GERTRUDE REIF HUGHES
Gwendolyn Brooks, and the Feminist Potential
of Modern Poetry
Newness was the central concept of modernism. In their legendary attempts to "make it new," modern Anglo-American poets, like modern novelists and visual artists in general, wanted to challenge every aesthetic complacency and cultural institution they could identify. They broke spatial wholeness into Cubist fragments, they disrupted temporal sequence, and they tried to integrate the status of subject with that of object. For all its innovations, literary modernism was deeply conservative in one important respect: It failed to question male entitlement and white supremacy. Rather than challenge Eurocentric and androcentric values, the high modernism of Pound, Eliot, Joyce, and Williams left these values securely in place.
The masculinist bias of modernism becomes evident when gender is used as a category of analysis. Until recently, accounts of modernism ignored questions of gender, though the Woman Question and women's suffrage were known contemporary issues and though feminists like Gertrude Stein and Virginia Woolf helped to create modernism in Anglo-American literature. Now that women have become visible, it is clearer that modernism is not neutral but gendered. On the one hand, according to Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, the "determinedly anti-commercial cast" of the highbrow innovations for which modernism is known functioned as a kind of white____________________