Margaret Cavendish, the Duchess of Newcastle
I'VE BEEN A POET FOR TWENTY-THREE YEARS, and I don't cry easily. I've seen poetry at home in its inky T-shirt and at large in its designer dress. I've done time in poetry boot camp and at the top of Parnassus. I've joined workshops held in funeral parlors and delegations to the People's Republic of China. I've raised consciousness, figuratively, in the presence of famous feminist poets and lost consciousness, literally, in the presence of renowned romantic poets. I've been dressed down by colleagues with thought disorders; I've received an honorary doctorate. I've awoken in the artist colony to find excrement smeared over my bathroom by a rejected fellow. I've overheard three men poets, celebrated for their sensitive verse, describe their vengeful rape fantasy: “You hold her hands behind her back while I fuck her and Blameless shoves his fist up her ass. ” I've been a poet for twenty-three years, I've seen poetry at home in its sour sneakers, at large in its power suit, and I don't cry easily. So I was surprised to find myself moved to tears while reading a poem by Margaret Cavendish, the duchess of Newcastle.
At one time I might have bought into the fiction of dispassionate criticism. However, it now seems disingenuous to elide the emotional components of evaluation: the hysterical rancor that fuels vitriolic reviews, the critic's crush on beloved works. I've come to think that the deepest engagement is possible only when a reader falls for a poet's work, finding there a home away from home, self away from self. Whereas I once might