CHAPTER 5
Public Speech

As we have already seen, one persistent perception of poetry by women has been that it belongs in and focuses on the private sphere, on intimate, personal and domestic experience (of Plath, for example, one critic applauds the masculine qualities of her writing, saying 'something muscular shows up in her work, as unusual in women poets as visceral self-pity seems common').1 The public sphere of politics and history, so this perception goes, belongs to men. Ann Rosalind Jones cites fifteenth-century restrictions on women's education in the culturally valued skills of rhetoric 'because it belongs to the public realm, the sphere of law, politics, and diplomacy, which was firmly defined as off-limits to women'.2

There are a number of immediate responses to make to this charge. The first is that designations as to who belongs in or out of the public sphere of politics depend very much on how one defines 'private', 'public' and 'politics'. It depends where, if at all, one draws the boundaries. I say 'if at all' because, as this book has already argued, one of the hallmarks of poetry by women and of the new range of theories which have arisen to explicate it is a refusal, or at the very least a rethinking, of the kinds of binaries which would see public and private, political and personal as opposite poles. So although it seems feasible to argue, as Bertram does, that 'many women poets encounter difficulties in relation to asserting an authoritative public voice', such a proposition raises

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