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ALTITUDE ADJUSTMENT: Writerly Women

I’ve never handled poetry well. For an English major, that category of study has always been difficult for me in an embarrassing way. Aren’t all writers poets? I really wish that were the case. Sometimes I can scrape together poetic thoughts and create something legible, but the real hassle comes with picking apart pieces that others have written.

Analyzing poetry is like pulling teeth for me, as it is for many others. In an attempt to better myself, I’m enrolled in a 20th-century women poets course. So far, I’ve just been cursing writers specifically by name as they riddle me with complex, coarse, imagery-soaked stanzas.

They fought against boys-only topics and rules

Yes, I’m talking to you, Rukeyser, Moore, and Rich.

Sometimes it takes a dozen re-readings for me to understand a single line of a poem, and it can be hard not to feel intellectually inferior. However, if there’s anything this class has taught me, it’s that poetry is not meant to be exclusive. The women I’m studying have shown that in the literary world, they were able to break down the barriers in front of them and take poetry as their own. They fought against sexism and stereotypes and boys-only topics and rules.

I might have a hard time identifying specific poetic form or unpacking the literary devices in each of their poems, but Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton have taught me more than I could have anticipated. They had the courage and drive to write about the topics no one thought they wanted to read: menstruation, abortion, adultery, addiction, and mental illness. They did it anyway, and changed the game.

Another poet, Elizabeth Bishop, spent 30 years writing and perfecting a poem about a moose crossing the road. Brilliant. She dedicated 30 years to her craft, which is a testament to hard work and dedication. And maybe, just maybe, the power of a woman’s drive.

At the end of the day, I’ll still struggle through reading poetry. I’ll choke out terms like enjambment and enactment and pretend to belong. More importantly, I’ll work to channel my inner 20th-century woman poet and never give up.

Savannah Nelson
Savannah Nelson

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