The web is teeming with lists of feminist poets, but there are some men (all too few) who aren’t afraid to write about women.
By **Matt Petronzio**
The web is teeming with lists of feminist poets, lists like the ones featured on the Ms. Magazine blog, Fabulously Feminist, and Mark Wallace’s blog Thinking Again. These include some of the greats: Emily Dickinson, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Gertrude Stein, Maya Angelou, Sharon Olds—to name only a few—but are missing the names of male feminist poets. Commenters of Wallace’s blog even discussed the need for listing male feminist poets. In her essay “The Laugh of the Medusa,” Hélène Cixous writes, “There are some men (all too few) who aren’t afraid of femininity”—men who aren’t afraid to acknowledge women’s sexuality, men who write about women and write about feminism:
Jean Genet: “I am all absent femininity…”
Genet is the only man Cixous names (and praises) in her essay for demonstrating écriture feminine. Known for his novels and plays in addition to his poetry, Genet explores philosophies of freedom in such works as the novel Our Lady of the Flowers and the poem “Dialogue Between the Sun and Moon.”
Bruce Andrews: “I am but the loudspeaker / of a symptom…”
Andrews was a major figure among the avant-garde Language poets and co-founded the now defunct L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Magazine with Charles Bernstein. His 2001 book Lip Service, which is a recasting of Dante’s Paradiso, directly invokes female sexuality. Particularly in the “Venus” section, Andrews covers such topics as the body, domestic violence, and abortion. With lines like “effigy bimbo-colored state-of-the-tart sandwich meat / Adrienne Rich is quite an omission,” Andrews eloquently describes the antifeminist alongside the feminist, proving that men can adeptly address feminism.
Charles Bernstein: “So be a girly man / & take a gurly stand…”
As a prominent member of the Language poets, Bernstein mixes poetics and politics. In collections like Girly Man (2006), he combats linear thinking by challenging macho roles. For example, the lines “men with brute design / Who prefer hate to rime” describe the typical patriarchal automaton, or, in a sense, the anti-Bernstein. His wife, Susan Bee, is a noted feminist artist.
Rafael Casal: “I’m sick of this education that doesn’t serve our best interests…”
Before Casal made his foray into the hip-hop scene, he was an award-winning slam poet. As part of the Def Poetry series, he performed “Barbie & Ken 101” in which he berates patriarchal society for teaching both men and women what their roles should be. He calls the believer and teacher of these stereotypes a “skewed, sick distant relative of the man.”
Alfred, Lord Tennyson: “There are thousands now / Such women, but convention beats them down…”
An oldie-but-goody. Tennyson’s poetry is brought up in feminist literary criticism because “The Princess” is famously considered a poem that calls for women’s rights. The princess, who rejects patriarchy and works to start a women’s university without the influence of men, was an extremely radical character in Tennyson’s time.
Bino A. Realuyo: “Someday, a string of pearls…”
Realuyo frequently uses a woman’s voice throughout his collection The Gods We Worship Live Next Door, and his poems are often about women. In “A Night in Dubai,” the narrator is Sarah Balabagan, a sixteen-year-old Filipino maid in the UAE sentenced to death in 1994 for killing her employer, who had raped her at knifepoint. The sentence was eventually reduced, but only to a $40,000 fine, a year in prison, and 100 lashes. “If it means that for every lash, I will remember less, then let them do it,” she says in the prose poem. “I will not ask for forgiveness…”
Matt Petronzio is a contributing blogger for Guernica. His poetry has been published most recently in NAP Magazine. He’s on Twitter @mattpetronzio.