Finding Anne Bradstreet
THIS IS A PIECE ABOUT ANNE BRADSTREET. But there is another subject here as well. Its nature? For want of an exact definition, it is subject matter itself: that bridge of whispers and sighs over which one poet has to travel to reach another, out of which is formed the text and context of a predecessor. That journey into the past—not just Anne Bradstreet's but my own—is the substance of this essay.
I have always been fascinated by the way poets of one time construct the poets of a previous one. It can be an invisible act, arranged so that none of the awkwardly placed struts are visible. But the discussion of invisibility is not my intention. I am interested in the actual process of reconstruction, in the clear and unclear motives with which a poet from the present goes to find one from the past. I am interested, therefore, in the actions and choices that have the power to turn a canon into something less authoritarian and more enduring: from a set text into a living tradition. The sometimes elusive, yet utterly crucial, difference between a canon and a tradition is also part of this piece. So in that sense I want the plaster work to show and the background noise to be heard.
All of this seems worth saying at the beginning because I found Anne Bradstreet first in a revealing context. Not in her own words: not in the quick, fluent, and eventually radical cadences that mark her style. My