The Edinburgh Companion to Twentieth-Century Literatures in English

By Brian McHale; Randall Stevenson | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
1912, London, Chicago, Florence,
New York: Modernist Moments,
Feminist Mappings

Linda A. Kinnahan

Imagine a moment in 1912 London, picking up a copy of the Poetry Review, published in conjunction with the new Poetry Society of England and founded by editor Harold Monro in January of that year. It is May, and the issue on the stands is a special edition of ‘WomenPoets’, evidence of Monro’s championing of this undervalued group. Given two decades of incessant talk of the ‘New Woman’ in Europe and America and ten years of increased militancy – labelled ‘feminism’ by 1910 – the focus of this issue is not entirely surprising. Women are, after all, constantly in the news with their protests and parades and activism for the vote; women have themselves produced copious volumes of writing in regard to women and economics, sex, family, labour and political rights. Networks of feminists and their organisations cross lines of class and nationality, creating a truly international movement focused on myriad issues of suffrage, sexuality, birth control, education reform, civil rights, labour reform and economic equality. A wave of activism suffuses 1912 and the years just prior, so an issue of a new journal claiming to promote new forms of poetry that heralds the contributions of women seems perfectly a part of the moment. Open the pages and read the preface (probably written by Monro), and feel somehow knocked off keel, especially if you are one of those new women:

He [the Great Poet] has represented Woman so adequately in poetry that there seemed
scarcely any call for her to represent herself. Now at last, however, some change is taking place.
Woman, late though it be, is becoming conscious of herself…. Despite all emancipation,
Woman still lives in a garden and we must receive her verses gift-wise, as we might some fine
broidery. She will play with a fancy as lovingly as with a child; she enjoys delicacy in her verse,
and soft light shades: she loves especially a gentle hopefulness. Her poetry is the expression of
personal moods, or of the mystical and apparently supernatural: it is remarkable how seldom
she may be reckoned a whole poet. (‘Women-Poets’1912: 199–200, emphasis added)

That women should be graciously acknowledged for their efforts while simultaneously excluded from aesthetic formations of poetry, particularly those taken seriously within evolving articulations of modernism, colours these comments and undercuts Monro’s modernising claims for Poetry Review. Monro had already published another such voice articulating the need to modernise poetry: Ezra Pound’s ‘Prologomena (sic)’, which appeared in Monro’s second issue. Now absorbed into literary history as signalling a wake-up call to

-23-

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