Women: More Dead than Men. (And less so.)

August 8, 2014

Poems read at the Dead Poets’ Dinner in Canberra, July 22, 2014

Colin Campbell / Thomas Blackburn ‘A Smell of Burning’ and ‘Hospital for Defectives’
Marion Halligan / Yeats ‘Sailing to Byzantium’
Joyce Freedman / Siegfriend Sassoon ‘Everyone Sang’
Hazel Hall / Hilaire Belloc ‘Tarantella’
Chris Dorman / William Baine ‘The Archery of William Tell’
Kathy Kituai / Muso Susaki ‘Sun in Midnight’
Nicola Bowery / Sarah Broom ‘About Me’ and ‘That Moon’
Wendy McMahon Bell / Seamus Heaney ‘Digging’
P.S. Cottier / Catherine Martin ‘The Mouse Tower’
Geoff Page / Seamus Heaney ‘From the Republic of Conscience’
Laurie McDonald / David Meyers ‘Fencing in the Dark’
Carmel Summers / Janice Bostok ‘Amongst the Graffiti’
Moya Pacey / Elizabeth Bishop ‘One Art’ and Louis MacNeice ‘Wolves’
Rosa O’Kae / Seamus Heaney ‘Skunk’
Sue Edgar / J.L. Borges ‘Mirror’ and Sylvia Plath ‘Mirror’
Adrienne Johns / Hugh McDiarmid ‘Vanitas’ and ‘Balmorality’
John Stokes / R.F. Brissenden ‘The Whale in Darkness’
Mary Besemeres / Wizlawa Szymborska ‘View With a Grain of Sand’
Sarah Rice / T.S. Eliot excerpts from ‘Little Gidding’
Emily Rice / Ted Hughes ‘Tractor’
Annie Didcott / Keats ‘Ode to a Nightingale’
Tony Williams / Neruda ‘The Dead Woman’
Arlene Williams / J.J. Bray ‘Address to Pigeons in Hurtle Square’ and William Carlos Williams ‘This is just to say’
John Van de Graaff / Seamus Heaney ‘Follower’ and D.H. Lawrence ‘Piano’
Adrian Caesar / R.S. Thomas ‘The Owl’
Michael Thorley / Thomas Hardy ‘Channel Firing’ and ‘They’
Andrew McDonald / poems by two Scottish poets (Norman McCaig?)
Lesley Lebkowicz / poems by Soseki
Alan Gould / a song by Hamish Henderson
Alinta Leaver / Kenneth Koch ‘Variations on a Theme by William Carlos Williams’
Richard Scutter / Auden ‘Musée des Beaux Arts’ and Hopkins ‘Inversnaid’
Martin Dolan / Dylan Thomas ‘Prologue’
Marlene Hall / Thomas Wyatt ‘Whoso list upon the slipper top’
Melinda Smith / Francis Webb ‘Cap and Bells’ and ‘The Bells of St Peter Mancroft’
Ruth Pieloor / C.J. Dennis ‘The Austra—laise’
Janette Pieloor /Gwen Harwood ‘The Secret Life of Frogs’

37 readers chose poems to read by dead poets. 7 women’s poems were chosen. Please check and see if I got that right, as numbers and I rarely speak. I can’t work out the percentage, not being at all like the remarkable Ada Lovelace pictured below.

We continue to shape the world with the words of men only.

Poetry is an art form where many women work, and have done so for centuries. There are lots of works by ‘dead women poets’.

Are our aesthetic judgements so very narrow? Does thought spoil poetry?

I did get a giggle out of ‘The Dead Woman’ by Pablo Neruda. In one sense women are more dead than men, in that their/our poetry seems more easily buried. In another, it seems that they are not dead enough to qualify as Dead Poets, that is, those who are part of the pantheon.

I just don’t understand.

Apart from the retrospective silencing of women, it was a very enjoyable night.

Bias in the sciences and bias in the arts

Bias in the sciences and bias in the arts

8 Responses to “Women: More Dead than Men. (And less so.)”

  1. leamuse said

    Fascinating! Years ago we would gather in Sacramento’s oldest cemetery on the anniversary of Walt Whitman’s birth and read poems both his and original. It was wonderful!

  2. A few thoughts:

    * Perhaps it would be a good idea to have one Dead Poets’ Dinner with the restriction that all poems read must be by women. That might help people research the range of poetry that qualifies and make use of what they’ve learned when choosing poems for subsequent ‘open’ editions.
    * I felt sad to see the recently-deceased New Zealand poet Sarah Broom on the list – not because her work does not deserve to be there, as she was a very fine poet, but because she fulfilled the eligibility criteria far too early
    * I have just finished listening to a radio interview with the poetry editor of NZ’s Takahe magazine, Joanna Preston, who said that between 2/3 and 3/4 of the submissions she receives are from women – which backs up my impression from NZ poetry ventures I have been involved in. I wonder if the increasing dominance of women in writing poetry – *if* it’s reflected in who gets collections published – will come to be reflected in future Dead Poets’ Dinners?

  3. pscottier said

    I’m not an organiser of the event, Tim, so all I can do is suggest.

    Most of the launches I go to of poetry collections are by women; doesn’t mean that they get the same number of reviews as men’s collections though.

    And note the lack of Emily Dickinson, for example, who has been around, and regarded as one of the best poets ever produced by the United States for some while.

    There are many well-known dead Australian poets who were women, too. Dorothy Hewett. Dorothy Porter. Oodgeroo Noonuccal. Judith Wright. Absent from the list.

    I think that a women’s only night might lead people to think that they have ‘done women’…and the normal dispensation would reappear. But I could raise it.

    Thank you for the thoughtful comment.

  4. I realise this could be at most a suggestion, and one not without its own disadvantages. In any case, whatever the mechanism, I hope this imbalance is righted soon!

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