Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

"Your Thorns Are the Best Part of You": The Female Poet and the Question of Non-Conformity in the Poetry of Marianne Moore and Gertrude Stein

Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

"Your Thorns Are the Best Part of You": The Female Poet and the Question of Non-Conformity in the Poetry of Marianne Moore and Gertrude Stein

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Marianne Moore and Gertrude Stein can be located at the heart of the avant-garde that engendered new literary forms and modes of expression in the first half of the twentieth century. This article will explore both similarities and differences in the poets' methods of disrupting the dominant discourses, with a special emphasis on the use of language and conventions of representation and signification. The subtle and elusive subversiveness of Marianne Moore's poem "Marriage" will be juxtaposed with Gertrude Stein's violent deconstructive assaults in her "Patriarchal poetry". Stein's and Moore's works share an impulse towards non-centrism and non-finality of meaning, plasticity and flexibility of form, and a conviction that a poem is a self-conscious process challenging the boundaries of logic, categorization, and the reader's own expectations.

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In her 1975 essay "The laugh of the Medusa", Helene Cixous writes about a need to disrupt the male domination over language and literary tradition: "If woman has always functioned 'within' the discourse of man, ... it is time for her to dislocate this 'within,' to explode it, turn it around, and seize it, to make it hers ..." (Cixous 1981: 257). Long before feminine ecriture became the subject of critical interest, women poets had begun working towards the disruption and dislocation of the dominant patriarchal tradition and the limiting conventions of the Victorian feminine writing. As observed by Ostriker (1989: 49),"[a] set of women with the advent of modernism, strove to escape the ghetto of feminine poetry by the leaps and bounds of undisguised intelligence. Amy Lowell, Gertrude Stein are the shock troops here, followed by Mina Loy, H.D., and Marianne Moore".

Referring to her work as the editor of The Dial, Moore (quoted in Molesworth 1976: 208) wrote: "I think that individuality was the great thing. We were not conforming to anything. We certainly didn't have a policy, except I remember hearing the word 'intensity' very often". The criterion of "intensity" defines the poetic practice of both Moore and Stein. As will be shown here, these two leading members of Ostriker's modernist "shock troops", perhaps more than any other women poets of that period, shared confidence in their abilities as independent poets working beyond gender limitations. As participants in the modernist movement and as women, they defied tradition to bend language and their poetic imagination to a more intense and meaningful relationship with reality. Aware of the existing gender constructions and stereotypes, they moved away from the authoritarian voice and masculine self-centeredness of the dominant poetic models. Although their challenge to the traditional authority eventually took different directions and articulations, their commitment to redefining gender expectations and the relationship of the woman artist to the predominantly masculine world of writing brings these two seemingly dissimilar poets into a close relationship.

Moore's life-long interest in feminist issues has been well documented by her biographers and critics. As Gilbert (1990: 41-42) notes, Moore's famous public costume--a bizarre combination of a skirt, a tricom hat and a cloak a la Washington crossing the Delaware--was chosen deliberately "to dramatize the artifice of female poetic identity" and to gloss her self-conscious questioning of the stereotyped heterosexual ideal of femininity. Miller (1995: 105) and Molesworth (1990: 45-48) point out that the poet's committed feminism can be traced back to her college years at Bryn Mawr, where feminist concerns and activities were commonplace and where her fellow students frequently chose careers and financial independence over marriage and family life. The ideological discussions at the college deepened the young women's awareness of the limitations imposed by late-Victorian ideals of femininity. …

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