In the preface to Alison Mark and Deryn Rees-Jones's collection of essays Contemporary Women's Poetry: Reading/Writing/Practice (2000), Isobel Armstrong notes that 'what it means to write as a female lyric poet, explored problematically rather than polemically, is the concern of poets and critics alike'.1 This comment serves as a starting point for this chapter's reflection on a key issue uniting the work of women poets of many periods and cultures, that is, the evident self-consciousness of the writing. The point, it is important to stress, is not that women poets are characteristically self-obsessed or unable to see beyond the limits of their own work. The point is that the poems themselves reflect on their own 'processes of production and reception'. They are committed to enquiring about their own authority, their own status, their own place in a cultural context which has, historically, tended to find them aberrant.2 Across many different periods, and in many different forms, women poets have demonstrated an acute self-awareness about their work. Jane Stevenson and Peter Davidson, for example, identify this as one of the major concerns of early modern women's poetry: '[an] important theme […] is women's writing itself'.3

This self-consciousness emerges in a number of ways. It can be seen in poems which contemplate creativity or inspiration, or which reflect on the poet's own daring in entering into this hitherto masculine field (see, for example, Mary Barber's 1734 'Conclusion of a Letter to the Rev. Mr C –'.). It emerges in poems about the


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Women's Poetry


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