Saturday, March 14, 2009

What I'm Reading: When She Named Fire

Today I began what looks to be a longish journey with the anthology When She Named Fire edited by fellow Arkansan, Andrea Hollander Budy. I must confess that I don't normally read the preface in an anthology, preferring instead to leap into the work, but because of a personal/professional connection of the email variety with Budy, I decided to start there. I'm glad I did.

Budy begins her preface with a question of poetry's necessity and then mentions the 1973 anthology No More Masks. With that my mind went rocketing down memory lane. No More Masks was crucial to my beginnings as a poet. I found a used copy of it sometime in the late 80's, at the local library book sale, I think, just as I began my undergraduate degree in English. When I brought it to a conference with my advisor, she told me she had a copy as well, and I felt that first rush of being connected to someone else through poetry. No More Masks is a collection of poetry by American women, as is Budy's anthology. It is often hard for me to articulate, especially to male poet friends, the lack of lineage that I felt as a beginning female poet, when almost every poet I had been presented with in school was a DWG (dead white guy). I do not mean to knock the work of those amazing men, of course. Only, in thinking back, Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, and maybe Elizabeth Barrett Browning are the only poets I can remember reading in high school. And their work was somewhat sensationalized: Dickinson, the recluse; Plath, the suicide; and Browning, the wife of a major poet.

But I digress, Budy's preface goes on to state that the book contains "461 poems by 96 women, the youngest born in 1976, the oldest in 1925." Budy then discusses her aesthetic, the necessity of both music and story within the poems she chose. Towards the end of the preface, she writes: "[Poetry] reminds us how to live and how to cope with life's difficulties by stirring us in the places where what we feel and know but cannot express nevertheless exists. It provides one of life's few defenses against inevitable grief and intolerable, unfathomable disaster."

As I flipped through the table of contents, many, many of the names were familiar to me, yet I've already been delighted to discover several poets new to me, and I'm still in the B's. (After much jumping around, I finally decided to just start on page one and go from there.) I find though, that I need to take the poems slowly and to pause often to let each writer's voice ring out from the chorus gathered here. I cannot wait to listen to the voice that waits on the next page.

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