Who Is Sylvia? What Is She?

Some Thoughts on American Women Poets

Unlike the situation of only a few decades ago, the position occupied today by women poets in American literary culture is so prominent, the range of their subjects and styles so wide, that it has become virtually impossible to make any generalizations about them or their work except to note that in diversity must lie strength. Indeed, the women poets who win the major awards and garner the most serious critical attention are, like their male counterparts, graduates of university writing programs and employees of the same and are thus subject to the same career pressures—the urgent need to publish in quantity to satisfy department heads, promotion committees, and deans—that currently afflict most contemporary poets. It is absurd for any American poet, male or female, to complain that opportunities for publication, receipt of grants, or employment might be limited by such matters as gender, sexual preference, ethnic background, or even the subject matter about which he or she chooses to write. There are over three hundred university creative writing programs in this country and something like ten times that number of magazines publishing poetry. When the year's output of new poetry books comes rolling in, as they have each December since 1987 when I began to write "The Year in Poetry" for the Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook, it is a sure bet that at least half of them will be written by women.


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