This publication marks the first time in a hundred years that a wide range of nineteenth-century American women's poetry has been accessible to the general public in a single volume. Included are the humorous parodies of Phoebe Cary and Mary Weston Fordham and the stirring abolitionist poems of Lydia Sigourney, Frances Harper, Maria Lowell, and Rose Terry Cooke. Included, too, are haunting reflections on madness, drug use, and suicide of women whose lives, as Cheryl Walker explains, were often as melodramatic as the poems they composed and published. In addition to works by more than two dozen poets, the anthology includes ample headnotes about each author's life and a brief critical evaluation of her work. Walker's introduction to the volume provides valuable contextual material to help readers understand the cultural background, economic necessities, literary conventions, and personal dynamics that governed women's poetic production in the nineteenth century.
In this illuminating critical study, Lesley Wheeler argues for a women’s tradition in American poetry lyric poetry characterized by figures of enclosure. She examines how six dissimilar yet interconnected poets employ this idiom: Emily Dickinson, Marianne Moore, H.D., Gwendolyn Brooks, Elizabeth Bishop, and Rita Dove.
As Wheeler notes, the terms “closed” and “open” have long posed problems for poets and scholars. Addressing such controversies, the author offers three meanings for enclosure: formal confinement, reserve or privacy in both style and content, and a central dependency on imagery of narrow spaces. She finds that Brooks does not exercise “privacy” in the same manner as Dickinson or H.D. and that Moore’s conception of poetic form contrasts sharply with those of Bishop and Dove. Nevertheless, Wheeler asserts, these authors demonstrate a common approach to the lyric that constitutes a central and overlooked mode of American poetry.
In charting the history of an evolving and flexible poetic strategy, The Poetics of Enclosure also argues for the continuing relevance of lyric as a category. While the poets treated here all mount challenges to lyric definition, they also work in crucial relation to its traditions. All conceive of the lyric in terms of rhythmic and/or visual patterns; all allude to the metaphor of voice; and, in particular, all emphasize the boundaries between private and public that the lyric highlights. Where figures of enclosure appear, Wheeler argues, these poets not only illuminate their poetic practice but also, after Dickinson, acknowledge in shorthand their female peers and predecessors.
The Author: Lesley Wheeler is associate professor of English at Washington and Lee University. She has published essays and reviews in the African American Review, Callaloo, Critical Matrix, and other journals. Her poetry has appeared in such publications as American Writing, Northeast Journal, and American Standard.