Sunday, May 27, 2012

Women on Poetry – Women, Revising, Publishing and Teaching-- Edited by Carol Smallwood, Colleen S. Harris and Cynthia Brackett-Vincent

“Women on Poetry – Women, Revising, Publishing and Teaching”
     Edited by Carol Smallwood, Colleen S. Harris and Cynthia Brackett-Vincent
          Forward by Molly Peacock – McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers
               Jefferson, North Carolina, and London. 2012. Price $45.00.

“All of you are our sisters in ink.”

Review by Molly Bennett

While there are many books seeking to assist the beginning poet, “Women on Poetry”
stands apart by its breath of scope, its diverse and compelling voices and by its exciting
invitation to its readers to join in the conversation.  Much as earlier generations of women
met together in kitchens or parlors to stitch and piece together quilts, this book suggests
that sharing of time and experience as it creates this ‘patchwork’ of ideas on writing poetry.
 Here in one new book is a huge array of topics and approaches to poetry!
These 59 essays discuss almost anything a poet might - would, ask or wonder
about writing, revising, publishing and teaching. The essays range wildly: some
address basic, practical issues; others confront more philosophical concerns regarding
the nature of this creature – Poetry.

Although you can read the essays straight through, I suggest you pick topics that particularly interest you and then reflect upon them. This book follows the trail blazed by earlier women writers, but men are welcome on the journey – to look over their sisters’ shoulders and discover tricks of the trade and perhaps wisdom.

The essays in “Women on Poetry” are structured around four distinct areas of thought:

In Part I “Our Writing Life – A Collective Voice” the fifteen essays explore different aspects
of our writing life. Several of the women tell the story of women’s poetry. In Sarah W. Bartlett's essay  “Women Writing for (a ) Change: History, Philosophy, Programs” she states ‘We write to discover what we are feeling; to connect with our hearts; to work through difficult transitions; to express profound truths, share outrage, elicit support for a cause; to connect with other women; to create a legacy for our children.’ (p.52)

Among the essays that focus upon the practical concerns of women (and men) as they work to find their own poetic voice, I found most helpful Judith Skillman’s “The Fine Art of Revision”
[with 12 suggestions for in-depth revision] and Linda Rodriquez’s “Making Time for Writing Poetry” [including 5 tips for ‘Changing Self-Defeating Habits (influenced by William James).]

Part II “We Who Pass It On – Tips On Teaching” opens with more practical ideas in “Ellen Bass’s Top 14 Teaching Tips.” Three of my favorites among these essential suggestions for any teacher new or old are: #1 ‘Say what you’re going to do and then do it;’ #9 ‘Don’t work harder than the student;’ and # 14 ‘maintain beginner’s mind’. (p.63)

Throughout this section there are many tips for the teacher and practicing poet that offer specific strategies for dealing with virtually any problem that might arise – there are suggestions and techniques for working with meter, beginning and ending poems, presenting at workshops or conferences and more.

Shelia Bender begins her essay “A Few Tips on Effective Line Breaks” by quoting poet Dana Levin, ‘Feeling speaks where the line is silenced.’ As she discusses the line breaks in her poem ‘At My Kitchen Window,’ she moves beyond simple technique and concludes, “Yes I thought, ‘Feeling speaks where the line is silenced.’ It’s our job as poets to find that ‘where.’”(p.73)
Part II concludes with Suzanna E. Henshon’s essay “Teaching with a Vision: Bringing your Inner Poet into the classroom.”

Part III “The Next Step – Publishing Our Poetry” discusses all aspects of publishing including the emotionally complex issues of revision, submission of completed work, self promotion by traditional as well as internet methods, creation of an audience, and in building a supportive writing community. This section presents the work of poetry as a business with the woman poet ‘as entrepreneur’ (Kim Bridgford) in charge of both her poetry and her life! Along with the useful suggestion there is encouragement for the younger writer and that is at times expressed with an ironic sense of humor – “How to Promote Your Poetry in Your Free Time ( While Working 40 Hours, Teaching at Night, and Restoring a Century-Old House)” by Karen Coody Cooper.

In Part IV “Just For Us – Essential Wisdom” the writers share their hard earned wisdom – those things they wished some older poet had told them when they were struggling to a voice as a poet and as a woman. Again there is here a wide and varied offering to aid the younger writer in that search to express the inexpressible in her or his own words. 

Caught up in the rush of modern life, I found especially helpful Diana M. Raab’s “Nourishing Your Muse” with its concrete list: ‘How to Put Yourself in a Poetic State of Mind;’ and with its’
tricks for getting the Muse to help with writer’s block. While this book has much to offer men as well as women, it is primarily written for women by women to assist them on the writing journey.

The essays in “Women on Poetry” seem to undertake to reflect upon all that comes within the scope of women’s writing. It is by way of being a handbook or reference manual – an immense loosely connected guide book of essential, useful and miscellaneous information for travelers, tourists or students on the writing journey.

While I delight in its eclectic sampling of over 50 different women’s ideas, at times I miss getting to know the individual writers’ breadth of thought in greater depth.  However, I recommend this collection of essays for any writing program, serious group of writing friends or isolated writer as an invaluable way to join the ongoing writing conversation. This work takes many hands and there is room for everyone to challenge and test her or his own ideas in the company of these interesting women.

Come join the poetry conversation and at whatever point you enter, you will find much to stimulate your own thought and to help you to move your work forward


  1. Anonymous6:25 PM

    A very thorough review which should help point women (and men!) to interesting and engaging reading. It's quite a collection, to be sure, and an honor to be part of such a group of strong women poets.

    And I appreciate being quoted in your review; may I request that you change the attribution to correctly reflect my name: "In Part I . . . In Sarah W. Bartlett's essay "Women Writing for (a) Change . . . (not Rosemary Royston).

    Thank you again for a fine review. Best, Sarah W. Bartlett

  2. Anonymous7:55 PM

    thank you so much :-)