Susan Musgrave introduced her poems as describing “what it feels like to be a sexy young woman of 23.” I have no experience of what it feels like from the inside, but plenty of what it looks like, and she’s a fine specimen of the type. Such poems are however unusual, as unusual in this matter as the early poems of Dylan Thomas.
When it comes to the poetry, I find nothing to distinguish the work of women from that of men, unless they deal with subjects such as Motherhood or Feminism. The idea of ‘Wimmin’, to use Private Eye’s economical word, bores me. Writing women are just writers, to be judged by their writing alone. I doubt if anyone who mistook Joyce Cary’s sex on the basis of the name would be corrected by a reading of “Herself Surprised”; and I should be quite prepared to believe that Hemingway was written by some Ernestine.
Against that is a simple and awkward fact. The English novel has since its early days counted women among its outstanding practitioners, and this continues today. Over the same period, when women have been accepted as writers, I cannot think of single outstanding woman poet. This century has produced the novelists Woolf, Compton-Burnett and Spark, but no woman to set alongside Belloc, Eliot and Betjeman.
Wendy Mulford, Colpitts,
Frances Horowitz, Castle Chare,
Gillian Clarke with Roland Mathias, ‘Coelfrith’,
Nicki Jackowska, Morden tower,
Helen Dunmore, with publisher Neil Astley,