the book beganas something of a "lark, a game" of collecting women poets that she engaged in with herthen student Bass. As she puts it, "in the early seventies it was still possible to use a cardcatalog under the word'women' and find'poets,'though we could not have known then93
IT. V. Reedthat many poets had slipped away, out of that net into invisibility." This process of scour-ing library card catalogs netted about fifty established women poets for the collection, andthen, Howe notes, the "younger poets found us: Word spread quickly in the early seven-ties through women's liberation newspapers and newsletters. We received three hundredsubmissions through the mail?"16 From this Howe and Bass culled the collection, withonly their "inchoate" feminism and an insistence that the "poem please us aesthetically"to guide them. This second criterion, the aesthetic one, is the mark of the formation ontheir efforts. The larger task, which might define the formation, is expressed by Howe asa set of questions in the preface to the original edition: "A nagging doubt: are women vic-tims of prejudiced editors or are women poets out of the mainstream of modern poetry?What is the mainstream? And what do women write about?"r7No More Masks! was one of several anthologies that took on the task of answeringthese questions by making available for the first time a wide range of historical and con-temporary poems by women, Other, similar volumes emerged in this same time period.It was clearly the moment when the formation was strong enough to begin shaping itsown tradition. One such work was Rising Tides: Twentieth-Century American WomenPoets (1973), whose goals were stated baldly in a prefatory paragraph: "Because repre-sentation in most poetry anthologies of the past has not gone beyond tokenism, mostwomen writers have remained minor figures in the male-dominated literary world. Thisbook is an attempt to make both men and women aware of the vital force women poetstoday represent." As the back cover put it, "Rising out of the same growing conscious-ness that spawned the women's liberation movement, this book is a feminist statementin the largest sense."r8 A year later came The World Split Open: Four Centuries of WomenPoets in England and America, 1552-1950 (1974), a collection whose title, again from aRukeyser poem (What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? / Theworld would split open"), shows its connection to the movement and whose subtitleindicates that it is aimed at helping to establish a still longer tradition.By the end of the twentieth century, this literary formation had contributed mightilyto a rewriting of the entire history of poetry. It is now possible to go to any literary book-store in America and find dozens of anthologies dedicated to one or another of numer-ous strands and schools of feminist and/or women's poetry.
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- Spring '11