Dorothy Parker Résumé (1926)
Dorothy Parker • Dorothy Parker was an American short-story writer and poet, known for her razor sharp wit. Her reputation as a writer has rested uneasily in the hands of literary critics and biographers. She was one of the few female members of the Algonquin Round Table, a daily gathering of New York writers and performers who exchanged barbs over lunch and bootleg cocktails in the 1920s. Her poetry, fiction, and play reviews graced the pages of Vogue, Vanity Fair, Life, The Smart Set, Ainslee's, and The New Yorker, as well as a number of women's magazines. This popular appeal separated Parker from the writers found in small, literary magazines who would later comprise the modernist canon. Combining accessible prose with more experimental techniques, Parker offers a witty and often acerbic assessment of human affairs -- whether they concern romantic love, the family, war, racism, self-deception, economic disparity, or the intersection of these issues. She has been called a period writer, a humorist, and a (pejoratively speaking) sentimentalist. Yet her work remains in print, a testament to the relevance of her vision.
Sharon Olds “I Go Back to May 1937” (1987)
Sharon Olds • Sharon Olds was born in 1942 in San Francisco. She was, in her own words, raised as a "hellfire Calvinist." After graduating from Stanford she moved east to earn a Ph.D. in English from Columbia University. Olds describes the completion of her doctorate as a transitional moment in her life: standing on the steps of the library at Columbia University, she vowed to become a poet, even if it meant giving up everything she had learned. In one respect, Olds’s imaginary sacrifice of her graduate education was an essential precondition for her artistic development. As a graduate student Olds had struggled to emulate the poets she studied. The vow she made--to write her own poetry, no matter how bad it might be--freed her to develop her own voice.
To her admirers, Olds is a poet of direct physicality and painful honesty, depicting aspects of family life and of personal relationships that have rarely been described in such intimate or graphic terms. The same qualities prompt her detractors, most famously the critic Helen Vendler, to describe her work as self- indulgent, sensationalist, and even pornographic. There seems to be little middle ground in the matter. Like other confessional poets, such as W. D. Snodgrass or Anne Sexton, Olds explores the pain of living in dysfunctional families as well as the pleasures of marital sexual bliss. Her language is explicit and, as she admits herself, may be embarrassing to some readers. It seems likely that some, at least, of the "offence" is because of Olds' gender: many male poets have celebrated their sexuality and their fascination with women's bodies in explicit terms with little resulting condemnation; that a woman would not only treat men's bodies as sexual objects, but would also comment on her children's eroticism and explore the erotic bonds between a mother and her children—and even a daughter's with her father—still has, apparently, greater shock value.
AudreLorde Hanging Fire (1978)
AudreLorde • American writer AudreLorde calls herself "a black feminist lesbian mother poet" because her identity is based on the relationship of many divergent perspectives once perceived as incompatible. Thematically, she expresses or explores pride, love, anger, fear, racial and sexual oppression, urban neglect, and personal survival. Recognizing that "imposed silence about any area of our lives is a tool for separation and powerlessness" AudreLorde claimed and celebrated all of her selves in order that others could come to find their own voices. Her poetry and prose demonstrate that we need not be afraid of difference, that difference can be a creative force for change. At the forefront of black feminist thought, her work has contributed to an analysis of the interlocking nature of all oppression. As activist and poet, she worked to challenge and transform power relations.
Elizabeth Bishop In the Waiting Room (1946)
Elizabeth Bishop • Elizabeth Bishop was born on 8 February 1911 in Worcester, Massachusetts. Bishop's childhood was filled with a sense of loss that pervades her poetry. Her father died from Bright's disease when she was eight months old. Her mother, psychologically distraught, spent the next five years in and out of psychiatric hospitals. With William's death, Gertrude lost her U.S. citizenship and, when she experienced the decisive breakdown in her family home in Nova Scotia, was hospitalized in a public sanatorium in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Elizabeth Bishop was five when this breakdown occurred; she later recounted it in her prose masterpiece "In the Village." Her mother, diagnosed as permanently insane, never saw Elizabeth again.
From ages three to six, Bishop lived in Great Village, Nova Scotia, with her mother's parents, and was then taken in by her father's family in Worcester and Boston. She attended Walnut Hill School near Boston during her high-school years, followed by four years at Vassar. By way of the Vassar librarian, in New York Bishop met the poet Marianne Moore, twenty-four years her senior, and their friendship quickly flourished. Her earliest work, which was influenced by George Herbert, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Moore, appeared in the Vassar undergraduate magazine she had helped to found. Having briefly considered a career in medicine, she turned to poetry with the encouragement of Moore, who published a handful of her poems in an anthology called Trial Balances in 1935. In residence in New York for a year, she wrote her first mature poems, including "The Map" and "The Man-Moth." She then lived intermittently in Europe for three years before purchasing a house in Key West, Florida, in 1938. After being rejected by several New York publishers, the first of her four volumes of poetry, North and South, was finally published in 1946. North and South introduces the themes central to Bishop's poetry: geography and landscape, human connection with the natural world, questions of knowledge and perception, and the ability or inability of form to control chaos.
Sylvia Plath Daddy (1965)
Sylvia Plath • Sylvia Plath was born in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, the older child of Otto and Aurelia Schoeber Plath. Her father was professor of German and entomology (a specialist on bees) at Boston University; her mother, a high school teacher, was his student. Both parents valued learning. In 1940 Otto died of complications from surgery after a leg amputation, and Aurelia's parents became part of the household to care for the children when she returned to teaching. • Sylvia's interests in writing and art continued through her public school years in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and at Smith College, where she attended on scholarships. Her extensive publications of poems and fiction led to her selection for the College Board of Mademoiselle magazine in 1953. The depression that was endemic in her father's family troubled her during her junior year; when her mother sought treatment for her, she was given bi-polar electroconvulsive shock treatments as an out-patient. In August 1953, she attempted suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills.
This experience is detailed in Plath’s fictional autobiography The Bell Jar. Plath's Bell Jar followed in 1965 with the posthumously published collection Ariel, was both a harbinger and an early voice of the women's movement. As the posthumous awarding of the 1982 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry to Plath's Collected Poems showed, her audience was not limited to women readers, nor did her writing express only feminist sentiments.
Marge Piercy Barbie Doll (1973)
Marge Piercy • Marge Piercy’s poetry and fiction reflect her commitment to social justice and her acceptance of her roots as a Jewish woman born into a Depression-era working-class neighborhood in Detroit, Michigan. Her work challenges the sexism, heterosexism, racism, and ecological and economic injustice that exist in America. She forges imaginative communities centered in day-to-day mature relationships and on the awareness that human capacity cannot be separated from specific individual circumstances.
Louise Glück Gretel in Darkness (1975)
Louise Glück • Pulitzer-Prize Winning Poet Louise Glück addresses the themes of rejection, loss, and isolation in language that is as deceptively simple as it is technically precise. Author of eight books of poetry as well as a book of essays, Glück’s poems engage the reader with a gripping directness that is startling in its colloquial, jagged quality. Central to most poems is a narrator who is isolated from her family, or bitter from rejected love, or disappointed with what life has to offer. As Helen Vendler notes, Glück’s poems invite the reader’s participation by asking us to “fill out the story, substitute ourselves for the fictive personages, invent a scenario from which the speaker can solve the allegory. . .” After numerous readings, her poems consistently betray their original bleakness, offering a glimpse at the lyrical beauty of a fallen world.