Women and the Lyric in and beyond the Twentieth Century




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University of Banja Luka, Bosnia Herzogovinia.



Peer reviewed



We shall consider the state of the lyric in contemporary poetry by looking back at developments through the twentieth century. Its traditionally acontextual abstractions have made the lyric seem the most innocuous of forms, especially in the hands of women; however, Culler (1975), Adorno (1974) and Maguire (2000) view it as the most potent of literatures because it validates individual empirical expression over official public discourses and conventional literary articulations or prescriptions. Standing mid-century, Stevie Smith registers a perceptible transition from women’s impersonal pronouns and strong formalism to a multivocal dramatic lyricism and artistic freedom. At the end of the century we find women preferring and excelling in the social dialogues which reorientate lyrical expression; here, poets negotiate between a postmodern scepticism towards the articulation of a fixed, universalising unitary self and the politics of identity which seeks authentic expression of underclass experience. While Shapcott, Hill and Alvi, continue to evade gender, or any, affiliation through the personae of vegetables, animals or disembodied souls, Duffy’s acclaimed Rapture (2005) is unashamedly personal. However, the rich intertextuality, maintains a self-conscious gap between the subject and the language available that negotiates between the requirements of the lyric’s ‘social antagonism’ and compensatory aesthetic function. We shall end by testing the claims of a ‘new confessionalism’ in selected poems from the ‘Next Generation’ group who were promoted in 2004


This article stemmed from the lecture given as part of the British Council tour in 2007


women's poetry, twentieth-century british poetry, lyric


Dowson, J. (2010) Women and the Lyric in and beyond the Twentieth Century. Philologist – Journal of Language, Literary and Cultural Studies, 1


Research Institute