1st Edition

Poetry Off the Page Twentieth-Century British Women Poets in Performance

By Laura Severin Copyright 2004
    128 Pages
    by Routledge

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    This study examines the performed poetry of Charlotte Mew, Anna Wickham, Edith Sitwell, Stevie Smith, Liz Lochhead, and Jackie Kay as an alternative radical tradition of British poetry, developed to convey women's experience. Through a historical treatment in which the poets are discussed in pairs, the chapters trace how these six women used a performative poetry to deal with difficulties regarding women's representation: from simply presenting difference in the case of Mew and Wickham, to deconstructing difference in the case of Sitwell and Smith, to avoiding the recapture of cultural imagery in the case of Lochhead and Kay. Laura Severin claims that twentieth-century British women poets have been neglected by both feminist and more traditional literary critics because they cannot be read within available literary frameworks. Feminist criticism, in particular, has overlooked the value of other poetic ancestries by locating the only radical tradition of modern poetry in fractured form. At least one alternative radical tradition can be found in a narrative and performed poetry that maximizes its transgressive potential with multiple framing devices. Though a female poet always experiences difficulty in controlling both cultural imagery and her own public presentation, these framing devices work together both to deconstruct the essentialized category of woman and to recover the multiplicity of women's experience.

    Contents: Introduction; Embodiments of lust: the performances of Charlotte Mew and Anna Wickham; Acting 'out': the performances of Edith Sitwell and Stevie Smith; Shapeshifting: the performances of Liz Lochhead and Jackie Kay; Ways forward: Jackie Kay and poetry on television; Works cited; Index.


    Laura Severin is Associate Professor of English at the North Carolina State University, USA.

    'With great intellectual force and velocity, Laura Severin pierces the obscurity in which twentieth-century British women poets have languished and liberates them from their status as "minor" writers. . . . No study before hers has paid so much attention, and done this to such good effect, to the performative aspects of work by poets such as Charlotte Mew, Edith Sitwell, or Stevie Smith. The chapter on Stevie Smith, in particular, is a triumph.' Margaret D. Stetz, Mae and Robert Carter Professor of Women's Studies, University of Delaware '... Severin laudably retrieves and identifies the ways in which theatricality has served women's creativity in drama and poetry, advocating a new context of critique that addresses 'the unexamined liminal zone' between postcoloniality and Britishness where women's work is still ostensibly consigned to the critical periphery.' Wasafiri