CHAPTER 2
Performance

In a recent essay, poet Selima Hill recalls a dream in which she is on stage, about to read her own work, when a doctor 'thrust his fingers down my throat and pulled out miles and miles of long slimy tubes like spaghetti'.1 The image is uncannily like those used by Anne Sexton, who refers to her own work in poems, interviews, essays and letters as a form of 'blood-letting', self-immolation or self-sacrifice.2 It recalls, too, Elizabeth Bishop's account of undertaking poetry readings and being 'sick for days ahead of time' [her emphasis] and hence giving up poetry readings for twenty-six years.3 The strongly visceral nature of these images is striking. What do they say about the relationship between women's poetry and their biological existence? (This question will be addressed in detail in Chapter 4.) In tandem with this rhetoric of poetry reading as a form of ritualised sacrifice or self-display, we find many examples of women poets likening the public display (and even the private writing) of their work to a form of striptease or prostitution. For Sexton, poetry readings are 'a one-night stand', and for Medbh McGuckian, 'by writing the poem you're becoming a whore. You're selling your soul which is worse than any prostitution.'4

What, this chapter asks, do these comments and reservations have to say about the performance of women's poetry? The term 'performance' is used to connote both the theoretical or conceptual sense of the way in which the woman poet might perform a particular identity (by what Judith Butler calls 'a stylised repetition of

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Women's Poetry
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Series Preface vii
  • Acknowledgements viii
  • Chronology x
  • Prologue 1
  • Introduction 6
  • Chapter 1 - Self-Reflexivity 23
  • Chapter 2 - Performance 55
  • Chapter 3 - Private Voices 79
  • Chapter 4 - Embodied Language 111
  • Chapter 5 - Public Speech 138
  • Chapter 6 - Poetry and Place 166
  • Chapter 7 - Experimentation and Form 187
  • Conclusion 205
  • Student Resources 209
  • Index 224
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