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MAY I SUGGEST WHY WOMEN SHOULD WRITE LYRIC POETRY (AS OPPOSED TO NARRATIVE AND OTHER POETIC FORMS)? - PART I

Updated: Jan 18


LYRIC POETRY INHERENTLY PROVIDES A VOICE AND PLATFORM TO WOMEN THAT IS SPECIFICALLY PERSONAL -- AND LONG OVERDUE


Like Greek poet Sappho, women should write lyric poetry (named after the lyre, or in other languages might be translated as "song") principally because lyric poetry enhances the personal voice.


Voice is something in women that has historically and continually been ignored or marginalized in a patriarchal society which unrelentingly values and reinforces the male as norm, and women's silence.


Finding my voice is a principal reason that I write poetry. I also do so because lyric poetry is most likely the poetic form closest to music when one considers the identifying and characteristic elements thereof, especially this poetic form's reliance on sound, a topic for a future blog.


As Colorado Review Editorial Assistant Margaret Browne says about the lyrical tradition:


"For many women writing, being able to claim space, to write from our experiences, and to utilize the 'I' as a way of claiming agency, is still incredibly new. And it offers radical possibilities for us as women to claim space where we can empower ourselves and criticize those structures that seek to quiet us."


There are of course, other reasons that lyric poetry can speak to and reflect in particular and beneficial ways women wants and experiences, as opposed to other major poetic genres such as narrative, epic, imagist, or other. I've begun to think about and identify those ways and although preliminary, I suggest the principal reason above, and one below in this essay, even as I continue to search for an erudite and likely, academic feminist analysis of my specific topic; I know it's out there, and will be the subject of a "Part II" of this blog.


As an aside, it was easy to locate a commentary on how women have been criticized for using one significant identifying element of lyric poetry, namely, the personal "I." Brown says:


"What interests me is the common experience many women have in which their poetry is criticized as too lyric or lyrical, whether or not they’re writing in the lyric mode, simply because their poetry utilizes an “I,” especially when that “I” seeks to examine and represent the female experience...Many women writing into the “I” are called dramatic, emotional, and self-indulgent, while their male counterparts are called thoughtful, reflective, and brave as they write in the same mode."


And many women would respond, "but of course, what else is new?"


But didn't Harvard Professor Jonathan Culler in his 2015 book "Theory of the Lyric" say that brief hyperbole is one identifying factor of lyric poetry (he did) -- which according to some men, women do quite well?!. I'll explore Culler's theory further in Part II, once I receive and read his book; you may view a YouTube presentation of his theory here.


LYRIC POETRY ALIGNS WITH ACTIVISM AS WELL AS WITH THE SEMINAL WOMEN'S LIBERATION'S THEORY THAT "THE PERSONAL IS POLITICAL"


Professor Culler says in his video presentation noted above, that the formal dimensions of lyrics "contribute to their ritualistic as opposed to fictional aspect...it seems important that the reader be not just a (passive) listener or an audience but also a performer of the lines." To this extent, lyric poetry inspires activism.


The moderator of a fascinating discussion on the lyric in the Academy of American Poet's "Chancellor's Conversations", starting from 2.53 to 3.02 minutes in, says that lyric poems have "always" changed the "deal" or the status quo. The moderator talks about the fundamental transformations of lyric poetry. Disappointingly, in her several examples she does not mention women's liberation.


It seems clear to me that in a patriarchal society, nothing more need be said about the revolutionary possibilities of lyric poetry to speak women's opinions clearly, and as such, may fairly be thought of as a type of activism. Writing, reading, and discussing lyric poetry especially when written by women, can assist improve women's condition and enhance our independence, self-determination, and freedom.


Considering the dismal state of the current politics of exclusion and retrenchment in all civil rights in the US, it is not easy for women (or our pro-feminist male colleagues) to speak up and continue to press forward -- but it is inevitable.

 

Donne–we are all women, true!

(What did my mother mean

to say, "We women suffer so"?

From that, what do I glean?)

 

We weep, we laugh,

we know our truth–then forget it in a flash.

Come clash and clang of prison gates

and we’re alone at last.

 

The worm that’s buried, oh, so deep,

propels us to one fate;

it’s sinuous, slimy, seductive self

tells us it’s “too late.”

 

So will it cause us to be silent

or seduce our mortal sin

to let love and art and music, all,

retreat to live within?

_______

*Donne, Italian for "women." Inspired by the website of opera singer Gabriella di Laccio. Laccio’s mission is to make more visible the prodigious contribution of women to music. She reports the astounding and devastating fact that, in October, 2022, almost nine out often pieces played by orchestras around the world were composed by white men. She provides a list of more than 5,000 women composers, and offers program consultation services to music directors who are committed to the inclusion of women, including minority and LGBQT women, to achieve a more just musical world.






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