago and kneels down to confront the wreckage of her skinned knees.” And even with all the grief that finds her there, Edwards never plays the victim. Though we encounter many of the expected narratives of adolescence, Edwards’ command of the language and her refusal to back away from the toughest details of the confession (which often lead us far beyond where we’re used to the story ending) makes these experiences as raw and nearly brutal as the first time. Seamlessly moving between storytelling and lyric thought, we gladly follow her leaps both because we’ve come to care about the speaker enough to want to make sure she’s okay when she lands, and because her unapologetic recounting is so seductive we can’t help but want to lean in a little closer to the trouble.
“At the end of the body / is a skittering toward the warm, / soft center of grief. I am nearly gone.”
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Other female poets I’m currently reading: Traci Brimhall; Camille Dungy; Keetje Kuipers; Rose McLarney; Rebecca Lindenberg; Aracelis Girmay, Heather Christle.
VICTORIA LYNNE MCCOY earned an MFA in poetry from Sarah Lawrence College. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Boxcar Poetry Review, PANK, Union Station Magazine, and Used Furniture Review, among others. Victoria serves as the Frost Place Work Fellow, is a member of the louderARTS Project, and has facilitated workshops for high school students with PEN American Center’s Readers & Writers program. She lives in Brooklyn and works for Four Way Books.