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Moore, Marianne  

Brett C. Millier

Marianne Moore (1887–1972) is now considered a major Modernist poet, along with her friends Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, and William Carlos Williams. Winner of the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize, and the Bolligen Prize, she was for a time (roughly 1955–1965) the most recognizable American poet (alongside Robert Frost), and her tiny pale face, wrapped by a long braid of white hair, and topped by a black tricorn hat, was known by many more people than knew her poems. The fey charm of her celebrity obscured for a long time her unique contribution to the Modernist poetic enterprise. Moore was an editor, critic, and translator, and edited the modernist journal the Dial from 1925–1929. As a poet, she wrote elaborately structured (she often wrote in syllabics, counting every syllable in every line and stanza) contemplations of the animal world, but with an eye to finding analogies in animal behavior for humanity’s moral struggles. A lifelong resident of New York City, Moore encountered nature in circuses and zoos, and in the pages of the National Geographic magazine, and often made use of lines from that magazine and other prose work in her poems, included in quotation marks. In addition nature and animals, her work is notable for its broad range of somewhat quirky subject matter. The elaborate formal structures of her poems conceal their absolutely correct grammatical construction; Moore claimed that she called them poems because she didn’t know what else to call them. Immune to the influence of literary fashion, she pursued her own goals of “humility, concentration, and gusto” in the composition of rigorously crafted, utterly idiosyncratic art.


Anne Bradstreet  

Wendy Martin

Anne Bradstreet’s early work developed from a fixed and faithful deference to the established modes and conventions of English poetry, with a focus on historical and political issues, such as the English Civil War. However, the lyric poetry that followed was deeply personal and expressed Bradstreet’s feelings of love, loss, and self-doubt. Bradstreet’s career as a poet and her journey as a Pilgrim in New England chronicled her evolution from dutiful daughter and wife whose early work honored traditional male poetic and religious authorities to a woman who thought for herself and wrote poems foregrounding her personal experience, challenging traditional gender roles as well as legitimizing the importance of her own work. Bradstreet’s resolution to write from her individual experience as mother, wife, and sometimes conflicted Christian is the wellspring of her best poetry—poetry that has emphatically established her place in American literature.


Sexton, Anne  

Ellen McGrath Smith

Anne Sexton is one of the most charged and memorable personalities in American literature. Her image as a taboo-breaking, glamorous housewife-turned-poet has made her a cultural icon for two generations in the United States and beyond. This iconic status has led some critics to dismiss much of her work as sensationalistic, while overlooking Sexton’s incomparable flashes of imagery and insight. At the same time, that status has attracted many readers who might not have read much poetry before encountering Sexton’s bold and playful style, and thereby expanded the audience for American poetry. In between these two extremes fall readers who, for many reasons, recognize Anne Sexton as a key player in the emergence in the mid-twentieth century of a more personal and direct type of poetry, often referred to as confessional poetry, a term coined in 1959 by the critic M. L. Rosenthal in his review of Robert Lowell’s groundbreaking collection of personal poetry, Life Studies (1959).